AOR8000 Review Part1 - Repost

AOR8000 Review Part1 - Repost

Post by Mike Ellers » Thu, 22 Dec 1994 05:25:39

The AOR8000
A Review by
Mike Ellerson
KE4RQI

   Well, after a very long wait the US version of the AOR8000 has
finally began shipping in the U.S. Having received one of these "street
legal" (read as cellular deleted) versions of this radio, I thought I would
take a few minutes and jot down my initial impressions and experiences
with using the radio. This is a non-technical review and only reflects my
personal experiences in using the AOR8000. I have owned about 10
different scanners over the last few years, but this radio is absolutely the
best scanner that I have seen so far. This radio was designed with the true
scanner enthusiast in mind. Somebody was listening to what the scanner
hobbyist wanted when the AOR8000 was designed. No, it is not perfect and
has its warts, but it comes pretty darn close. This is probably not the best
radio for the beginning scanner enthusiast, but could be a radio to grow
into if you are patient.

BACKGROUND
The AOR8000 is a hand held scanning receiver that covers 500 kHz - 1900
MHZ (less cellular). The radio has a total of 1000 memory locations that
are divided into 20 banks holding 50 memory channels each. Each memory
can contain the frequency, mode, attenuator setting, and a  7 character
alphanumeric tag. The receiver can be operated in AM, NFM, WFM, USB, LSB,
and CW modes on any frequency the radio can tune. Tuning is accomplished
through either a rotary tuning knob located on top of the radio, slewing
buttons on the keypad, or direct frequency entry via the keypad. Step sizes
for tuning can be set anywhere from 50 Hz to 999.995 kHz. The
scan/search rate is around 30 channels per second. The radio also includes
20 search banks that can be named. Up to 1000 pass channels are available
for skipping unwanted frequencies when scanning or searching. There is a
BandScope feature that lets you see activity on adjacent frequencies. The
scan delay can be set from 0.1 to 9.9 seconds. The radio can be powered
from four AA batteries or a 9 to 12V DC power source. The radio comes
with 4 rechargeable nicad batteries,  charger, metal belt clip, ***
ducky antenna, and a cigarette lighter adapter cable. If that's not enough,
there is also an optional RS232 interface (not available in the U.S. yet)
These are just the big things, this radio has many more features that will
be mentioned later on in the review.

CONSTRUCTION

Case
The AOR8000 is basically constructed like most modern scanners. The
case is a light weight plastic. Usually my first reaction to this is "Hey
this thing can't work, it's not heavy enough!" I really prefer my radios to
have some heft to them. Of course with surface mount technology
everything is getting smaller and lighter. I really wish that scanners were
manufactured more like amateur radio handie talkies. Amateur radio gear
is typically constructed with very tough plastics that are more durable
for portable use. Most of the time you can drop them a few feet onto a hard
surface and they will survive. The AOR8000 does have an interesting
feature in this area to help prevent dropping the radio. There are
***ized grips on the side of radio to keep the radio from slipping out of
your hand if the monitoring activity gets too intense and your palms get
sweaty. However, the first time you drop this puppy on the concrete,
forget it! If you are going to get this radio, go ahead and spring for the
leather case. On the other hand, even with the batteries and *** duck
attached the radio is very light. I like to carry my scanner inside of my
jacket pocket. With the AOR8000, you will hardly know it's there. When I
have my Yaseu FT530 in my coat pocket, believe me, I know that it's there.
Sort of like carrying around a small revolver.

Controls
The tuning, on/off volume, and squelch knobs are coated with a ***ized
plastic. This is a nice touch that it starting to show up on lots of radio
equipment. One of the knobs on my radio was a bit loose, but seemed to
stay on. The rotary tuning dial feels a bit rough, but it seems to work ok.
When turning the rotary dial pretty fast, you may notice that sometimes
the AOR8000 will not move to the next frequency or function right away.
This can be a little disturbing at first, but is really not a problem and is
mentioned in the manual. I have had a least one scanner with this feature
where the rotary tuning knob would get stuck completely while tuning in
one direction. Spacing between the knobs on top of the radio was also well
thought out. There is more than adequate room for fat fingers.

