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The world has seen the rise and fall of many technologies. Some were rendered obsolete with the rise of newer, better systems. While others simply faded away.
It’s a testament to the importance of ham radio that it’s still an absolute necessity today despite its introduction over 100 years ago.
This article deeply delves into the world of communication devices, highlighting the best ham radio for work, hobby, or play.
Best Overall – BAOFENG BF-F8HP
The Baofeng BF-F8HP is an upgrade on the UV-5R. The significance of this upgrade is that Baofeng took an excellent ham radio and made it even better.
This ham radio has a 30% larger battery than its predecessor and a more durable cover – thanks to its hardened, durable radio shell that can withstand the worst abuse. Moreover, it features twice the power at 8W compared to the 4W of the UV-5R.
It’s a versatile radio that features twice the antenna performance and a programming cable for easy use with the PC. The standout feature of this ham radio isn’t the frequency range but the ease of use.
It’s high-quality enough for the savviest hobbyist and easy to learn and operate for the newbie. The radio works amazingly well with CHIRP and Baofeng software.
You can buy a longer antenna to improve the experience. It also has a comprehensive manual that walks you through the radio’s features.
Moreover, the handheld radio has multiple power settings as low as 1W up to 8W for full power. The frequency range isn’t the broadest on the list, but it’s still 136-174 MHz for VHF and 400-520 MHz for UHF.
The radio ships with a 2100mAh battery, CH-5 antenna, CH-5 110V adapter, belt clip, wrist strap, and user manual.
You’d need to program the radio for specific channels and reduce power to prevent issues with the military or FCC! Yep, the radio is that powerful. Non-licensed holders are limited to 1.5W and are only allowed a limited number of frequencies.
- Exceptional battery life
- It has three power levels 1W, 4W, and 8W
- Durable hardshell design
- Comprehensive user manual
- Fantastic price
- It has all the accessories
- The antenna has terrible reception
- It doesn’t always ship with described parts
Best Premium – YAESU FT-991A
The FT-991A is a ham radio designed to take care of needs you didn’t know you had. The construction is exceptionally high-quality and fits into a compact solid housing that can put out up to 100W of pure output power.
It looks high-tech but is very user-friendly and easy to program. The price is reasonable when you consider the capabilities of this radio, providing all-band coverage for TX/RX and is loaded with tons of features.
Firstly, the FT-991A is for users who want to step up their game and go “full send” on a “real” radio. In addition to C4FM, it covers the entire band spectrum from 160 meters to 70 centimeters.
This radio is an all-in-one juggernaut that saves you the cost of owning multiple radios. It’s an excellent option for ham enthusiasts who enjoy receiving and transmitting various frequencies.
Moreover, the radio shines brightly as a ham shack base transceiver; it’s still compact enough to sit in a truck dash. However, the 12.99lbs doesn’t make it the best ham radio for mobile use.
There are so many things to love about this device, but the touchscreen LCD is arguably the best feature. The waterfall display makes it easy to pinpoint signals, and the color is fantastic.
The 100w power output is strong enough to communicate with other ham users worldwide when used with the perfect antenna.
The only drawback with this device is the steep learning curve to come to grips with the radio. It could also do better than 100 memory channels for the price.
Still, the FT991-A is an excellent investment that keeps paying dividends as you get used to it.
- Loaded with features
- Vibrant touchscreen LCD
- Rugged portable housing
- All-band coverage
- Dynamic Real-time Spectrum Scope
- Not for novice ham users
- 100W drops to 50W for VHF/UHF
Best Budget – BAOFENG UV-5R
The UV-5R is an excellent choice for people who want to own a ham radio without putting a dent in the wallet. It’s incredibly low-priced and equally as reliable as the high-end products from the same manufacturer.
The output is an impressive 8W and features two rechargeable battery configurations, 1800 or 3800 mAh. Depending on your pick, you can get from 36 to 72 hours of standby time. The radio has VHF with a frequency range from 136 – 174 and UHF from 40 – 520 MHz.
You’ll also find an inbuilt FM radio that lets you listen to your regular programs and news reports. Moreover, there’s an inbuilt flashlight for when you’re in the great outdoors.
Let’s be clear; this radio might be cheap, but it isn’t a Citizen’s Band radio and requires a license to broadcast. The high-grade antenna significantly increases the transmission range and signal clarity.
Besides, the radio is easy to use, and the quality is excellent for the price. Other eye-catching features include dual lock, dual-band, and dual display. You’ll also love the keypad lock that prevents you from accidentally changing the station.
The UV-5R consists of an extended antenna, desktop charger, 1800maH battery, belt clip, user manual, and hand strap.
This radio isn’t approved for General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). The ham bands are limited to FCC-licensed users with a technician-level license. Still, it’s an affordable way to enjoy the basics of ham radio operation.
