Searching for the best ham radio transceiver is no easy task. Since there are hundreds of ham radio transceivers to choose from, you'd probably take some time before you settle on a couple which really stood out. You would also need to read the reviews of all the radios you liked to avoid getting disappointed later on.
If you're currently in such a predicament, you needn't worry anymore because we went ahead to look for 11 of the best ham radio transceivers you can buy in 2021. In addition, we have also included a buying guide to help you know exactly what to look for if you don't find a good ham radio on our list.
In case you needed a simple and powerful ham radio transceiver without putting much thought into it, then perhaps you should consider our top pick: The Icom IC-718.
- 1 How We Choose These 11 Best Ham Radio
- 2 Comparison Table
- 3 Reviews of 11 Best Ham Radio Transceivers in 2021
- 3.1 Icom IC-718 HF All Band Amateur Base Transceiver
- 3.2 Galaxy DX-2547 AM/SSB CB Base Station
- 3.3 ICOM 7300 02
- 3.4 Kenwood TS-480HX HF/50 MHz Amateur Base Transceiver
- 3.5 ICOM 2300H 05 144MHz Amateur Radio
- 3.6 Yaesu Original FT-450D Amateur Base Transceiver
- 3.7 Yaesu Original FT-991A All Mode Transceiver
- 3.8 SOCOTRAN ST-7900D
- 3.9 QYT KT-8900D Dual Band Mini Car Ham Radio Mobile Transceiver
- 3.10 Yaesu FT-DX3000D
- 3.11 Yaesu FT-857D
- 4 Things to Consider Before Buying A Best Ham Radio Transceiver
- 5 Final Verdict
How We Choose These 11 Best Ham Radio
Selecting a ham radio transceiver today is far different than it was a few years ago since ham radio manufacturers are saturating the market with many different types and models.
We thus focused our selection on the technical characteristics of the radio as well as its reviews online. This is because there are high chances that you might like what other ham radio operators liked.
In addition, we also tried to select radios with brilliant designs such as those that have easy to use knobs and dials since these will dictate the radio's usability. We weren't too strict on price though because we would have filtered out some great ham radios that we think you would like.
Reviews of 11 Best Ham Radio Transceivers in 2021
If you need a little control over your radio, then the Icom IC-718 is the radio you are looking for. This ham radio radio comes with several buttons on its front-facing plate as well as a large LCD display and up to three knobs.
The IC-718 operates in the AM/SSB/CW modes and has a 100W power output on SSB and CW whereas the AM is capped at 40W. This still doesn’t greatly affect what the radio itself can do since it comes with many useful features.
Some of them include the VOX function, a digital S/RF meter, and a noise blanker for ensuring that there is minimal noise when using the radio. On the other hand, the interference rejection (IF) shifts the center frequency of the passband so that it can reduce any interference around the radio.
You can also max out the frequency stability of the radio by installing a high stability crystal unit to push the frequency stability of the radio to about ±0.5 ppm. In addition, you can install an IF filter to meet your operating preferences.
One more notable thing we liked about the radio is its audio compression level which starts all the way from the microphone compressor. The IC-718 lets you control the compression level of the audio that goes through the microphone.
Why settle for less when the Galaxy DX-2547 could be just the transceiver you are looking for? This 40-channel SSB/AM base station CB radio has more than enough features that a CB operator can appreciate. While the radio does appear bulky, its superior performance makes it all worthwhile.
For one, the radio comes with an automatic "no calibrate" SWR meter which is a lifesaver. Whereas most other radios feature an in-built SWR meter, the one on the Galaxy DX-2547 is automatic. It thus chooses the ideal SWR without requiring too much from you.
In addition, the radio has a high SWR alert circuit with warning LED talkback circuit. In case the SWR reading is off, the radio will thus let you know so that you can return the reading back to normal.
The DX-2547 has an LCD display as well. It might not be the biggest or the best, but it displays the current channel and the frequency well enough. The display is backlit so that you can easily see the same parameters in dark conditions.
It equally has LED indicators for ANL, LSB, PA, and USB. You thus won't have to fuss with a flashlight if you want to see the buttons and switches.
Compared to the IC-718, you will mostly like the ICOM 7300 02 because of its performance in AM. This radio outputs 100W of power in most of the modes it operates on like SSB, RTTY, FM, and CW. However, it can only deliver 25W on AM mode.
Power aside, the radio transceiver comes with a large 4.3" color touch screen display which is not too common among other radios. This makes channel scanning super easy since the radio displays a wide variety of information that is useful to any ham operator.
Advanced as it is, the ICOM 7300 02 could not lack a built-in automatic antenna tuner. However, it goes a notch higher as it also includes an SD memory card slot which opens a whole lot of uses for the radio.
You get up to 101 memory channels with this radio. This will be more than enough in case you will need to communicate internationally since you may want to save a couple of the channels you come across.
