AOR8000 Review Part2 - Repost

AOR8000 Review Part2 - Repost

Post by Mike Ellers » Thu, 22 Dec 1994 05:27:33

AOR8000 Review Continued :

Searching
This radio has to be the stealth bomber of radios for finding new
frequencies! Several search methods are available to you. One of the
simplest is to search between two VFO frequencies. This is nice for
setting up a really quick and dirty search. You can set up 20 different
search banks. You program the starting and ending frequency, step,
attenuator,  and mode. Having 20 of these rascals gives you more room to
have very specific search ranges. Some radios give you 10, which I have
usually found adequate, but with 20 you can specify smaller chunks of
spectrum to be searched. These search banks can also be named, which is a
nice touch. This allows you to put tags on them like 2 Meter, 70 CM, AIR
MIL, etc. One huge problem that I have always disliked in searching
frequency ranges is that there is always going to be spurs, birdies, open
carriers, noise, and gosh knows what else. I have to pay attention to the
radio constantly when it  is searching. I am always tied to the radio
pushing a button to get past these frequencies. When I did find one I want
to keep, I would usually hit the Monitor button to store it and then move it
into a memory channel later. Most of the scanners I used only had 10 of
these monitor channels, so eventually I would have to stop searching and
move the frequencies I found into memory channels. AOR solves these
problems nicely. To get around the problem of the scanner stopping on junk
frequencies, you can lock out the offending little rascals with the Pass
key (do not worry you can Un-Pass them if need be). You can have up to
1000 of these locked out (50 for each bank) and it will even check to make
sure that you did not lock out the same one twice. Now you can just sit
back and let the AOR8000 do its thing. When a frequency is found all, you
have to do is press the ENT key for a couple of seconds and you are ready
to enter it into a bank and channel. If that is not enough, you can link the
20 search banks together much like you can the scan banks. For example,
you go to a new city and you want to see what is happening on the 2 Meter
and AIR MIL banks,  you can link the two search banks and the radio will
search them for you. Slick!  No more having to search the ranges one at a
time or wasting time searching large chunks of spectrum to find those
choice frequencies. Now the icing on the cake! The AOR8000 will even Auto
Store these frequencies for you into Bank J while you go out and have a
nice dinner. The AOR8000 will store the first 50 active frequencies that
it finds in the search ranges you have linked. My experience with Auto
Storing scanners in the past has been dismal. One scanner I had that had
this feature  had so much intermod and so many birdies that the first 20
to 30 frequencies it stored was garbage. If  I were lucky, I might get 10 or
so good ones. With the ability to Pass offending frequencies and link
search ranges, you now have very effective tools for finding new
frequencies. Some of the same features that are available for scanning,
are also available for searching. I found the Scan Level setting very
effective in keeping the radio from stopping on and storing a frequency
that was activated by some weak stray RF. For example, at one location
the heating system would generate a small pop in the scanner's circuits.
The scanner would think that it was a valid signal and try to store it. By
setting the Scan Level to 3, the radio would ignore it. You can also use the
Audio feature to bypass open carriers. Here again, there are other
parameters that can be tweaked to make the search even tighter.  Once you
have captured some good frequencies, you can copy them to other banks
and channels. You can even dump bank J when you are finished and start
over. Another way this feature can be used is to Pass the frequencies in
the search ranges that you already know about or have stored in the
scanner. This way, you will only be finding new frequencies for your area.

BandScope
This feature lets you see frequency activity on either side of the center
frequency to which you are listening. The BandScope is made up of 11 bars
with the 6th being the center frequency. The bars on the left and right of
the 6th bar will show activity 3 kHz from the center frequency for USB,
LSB, and CW. For AM and FM, the offset is 10 kHz. This feature can be
switched off or on. It seems to work reasonably well. The only penalty is
that the audio on the center channel is interrupted every 5 seconds so the
scanner can go check activity on the other 10 channels and update the
display. I am not sure exactly how useful this, but I am sure that some
users will find ways to put it to use.

