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The 5 Best Ham Radios – Buying Guide

When shopping around for the best ham radio, you need to know what model provides the best communication opportunities is available for you. So we picked 5 top ham radios so you can decide which one provides the best transmission for your amateur or professional needs.

Before you scroll down to our reviews, here’s a quick comparison:

Budget-Friendly
BAOFENG UV5RA
Safe Choice
YAESU FT-60R
Modern Device
KENWOOD TH-D74A
Good for Outdoors
TYT MD-380
Best - Overall
YAESU FT-857D
Features VHF UHF support and LED flashlight, plus other ham necessities at an affordable price point.
Offers choices for both LI-ION or a AA battery pack, which secures use for longer periods of time.
Comes with color transflective TFT display that makes day and night use smooth and hassle-free.
Two accessible knobs, good display and belt clip make this ham easy to set and use during outdoor activities.
Its adjustable power output (5W-100W), audio quality, and other impressive features will delight any radio enthusiast.
Budget-Friendly
BAOFENG UV5RA
Features VHF UHF support and LED flashlight, plus other ham necessities at an affordable price point.
Safe Choice
YAESU FT-60R
Offers choices for both LI-ION or a AA battery pack, which secures use for longer periods of time.
Modern Device
KENWOOD TH-D74A
Comes with color transflective TFT display that makes day and night use smooth and hassle-free.
Good for Outdoors
TYT MD-380
Two accessible knobs, good display and belt clip make this ham easy to set and use during outdoor activities.
Best - Overall
YAESU FT-857D
Its adjustable power output (5W-100W), audio quality, and other impressive features will delight any radio enthusiast.

Top Five Ham Radios Reviews & Buying Guide

1 – Yaesu FT-60R

Features:

  • Alphanumeric Display
  • Includes a 1400 mAh battery set
  • Allows sorting of one thousand channels
  • Lighted keypad
  • 70 cm amateur radio

Overview

First on our list of best ham radios is the Yaesu FT-60R, which is filled with traits that are normally found in the best Ham radios. The device has a large screen feature for hassle-free viewing of the channels when you start turning the knobs. The two on top help control the frequency and volume. This has an automatic gain control that reduces or amplifies your voice depending on the signal strength.

And there is an antenna mount that’s threaded to help allow multiple types of styles to stay attached. The keys are set aside in the other face of the ham radio. You can hook this to your DC charge inlet located on the right side.

The right side of this amateur radio has a socket where you can have it connected to a hand microphone to help secure it. There is a PTT button located on the left side. On the back of the model, you’ll see a mounting clip and a large battery pack. It has a good and long battery life if the unit is used for a long time or throughout the day.

PROS:

  • Durable build
  • Designed to be lightweight and compact
  • Excellent Value
  • An extensive amount of features
  • Nice interface

CONS:

  • Lacking in antenna quality

Consumer Opinion

The FT-60R amateur radio has a LI-ION battery option or a AA battery pack backup. Its AA battery version does help you recharge without the charging station and its a very economical option for those who are on a budget.

This is a good ham radio for a wider spectrum of people, pro or beginner users. But if you are a professional user, you’ll like its sophisticated performance and extensive programming options. Its range and clarity are amazing, and some features provide an easy way of operation for every ham.

The Yaesu FT-60R offers sophisticated performance and extensive programming options.

Still, if you are a beginner in the field of ham radio, you might need a bit of help getting used to it while it’s new, but you’ll realize that the FT-60R still performs way better than other good ham radios in the market. So regardless of the user’s experience, you should consider getting the FT-60R amateur radio. This is an outstanding ham radio for those who don’t know what they need.

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2 – TYT MD-380

Features:

  • Cable and software
  • AC Charger
  • UK 3 pin charger
  • 16 Channel positions
  • Backlight brightness modes
  • Runs in tier 1 & 2 modes
  • Belt clip

Overview

The TYT MD-380 amateur radio has two knobs located on it – one is the channel selector knob, and the other is a volume/power switch knob. Both can be accessed on top of the transceiver, and they give a “click” that indicates that it is on or the power is changed.

Unlike competing for DMR radios, switching memory channels is only up to 16 positions. And while the grip is not made of good-quality material, they can be used wearing mittens or gloves. It comes with a belt clip to secure the ham radio as well. Fortunately, you will receive all the information from the screen.

This UHF version has two antennas – wideband whip and stubby. While the whip performs better than a stubby one, it will be less portable. The MD-380 has a standard female connector, which makes it easier to attach with an external antenna with an SMA male adapter.

PROS:

  • Improved battery meter to monitor battery life
  • Works on both analog and digital
  • Good sound quality

CONS:

  • Clips sometimes need to be replaced

Consumer Opinion

For those that have a GMRS and amateur licenses, the TYT MD-380 is great because you can use both GMRS and amateur channels because its a Port 90 type. In the GMRS settings, it’s only FA Analog because the rules don’t allow for any form of Digital mode. On the amateur, you can use FM and digital.

