Top 10 Best Ham Radios in 2018

Have you ever wondered if there was more to the world of radios than to listen to AM and FM broadcasts? Have you wished you could transmit from your own radio station and communicate with other people over different radio frequencies? Or are you someone who wishes to communicate over devices popularly known as "walkie-talkies" when you need to be actively passing instructions at a work site or at a public service event? The answer to all of these situations is the ham radio which is also known as amateur radio.

As it is true for any device that requires operational and technical knowledge, a certain level of proficiency is required to be able to use a ham radio to its full potential. A ham radio can be used in many different settings and for different purposes. Some people like to use them as a hobby, to keep in contact and to network with fellow amateur radio operators around the globe, some people use it for more practical purposes for example in public service events like a marathon or a fair where it is easier and cheaper to pass information and instructions over a radio than over the phone. Other uses can be to have a mobile, compact device that is suitable for taking outdoors with a long battery life with which you can listen to FM radio broadcasts, light your way in the dark and ring an emergency alarm if you need to.

These are the uses of a ham radio that you can achieve without having to acquire any license. But ham or amateur radios' true power lies in its ability to transmit. With these radios, you can transmit messages from your radio to other ham radio users and talk to them, which does require a license. But do not let the requirement for a license intimidate you, the license can be easily acquired by passing an exam and with a few basic ham radio components, you can start operating your ham radio in no time. Also, during emergency situations like a fire, or natural disasters, you are allowed to use whatever means you have, even without a  license to call for help and ham radios can be a true lifesaver in such scenarios.

​There exists a perplexing number of variations when it comes to ham radios and it is important to have an in-depth knowledge of what are the different kinds that are available and how you can use them to fit your needs.

​Best Pick

BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio

​This is radio made it to the very top of our favorite ham radios from the market and it will surely be a favorite to anyone who is looking for an amateur radio that offers high-grade features and a top quality service when it comes to radio transmissions.

Budget Pick

BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio

​This is the best ham radio you can buy if this is your first time with ham radios and probably not wanting to risk spending a fortune on it. This radio is from the same company that our best pick radio is from and BaoFeng is a brand that you can truly rely on. This radio will give you a complete experience of the world of amateur radio communications while staying within your budget.

​Below, we have selected ten best ham radios that we thought are worth looking into if you are planning to buy a ham radio. Included in the sections below are what we loved about the radios and what we did not, and also the things you should consider before finding a ham radio that is perfect for you.

1. ​BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio

The UV-82 series by BaoFeng is a well-known name in the world of Handheld Transceivers. At the top of this series, with the upgraded features and higher power outputs, is the BaoFeng UV-82HP. If you are a seasoned radio operator and probably own other BaoFeng radios, you would still want to add this to your collection for its tri-power feature, higher speaker power output and dual push to talk switch. If you are a beginner, this is still a great ham radio, since it will give you a good insight into the depth of the possibilities that exist in the world of amateur radios.

Among other improvements that have been brought into this radio is the flexibility it gives you to choose between three power levels: 1 watt, 5 watts, and 7 watts. Compared to other radios of this category, 7 watt is a high power output and will increase the chances of your radio signals being picked up another user.

Another thing we love about this radio is its programmability. You can use a computer software to program many functions in this radio and customize it to suit your needs. You can make use of the 128 memory channels it offers to save your most frequently used stations and access them quickly. Moreover, you can set alphanumeric names for your channels using the software which makes it easier for you to find the channels.

Another unique thing about this transceiver is that you can communicate in a semi-duplex mode which means that you can keep an eye on two frequencies simultaneously and select which one to talk on. In addition, it has a Dual Push-to-talk switch, which allows you to transmit on two different frequencies. If you don't want the dual feature, you can simply select it to operate on one frequency.

Other aspects that have been improved on this radio are the buttons that have been larger compared to the previous models, the speaker that is 1 watt, which means louder sound output, a more solid case to make it withstand rough usage.

Besides being a full-fledged ham radio, that allows you to listen to VHF (136 MHz -174mHz), UHF (400 MHz -520 MHz) and make calls using CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods, it can also work as a flashlight, emergency alarm, while being compatible with external accessories.

