Best 5 Ham Radios – Buying Guide

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

Top Five Ham Radios Reviews & Comparison

Yaesu FT-60R

Features:

  • Alphanumeric Display
  • Includes a 1400 mAh battery
  • One thousand memory channels
  • Lighted keypad
  • 70 cm amateur radio

Overview:

The Yaesu FT-60R is filled with features that are common with Ham radios. The device has a large display, making it easier to see the channels when a user starts turning the knobs. The two knobs on top help control the frequency and volume.

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

The right side has a port where you can connect it to a hand microphone to help secure the radio. There is a PTT button located on the left side of the radio. On the back of the radio, you’ll see a mounting clip and a large battery pack. It has a good battery life if the unit is used throughout the day.

Consumer Opinion

The Yaesu FT-60R has an LI-ION battery option or a AA battery pack backup. Its AA version helps you recharge without the charging station and its a very economical option for users that are on a budget.

This is a good choice for a wider range of users. If you’re a professional user, you’ll like its sophisticated performance and extensive programming options. Its range and clarity are great, and there are some features that make it easy to operate.

However, if you’re a beginner, you might have a slight learning curve, but you’ll realize that the Yaesu FT-60R performs better than other ham radios in the market. The usual manual is also simple and clear. This should be sufficient enough to give you the guidance needed to get started.

So regardless of the user’s experience, you should consider getting the Yaesu FT-60R. This is a great option for users who don’t know what they need.

Pros:

  • Durable build
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Excellent Value
  • Extensive amount of features
  • Nice interface

Cons:

  • Lacking in antenna quality

TYT MD-380

Features:

  • USB Programming Cable and software
  • AC Charger
  • UK 3 pin charger cable
  • 16 Channel positions
  • Backlight brightness

Overview:

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

Unlike competing for DMR radios, the channel change is limited to only 16 positions. And while the grip isn’t made of high-quality material, they can be used wearing mittens or gloves. Fortunately, you can find all the information on the display screen, making it easier for users to read.

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

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 radio. On the GMRS setting, you’re limited to an FA Analog because the rules don’t allow for any form of Digital mode. On its amateur channels, you can use FM and DMR digital.

For people who not to use it, the hardest things for users to wrap their heads around is 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 is MD-380’s programming software. It’s difficult because of the installation setup needed to get the DMR working 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 code plug for your system.

Pros:

  • Improved battery meter
  • Works on both analog and DMR
  • Good sound quality and range

Cons:

  • Clips sometimes need to be replaced

Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Features:

  • KISS and APRS
  • DStar
  • FB Radio Stations, CB Stations (11 Meters), AM Radio Stations
  • Four TX Power selections
  • External Decode function

Overview:

The best thing about the Kenwood Original TH-D74A has a color transflective TFT display that provides visibility during the day and night. And it has a fine mode that has a minimum step frequency of about 20 Hz on SSB.

Depending on the mode and many other factors, the position options 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, and in reflector DSTAR limited callsign.

We also like the radio because of its sturdy design. This radio 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.

Consumer Opinion

If you’re searching for a handheld radio that has a lot of features, the Kenwood Original TH-D74A is a great choice. Power radios like this is what gave Kenwood its reputation the company has gained from ham radio enthusiasts.

However, the Kenwood Original TH-D73A costs more than most models on the market. For its extra price, you’re getting a radio that has all the features you’ll need. This includes everything from IF filter and GPS, making it easier to find a better reception regardless of your location.

If you are willing to pay for the higher price, you’ll find that it pays off. Keep in mind that you might want to get an aftermarket antenna. This will highly enhance the radio’s performance. Also, understand that the radio’s learning curve might not be good for beginner users, but for intermediate to advanced users.

Pros:

  • Memory Mode
  • Transflective color TFT display
  • DSTAR Radio

Cons:

  • Slow Bluetooth 3/0

Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio

Features:

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

Overview:

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

Despite its low price, this has the most features within a handheld radio. This includes UHF/VHF support, and adjustable settings to help preserve your battery. There’s a commercial FM radio reception and LED flashlight.

The range isn’t so great with that antenna, but having an external antenna will improve its reception. You can clip 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.

Consumer Opinion

Most of the consumers gave the BaoFeng 2 PIN Open positive reviews. Here’s what they had to say. Their favorite accessory is the USB programming cable. It allows users to save their favorite channels, making it a useful radio to have when traveling along the road.

The antenna extension allows you to separate the radio from the antenna. With this setup, you can place the radio body 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 a dual-band antenna, meaning that it can be used for 2m-70cm ham radio bands. Thus, making it a good option for portable radio communications.

Pros:

  • Large LCD Display
  • 128 Channels
  • Built-in Vox Function

Cons:

  • Sometimes defective radio.

Yaesu FT-857D

Features:

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

Overview:

Yaesu has gained a reputation for creating high-quality ham radios, and the Yaesu FT-857D is no different. Made for in-vehicle use, the device 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.

The Yaesu FT-857D supports HF, VHF, and UHF bands, with an adjustable power output from around 5W-100W based on the brand. This radio supports over 200 channels that can give you custom names and are organized into collections for quick setup.

The menu can be difficult to read in the beginning. But once you’re able to get used to it, you can easily get through the radio’s settings and features. If you’re looking for reliable ham radio to place in your car or truck, then the Yaesu FT-857D is a great choice.

Consumer Opinion

If this is your first radio, the Yaesu FT-857D is a good option. It features an easy to learn the menu, so you don’t have to waste hours fumbling to find the right controls for this device. Thus, beginners will find this radio useful when they’re out on the road.