With all these functionalities, ICOM saw it fit to include a cooling fan system as the radio can heat up a little bit when in operation. In addition to keeping the radio cool, the cooling fan system will make the radio serve you longer since it keeps away heat that would otherwise damage internal components of the radio like ICs.
As far as power goes, the Kenwood TS-480HX is by far one of the most powerful ham radio transceivers you can get. It has a power output of 200W and comes with plenty of features that complement its rugged but stylish appearance.
One other thing to love about the TS-480HX is the fact that it is also very compact and can thus be squeezed into some tight spots. It will save on space wherever you place it.
In addition, the head of the radio can come off, and this means you are free to customize the setup at your preferred location.
You can place the standalone LCD control panel up to 16 feet away from the main body. As such, you can hide the main unit behind a desk and only have the control panel in front.
What's more is that the LCD display and the buttons on the radio are backlit and that means you won't have to strain your eyes in low light conditions.
The radio has 100 alphanumeric memories that let you store different channels that you come across. Since finding channels can be problematic especially when all memory slots are filled, the radio includes multiple scan functions such as program scan, memory scan, and VFO scan.
While the ICOM 7300 02 was feature-packed and innovative, it is normal to expect the ICOM 2300H to be the lesser radio, but that is far from true. ICOM's 2300H comes with one major advantage that made it stand out among most of the other ham radio transceivers – it is super compact.
You can place this radio literally anywhere and it will most likely fit where most other radios have failed. It equally defies the norm that smaller and more compact ham radio transceivers are less powerful.
The ICOM 2300H is capable of outputting a maximum of 65W. However, since it has three other modes which output 25W, 10W, and 5W, you can control the communication range of the radio.
Though an output power of 65W does not make this the most powerful radio, it still remains as one of the best all-round ham radio transceivers.
On the same note, the radio comes with 207 memory channels which include six scan edges and one call. Even to the experienced ham operator, it would take time before you fill 100 memory channels. As such, getting over 200 memory channels on a radio like the IC 2300H was something we could not take for granted.
Visually, Yaesu's FT-450D looks like the ICOM 7300 02 because of its bulky body and even the number of knobs it has. In terms of power output, the two are still at par since the FT-450D outputs 100W of power on all HF bands.
It is, however, slightly more compact and lightweight. If you intend to be moving your radio around occasionally, then it makes sense to grab the FT-450D as it is powerful but less bulky than a few other radios you are likely to meet in the market.
The large and easy to read LCD display is something most people will love about the radio since they won't have to strain when reading characters or values on it. The display is equally backlit so that you can operate the radio in the dark. Unlike a few other manufacturers, Yaesu's FT-450D has illuminated key buttons and this also makes the radio fairly easy to operate.
The FT-450D comes with a few advanced features such as the IF roofing filter which helps provide narrow-band selectivity which will protect the DSP and IF stages that follow. At its price, it is hard to come by other radios with this feature.
To keep up with Yaesu's unique radio designs, the Yaesu Original FT-991A maintains the same look of its predecessor, the popular FT-991. However, it comes in a more compact and sleeker body. It also happens to deliver up to 100W of output power but can manage 50W on the 140/340MHz band.
The FT-991A also comes with something new on the table – a multicolor waterfall display which was not present in the older FT-991. Additionally, we found the 3.5" TFT full color touch panel to be quite convenient since many of the controls that were difficult to set on the older model were now easier to access.
It is also worth mentioning that the FT-991A ships with the dynamic real-time spectrum scope. Ideally, it gives the operator the ability to graphically see the location of a signal on the band. This thus makes it easier for the operator to then move to the desired signal much faster.
The radio is also noticeably less prone to noise than earlier models, and this is partly due to the digital noise reduction system of the radio. Considering that it equally has an inbuilt antenna tuner, you may not be needing your SWR meter when you have this radio unless you need high precision.
If all you sought for was a compact and powerful ham radio transceiver, then you are surely to be pleased with the SOCOTRAN ST-7900D. The ICOM 2300H and the Yaesu FT-991A are clear rivals of the ST-7900D, but with an output power of 25W on VHF and 20W on UHF, this radio is clearly competing on another level that does not necessarily involve power.
The radio has 200 memory channels which means that you will have more than enough space to store both local and international channels you come across. As the radio is designed for long distance two-way communication, it makes sense that the ST-7900D should keep up with features buyers normally look for when they wish to engage in long distance communication.
Other than its multi-colored and backlit LCD display which is great for night use, the radio features a high-grade hand microphone. The keypad has been placed on the microphone along with some other useful buttons. This allows you to conveniently control the radio at a comfortable distance rather than leaning in all the time to access the radio.
You get the standard PL-259 antenna connector with the ST-7900D and you thus shouldn’t worry about antenna compatibility. However, in case you wish to change the microphone, you should then consider getting a mic with an 8-pin connector.