- Easy to use
- Dual-band and frequency
- It has a keypad lock
- Builtin LCD
- Low battery notification
- Amazing price
- Inbuilt FM radio
- Extended battery life (3800 mAh)
- Not for general use
- The user manual lacks depth
- Can break easily
PRESIDENT LINCOLN II
The Lincoln II ham radio is an upgrade on the Lincoln. It has various exceptional features, including a multi-color interface.
The first Lincoln had noisy receiver issues, while other users complained of the inaccuracy of the S meter. These issues pushed President Electronics to create Version II. Now, the receiver is way better.
The receiver is excellent, extremely quiet when used in a vehicle, and requires no adjustments. Further, the transmit audio works fine, has lots of power and has a truckload of software features that make using a ham radio easy.
The radio has impressive sensitivity and can detect a tone at -127 dBm. More importantly, the power output is as advertised, and the DIN size is a snug fit for most vehicles. This radio is a gift that keeps giving, ensuring you find surprising new features even after prolonged use.
Lincoln II’s eye-catching quality is the TX clarity. Most users think the microphone is low quality because of its lightweight design, but they couldn’t be more wrong. This radio features an electret condenser mic specially designed for the dual filter.
Most people make the mistake of changing the microphone, which won’t work correctly with the radio’s tuned circuit.
Moreover, the clarifier is unlocked from the factory, making it a moot point to modify. You’ll love that the frequency counter switches to SWR once it’s keyed up. The NB/ANL works perfectly, and it’s all controlled by the top left button.
The volume control feature is the only minor annoyance. With a regular radio, once you switch it on and slowly turn up the volume control, the audio increases accordingly.
However, this ham radio goes from low to high with nothing in between. The radio is superb, with great sensitivity and impressive power output.
- TX audio quality is superb
- Covers 10 and 12-meter bands
- Power output is topnotch
- DIN size fits most trucks
- The unlocked clarifier doesn’t need modification
- Too expensive for Citizen Band use
- Volume control could be better
XIEGU X6100 HF
Xiegu is quickly gaining ground in the ham radio market with the entry of the X5105 and G90. The manufacturer is renowned for its high-end radios with superb displays, and the X6100 isn’t any different.
The X6100 features WIFI and Bluetooth connectivity – a rare sight for a ham radio under $1000. The X6100 is a significant upgrade on the X5105 with an 800×480 high-resolution screen. It also has a 10W output connected to an external source and audio recording.
Xiegu also assures users of extra functionality through firmware updates. Xiegu was thoughtful enough to include a DC cable and adapter that helps to charge the internal battery.
The significance is that you don’t need to go out of your way to buy an external battery if 5W is enough for your use.
Interestingly, the X6100 has a rugged smooth aluminum chassis that’s rugged and hard to dent. The display is this radio’s best feature with vibrant color, contrast, and resolution that’s fantastic. It isn’t a touchscreen, but still easy to navigate without issues.
The menu can be slightly confusing, but you only need a few minutes to get a handle on things. The audio quality is better than the X5105 but still harsh with a bit of splatter when turned up high.
Additionally, the receiver is extremely sensitive and can easily block adjacent signals. The obvious drawback of this ham radio is the internal battery that hardly lasts up to an hour.
However, a firmware update by the manufacturer seems to solve this issue. The X6100 guarantees Xiegu’s place as the low-cost leader for HF transceivers.
- Portable design
- Exceptional Antenna Tuning Unit
- Vibrant color display
- The menu is easy to navigate
- Rugged, high-quality casing
- Not the best for shortwave listening
- Battery life isn’t the best
The ICOM 2300H is the best ham radio for users that need durable gear they can hook up to a vehicle. The sound quality is gold, with the ability to hit local repeaters with ease. Further, the compact size makes it a snug fit for a vehicle dash.
The 65W offers real power extending its capabilities, including range. The LCD is customizable, and you change it from green to amber. You’ll also love the 207 alpha-numeric memory channels that offer plenty of options.
You can buy a programming cable to simplify the setup. The ham radio also features weather alerts that ensure you’re on top of impending storms and take adequate precautions.
Moreover, the radio allows you to choose wide and narrow channels that are all crystal clear to hear. It’s a solid radio with a high-performing heatsink that cools the equipment effectively.
The fantastic build quality can withstand hardcore abuse. The manual could be better, and it doesn’t have an SWR meter. Otherwise, it’s a brilliant piece of equipment.
- The radio has 65W power output
- LCD is easy to read and customizable
- Easy to adjust scan functions
- Durable and compact
- Excellent sound clarity
- It doesn’t communicate on GMRS channels
- No hardcopy user manual
Yaesu isn’t a newcomer in the ham radio space, and the FT-70DR is one of its best offerings. It’s an ultra-rugged handheld capable of transmitting from 144-148MHz.