​For good portability, it comes with a belt clip and a wrist strap so that you can easily carry it around with you to anywhere you go.

PROS

  • ​Three different power levels
  • ​Dual-watch feature allows you to simultaneously inspect two channels
  • ​Rocker switch allows you to talk on two different frequencies
  • ​Higher speaker output, bigger buttons, tougher body
  • High programmability so you can customize it any way you like
  • Flashlight and emergency alarm

CONS

  • ​The configurations might be too complex for beginners

2. ​BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio

This is an economical radio with a compact, sturdy body that is sure to attract the attention of anyone who is looking for an economical amateur radio that is reliable and user-friendly.

This radio gives a maximum power output of 4 watts but also has a battery saving mode where you can lower the power output to maximize battery life. The long-lasting battery of 1500 mAh can be charged using an AC adapter or by simply dropping it in the charging try which is a handy feature because it will help you locate the radio easily and also save you the trouble for finding the adapter and inserting it into the radio to charge it.

You can choose to listen to a wide range of radio frequencies, VHF (136-174) MHz and UHF (400-520) MHz, and you can also choose from wide and narrow bands. You can save up to 128 channels in the memory for quick access to those channels, as well as use the Dual Watch feature to keep track of two channels at the same time.

One feature in this radio that we are particularly fond of is the turning knob at the top right-hand side of the radio which can be used to turn the radio on/off as well as to raise/ lower the volume. Many modern radios have switches or buttons for the volume and it can be bothersome to find the right button and go through the screen menu to control the volume. With this radio’s knob, which is a more traditional style, you can easily control the volumes with your fingers while talking over the radio.

The Push-To-Talk button on the side is easy to push and the LED screen lights up when the PTT is activated. The menus items have a built-in electronic announcer that will tell you which menu you are on which is a handy feature to have to help you get used to operating the radio faster.

The screen can be set to light up in different colors depending on which function you are on for example Receiver mode (RX) or Transmitter mode (TX), etc. The auto keypad lock feature will ensure that you don't accidentally activate a function.

The casing is a commuter case which means it will be able to survive shocks, bumps, and drops and be a durable device on your roughest adventures.

PROS

  • ​Wide frequency range
  • ​Drop-in tray for easy charging
  • ​The volume control knob at the top is user-friendly
  • ​Allows dual-watch and dual reception
  • ​High/ Low output powers can be selected
  • VOX function is present
  • Has a flashlight

CONS

  • ​The volume does not go down all the way to zero
  • The programming that has to be done through the keypad is extensive and might require some practice before you can get used to it
  • Does not have dual push-to-talk

3. ​Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio

This is another popular hand transceiver from BaoFeng that is very similar to the previous radio we talked about but it has a longer antenna and some upgrades in the design. It is sturdy, compact and very reasonably-priced. So if you are looking for a ham radio that is within your budget range, this is a radio worth looking into.

The front face of the radio has buttons for frequency display, band selection that is easy to locate and also a keypad that will help you program the channels into your radio, which is one of the first things you will have to do start using the radio. The radio offers you a memory for saving 128 channels like NOAA channels, police and fire department, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) channels, etc. that can greatly improve your chances of survival in emergency situations and keep you in touch with the outside world when cell-phone and internet-based communication methods fail.

The LCD display will show the menu options and the frequencies and gives you the option to choose separate colors for different settings. The volume control knob on the top is easy to operate while the radio is in use, while the radio itself fits perfectly into your hand, unlike many other radios that come in bulky bodies.

As the name "Two-way" suggests, not only does this radio allow you to listen to radio broadcasts, it will also allow you to transmit on radio frequencies and work as a "walkie-talkie". However, for you to be able to transmit to other radio users, you need to have a license, which can be easily acquired through passing an exam. To make your transmission and communication with other radio users efficient, this radio offers both VOX function and Push-To-Talk (PTT) switches. The PTT has also been upgraded in the sense that it is dual PTT, which means you can independently talk over two frequencies. The radio also allows you to set DCS or CTCSS encodes, which are modes for making radio calls. RF power can be selected from 4 Watts or 1 Watt which gives you more flexibility in power usage.