With  TYT MD-380, you can use both GMRS and amateur channels because its a Port 90 radio.

For beginner ham operators and people who not used to this ham radio, the hardest things for users to wrap their heads around are the zones. Each zone has over 16 channels to choose from. So to get to around 1000 channels, you’ll have to go through a lot of zones.

One difficult part in this ham radio is MD-380’s software, as that’s been much of a topic on reviews. It’s difficult because of the installation setup needed to get the DMR working easily with the repeaters. However, once you know how the DMR system works, you can make a code plug, but it will take some time. On average, it will take at least 2 hours to make one for your system. This may be dubbed as the best ham radio, especially for pros, but it’s not the best ham for beginners.

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3 – Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Features:

  • Triband Ham Radio – 144 MHz /220 MHz /430 MHz
  • KISS and APRS
  • DStar digital protocol
  • FB Stations, CB Stations (11 Meters), AM Stations
  • Four TX Power selections
  • External Decode function feature
  • Pitch frequency plays back morse code

Overview

The best thing about the handheld Kenwood Original TH-D74A amateur radio is its color transflective TFT display that provides much visibility during the day and evening so everything’s easy to read. And it has a fine mode that has a minimum step frequency range of about 20 Hz on SSB.

Depending on the mode and many other factors, the position will change and some other options will vanish. From a menu, with around 14 items, you can have the same menu of 10 to 25, and you don’t know what caused the change. The voice only reads the mode, frequency range, and reflector DSTAR limited callsign.

We also like this ham radio because of its sturdy design. This works well in both indoor and outdoor environments and is made out of high-quality materials. It has a weatherproof rating of IP54/55, making it slightly water-resistant. Dust and water won’t stick to it for sure.

PROS:

  • Memory Mode
  • The transflective TFT display
  • DSTAR

CONS:

  • Slow Bluetooth 3/0

Consumer Opinion

When you search for a new handheld transceiver that has a lot of characteristics, the Kenwood Original TH-D74A is a great choice (other best choices here) compared to handheld devices. High power radios like this are what gave Kenwood the best reputation it has gained from enthusiasts, beginners or not.

Kenwood Original TH-D74A boasts of color transflective TFT display plus a sturdy and durable design.

However, the Kenwood Original TH-D73A costs more than most models on the market. For its extra price, you’ll be getting a device that has all the features to help you with your ham radio needs. This includes everything from the IF filter and GPS, which means it is easy to find a better reception regardless of your location.

If you are willing to pay for the steep price, you’ll find that it pays off very well. Keep in mind that reviews suggest that you get an aftermarket antenna. This will highly enhance the performance of the radio. Also, understand that it has a learning curve and it might not be okay for new users or beginners, but for intermediate to advanced people.

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4 – Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio

Features:

  • Selectable light color background
  • Dual PTT Keys
  • CTCSS & DCS Scanning
  • Keypad Lock
  • Emergency Alert Feature

Overview

If you’re low on cash, or you want to get into the handheld radios realm without paying too much money, you can’t go wrong with a BaoFeng radio transceiver. The manufacturer has a lot of inexpensive ones, and BaoFeng 2 is one of the cheapest options among the lot.

Despite its low price, this has the most features within handheld radios. This includes VHF UHF support, and adjustable settings to help preserve your battery. There’s a commercial FM reception and also a LED flashlight for easy navigation in the night.

The range isn’t so great with that antenna, but having an external one will improve its reception. You can pin the mic to your shirt or shoulder strap for convenience. This is a nice accessory, and while it’s not necessary, it does make it more usable.

PROS:

  • Huge LCD
  • 128 Channels
  • Built-in Vox Function

CONS:

  • Sometimes defective

Consumer Opinion

Most of the consumers gave the BaoFeng 2 PIN Open positive reviews. Here’s what they had to say. Their favorite accessory in this amateur radio is the USB cord. It allows an easy way of saving favorite memory channels including weather alerts, making use to have when traveling along the road.

BaoFeng 2 might be a cheap option, but it has the most features that are usually found in handheld radios.

The extension accessories allow you to separate the device from the antenna. With this setup, you can put the body of the Baofeng radios right inside an internal backpack pocket and then route the antenna outside the pack.

Users also like the mobile antenna that’s available that can mount to any object using a magnetic base. It’s dual band, meaning that it can be used for 2m-70cm radio. Thus, a superior option for portable communications.

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5 – Yaesu FT-857D Base Radio

Features:

  • Microphone and cable accessories
  • 200 Memory Slots available
  • 2 O-239 outputs
  • Spectrum display Feature
  • Supports HV, VHF, and UHF bands

Overview

Yaesu has gained a reputation for creating some incredible gadgets, and the Yaesu FT-857D radio transceiver is no different. Made for in-vehicle use, this base radio is small enough to be mounted under the dashboard or in-dash slots that has all the features you’ll need for a larger radio.