The small size doesn’t tell the tale of its durable design, and this Triband radio can receive anything from 108 – 579.95MHz. The small size makes using a large battery a moot point.
It also features automatic shutoff and time-out functions that help to optimize the battery life. The analog volume controls would be easier to use if digital, but the dial has 15 preset modes. The radio is small but deceptively heavy, giving the device a sturdy, rugged feel.
The WAKEUP function on this radio is arguably its best feature. It keeps the device on sleep mode, only powering at specific intervals. This feature greatly extends the battery life and standby time, allowing you to use the ham radio for days.
It’d be the best overall if it came with programming software, but you can download it on the Yaesu website. Even though Yaesu dropped the ball on the battery, it has features radios twice its size can only hope to dream of.
- Compact, sturdy design
- Waterproof and dustproof
- USB port for memory management
- Analog and digital functionality
- WAKEUP mode extends the standby time
- Poor battery life
- Software doesn’t work with programming cable
Kenwood is a recognized brand in the electronics industry, and it’s no surprise the TM-V71A makes it to this list. This equipment contains all the core features that make a great ham radio. For one, it’s more reliable than most devices in its class and straightforward.
The build quality leaves nothing to be desired. The Kenwood native software makes programming easy, and it can hit repeaters over a hundred-mile distance. The signal is clear even on the lowest power in the 2 meter band.
In addition, it features a multi-mode and wideband reception that makes it a breeze to connect and communicate. You’ll appreciate the packet communication functionality that allows you to share GPS positional data in real-time. Accordingly, it serves as a mobile GPS device and amateur radio.
The interference is minimal when it’s time to transmit, and it features four power output modes, including 5W, 2W, 0.5W, and 0.05W. The intermediate frequency filter (IF) expands the functionality of this device, allowing users to enjoy AM, CW, and SSB reception.
The retro design gives it an old-school look, but it still has modern features like Micro USB ports, SD card slot, and Bluetooth connectivity.
You don’t have to squint at the display, thanks to the backlit LCD that you can adjust from amber to green. Moreover, the weatherproof design makes use in harsh environments, one less thing to worry about.
- Weatherproof design for harsh environments
- Built-in auto clock
- Easy to use and program
- Micro SD, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity
- Multiple TX power modes
- Retro design isn’t for everyone
If two heads are better than one, then four bands are better than two, and the TYT TH-9800D is proof of that. This ham radio has impressive all-around performance with a power output of 50W.
It’s tough to find a quad-band at its price point, which is the primary reason this radio is on the list. It offers 5W at the lowest output and can go up to 50W on UHF. Audio quality is a dealbreaker for many ham users.
You’d be happy to find this radio is clear and loud. Although the main body houses the speakers, the back has a speaker jack for external audio.
The 800 memory channels are plenty to play with, and the radio supports various frequencies, including CTCSS/DCS and DTMF.
The four bands are on the left, while 2-meter and 70cm bands are on the right. One drawback is the lack of Bluetooth connectivity, but it’s one ham radio that will go strong after extended use.
Overall, it’s an excellent ham radio for users who want quad-band functions without sacrificing performance or robbing a bank.
- It has a quad-band at an affordable price
- Supports CHIRP
- User friendly
- Intuitive and sensitive
- Clear audio
- Decent power-to-performance ratio
- Cross band repeater doesn’t impress
- Support is not great
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HAM RADIO
Operating a ham radio isn’t a walk in the park, and it’s one hobby where you must pass an exam before getting your license. To prevent tossing money into the drain, consider the following factors when choosing a ham radio.
Even technician-level ham radio users prefer a piece of equipment that’s easy to use. This factor is even more critical for a beginner in the ham radio world.
However, this shouldn’t mean you need an oversimplified radio to start. A dumbed-down device is the last thing you need because real radios require some learning to understand their features.
The joy of ham radio operation is learning the nifty features and applications that make the equipment what it is. Ensure you find the gear that’s simple to operate and covers the basics.
The best ham radios have loads of memory space, and you can find gear with 1000+ channels. Ham radio for beginners should have a minimum of 100 channels or more for starters.
It may look like killing a fly with a shotgun, but you’d be surprised at the speeds these channels fill up. Buying a radio with tons of memory makes choosing or dropping channels easier.
Besides, opting for radios with unique features, including mic game, RF gain, IF filter, and the like, doesn’t hurt. All these extra features can make a difference in reception and transmission.
The control scheme and display determine how you see the ham community and how they see you. Some beginner radios use simple controls to allow newbies to get used to things.
