RRD is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Read more.

The 4 Best Ham Radios – Buying Guide

Not researching well enough about the best ham radios could lead to a poor communication experience and an overall bad purchase. Of course, you don’t want your hard-earned money to be spent on something useless.

So, we’ve put together the 5 top ham radios, whether it’s for amateur or professional needs. But before you scroll down to our reviews, here’s a quick comparison.

Best for Beginners
Yaesu FT-70DR
Best - Overall
KENWOOD TH-D74A
Best for Outdoors
TYT MD-380
photo of Yaesu FT-70DR
This radio's clarity and range, coupled with tons of extra features plus a wide screen make it the best choice for any beginner.
Comes with a color transflective TFT display for both day & night use. Amazing reception too—the best that a radio enthusiast can get.
Two accessible knobs, good display and belt clip make this ham easy to set up and use for outdoors.
Best for Beginners
Yaesu FT-70DR
photo of Yaesu FT-70DR
This radio's clarity and range, coupled with tons of extra features plus a wide screen make it the best choice for any beginner.
Best - Overall
KENWOOD TH-D74A
Comes with a color transflective TFT display for both day & night use. Amazing reception too—the best that a radio enthusiast can get.
Best for Outdoors
TYT MD-380
Two accessible knobs, good display and belt clip make this ham easy to set up and use for outdoors.

Top Four Ham Radios Reviews & Buying Guide

1 – Kenwood Original TH-D74A Ham Radio

Kenwood Original TH-D74A 144/220/430 MHz Triband

Features:

  • Tri-band Ham Radio – 144 MHz /220 MHz /430 MHz
  • KISS and APRS
  • 5 watts of power output
  • 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
  • GPS

Overview

­First on our list is the handheld TH-D74A radio. Using this radio was a breeze whether it was day or night due to the transflective TFT display. The screen was easy to read, and the build of this tri-band ham radio is sturdy as well. It’s made out of high-quality materials with a weather-proof rating of IP54/55 – meaning it’s slightly dust and water-resistant.

This radio has a fine mode with a minimum step frequency range of about 20 HZ on SSB. Depending on the mode and your preferences, you can program different settings according to what you like. So from a menu with around 14 items, you can have the same menu of 10 to 25.

The TH-D47A can also read what’s onscreen out loud in case you need to keep your eyes on the road, but it only reads three important things: the mode, frequency, and reflector DSTAR limited callsign.

PROS:
  • Memory Mode
  • The transflective TFT display
  • DSTAR
  • GPS
  • Great use in all weather conditions

CONS:
  • Operating the menus takes a bit of time to get used to.

Consumer Opinion

If you’re looking for a new handheld transceiver with a lot of features, the TH-D74A ham radio is a great choice (other best choices here) compared to other handheld models at this range. High power ham radios like this are what gave the Kenwood brand the best reputation it has gained from both veterans and beginner enthusiasts.

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

However, the TH-D73A costs far more than most models on the market. For the extra price, you’ll be getting a device that has all the features for your ham radio needs.

This also includes everything from the IF filter and GPS. That makes it is easy to find a better reception regardless of your location.

If you are willing to pay this steep price, you’ll find that it pays off very well. We suggest that you get an aftermarket antenna, though, as this will highly enhance the performance of your mobile radio.

In our reviews of this product, you do need to learn a few things to get it working. Transceivers like this might even not be designed for new users or beginners, but for intermediate to advanced people.

Check Today’s Price

2 – Yaesu FT-70DR Ham Radio – Best Ham Radio For Beginners

FT-70DR FT-70

Features:

  • Alphanumeric Display
  • Includes a 1400 mAh battery set
  • Allows sorting of one thousand channels
  • Lighted keypad
  • 70 cm amateur radio
  • 5 watts of reliable RF power output

Overview

Next on our list of the best ham radios is the Yaesu FT-70DR. This device has a large screen feature for hassle-free viewing of the memory channels when you turn the knobs or change your settings.

The two knobs on top controls the frequency and volume. And depending on the signal strength, this ham radio has an automatic gain control that reduces or amplifies your voice. If you want to further increase your range, there’s a threaded antenna mount that allows attachment of different antenna types.