​Other handy features include battery saving mode, emergency alarm, built-in flashlight, keypad lock, belt clip, wrist strap and drop-in charging tray.

PROS

  • ​Dual-Watch and Dual-Reception are allowed
  • ​Color changing LED display screen to help you distinguish between different settings
  • ​Dual PTT
  • ​DCS/ CTCSS encode
  • ​RF power output can be selected from 4 and 1 Watts
  • VOX function is allowed
  • Multiple color options for the LCD display screen
  • Flashlight and emergency alarm
  • 128 channels can be saved in the memory

CONS

  • ​Programming of the channels through the keypad is tedious. You can use special computer software to do the programming but that requires an extra USB programming cable needs to be bought separately.

4. ​BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio

Are you a veteran in the amateur radio world, looking for a powerful handheld radio transceiver that will help you win the next amateur radio contest? Do you frequently volunteer at public service events such as marathon but are tired of low power range HTs that constantly run out of charge? Are you a new two-way radio user, planning to take a license but are intimidated by what you have heard about the difficulties of programming transceivers? No matter which group you belong to, this radio from BaoFeng which is the most powerful device yet from the popular brand will have you covered and be a full-fledged two-way handheld transceiver that is user-friendly both towards new and seasoned users.

The first thing about this radio that will strike any radio users as being impressive is the RF power output that is 8 Watts at its maximum. In other BaoFeng radios, the antenna that came with the radios were dummy-load antennas, which meant that most users who wanted a better antenna had to buy a more efficient one separately. But this radio is unique in the sense that it comes with a V-85 high gain antenna which delivers twice the antenna performance compared to the older models. Combine this high-performance antenna and the 8 Watt power output and you have a radio that at the top level of the competition when it comes to transmittance efficiency. To support this high power output, this radio comes with a battery that has a capacity of 2000 mAh which is a thirty percent increase from the previous versions. If you want to save battery life in situations where you don’t need a high power output, you can simply select a lower 1 Watt or 4 Watts output. A larger battery also means that you will feel more comfortable using the built-in flashlight in the dark or listen to the FM radio for a longer period of time. The battery can be charged through an AC adapter or by simply placing it on the cradle charger.

As its name suggests, this radio will allow you to operate on dual bands, within 400- 520 MHz for Very High frequency (VHF) and within 136 – 174 MHz for Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) and for listening to commercial FM radio channels, you can tune in to 65 -108 MHz. The channels can be programmed through the keypad at the front of the radio, but if you are worried about not knowing how to do so, this radio will still be a great choice because one of the improvements it has brought about is the in-depth, newly written user manual, that the previous models have been lacking. If you still do not want to go through the extensive work of programming, you can always buy a programming cable and let a computer software such as CHIRP to do the work for you.

If you are a fan of BaoFeng radios and are familiar and in-love with the BaoFen radio designs and features, you will be ecstatic to know that although this radio has been upgraded in many aspects, the design and the sturdiness remains very similar to the older models, including the volume-control knob at the top, the belt-clip and the lanyard for good portability, VOX function, Tri-color display etc. The radio is also backward compatible with all the accessories of the older models which is a great news for anyone with other BaoFeng radios in his/her collection.

PROS

  • ​Three power output levels to choose from (1, 4 and 8 Watts). The maximum power output is impressively high.
  • ​Battery capacity is 2000 mAh which is 30 % higher compared to older models
  • ​An in-depth, new user-manual that will help you to learn how to operate the radio
  • ​Backward compatible with all the accessories and features of older BaoFeng Hand Transceivers
  • ​Dual watch and dual receptions are allowed
  • Dual-band feature allows you to operate on VHF and UHF
  • V-85 High gain antenna, which was absent in the older models

CONS

  • ​Single Push-To-Talk (PTT) switch
  • Although the upgraded user manual makes it easier to do so, you will still need to either manually program the channels through the keypad or do the programming by connecting the radio through a specialized USB cable to the PC.

