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The 5 Best Ham Radios – Buying Guide

When shopping around for 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. Scroll down for our reviews!

Top Five Ham Radios Reviews & Comparison

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

The Yaesu FT-60R is filled with traits that are normally found in 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.

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

The right side 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 it, 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 Yaesu FT-60R has a LI-ION battery option or a AA battery pack backup. Its AA battery version helps you recharge without the charging station and its a very economical option for those who are on a budget.

This is a good choice for a wider spectrum of users, pro or beginners. 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 make it easy to operate.

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

However, if you are a beginner, you might need to get used to it while it’s new, but you’ll realize that the Yaesu FT-60R performs better than other good ham radios in the market. The usual manual is also simple and clear, which makes it the best ham radio for beginners. This should be sufficient enough to give you the best guidance needed to get started.

So regardless of the user’s experience, you should consider getting the Yaesu FT-60R. This is an outstanding option 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 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 radio 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 also comes with a belt clip to secure the unit. 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 radio. 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 beginners an people who not used to 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 software, according to 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 one of the best ham radios, especially for pros, but it’s definitely not the best ham radio for beginners.

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3 – Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Features:

  • Triband – 144 MHz /220 MHz /430 MHz
  • KISS and APRS
  • DStar
  • FB Stations, CB Stations (11 Meters), AM Stations
  • Four TX Power selections
  • External Decode function feature

Overview

The best thing about the handheld Kenwood Original TH-D74A has a color transflective TFT display that provides visibility during the day and evening. 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 it 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 Radio

CONS:

  • Slow Bluetooth 3/0

Consumer Opinion

If you are searching to buy a new handheld radio transceiver that has a lot of characteristics, the Kenwood Original TH-D74A is a great choice (other best choices here) compared to handheld devices. Power ham radios like this are what gave Kenwood the best reputation it has gained from radio 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 you’ll need. This includes everything from the IF filter and GPS, which means it is trouble-free 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. Keep in mind that reviews suggest that you get an aftermarket antenna. This will highly enhance the radio’s performance. Also, understand that it has a learning curve and it might not be okay for new users or beginners, but for intermediate to advanced users.

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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 ham radios realm without paying too much money, you can’t go wrong with a BaoFeng. The manufacturer has a lot 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 handheld radios. 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 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 is the USB cord. It allows saving of favorite memory channels including weather alerts, making it a useful radio to have when traveling along the road.

BaoFeng 2 might be a cheap option, but it has 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 Baofeng 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 dual-band, meaning that it can be used for 2m-70cm ham radio. Thus, a superior option for portable radio communications.

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5 – Yaesu FT-857D

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 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.

This 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 provide you custom names and are organized into collections for quick setup.

The menu can be difficult to read in the beginning. But once you are able to get used to it, you can easily get through the settings and features. If you are looking for ideal new handheld ham 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, the Yaesu FT-857D is a wonderful option to buy on the market. It has an easy to learn the menu, so you don’t have to waste 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 and best ham radios for beginners.

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

However, some consumers had issues with the designed controllers of the device. They stated that they are too heavy for smaller fingers. If this is an issue for you, take time to slowly press onto the switches to 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 need HQ communication.

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Buying Advice

After reading our reviews, do you still need some advice when looking for a great radio? Discover how in this section!

Bands

If you need a radio for emergency communications, it is best to get one that has 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.

Then there is the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular ham 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 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 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, its recommended by reviews that you get one that has over 100-200 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 need or how to contact and 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 handheld 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.

For 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 unit 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 in case of a disaster. Also, a handheld ham radio helps you communicate under normal circumstances, especially if you are in an isolated region. It’s possible to use an email with ham radio.

User Manual

When choosing a product, the user’s manuals are not the first concern. But for a handheld ham radio, it is very important. Ham radio has a learning curve, and if it’s your first time, you need as much instruction and best guidance as you can.

Even if you’re a veteran, there’s a chance that you’ll accidentally hit a switch 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 see how to get back to normal operation.

Sadly, some of these manuals were written with poor English due to them being produced overseas. One idea is to download it 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 locality.

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 best frequencies you seek.

Programming

Programming plays an important role when finding a handheld ham radio. You should be looking for something that allows you to alter the CB band/s 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 usual ham radio 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 has 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.

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

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.

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

Here’s the ave. range between two handheld radios:

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

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 city and local areas.

CB usually have a range of 1-2 miles. You can extend this 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 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/.

Your Ham radio signal will vary based on the band or equipment you’re using. Handheld units might only allow you a few miles in some circumstances, while a station on HF bands has enough frequency to contact/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 one 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 messaging is not private. You are unable to best transmit obfuscated or encrypted messages – you’ll transmit clear information. This can be triangulated from each of your transmissions.

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

Conclusion

No matter what radio you’re trying to buy, you’ll have a reliable 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 a Yaesu FT-60R. 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 a 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.

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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