Display
The display is very nice. It uses a 4 line dot-matrix format that is much
easier to read than conventional LCD displays. It is nice to see a display
that features large easy to read numbers for a change. I always hated
squinting at those little small displays that come on most scanners,
especially while driving. The viewing angle is generally very good, but I
wish it was a bit wider. If I lay the radio in the seat of the car, I usually
will have to pick the radio up and tilt it a bit to see the display. However
because of the large display and good contrast, I can read the information
very quickly, hopefully avoiding rear ending the guy in front of me. The
green edge lighting for the display could be a bit brighter, but is entirely
adequate for night operations. The edge light can be locked on if necessary.
This is very nice if you are going to use the radio in your car at night. The
AOR8000 would work well for nighttime mobile operation, if you have a
mount that would let you tilt the radio at the appropriate angle. The
combination of the large display and edge light would work out pretty well
for this application. Speaking of the display, it is covered with a large
clear plastic window that is roughly even with the face of the radio. My
experience with this design is that if you are not careful, you can scratch
the surface very easily. Believe me, on this radio there is plenty to
scratch. This might be another good reason for procuring the $29.95
leather case from AOR  or a substitute.

Keyboard
I found the keyboard to be a delight to use. The key's have a nice positive
feel with good tactile feedback. They are large enough and spaced far
enough apart that even if you have fat fingers, there is little danger of
hitting more than one key at a time. The legends on the keys and on the
radio body are easy to read. I have had more than one radio with skinny
keys and the legends were difficult to see because of the color schemes
used. There is of course the mandatory BEEP found on most scanners for
keyboard input. This can get rather annoying on any radio when you are
trying to enter 200 frequencies in the middle of the night with everyone
else asleep. But guess what, this one can be switched off! Another very
nice thing about the keyboard is that it lights up when the edge light is
turned on. I have seen this on a few amateur radio handie talkies, but not
on a hand held scanner or many mobile scanners for that matter. I don't
know how many times I have gotten up in the middle of the night during
the worst thunderstorm of the year with all the power out. Located the
scanner to see if we needed to head for the storm cellar then I would have
to fumble around for a flashlight to operate the keypad. No need to do this
with this radio, all I have to do now is just find the radio. The lighted
keyboard also makes night time mobile operation much safer. No more
trying to operate the radio by the dome light or street lights. The special
keys on the side of the radio are also lighted and somewhat recessed to
avoid accidental presses. This was a nice touch also. The side mounted
keys include  the Function key which is used with another of the AOR8000
keypad keys to access various menus and functions of the radio. The Edge
Light key, Keyboard Lock key, and the Monitor key that opens the squelch
temporarily for monitoring weak signals.  Overall, this is a very solid
built little radio when all factors are taken to account.

OPERATION
This radio has some of the most flexible and useful memory management
tools I have seen on any radio. The manual is necessary reading to help you
understand how they can be used. I will try to discuss a few here.

Manual
My advice to anyone getting the AOR8000 is to READ THE MANUAL! I know
we hate to do that, but it might avoid some confusion later. With this
radio, it is best done in small chunks or referring to the manual as you
need to figure out how to do something. If you read it straight through, you
will probably not get a lot out of it. Speaking of the manual, I felt that it
was exceptionally well written compared to what you normally get.
Everything is explained in detail with good illustrations. There is even a
section on antennas and propagation to help you get the most out of the
radio!