5. ​LUITON LT-8W Dual Band 2-Way Ham Radio

If you are looking for a handheld transceiver that is reliable and compact, this radio is definitely worth looking into. Although this product is from a company called Luiton and not BaoFeng, it has a tough, small body with remarkable similarities in design with the popular BaoFeng UV-5R radios, which is a good news for users experienced in using BaoFeng ham radios. Although the body structure, the battery, and drop-in charging tray is similar to BaoFeng UV-5R models, this radio has some differences which might make it a better choice for many users. 

The front face of the radio has a minimalistic number of buttons, which makes it look simpler and also less confusing for users at the beginner level. Apart from the keyboard, at the front side, there are only two buttons: a button for setting the functions and another button for switching from channel groups. 

On the left side of the radio are the buttons for PTT, Monitor and Call functions. The right side of the radio has the interface for connectors to external accessories such as speakers or programming cables. The knob for volume control and power on/off at the top, which can be turned using your fingers while the radio is in your hand.

​The maximum power output of this radio, which is 7 Watts, is at a higher level compared to many other ham radios. The radio also comes with an antenna which will help you to get better reception. It will allow you to operate on both UHF and VHF and also listen to FM radio broadcasts if you simply press the FM button on the keypad.

PROS

  • ​Sturdy, compact and simple design
  • ​128 memory channels can be saved
  • ​The maximum output power is 7 Watts
  • ​Drop-in charger with charging level indicator
  • ​Can be operated on both UHF and VHF
  • ​Built-in FM radio

CONS

  • ​Does not have dual PTT
  • Does not have a flashlight

6. JUENTAI JT-UV007 Dual-Band Ham Two-Way Radio

Among other ham radios which come mostly in dull, boring colors such as black and grey, this radio stands out as an eye-candy with a refreshing vibrant yellow color. The display screen can also light up in funky yellow, red and green colors, making the use of this radio more fun and exciting.

Interesting design and color is not the only thing that we love about this radio from Juentai. It has two power output levels, high and low, where the high power output can reach 7 watts, which is higher than many other ham radios. The Li-ion battery of this radio has a high capacity of 2200 mAh which exceeds even the battery power of the newest BaoFeng model.

If you frequently use your ham radio in crowded and noisy settings, this radio will be a great pick for you since its speaker delivers a loud, clear audio output with a maximum power of 1 Watt. Apart from the high-performance speaker, there are jacks for the mic, external speakers, earphones and programming cable.

Not only does this radio receive radio signals with high efficiency, it also allows you to transmit your signals to other radios, which you can do if you have a license for it. The CTCSS/DCS functions allow you to set privacy on your radio and allows only certain users with frequencies that match your frequency. There are different modes for making calls with the radio: single, group or troop call modes and this comes handy especially when you want to use the radio to communicate with other members when you are out as a group on outdoor activities like hiking or camping.​

PROS

  • ​Vibrant and unique design and color of the body
  • ​The screen can light up in three different colors
  • ​Flashlight
  • ​Loud and clear speaker output
  • ​Maximum RF power output is 7 Watts which is at the higher end for power outputs
  • Different modes for making calls
  • CTCSS/ DCS encoding is possible for increased privacy of transmission
  • Drop-in charging tray
  • Very light and portable

CONS

  • ​Does not have dual PTT

7. ​ICOM 2300H 05 144MHz Amateur Radio

Till the previous product on this list, we were looking at amateur radios of a certain category called Handheld Transceivers. Now it’s time for us to move onto mobile transceivers. These are ham radios with which you can listen to FM broadcasts, scan and listen into different frequencies and also transmit from your radio, given that you have a license for transmitting, basically you can do all the things that a handheld transceivers can do, with less portability as a trade-off but you get in return, much higher RF power output, louder speakers, and higher battery capacities.

Because of their higher power in different aspects, they make better choices for being used in your ham base station and in your vehicles. Although they are bigger and heavier compared to handheld ones, they are still quite portable, for example, this excellent mobile ham radio from ICOM weighs only 2.43 pounds and gives you a power output of 65 Watts which is astounding compared to handheld radios which could give around 8 Watts at best. With this radio, you can select from four different power output levels: 65W, 25W, 10W and 5W which allows it to be used in versatile settings.