This supports HF, VHF, and UHF bands, with an adjustable output of power from around 5 watts  to 100 watts based on the brand. This supports over 200 channels that can provide you custom names and are organized into collections for quick setup.

The menu on this base radio can be difficult to read in the beginning. But once you can get used to it, you can easily get through the settings and features. If you are looking for an ideal new handheld radio to place in your car or truck, then this is a great choice.

PROS:

  • Improved ability to transmit signal
  • Impressive audio quality
  • Ample storage

CONS:

  • Confusing design

Consumer Opinion

If this is your first radio transceiver, the FT-857D is a wonderful option to buy on the market. It has an easy to learn menu, so every user doesn’t have to waste many hours fumbling to look for the right controls for this device. Thus, beginners will find this radio useful when they’re out on the road as this is one of the most reliable ham radios for beginners.

Yaesu FT-857D is a user-friendly and reliable device that is best for beginners.

However, some people had issues with the designed controllers of the device. They stated that they are too heavy for a user with smaller fingers. If this is an issue for you, take time to slowly press onto the switches to get used to it.

This ham radio transmits in HAM bands only, comes with everything installed and has a metal rack support. Once you buy the Yaesu FT-87D, you’ll have a responsive radio that can keep you satisfied if you need HQ communication.

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Buying Advice

After reading our list and reviews, do you still need some advice when looking for a great ham radio? Discover how to make the search easier in this section!

Bands

If you need a ham radio for emergency communications, it is advised to get one that comes with a two-meter ham band. This radio has 440 MHz which you can make use of. There are some alternative band features that you should look into. Another radio is a dual band radio, which allows you to use two frequencies at once. With a dual band radio, you get more effective communications with your colleagues and you can have an improved listening experience as well.

Then there is the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular bands, AM, TV, and FM. Some advanced features include morse code and SSB.

Backlit Display

If you’re using your radio in dim or nighttime environments, you should buy a new radio that comes with a backlit LCD screen. Remember, accidents and emergencies are more likely to occur during the night. If you run out of power, then you’ll have to use it in the dark. Get a radio that allows you to customize the power during the daytime or when you don’t need it.

Memory

If you are communicating in your local area, you should get an inexpensive radio that has a few memory slots. But if you’re trying to use it for the weather, international communication, or other applications, you may want one that has over 100-200 slots.

Frequency range

The frequencies you’ll be eligible to use will depend on the licenses you have. Not every ham radio has the same freq, so make sure you purchase one that provides the frequencies you seek.

Power

Your usual ham radio transceiver will have 5 watts of power. If you choose a base model, you’ll receive more power. If it’s a handheld, then ensure that it comes with a high and low setting so you can adjust the power to your needs, but remember to consider something that can match with your transceiver.

VF, VHF, and UHF

High frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF) are all used to describe the different bird’s eye view section in the radio spectrum.

  • HF – ranges from 3-30 MHz
  • VHF – from 30-300 MHz
  • UHF- from 300 MHz to 3 GHz

There are some sections like Low Frequency, but you won’t hear that much about them because they are not suited for civilian radio.

Range

The range of your handheld ham radio is decided upon the following factors:

  • Urban vs rural
  • Frequency Range/Wavelength
  • Transmission power
  • Quality and size of the antenna
  • How high your antenna is relative to the horizon/how high it is off the ground

These factors can vary based on the type of equipment you’re using. You should use a powered based station with a fixed antenna on your chimney because it performs better than traditional whip ones.

Generally, rural areas have the most ideal range. The more structures and obstacles in the way, the lower the range. The same will get around 20 miles in a rural zone, 10 miles in the suburbs, and 2 miles in the city and local areas.

CB usually has a range of 1-2 miles. You can extend this using Single Side Band technology. One limitation of CB is that the antennas need to be large, which is why using CB base systems has to use sizable ones that aren’t able to be placed inside a vehicle. This is why it can be impractical to use them in comparison to handheld ham radio. For our comparison between Ham & CB: https://www.ratedradardetector.org/radio/ham-vs-cb/.

Conclusion

No matter what radios on this list you’re trying to buy, you’ll have a reliable radio transceiver system in your hands. If you want something cheap or inexpensive, go for the Kenwood Original TH-D74A. But, if you need something more high end then go for the Yaesu FT-857D.

For those all around the world who want an all-around handheld ham radio, then opt for the FT-60R from Yaesu. Make sure you watch out for radio specs that suit your communication needs. This will make it easier to get locate the bands you need and reach out to your desired networks.

Do you have any questions about using ham radio?

Ask us more in the comments below.
Note: We’ll keep on updating this list to include other best radios like handheld BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band two-way radio and dual-band BaoFeng BF-F8HP, plus other best accessories (e.g. transceiver) compatible with these two-way devices.

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William

This article is written by William Johnson, the founder of RRD. William is passionate about radar detectors. His interest in reviewing and testing radar detectors from different brands started nearly 10 years ago, when his own radar detector then (a cheap and brand-less detector he bought online) failed to detect and radar gun nearby.
William

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