Entering Frequencies
Probably one of the most hateful aspects of using a  scanner is entering
that list of 200 or 300 frequencies that you have collected. I found this
function on the AOR8000 to be a logical approach that one can very quickly
adapt to and learn to love. On most scanners you had to do something like
MAN-10-ENT-PROG-123.500-ENT-DELAY to get the frequency into channel
10 with the delay set. First you had to manually go through the banks to
find an available channel and try to remember the available channel when
you entered the new frequency. If you were ***ic enough and try to
enter all 200 of your frequencies you could wind up with you fingers in a
cast at the end of the day. The AOR8000's approach to entering frequencies
is much more logical. Just type in the frequency and press ENT. Press ENT
again and hold it for a second and the radio will automatically bring up the
first available channel in a bank. At this time you can keep going or select
a different channel or bank through the keypad or rotary tuning knob. If
the channel already contains something, you will see contents flashing to
let you know there is something already there. This is great, no more
accidentally overwriting that rare frequency you discovered at 2 am in the
morning a month ago. I don't know how many times I have done that! You
can overwrite the channel or keep going until you find the one you want.
Pressing ENT again will enter the frequency into that channel and bank.
Pressing ENT again will allow you to enter up to 7 characters for a
channel tag. This is done by rotating the tuning knob through a selection of
upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation. Pressing the left
and right cursor keys allows you to change position to enter the next
character or edit one you messed up. When finished you press ENT and you
are done. This may sound a little tedious to see it described, but in
practice it is very intuitive and fast. If you mess up, you can press CLEAR
or just wait 90 seconds and do not do anything, the radio will return to
doing what it was doing before you made this mess. I couple of gotchas
here. The radio comes with the Mode and Step selection set to AUTO. This
means when you key in a frequency, the radio will try to select the correct
mode like NFM, WFM, AM, etc. and the correct step when the frequency is
entered. This works well most of the time, but some of the Bandplan data
contains steps that may not be appropriate for the frequency you are
trying to enter. I found this out after trying to enter our local amateur
radio repeater of 146.745 and after 90 seconds the frequency would
change to 146.7500. You can very quickly change the step size and
everything is ok after that point. I find that the alphanumeric tags are
great. When you have several hundred frequencies programmed into a
scanner, it is very pleasant to be able to look at the display and say "Oh
yeah, that is the TACT56 channel." It also helps you remember why you
stuck that frequency in to begin with! You also have the ability to some
very sophisticated things like edit the channel contents. You can change
the mode, frequency, attenuator, step, and tag. This will save some
retyping and entry errors. There are many other things you can do with
memory channels, like copy from one to another, move from one to
another, and swap from one from another. I have not really found a whole
lot of use for these yet, but I am sure I eventually will. You can even
delete a channel! One thing that I learned was useful, was to use the
feature that allows you to press the Function button just once and then
select the 2nd key. To me this was much simpler than trying to keep the
function button pressed while selecting the 2nd key. This makes changing
modes and step sizes and such much faster. Changing modes and steps is
fast and easy. All you have to do is press Function and Mode or Step and
rotate through the choices in the menu with the cursor keys or the rotary
tuning knob

Dual VFOs
This is a great idea in a scanner. This allows you to have two frequencies
for immediate access if necessary. Some people may also find this
attractive for monitoring duplex communications. Each VFO can be set to
and individual frequency, mode, and step. They may be very quickly toggled
back and forth. Most amateur radio gear has this feature. It is finally nice
to see it show up in a hand held scanner.

Banks
The AOR has a total of 20 banks each holding 50 channels. This is a great
idea! Most scanners I used had something like 10 banks of 20 channels or
10 banks of 100 channels. The 10x20 and 10x100 models were always
frustrating when trying to set your scanner up by service type. When I had
45 aircraft channels to program, I would windup having to have 20 in one
bank, 20 in another and 5 in another.  Well I always felt that I hated to
take up a 20 channel bank with only five channels, so I would usually leave
them out. The 10x100 was not as bad, but I would usually like to have
more than 10 banks to organize frequencies in. The AOR8000's 20x50
arrangement is just about perfect. There are plenty of banks and channels
to organize your frequencies. The banks are labeled A-J and a-j. The
lowercase banks can be passworded to keep out prying eyes and fingers. I
have not really used this, but some people may find it useful. The AOR8000
uses an idea called bank linking. Most scanners do this in some way, but
AOR's way is quite good. Most scanners allow you to add or remove banks
from being scanned by pressing the number of the bank you want or do not
want to scan. On the AOR8000, you turn the linking feature on and then key
in the banks you want to link together for scanning. For example you could
scan banks ADGH by entering them into the scan list. If you want to scan a
bank that is not in the list, just press its letter from the keypad. For
example, I want to temporarily disable the ADGH scan and want to scan
just bank B. I simply press B on the keypad. To go back to the linked scan, I
press one of the linked bank letters. The bank linking feature can be turned
totally off and the radio will scan just the selected bank. This setup may
be a little strange if you are used to using GRE and Uniden designed radios,
but the more I use it the more I like it. This allows me to do something
like link all the public service banks together and not link the bank that
contains  2 Meter repeaters. If I decide I want to check activity on the
repeaters, I just press the letter of the bank that contains them. The radio
stops its linked scan and then goes to the repeater bank to check for
activity. If it is boring, I can quickly switch back to my normal linked
scanning. There is also a feature to let you delete an entire bank of
channels (kind of scary).

