The BaoFeng UV-5 is a neatly engineered little radio. And it is little: 55mm (wide) x 150mm (L) x 27mm (D) approx (measured at widest/longest parts and with no antenna). The plastic moulding is good and belies the price tag.
Before we proceed to operating/programming, a quick tour of the unit is in order.
The tri-colour LED backlit dual frequency display sits above a small speaker that provides good clean audio. The mic aperture is positioned to the left of the speaker (viewed from the front) and just below the RX/TX LED and orange VFO/MR button. Same side and from the top is the Call button, PTT (Push To Talk) and MONI (monitor) button. On the right side is the combined SP (speaker) MIC (microphone) socket – accessed via an attached flexible plastic cover.
The Chinese manufactured BaoFeng (pronounced BowFung) UV-5R series FM transceiver has become a bit of a sensation since it was first released back in 2012. Originally conceived as a run of the mill commercial two-way radio, resultant internet exposure has seen it become one of the most talked about radios, primarily due to its feature set and price point.
Looking through the specification of the latest firmware release BFB297, its no wonder why. Wide/Narrow FM, full transmit and receive functionality (semi-duplex, plus multiple CTCSS/DCS tone options including cross) across two bands 136-174.0000 (VHF) and 400-520.9975 (UHF) means its suitable for a wide range of applications including the ever popular 2m and 70cm radio amateur bands. There is even a broadcast WFM radio (65-108MHz) with station scan functionality (press SCAN while in WFM radio mode to jump instantly to local stations).
Incidentally, firmware Ver. BFB297 is a bit of a misnomer as while that is what is displayed on the unit when “3” is pressed and held during start-up, the actual firmware could be higher as BaoFeng seem to have stopped updating the firmware readout – both my models are actually BFB307 (this was gleaned thanks to the latest version of CHIRP, Other Settings menu option).
I suppose at this juncture I should pull out the review disclaimer! Of course, users are required to hold a valid licence to transmit on any, or all, of the above radio spectrum and checks should also be made to ascertain the certification of this model against usage on certain bands/frequencies even if a valid licence is held. Regulations vary from country to country so make sure you are operating legally!
That said, if you plan to use it for receive (RX) only, then no licence is required and it is 100% legal. Talking of which, transmit (TX) can be disabled on any or all memory channels using CHIRP software (more on that in Part 2). I highly recommend downloading CHIRP as it offers a lot more functionality than BaoFeng’s original VIP software does.
Before I start this review I will give you a little background into the purchase.
I have been a keen airband listener for nigh on thirty years, having started off on basic analogue rotary tuning radios.
During the mid eighties, companies such as Signal and AOR started to introduce broader coverage receivers and while not perfect by today’s standards, some models incorporated the illusive military airband (225-400 MHz) not found on many units at the time. That was something I was after.
Unfortunately, prices were high and I never invested in a decent scanner until much later on – mores the pity. I ended up buying a brick like Realistic (Radio Shack) Pro-43 during the mid-nineties for about £150.
The Pro-43 wasn’t wideband by any stretch of the imagination, nevertheless it had 200 memories, was a proven performer and had full civil/military airband coverage – that clinched the deal.
As time went by I added a Realistic Pro-2042 base scanner and a Yupiteru MVT-7100 to my modest collection. In addition I had a foray into the world of HF monitoring when I picked up a discounted Radio Shack DX-394 from the now defunct Tandy retail chain.
As the nineties ended, and with military aviation assets dwindling, my interest in airband monitoring also faded somewhat and I all but dropped out of the hobby. A couple of years past and with my scanners in the attic gathering dust, I found myself online looking at the latest state of the art scanners (don‘t ask me why). That’s when I came across the all singing, all dancing Icom IC-R20. Next thing I know, I’m trading in everything and in receipt of one of the finest handheld radios ever made. My love affair with scanning had been rekindled and it wasn’t long before I added a Uniden UBC-3500XLT to my much reduced shack.
A good two years passed. The scanners were in fulltime operation – and not just airband – all sorts of stuff including local PMR, Ham, CB, Trains, Marine, HMP and even hearing aids! But with the dreaded digital age and the more “interesting” segments of the radio spectrum now silent my kit was only being used at the odd airshow. Coincidently, I needed some hard cash for another purchase so unceremoniously sold them – which finally brings me onto the TTI TSC-3000R!
I hadn’t planned on buying another scanner so soon. But I felt naked without one. So I started searching online for something basic, no frills, but with full wideband coverage (150kHz-1309MHz or so). It needed to be small, with good battery life, be 8.33kHz capable and not overly complex to use in the field. There is nothing worse than forgetting how to do something when the manual is at home and you’re not!
I set the budget – a maximum of £120 – and started looking around. To cut a long story short, there aren’t a lot of brand new wideband receivers in that price bracket, in fact just two, namely the Alinco DJ-X3 and the TTI TSC-3000R.
The Alinco model lacks a numeric keypad and the silver paint job looked to me like it would rub off fairly readily, but uses standard batteries (3x AA) which I prefer (usually) and can be programmed by computer, albeit via an outdated serial connector (not too fussed about that aspect either). Online reviews were mixed, so I took a closer look at the Korean designed TSC-3000R.
I’d never heard of the TTI brand and couldn’t really find any useful info, other than the manufacturers website http://www.ttiuk.net/index.php and some online sellers. On the face of it, it looked quite good, had the coverage I was after, and well, for a sub £120 radio, was worth the gamble in my opinion.
Prior to its arrival I had mentally lowered my expectations, as having had that lovely Icom whose build quality was exceptional, there was no way the TTI would live up to that. Funnily enough, when the 3000R arrived, I was actually surprised how tidy it looked. Sure the plastic is that hard (albeit durable) shiny black stuff typically used on cheaper consumables, but that said, I was never overly impressed with the much pricier Uniden UBC-3500XLT’s plastic casing, despite it being superb in the memory and alpha numeric department.
TTI use minimalist packaging with no glossy photo style boxes – just a simple brown cardboard affair with outline graphics. Inside everything was laid out logically and safely – boxes within a box approach.