RF Performance.

VHF/UHF
Sensitivity on VHF/UHF is nothing short of superb. I have had frequencies
plugged into my old hand held scanner that I never heard a peep out of. On
the AOR8000 these weak frequencies sprang to life. I didn't realize that
some of these channels were even active anymore ! Of course I was using
both of these radio's with *** ducky antennas. Speaking of ***
duckies. The one that is provided with the AOR8000 is apparently pretty
broad banded. I noticed a major improvement in reception quality by
switching to a *** ducky that was tuned for a narrower chunk of
bandwidth. The AOR8000 includes a S meter to help you determine if a
given antenna is performing better than another. This is something I think
would be handy on all scanners and should be standard equipment. One of
the area's I have often seen some sensitivity problems with most other
scanners is in the low VHF bands. I realize that part of this is due to the
short antennas provided with hand held scanners, but the AOR8000 seems
to do very well here. This is the only hand held scanner I have had that
will actually receive strong VHF/UHF signals with the antenna removed.
One of the problems associated with sensitive radios is usually intermod.
I have not heard a bit of intermod on the AOR8000 even on a full sized
antenna (your mileage may vary) and we have some killer paging services
around here. Any radio around here without a tight front end will get
blasted by these paging systems. The AOR8000 just quietly scans along
until a real signal opens the squelch. These paging systems used to drive
me nuts, even when I used a PRO-2006 which is very good at intermod
rejection. By the way, this radio is also fairly free of birdies and images
on VHF/UHF. You will find some as you would with most scanners, but they
are noticeably less on the AOR8000. Sensitivity in the FM broadcast band
is very good also but if you use a large external antenna, selectivity
suffers some in the WFM mode. You may have trouble separating a weak
station next to a very strong FM station. This is not much of a problem
with whip antennas. The squelch action on the AOR8000 seems to be very
good, it is easy to set and you really don't have to fool with it much once
it is set. One of the major strengths of this radio is the ability to operate
in any mode on any frequency the radio supports. This opens up new
monitoring opportunities on VHF/UHF for some users like Military Air,
Milsat, 2Meter SSB, 70 CM SSB, 6 Meter SSB, TV Audio, just to name a few
(maybe even frequency inversion ?).

Medium Wave
Medium wave AM is not too good. It will allow you to receive some of your
strong local broadcasters ok, but you can forget about DX. Of course the
manual tells you this up-front, so there are no surprises here. The radio
contains a ferrite bar antenna for Medium Wave. You sometimes can
improve reception by rotating the radio for the best signal strength.

Shortwave
Ah, this is always the controversial area for this type of radio. The
bottom line is, that I was surprised that it worked as well as it does.
Don't get me wrong, this is no Drake R8 or even a Sony 7600G for that
matter. If you are an avid shortwave program listener or utility Dxer, you
would be much happier elsewhere. However, shortwave on the AOR8000
works and it works fairly well at that. The radio has plenty of sensitivity
in these bands, but suffers from a lack of selectivity. In other words if
you are trying to pick out a weak station between two strong stations,
forget it. However, if your goal is to have a radio that is an excellent
scanner and just happens to pick up the BBC, then go for it. I found that I
had no trouble in picking up a few strong shortwave stations on a Radio
Shack collapsible whip. Connecting up a large outdoor antenna brought in
even more, and surprisingly, the radio did not overload. If it does, you
always have the 10db attenuator to help. You may even hear some faint
images from very strong signals on other bands bleeding through
occasionally when using a large outdoor antenna. The manual with the
AOR8000 offers an explanation of some of the devices that you could use
to enhance listening on the shortwave bands. I felt that utility and
amateur reception on the AOR8000 was fair to good. Here again, using a
very large outside antenna may make it difficult to isolate weak signals
from very strong ones. I have heard some users say that they could not get
the "duck" tuned out on SSB. My experience is that yes you can. You may
have tune off frequency a few kHz to do it. Of course this was not all that
unusual with even some of the higher end radios I have used. The AOR8000
frequency display on SSB seems to be relatively accurate. The only major
complaint I have here, is that band surfing is a little tedious with the
rotary tuning knob or the slewing buttons on the keypad. There is no
variable rate of tuning like on some radios, unless you want to count how
fast you can turn the rotary tuning knob. The slewing buttons always work
at the same speed even when held down. The trick I have learned to get buy
this is to set the step size larger than you normally would use. When you
get close to something interesting, decrease the step size. I will admit,
that it's nice to have a radio that when you get tired of scanning, you can
flip over to the BBC or monitor one of your favorite amateur radio nets.