Apart from the higher power output, this radio has passed a durability test and has been proven to withstand the bumps and shocks your car might have to go through on rough road conditions. So you can confidently use this radio on your road trips, or if you are a ham radio operator and your profession requires you to constantly be on the road.

The layout of the radio is very user-friendly so if you are a beginner level ham operator and you are worried about the small buttons on handheld ones and you want a bigger screen that makes things clearly visible to you, this is a good radio to get started on your journey with. The LCD screen can be lit in three different colors: amber, yellow or green and will help you work even in low-light conditions.

For radio communications and listening, this radio has 207 memory channels, where each of the channels can be named according to your liking so that it is easy to find your channels when you need to access them quickly. The frequency range is 144 - 148 MHz for Tx and 136 - 174 MHz for Rx.

PROS

  • ​High maximum power output of 65 Watts
  • ​Four power levels to choose from which gives you flexibility in power usage
  • ​Big, backlit LCD display
  • ​207 memory channels
  • Weather alert and call alert
  • A sturdy body that has passed a durability test

CONS

  • ​The antenna has to be bought separately

8. ​TYT TH-9800 Quad Band 50W Cross-Band Mobile Car Ham Radio

Apart from being a mobile car ham radio and thus offering higher power outputs and being stronger in every aspect compared to handheld transceivers, this radio brings something new to the list, which is the Quad band. Most radios that we talked about on this list are dual bands which means they operate mostly on VHF and UHF. Unlike the dual band radios, which lets you operate on only two frequency bands, this radio will allow you to transmit on four different frequency bands: 10 m, 6 m, VHF 2 m and UHF 70 cm bands. Apart from multiple frequency bands, this radio offers a vast storage of channels where you can save up to 809 memory channels! The names of the channels can be edited to suit your needs.

Along with the Quad band feature, this radio also provides Cross Band communication which means with this radio, you can simultaneously receive on one frequency and transmit on another. This allows a more efficient and faster communication as you and the person you are talking to do not have to take turns to transmit on the same frequency, but transmit simultaneously to each other on different bands.

The maximum power output of this radio is 50 Watts, with multiple lower power levels to be used when you want to reduce the battery drainage. The faceplate has a backlit screen with clearly labeled buttons for ease of use. The speaker is located at the top and the heat sink at the base of the main body. The radio can be mounted easily inside your car or on your base station.

PROS

  • ​This radio is unique in the sense that it offers Quad band instead of the more commonly found dual bandv
  • ​Maximum output of 50 Watts with multiple lower output levels
  • ​CTCSS/ DCS encoding is possible
  • ​809 memory channels
  • ​Backlit display
  • ​Allows Cross Band transmission

CONS

  • ​To ensure this radio is used to its full potential, you would have to install a four bands antenna, that has to be bought separately, which is also less commonly compared to the dual band antenna
  • If you are looking for a simple ham radio, this might not be the best choice for you

9. ​LEIXEN LX VV-898 Dual Band VHF/UHF 136-174/400-470MHz 10W Two Way Radio

If you are looking for a ham radio that is more powerful than a handheld transceiver but is not as bulky or heavy as common mobile transceivers, this ham radio from Leixen is a great choice for you. It offers Dual band transmissions at 136-174 MHz and 400 – 470 MHz with all the necessary calling functions such as CTCSS, DCS, and VOX.

The mountable body of the radio has a simple layout with a reasonably sized screen and buttons for memory, channels and volume controls. You can save up to 199 memory channels and also edit their names. The power output can be selected from low which is 4 W or high which is 10 W.

​What sets this mobile radio apart from the others are its simplicity and lightness, so if you want to avoid all the complexities and restricted portability that usually comes with mobile radios, this is a radio that is worth looking into.