The keys are set aside in the other face of the ham radio. On the left side, there’s a PTT button. If you want, you may also hook this to your DC charge inlet located on the right side. You’ll also find a socket where you can have it connected to a hand microphone for security.

Meanwhile, on the back of the ham radio model, you’ll see a mounting clip and a large battery pack. It has a long and good battery life if the unit is used throughout the hours of the day for communication.

Speaking of the battery, the FT-70DR amateur radio has an LI-ION battery option or an AA battery pack backup. Its AA battery version does help you recharge without the charging station and it’s also a very economical option for those who want budget radios.

PROS:
  • Durable build
  • Designed to be lightweight and compact
  • Excellent Value
  • Comes with an extensive amount of communication features
  • Nice interface
  • Long battery life that lasts hours

CONS:

Consumer Opinion

This ham radio is well-suited for a wider spectrum of people, whether it’s pro or beginner users. If you are a professional user, the sophisticated performance and extensive programming options in this mobile radio are impressive. Its range, clarity, and way of operation are some of its best features.

The Yaesu FT-70DR offers sophisticated performance and extensive programming options.

Then again, you can still use it if you’re a beginner user 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-70DR still performs way better than other good ham radios in the market.

Check Today’s Price

3 – TYT MD-380 Ham Radio – Best for Outdoors

TYT MD-380 - DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

Features:

  • Programming cable and programming software
  • AC Charger
  • UK three pin charger
  • 16 Channel positions
  • Backlight brightness modes
  • Runs in tier 1 & 2 modes
  • Belt clip
  • Analog and digital

Overview

Unlike most DMR radios, the memory channels on this radio are only up to 16 positions. It’s pretty limited if you want to listen to international radio communications. However, the UHF version of this radio can support two types of antennas – the wideband whip and the stubby. In our tests, the whip performs better than a stubby one, but it comes at the sacrifice of less portability.

The MD-380 has a standard female connector, which means it’s easier to attach with an external antenna that has an SMA male adapter. As for the screen, it’s easy to read day or night so you always know the communication information you need.

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

On the field, the performance is pretty decent. The grip isn’t made of good quality material like most mobile radios, so we recommend wearing mittens or gloves. However, it does come with a belt clip so the ham radio is secured at all times.

PROS:
  • Improved battery meter
  • Works on both analog and digital
  • Good sound quality

CONS:
  • Clips sometimes need replacing

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 since it’s 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 amateur, you can use FM radio 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 are not used to this ham radio, the hardest things for users to learn 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.

Another difficult part of this ham radio is MD-380’s software, which is a hot topic on reviews. The installation and setup to get the DMR working easily with the repeaters aren’t that easy to grasp especially for beginners.

But once you know how the DMR system works, you can make a code plug. However, it will take at least 2 hours to even make one for your system. But if you’re already a pro user, this is the best ham radio you can get.

Check Today’s Price

4 – Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio – Most Affordable

Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio

Features:

  • Selectable light color background
  • Dual PTT Keys
  • CTCSS & DCS Scanning
  • Keypad Lock
  • Emergency Alert Feature
  • 4 watts of power output
  • VHF and UHF support available

Overview

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

Despite being available at a low price (like the UV-5R), this handheld radio model may have the most features you want within handheld ham radios. This includes VHF and UHF support, dual PTT keys, and even adjustable power settings to help preserve the battery.

This BaoFeng ham radio is also designed with a commercial FM radio reception and also a LED flashlight. The flashlight is pretty handy for easy navigation in the dark in case you catch yourself outdoors at night. Furthermore, the large LCD screen on the model makes it super easy to read day or night.

However, we found that the range isn’t so great with the included antenna. We recommend you buy a high-quality external one to improve its reception for a clearer voice.

As a convenience feature, you may also pin the mic to your shirt or shoulder strap during communication. This is a nice accessory, and while it’s not necessary for every user, it does make the model far more usable.

PROS:
  • Huge LCD
  • 128 Channels
  • Comes with built-in Vox Function
  • Adjustable power settings for better battery life so you can operate it for a long time
  • Low price

CONS:
  • Others may want a longer antenna for crystal clear reception

Consumer Opinion

Most consumers gave the BaoFeng 2 positive reviews. Users’ favorite accessory in this amateur radio is the USB cord, which allows an easy way of saving your favorite memory channels including weather alerts. This is useful if you’re on the road.

