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The 4 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:

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

Depending on the mode and many different factors, the position will change and some other options you want 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 three things: the mode, frequency range, and reflector DSTAR limited callsign.

We also like this mobile ham radio because of its sturdy build. This high quality tri-band ham radio works well in both indoor and even outdoor environments and is made out of high-quality materials. It has a weather proof rating of IP54/55, making it slightly water-resistant.

Dust and water won’t stick to it for sure, so it’s great to listen to communications at any weather.

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

When you search for a new handheld transceiver that has a lot of characteristics, the TH-D74A ham radio is a great choice (other best choices here) compared to handheld devices. High power ham radios like this are what gave the brand 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 TH-D73A costs far more than most models on the market. For its 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 the cost 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 mobile radio.

Also, understand that you need to learn a few things about this product. Transceivers like this might even not be designed for new users or beginners, but for intermediate to advanced people.

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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 quality ham radios is the Yaesu FT-70DR, 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 memory channels when you start turning the knobs.

The two on top would control the frequency and volume. This ham radio 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 in order to allow multiple types of styles to stay attached. The keys are set aside in the other face of the ham radio. If you want, you may also 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 also a PTT button located on the left side.

On the back of the ham radio 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 throughout the hours of the day for communication.

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

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

This is a ham radio that’s well suited for a wider spectrum of people, pro or beginner users. However, if you are a professional user, you’ll like the sophisticated performance and extensive programming options in this mobile radio. Its range and clarity are amazing, and some features provide an easy way of operation for every ham.

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

Still, if you are 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.

So regardless of the user’s ham radio communication experience, you should consider getting the FT-70DR radio. This is an outstanding ham radio even for those who don’t know what they need.

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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

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 may 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 like in many mobile radios, they can be used wearing mittens or gloves.

The ham radio even comes with a belt clip to secure the ham radio as well. Fortunately, you will receive all the communication information you want from the screen.

This UHF version has two antennas – wideband whip and stubby. While the whip performs better than a stubby one, it will also 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
  • 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 have the ability to 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 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.

One difficult part in this ham radio is MD-380’s software, as that’s been much of a topic on reviews. It’s not that easy 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. It will take at least 2 hours to even make one for your system. This may be dubbed as the best ham radio, especially for pros.

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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 the handheld radios realm 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 options that cost the cheapest among the lot.

Despite being available at a low price (like the UV-5R), this handheld radio model may even have the most features you want within handheld ham radios. This includes VHF and UHF support, dual PTT keys, and adjustable power settings to help preserve your 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 if in case you caught yourself outdoors at night. Furthermore, the large LCD screen makes it super easy to ready whether using the model day or night.

However, we found that the range isn’t so great with that antenna. We recommend you buy a separate one as having a high quality external one is going to improve its reception for a clearer voice. You may also pin the mic to your shirt or shoulder strap for convenience 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 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 extras also allows 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’s available that has the ability to mount to any object using a magnetic base. It’s dual band as well, meaning that it can be used for 2m-70cm radio. Thus, a superior handheld radio option for portable ham communications, like the BaoFeng BF-F8HP.

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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 product search easier in this section! Contrary to what most people think on radios, it’s not just about how low or high the cost is. Alternatively, you can read our primer on ham radios.

Bands

If you need a ham radio for emergency communications and local area news, one of the first things we advise is 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 a user should look into. For a more advanced radio, consider getting ten-meter amateur radios that offer better performance to meet the needs of more serious radio hobbyists.

Another radio is a dual band radio. A dual band radio allows you to use two frequencies at once. With a dual band ham radio, you get more effective communications with your colleagues and you can have an improved listening experience as well as you listen to two frequencies. Tri-band ham radios, on the other hand, has a system that supports three radio bands.

There’s the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular bands, AM, TV, and FM radio. Some advanced features 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 is more likely to occur during the night, so you want your screen to be easy to read.

If you run out of power, then you’ll have to operate the receiver in the dark. Get a radio that allows you to customize the power during the daytime or when you don’t need it much. Also, being able to turn off the light from the display allows you to save even more battery.

Memory

If you are going to communicate in your local area, you should 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 even want one that has over 100-200 slots. Memory really depends on your preference.

Frequency range

The many different frequencies you’ll be eligible to use and listen to is first going to depend 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 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.

It’s not too complicated, despite the exam. You can learn everything you need to know about how to get your ham radio license after this.

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 the power settings to your needs, but first remember to consider something that can match with your transceiver.

You can also read on great power supplies for ham radios now. A good power supply is necessary.

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. Read more about ham radio antennas.

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 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 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/.

Our Top Pick – Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Kenwood-TH-D74A

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In search of the ideal ham radio, we hand over our winning verdict to the TH-D74A. The 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