Audio Quality
The AOR8000 has plenty of audio that is a bit on the bassy side. I prefer
this sound personally, it doesn't get on my nerves as much as some of the
tinnier radios. What I mean by plenty of audio, is that you can generally
hear this radio over the background noise of a moving car with one window
rolled down. If your car has dual cherry bomb exhausts then I am wrong,
there isn't much audio. However, I find this radio to much louder than most
scanners and amateur radio Hts that I have used lately. Audio quality on
WFM is pretty good, but you are not going to get a full rich sound through
the built in speaker. SSB is a bit tinny, but acceptable. I have tried an
external speaker and there is a major improvement in audio quality in all
the modes.

Battery Life
Battery life seems to quite good. There is also a power saving feature than
can be enabled to further extend battery life. When the battery starts
going south, you will see a large Low Battery label flashing on the screen.
When using the rechargeable nicad batteries, the Low Battery indicator
will flash for awhile and then the radio will go silent. When using
alkalines, the Low Battery indicator will flash, but you will also start to
hear some weird heterodyning and audio distortion. The first time this
happened, I thought the thing had broke. A fresh set of batteries solved the
problem. One good thing is that the memory data is stored in such a way
that it can not be lost due to dead batteries.

Miscellaneous
The AOR8000 also has some interesting features available in the EXPERT
mode like changing the PLL lockup time, the time it takes for the squelch
to lock up, the length and level of audio needed when using the audio
squelch features, and the length of time for the squelch to activate if the
signal level search or scan modes are used. These allow the user to tweak
the radio for better or more reliable performance in certain applications. I
think I will stay away from these for awhile.

Computer Interface
There is a provision for an optional computer interface on the AOR8000. I
have not had the opportunity to use this function yet, but I understand that
it will allow you to control most of the functions of the radio via the
computer. I have heard it's pretty good compared to even some of those
available on higher end radios. This makes sense because a lot of these
interfaces were simply an afterthought and not really integrated that well
into the radio. One interesting thing that I have noticed is that RF
generated from my computer equipment doesn't tear up reception on this
radio as bad (VHF/UHF bands) as most of the other scanners and Hts I have
used. However. you will still get some noise on some frequencies from
computer generated RF.  I wonder if AOR put a little more shielding than
normal in this radio. I guess this would be important if you were going to
connect the thing to a computer. I am sure as these interfaces become
more prevalent, neat and nifty software will start to appear to enhance
the utility of this radio even further. We may even start to see users
sharing their frequency information across the Internet by posting
AOR8000 compatible frequency files !

Conclusion
The more I use this radio, the more I begin to appreciate the thought that
went into the design of this unit. It is a very versatile and flexible piece
of radio gear that will appeal to the seasoned as well as the novice
scanner enthusiast. It appears to me that a lot of thought went into what
scanner enthusiasts would like and need and was poured into the AOR8000.
I am sure that as this radio proliferates among the scanner enthusiasts,
that we will be seeing all kinds of new applications and ways to use this
radio. In my opinion, the AOR8000 has the potential to rise up to the cult
status achieved by such scanners as the PRO-43, PRO-2006, AOR1000, and
maybe even the R7100.

Disclaimers
These opinions and views are strictly my own and do not reflect those of
my employer. I have no association with AOR or EDCO outside of being a
pleased AOR8000 owner.