PROS

  • ​Small, light and simple to use
  • ​Offers multiple calling functions like CTCSS, DCS, PTT ID, etc.
  • ​Two selectable power outputs

CONS

  • ​Volume control is on buttons instead of a knob which might seem tedious to users who are more used to volume control knobs
  • Maximum power output and number of memory channels are much lower compared to other mobile radios

​10. BTECH MOBILE UV-50X2 50 Watt Dual Band Base, Mobile Radio

What we love about this mobile radio is its customizability. First, it gives you nine different colors and ten different display elements to play around with and set your display screen however way you want. A flexibility of this extent is hard to come by on mobile radios. Secondly, it introduces a new feature called the Dual Sync mode in which you can simultaneously monitor more than one channel name and frequency. For the RF power output, you can select either 50 W or 10 W according to your needs.

In other radios, if you are scanning through frequencies and it is interrupted due to power shortage or by transmission, you might have to start scanning all over again but with this radio’s ability to save scanning preferences and resume from right at that point, you can set all your worries aside.

PROS

  • ​Highly customizable display
  • ​Two selectable power output levels
  • ​You can resume scanning from where you left off
  • Dual sync mode allows you to watch multiple channels simultaneously

CONS

  • ​Separate antenna and programming cable are needed

After going through the list of top ten ham radios that are available on the market today, we hope you came across one or more radios that tweaked your interest. To decide whether the radios that caught your attention matches your expertise, needs and preferences, go on to the next section where we discuss the aspects you should have a clear idea about when it comes to acquiring a new ham radio.

Things to consider before buying the best ham radio

What are you going to use it for?

Different ham radios come in different sizes, with different power levels, and with different functions. What you are going to use the radio for is a key factor to narrow down your options from the vast array of options when it comes to ham radios available on the market. If you are thinking of setting up a permanent ham base station, you would require a high power, radio with different components such as antennas, antenna tuners, etc. But the issue with these powerful radios suitable for base stations is that they are heavy, bulky and demands a high power supply. If you are looking for a more mobile ham radio that you could install inside your car or truck and listen while on the go, you should look into mobile ham radios with mountable bodies. The last category is the handheld transceivers, which are the smallest and most portable ones, which are perfect for being used while you are in the middle of an outdoor activity. The mobile radios that are meant for being used in temporary base stations or inside your car will have a higher power output, higher battery capacity and more functions and features and bigger display screens compared to handheld transceivers. But note that if portability is a key factor among your requirements and you want to be able to carry the radio around while you are moving around on your feet, the handheld transceivers are your only option.

Which frequencies do you want to operate it on?

Most common radios will allow you to listen to AM and FM frequencies, but ham radios can open the doors to a whole new world of different frequencies that you can scan, listen in to, or communicate over. There are options to select between narrow band and wide band, VHF and UHF bands, HF bands, etc. It is important to realize the range of your operation, for example, it could be local, regional, country-wide or worldwide and then to select a radio that has allows you to communicate over the appropriate frequencies.

What functions related to radio calls are you looking for?

Once you have acquired the license for transmitting over ham radios, you can call and receive calls from other ham operators which brings in the functions that are needed to increase your efficiency in communicating over these calls.

Common features related to calls are the Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) or Digital-Coded Squelch (DCS) systems which act as a kind of filtering system. It minimizes co-channel interference and is used to set privacy on your radio calls. When these systems are activated, the party or the parties who want to contact you through the radio must work at a particular tone combination that matches yours. If you want to communicate with others using your ham radio, this is a must-have feature that you should check off before buying a ham radio.

Push-to-talk (PTT) switch is another important feature of ham radio related to calls. This is the button you switch on to talk to another ham radio user. Most handheld transceivers have single PTT but some have dual PTT buttons. If you don't want to have to push a button while you are talking, you can go hands-free if your radio offers VOX function which stands for Voice Activated Transmit. When this is turned on, the microphone on your radio stays active all the time so your radio starts transmitting automatically when you start speaking.

Conclusion​

​Although ham radios are not something you hear about every day, by now you know that they have important real-life applications and also a great hobby to get into, both in terms of increasing your knowledge and your networking with other ham users. Now that you are familiar with what type of ham radios you can find and what to expect from each one of them, you can evaluate the key factors related to them before getting the best ham radio that will suit your needs.
Top 10 Best Ham Radios in 2018
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