However, some consumers had issues with the controls of the device. They stated that the radio’s controls are too heavy for smaller fingers. If this is an issue for you, take time to slowly press onto the controls on you get used to it.

This 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’re in need of high-quality communication.

Pros:

  • Improved signal reception
  • Good audio quality
  • Large memory

Cons:

  • Confusing controls

Buying Advice

Need some advice when looking for reliable ham radio?   Find out how in this section!

Bands

If you need a radio for emergency communications, get one that has a two-meter ham band. This radio has a 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.

Then there is the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular ham bands, AM, TV, and FM frequencies. 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 radio that has a backlit display. Remember, accidents and emergencies are more likely to occur during the night. If you run out of power, then you’ll have to operate 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’re communicating in your local area, you can 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, its recommended you get one that has over 100-200 memory slots.

Obtain a License

Pretending that you will only use your radio for an emergency, will only cause more problems down the road. That’s why you need a license.

Licensing is more than being able to operate a radio station legally in normal times. It also gives you a foundation of knowledge you want to work from or how to communicate with others, how to get on the air.

Going unlicensed will result in fines by the FCC. And being an unlicensed operator will increase the chance of getting blacklisted by other ham operators.

There are three licensing tests available, each becoming more difficult as you progress. To have a two-meter band and access repeaters. All you need is a technician license to get started.

If you’re a casual user, a General or Technician license is all you’ll need. But for high-frequency radio broadcasting, you’ll have to go for a General class, and there are extra classes if you want access to all amateur radio frequencies.

Why Should I Get Ham Radio

Amateur radio gives you a decentralized communication system that is readily scalable and robust during an emergency. Since each operator has an individual station and can work off the grid, it can be hard for the communication to be destroyed.

Most of the areas have formal emergency nets that have volunteer operators to help users during an emergency. Also, a ham radio helps you communicate under normal circumstances, especially if you are in an isolated region. In fact, it’s possible to use an email with ham radio.

User Manual

When buying a product, the user’s manuals are not the first concern. But for ham radios, the manual is very important. Ham radio has a learning curve, and if you’re a first time user, you need as much instruction and guidance as you can.

Even if you’re a veteran, there’s a chance that you’ll accidentally hit a button and be in a mode that you don’t want to be in. Rather than experimenting with the radio to get the mode that you want, you should also use a user manual to help you find out how to get back to normal operation.

Sadly, some of these manuals were written with poor English due to the being produced overseas. One idea is to download the manual online and then check it out. If you like the radio model but not the manual, you can do an online search to see if there are users within your area.

Frequency

The frequencies you’ll be eligible to use will depend on the licenses you have. Not all ham radios have the same frequencies, so make sure you purchase one that provides the frequencies you’re seeking.

Programming

Programming plays an important role when finding a good ham radio. You should be looking for a radio that allows you to adjust the CB bands manually. Some higher-end models allow you to connect the radio to a computer. This gives you the ability to access programming software that lets you input whatever you want for your radio.

Power

Your average ham radio will have 5 watts of power. If you choose a base model radio, you’ll receive more power. If it’s a handheld radio, then ensure that it has a high and low setting so you can adjust the power to your needs.

VF, VHF, and UHF

High frequency, very high frequency, and ultra high frequency are different names used to describe the different bird’s eye view section in the radio spectrum.

  • High Frequency – ranges from 3-30 mHz
  • Very High Frequency – ranges from 30-300 mHz
  • Ultra High Frequency – ranges 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.

While the naming is confusing, think about history. The first ham radios had simple designs. As scientists began to continue to make innovations, we’d start to see higher frequencies. When getting a radio, make sure you have the license to use the desired frequencies channels.

Range

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

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

These factors can vary based on the type of radio 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 antennas.

Since most people want simplicity, so we’ve created an average range for a mix of common environments and scenarios.

Here’s the average range between two handheld radios:

  • Ham: 2 miles
  • FRS: 0.25 miles
  • GMRS: 0.5 miles
  • CB: 1 miles
  • MURS: 1 mile

Generally, rural areas have the best range. The more structures and obstacles in the way, the lower the range. The same radio will get around 20 miles in a rural area, 10 miles in the suburbs, and 2 miles in city areas.

CB bands usually have a range of 1-2 miles. You can extend this range using Single Side Band technology. One limitation about CB is that the antennas need to be large, which is why using CB base systems have to use large antennas that aren’t able to be placed inside a vehicle. That’s why it can be impractical to use them in comparison to ham radio bands.

Your Ham radio signal range will vary based on the band or equipment you’re using. Handheld units might only give you a few miles in some circumstances, while a station on HF bands have enough frequency to communicate across the globe.

The Disadvantages

While you can use amateur radio for emergency communication and it’s been proved to work for over a century, there are some drawbacks when using it. For instance, getting a license to use a radio might feel like a betrayal of your natural rights, and it’s logical to few this as personal intrusion in your individual affairs.

Using a licensed radio might not be a good idea in that case, but there is a multitude of other radios, including CB, that has enough reached to go off the grid during an emergency.

And perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages is that your communication isn’t private. You are unable to transmit obfuscated or encrypted messages – you’ll send clear information each time. This can be triangulated from each of your radio transmissions.

While this might be good for some people, you shouldn’t say something that you wouldn’t want over thousands of people to hear.

Conclusion

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

For users who want a all around ham radio, then opt for a Yaesu FT-60R. Make sure you find out which radio’s specs suits your communication needs. This will make it easier to get find the bands you need and reach out to your desired networks.

Do you have any questions about using ham radios?

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