Hardcore transceivers are best for the pros who have an intimate understanding of the bells and whistles, controls, buttons, and knobs that require years of experience to master.
It’s excellent advice to buy a future-proof radio that unlocks more features as you improve your mastery of ham craft. Still, do not shoot yourself in the foot by going for an overly complicated gadget that kills your interest before it’s gotten the chance to take root.
Beginners fare better with dual-band radios because of the ease of use. You can listen on both frequencies and have the luxury of choosing which frequency you prefer for transmission.
Some dual bands can pair to Very High Frequency (VHF), High Frequency (HF), and Ultra High Frequency (UHF). Moreover, you get the chance to enjoy AM and FM radio. These ham radio types are easy to use and leave room to grow as your skills improve.
Your ham radio range depends on your antenna capability. Opting for ham radio with a 10-mile reach is adequate for beginners. More advanced radios will easily double that amount when used with a larger, more powerful antenna.
Ham radios generally have a solid construction that ensures they last several years. These heavy-duty radios have a weatherproof design to withstand the elements with shock-absorbing qualities.
There’s a good chance the radio will face some dents if it’s portable, so you need to be sure it can take a beating while performing in excellent condition.
Ham radios are powerful devices that need lots of power to perform. Newbies can start with radios offering 5W to 10W. However, more powerful radios require much more juice to perform at optimum levels. The best ham radios can use up to 100W, increasing the RX/TX range.
Ham radios often have a built-in battery that makes the device portable. However, these batteries don’t last long and will require a recharge to get them going again.
An external DC jack is a must to make it easy to use, excellent for recharge, and ensure there’s always power to receive and transmit.
It’s not uncommon for ham enthusiasts to return a radio because of the poor quality of the user manual. These devices can be highly technical and require a manual that gives clear instructions to operate the equipment.
This factor is a dealbreaker because you might not know what to do or how to troubleshoot the radio if the need arises. The manual must be comprehensive, covering all the know-how about the radio.
Ham radio with poor speakers is a deadweight. The essence of ham radio is communication; you can’t do that if you can’t hear what’s coming over the radio. It is critical to get a competent speaker for your device.
Additionally, look out for radios with an external headphone output. You can’t underestimate the headphone because it blocks out outside, allowing you to hear information.
Ham Radio and License
You don’t need a license to own a ham radio or enjoy the many amateur frequencies. There’s a catch; a permit is mandatory to transmit in the US, or you’d be in trouble with the FCC.
The license comes in three levels; you must get 26 questions correct or score 74% to pass. Below are the three ham radio licenses:
The technician license is for the newbies, including people getting into ham radio for the first time. This single exam is the easiest to pass, and the license allows you to transmit above 30MHz.
This exam is more challenging than the previous one; you must score 26 out of 35 questions to pass. However, only applicants with a technician license can write this exam.
Amateur Extra License
This exam is the highest level of ham radio licensing. The applicant must pass an exam that entails 50 questions. The amateur extra license allows users to operate on all bands and modes. That said, only applicants with a general license are eligible to take this exam.
Best Ham Radio Brands
Some brands specialize in ham radio manufacturing more than others and these are the brands that stand out from the rest.
Baofeng is a relatively new electronics company, but its rise to the top isn’t a surprise considering the high quality of its radio equipment.
The company has since grown from 30 to 1000 employees, using cutting-edge technology to develop and create some of the best ham radios in the business.
Baofeng is ISO 9001:2000 certified, and its products are sold worldwide. The company specializes in premium radios at the most affordable prices.
Yaesu is an industry leader in ham radio production, specializing in premium radios. This Japanese manufacturer has some of the best ham radios on the market and continues to innovate, introducing new features other brands struggle to replicate.
However, the Yaesu brand isn’t for everyone because of the high cost of its products.
TYT Electronics has the least experience in ham radio manufacturing when you consider the company has only been in the business for 15 years.
Yet, TYT continues to punch above its weight thanks to its 20 R&D engineers recruited from heavyweights like Kenwood. This brand makes some of the best ham radios because of its world-class quality control and state-of-the-art factory.
Kenwood is one of the most popular electronics manufacturers in the world with a wide range of products from blenders to speakers. The company specializes in creating durable ham radios that are easy to use, loaded with features, and last a long time.
President Electronics is the undisputed leader in Citizen Band radio production. Since 1978, this manufacturer has continued to improve its technologies and is known for its affordable mid-range radios that offer excellent value.
Top Ham Radios, Final Thoughts
The best ham radio is the Baofeng BF-F8HP. It’s a fantastic radio with many features to satisfy experienced users and still easy for a newbie to understand. The pricing is affordable, and you don’t need to empty your bank to buy this device.
Still, the other products on this list are the best in their categories, and you can rest assured that these radios will serve their full potential.