The QYT KT-8900D has a striking resemblance to the SOCOTRAN ST-7900D in terms of shape and size. They both have the same compact appearance and pack just enough power to help you get the job done.
With an output power of 25W for VHF and 20W for UHF, it is correct to say that the QYT KT-8900D would not be much of an upgrade especially if you were coming from a radio like the ST-7900D.
However, it includes a number of features which many people would love in a radio. The big LCD screen, for instance shows you all the information you need regarding the radio. Since it is equally backlit, you can use the radio in poorly lit areas without any fuss.
As it features remote controls such as remote stun and remote kill, the radio redefines convenience since you can achieve a number of actions remotely and in an effortless manner.
The radio has 200 memory channels which is more than enough for a ham operator who loves communicating internationally.
The differences between the FT-DX300D and many of the Yaesu radios we've already reviewed are not so far apart. This radio equally comes with an output power of 100W and requires a DC voltage input of 13.8V.
In addition, it also features the high spectrum scope similar to the FT-991A. However, we do admit that the Yaesu FT-DX3000D looks far neater and more organized. This is because many of the buttons and knobs are placed at convenient places where it is very easy to access them.
The radio does have an LCD display like the rest of the ham radio transceivers. Even though the FT-DX3000D has a larger 4.3" color TFT screen, it does not offer any significant performance improvement.
A built-in automatic antenna tuner is included in the unit so that you won't necessarily need to carry around your SWR meter any time you wish to tune the radio. On that same note, you will hardly be dealing with noise problems with the FT-DX300D since it also features the IF DSP noise reduction system.
Despite its compact size, this is perhaps the one Yaesu ham radio transceiver to come with a different design from the rest. The FT-857D is small enough to fit in tight spaces and save on space. It equally comes with a simple microphone that doesn't have too many buttons on it like the SOCOTRAN ST-7900D.
Performance-wise though, you will get nearly the same features as almost all the other Yaesu radios we've reviewed. The radio has an output power of up to 100W which is almost like the base power for many ham radio transceivers.
In addition, it has 200 memory channels like the QYT KT-8900D and the ST-7900D. However, when it comes to antennas, you should note that this radio uses the SO-239 antenna ports rather than the PL-259. As such, you need to be keen when picking a replacement antenna for the unit.
Things to Consider Before Buying A Best Ham Radio Transceiver
In all honesty, selecting a good ham radio transceiver is not difficult, but since there are a lot of radios in the market, it becomes easy to ignore the features that matter. Below are some of the considerations we thought could be helpful:
Size and Chassis
Before you get overly excited about a particular ham radio's features, you should first consider its size because this will dictate a variety of things.
A compact ham radio, for instance, would be great for installing in your car. In addition, compact radios are usually durable and offer great transmission range. However, you don’t always need to go for a compact ham radio transceiver as it can lock you out of certain features. Ham radio base stations are good examples since they have plenty of features but are not compact.
On the same note, you should also be keen about the quality of the radio's chassis.
Power Output and Transmission Range
The power output of a ham radio transceiver will directly affect its range. As such, if you intend to use your ham radio transceiver for international communication, then you would have to pick a ham radio with a high power output.
A good number of starter radio transceivers usually have power outputs that range in between 100W – 200W which is a lot of power. However, you can also choose a radio with a lower power output such as 25W. These are usually ideal for local communications and tend to be cheaper.
Though power output affects transmission range, it is possible to find two ham radio transceivers with the same power output but different transmission ranges. You should also remember that how far you can communicate using your ham radio transceiver depends on the license you have.
Ham radio transceivers with LCD displays are very easy to use. Even though some people may not give thought into LCD displays, it is a good idea to find a ham radio with an LCD display that considers user comfort.
A good example is the ham radios that have multicolor displays. Since not everyone might find one particular color convenient for long-term use, the ability to choose between different colors when using a ham radio transceiver is quite helpful.
We always recommend choosing radios with squelch control. This is because squelch control enables you to keep out signals that are weak. It is also helpful in preventing noise in the radio system.
In most cases, you will find that your radio also comes with RF gain which does almost the same job as squelch control. However, between the two, we advise you to pick radios with squelch control rather than those that lack it entirely. This is because squelch control can filter both noise and weak signals whereas RF gain only reduces your radio's sensitivity to noise.
Though there are various other factors to consider when selecting a ham radio transceiver such as radio programmability and number of memory channels, it is often difficult to go wrong if you stick to known brands.
Despite coming up with 11 of the best ham radio transceivers you could buy in 2021, your needs will ultimately dictate the best radio for you. As we've seen, ham radio transceivers vary greatly when it comes to power and features.
Nevertheless, there are bound to be a couple of radios that have the exact set of features that you want such as the Icom IC-718. You should only make sure that the radio you settle on has the bare minimum features that will enable it to serve you as you intended.
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