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Friday, 13 December 2013

Motorola DP3400 TRBO radio review

I recently bought 2 DP3400s and have been enjoying using them. I have to say that immediately you can tell that they are better quality than the Kirisun S780, but you would expect that when they cost about 4x as much.
The radios feel sturdy in the hand, and they feel like they wouldn't break easily if dropped. They are also submersible in water which is a very handy feature. I haven't dared to test this yet, but I have put the radio under a running tap, and it survived that test perfectly well. On the downside, the radio is incredibly heavy compared to any other radio I have ever owned (about 400g). It's almost double the weight of the Kirisun, and a lot more than my other radios. This is down to the battery, which is very heavy - the actual body of the radio is quite light without the battery. I think it's a shame that Motorola only supply the radio with a NiMH battery, whereas most radios these days come with the superior Li-Ion batteries.

The analog audio sounds very nice on transmit, although it could be a tiny bit louder. (Even with the gain turned right up)  The digital audio sounds very nice too, I think it sounds a lot better than the Kirisun's, and it also has a much longer range than them. The range of the digital using these radios is more or less the same as analog, when used without encryption. However, the range does decrease quite a bit if you turn on enhanced privacy, so I would not recommend using enhanced privacy. Digital definitely sounds an awful lot better than analog when the signal is bad, however, I think analog sounds very slightly better when the signal is good. This is only true when the signal is so strong that there is no noise.

Digital requires the use of different microphone practices than most people are used to. On analog, to get the best range, you should talk very close to the microphone. If you do this on digital, it sounds terrible, because the vocoder picks up too much of the wind or blowing noises as you speak. On digital, I have found that it works best when you speak about 3-4 cm away from the microphone. This gives the best quality of voice by reducing blowing noise, but also by keeping the voice loud enough for the vocoder not to be affected by background noises such as other people speaking in the same room.
I have programmed in some local business user's DMR frequencies, and I often hear terrible microphone practices. One second someone is speaking right into the microphone and causing clipped audio, and the next, someone talks, sounding like they're standing across the room from the transmitting radio. Sometimes it is hard to hear them even with the radio volume turned all the way up.

These radios unfortunately only have 32 channels maximum. The channel selector knob has 16, and you can program one of the buttons to act as a "Zone switch" which changes between 2 sets of 16 channels.
Having this feature is quite useful though, as I have a zone for scanning local DMR users, and a separate zone of channels that I can use to speak between the two radios.  If you are going to buy some of these radios with the purpose of using them to listen to others, (as a scanner) then you should make sure when programming them that you tick the checkbox "RX only". Otherwise it is possible to transmit on the channel by accident, and they could see your radios ID number and recognise that it isn't one that belongs on their system.
I should also warn anyone reading this that it isn't as easy to scan or listen in to other digital users as it is to do the same on analog. You need a lot more information, which you can obtain by using a scanner and a program called DMRDecode. The audio from the Motorola radio does sound a bit better than listening using DSD, but I'm not sure it is worth the money to buy a radio to just to listen in, especially if you only normally listen at home where you have easy access to a computer to run DSD on.
If you like to take a radio around with you to listen in, then it could be worth buying a dedicated radio for this purpose. One negative point of using a DMR radio to listen in, compared to using DSD, is that you cannot listen in to private calls (MS to MS calls) unless the call is directed at the ID you have programmed into your radio. Considering that your radio will only be able to have one ID of its own, it will be impossible to hear all private calls.

The programmable buttons on the side of the radio are very useful. There are many different options you can choose from, but I have chosen the ones that are most useful for my purpose and I will list them below:
The emergency button shows battery status when held.
The blue programmable button switches from high power to low power and vice versa.
The single dot button turns on and off scanning.
The plain black button with no dot switches between zones.
As you can see, these are all very useful things, and add a great deal of functionality to the radio. Without these buttons, it would be more difficult to scan or just use the radios in general.

So to summarise, the DP3400 is a good quality radio, if a little heavy. Digital is definitely worth using, it sounds good and has good range too. These radios should stand up to use in a harsh environment, and would be good for use as a solid, reliable communications device, but not so good as a scanner.
If you want to scan DMR, I would say it's better to use DSD, or buy a cheaper Chinese made DMR radio, like the MYT-DM3000, (which is not yet out) or the LUITON DG-318. Although I can't say I've had any experience with them, the programming software will be free (Compared to around £100 for the MOTOTRBO CPS) and the programming cable will probably be around £10 compared to £50 for the Motorola one, so it will save you a huge amount of money.

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