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

The extension extras also allow you to separate the device from the antenna. With this setup, you may put the portable 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 can mount to any object using a magnetic base. It’s dual band as well, meaning that it can be used for 2m-70cm radio. Overall, like the BaoFeng BF-F8HP, this is a superior handheld radio option for ham communications.

Check Today’s Price

Buying Advice

After reading our list and reviews, you may still need some advice as you’re looking for a great ham radio. Contrary to what most people think, the quality of a radio doesn’t depend on how low or high the cost is.

There are actually several features you must consider, which we’ll discuss in this section. Alternatively, you can read our primer on ham radios.

Bands

If you need a ham radio for emergency communications and local area news, get one that comes with a two-meter ham band. That way, you can make use of a radio with 440 MHz. However, if you need a more advanced radio for serious hobbyists, consider getting ten-meter amateur radios.

Another type of radio is the dual band radio, which allows you to use two frequencies at once. With a dual band ham radio, you can experience more effective communications and improved listening experience as well. But if two frequencies aren’t enough for you, you can also go for tri-band ham radios, which, as the name implies, has a system that supports three radio bands.

Then, there’s also the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular bands such as AM, TV, and FM radio. Some advanced features on this band include morse code and SSB.

Backlit Display

If you’re using your radio in dim or nighttime environments, you want to buy a new radio that comes with a backlit LCD screen. Remember, an accident or emergency may occur during the night, so you want your screen to be easy to read.

The catch with backlit displays is that they consume a lot of power. As such, you should get a radio that allows you to customize the power during the daytime or when you don’t need it much.  Being able to turn off the light from the display can save even more battery as well.

Memory

Memory really depends on your preference. If you’re going to communicate in your local area, you want an inexpensive radio that has a few memory slots. But if you’re trying to use it for the weather, international communication, or other receiver applications, you may want one that has over 100-200 slots.

Frequency range

The different frequencies you’re eligible to use and listen to depends on the licenses you have. Not every ham radio communication system has the same frequencies, so make sure you purchase one that provides the frequencies you seek. There are three types of licenses for ham radio operators: technician, general, and amateur extra.

The technician license class has all privileges above 50 MHz. For below 30 MHz, you can have limited CW, phone, and data privileges. For a general license, you have all technician privileges plus almost all amateur HF privileges. Lastly, the amateur extra license allows all amateur privileges.

The process of how to get your ham radio license is not too complicated, but there’s an exam you need to take.

Power

Your usual ham radio transceiver will have 5 watts of output. If you choose a base model, you’ll receive more power from a power supply. If it’s a handheld like the UV-5R, then ensure that it comes with a high power and low power setting so you can also adjust it to your needs.

Keep in mind that a good power supply is necessary for transceivers. If that’s what you’re looking for, here are some great power supplies for ham radios.

VF, VHF, and UHF

High frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF) are all used to describe the different sections in the radio spectrum.

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

There are also 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 depends on 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, especially on ham radio antennas. We recommend using a powered based station with a fixed antenna on your chimney because it performs better than traditional whip ones.

In terms of environment, rural areas have the most ideal range. The more structures and obstacles in the way, the lower the range. You’ll 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 spectrum of 1-2 miles. You can take this further using Single Side Band technology. One limitation of CB is that the antennas need to be large, which is why CB base systems are sizable ones that can’t be placed inside a vehicle – one reason why they’re impractical to use in comparison to a handheld ham radio. For our comparison between Ham & CB: https://www.ratedradardetector.org/radio/ham-vs-cb/.

Our Top Pick – Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Kenwood-TH-D74A

Check Today’s Price

In search of the ideal ham radio, we hand over our winning verdict to the TH-D74A. The Kenwood brand makes some of the best products in the market, and this transceiver is no exception.

Made of high-quality materials, this ham radio has a durable build – perfect for use in the tough outdoors. It’s dust and water-resistant too. Also, the color transflective TFT Display is easily readable day and night.

You get GPS, IF filter, DSTAR Digital Protocol, KISS, APRS, and many other features in the TH-D74A. It’s definitely worth every penny with everything it brings to the table.

Do you have any questions about using ham radio? Want to learn about your online options for ham radio courses? 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 accessory items (e.g. transceiver) compatible with these two-way devices.

William