Scanning
One thing I really like about the AOR8000 is when you turn it on, it goes
back to doing what it was doing when you turned it off. If you were
scanning it goes back to scanning, if you were monitoring NOAA on one of
the VFOs, it goes back to monitoring NOAA when turned on. The AOR8000
clips along at about 30 channels per second. Not bad. What I really like
about this scanner opposed to most of the models I have used is that it
only scans channels that contain frequencies. Most scanners I have seen,
usually scan all the channels in a bank. This means if you do not want to
scan the empty channels, you have to lock them out. This makes for real
fun if you have a lockout review feature and just want to find that one
channel that you locked out. Speaking of lockout, AOR calls this feature a
PASS channel. If you are scanning and have a channel with some annoying
chatter or static, you simply press PASS and the channel is locked out. I
like the way that AOR does this. On a passed channel a small p shows up
next to the channel number and makes it very easy to see that this channel
has been locked out. To un-PASS the channel, just go back to it and press
PASS again. To start scanning you press the SCAN button. If you need to
hold the scanner on an interesting frequency, you simply press the ENT
key. To go back to scanning, just press the Scan key again. I find this to be
a very simple way of doing this. Of course channels can be recalled
manually via the keypad or stepped through manually with the rotary
tuning knob. Stepping through the frequencies with the manual tuning
knob is a feature I have always found handy. The AOR8000 of course has a
Priority channel that can be set to any one of the 1000 channels.  Another
very useful feature is the ability to build a favorite channel list from the
frequencies stored in the banks and scan just those frequencies. AOR calls
this feature select scan. This is a really handy feature. Let us say an event
is taking place that you would like to monitor. As the various radio
services become active during the event, you can add them to the scan list
at the press of a button. When you feel that you got all of them you want
to monitor, just turn the select scan feature on. Now you are only scanning
the frequencies that are in that list. Neat! Once you are through, the whole
list may be deleted. The AOR8000 also lets you customize your scanning in
the Expert mode by adjusting the scan delay from .1 to 9.9 seconds. This is
nice for monitoring trunked systems, or just lengthening the pause time.
The default in the New User mode is 2 seconds. I have not found a way to
apply the delay to individual channels, which would be nice.  An Audio Scan
feature will let you scan only frequencies that contain audio. This allows
the radio to pass over open carriers and such. This feature has been around
for a while on the PRO-2006 is called Sound Squelch. I am not sure how
useful this really is because if the person transmitting is slow to start
talking, the radio may skip that channel. The Free Scan feature is typically
found in most amateur radio gear. This allows you to set a time limit from
00 to 99 seconds for the scanner to dwell on any given frequency. When
the time limit has expired, the scanner moves onto the next channel. This
is not too useful for scanning, but good for getting a picture of activity on
the channels. The Scan Level setting allows you to set the squelch level
required before the squelch will open. This setting is from 0 to 7. This is
very nice for not allowing very weak signals or noisy channels from
opening the squelch. I am reluctant to use this feature, because I am
afraid I would miss that important transmission that was only at S1.
Users who live in strong signal areas or high intermod areas may find this
feature very useful. You can also select the Scan Mode. This allows you to
mix frequencies with different modes in a bank and have the scanner just
scan the ones of a certain mode. For example you could have Aircraft AM
frequencies mixed with NFM frequencies in a bank. By using this setting
you could just scan the AM frequencies or just the NFM frequencies.