7 Best Ham Radios of 2020 – Entry Level Ham Radio for Beginners

The best ham radios can also come in handily during emergencies when all other means of communication fail. With these radios, people can keep in touch with each other. This is one of the most affordable ways of wireless communication across the globe.

What is the meaning of ham radio? Before the millenials were born, there used to be a time when there was no internet and no cellphones. People used ham radios to communicate city-to-city, country-to-country, road-to-road and over different places.

Today, people use these radios, also called amateur radio for hobbies and fun. An enthusiast in Arizona can communicate with not only other ham radio lovers in a place like France, but also with astronauts in space.

What is the best ham radio to buy?

Despite the wide availability of ham radios in the market, buying one for a beginner wireless communication enthusiast can be a daunting challenge.

Do you go for the cheapest one? Or is the most expensive one the best value for money? It is all in the features though.

If you pay more money and get more features, you can consider it money better spent than when you pay less and get fewer features.


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

OUR TOP PICK
BaoFeng Ham Radio
BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Ham Radio
  • Baofeng Tech is the only authorized USA Baofeng Distributor to honor the Manufacturer Warranty. Only Baofeng Tech offers warranty claims without shipping anything to China. You must insure that Baofeng Tech is your selected buying option when buying to be able to have the full USA warranty
  • High / Med / Low Power Settings (8W(VHF)7W(UHF)/4W/1W); Frequency Range: 65-108 MHz(Only commercial FM radio reception) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx); Broad (Wide) / Narrowband (Narrow) Selectable
  • Helpful BaoFeng Guides and Programming Tips at BaoFengTech.com and Miklor.com

BaoFeng UV-82HP is a powerful dual band radio. It is made in China, but if anything goes wrong with it while it is still under warranty, you will not be required to ship it to China if you are in the US.

Frequency range

A dual band radio enables you to communicate on two separate frequencies. Usually, a dual band radio enables communication on the VHF – very high frequency and the UHF – ultra high frequency.

With this radio, you can transmit on one band and receive on the other.  This radio has a frequency range of 136 to 174MHZ on UHF, 400 to 520 on VHF and 65 to 108 on FM radio transmission. That is why it is referred to as a tri-power radio.

Like all dual band radios, UV-82HP allows easier and long-range communication between ham radio enthusiasts, emergency response teams, scientists, mineworkers and many others. This is a mobile ham radio, so it is more powerful than handheld amateur radios.

BaoFeng UV-82HP has three output power levels, which are measured in Watts. These are low, medium and high power outputs. It has 1 Watt, 4 Watts and 7 Watts.

Push To Talk button

This radio also has a dual PTT – push to talk button. Therefore, this means that you can transmit on two frequencies. You just need to push up so that you can start transmitting on Frequency 1 and push down when you want to transmit on Frequency 2. In addition, you can use both frequencies for scanning channels, CTCSS, DTS Tones and frequencies.

This dual band radio comes with 128 programmable channels. In addition, you can use the available free software to remove or add a channel to the scan list.

Pros

  • Able to transmit on two frequencies
  • Good for long-range communication
  • The price is affordable
  • Detailed user manual written in English

Cons

  • Build quality in some of the radios is wanting especially with charging and power supply

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2. BTECH DMR-6X2  Dual Band Two-Way Radio

BTECH Ham Radio
  • DMR Tier 1 & 2 Compatible, MOTOTRBO Compatible, BaoFeng Tech is the only authorized BaoFeng & BTECH Distributor to honor the Manufacturer Warranty. Only BaoFeng Tech offers warranty claims without shipping anything to China. You must insure that BaoFeng Tech is your selected buying option when buying to be able to have the full USA warranty.
  • The DMR-6X2 Allows for Front Panel Programmable Channels, but for advanced features software programming is recommended (Programming Cable Included), Requires Windows PC (free software available at: baofengtech.com/dmr-6x2), Programmable Side Keys, and Upgradeable Firmware
  • Exclusive BTECH Firmware (Designed in the USA), Dual Slot DMR Radio (Tier 1 and Tier 2 Compliant); 4000 Channels, 10,000 Talk Groups, 200,000 Contacts, Large TFT Color Display, High / Med-High / Med-Low / Low Power Settings: (7W VHF/6W UHF, 5W, 2.5W, 1W)

BTECH says that before they released the DMR-6X2 radio to the market, it underwent an intensive 2-year development period. They say they intended to give their customers something that would not only beat the competition but that would be futuristic in design. Whether that is true or not, only the features can tell.

You might want a dual band radio that can hold up to 200,000 contacts, 10,000 talk groups and 4000 stores, giving you a large virtual radio audience. If such is your wish, you can go for the BTECH DMR-6X2 because it can do just that and some more.

Frequency range

With a 136 to 174 MHZ frequency range on one band and 400 to 480 MHZ on the second band, 6 Watts maximum output power on UHF and 7 Watts maximum output on VHF, this radio easily leads the pack. At the same time, it is futuristic in design because the BTECH firmware can be updated to future versions. The power settings come in low (1W, 2.5W) medium (5W) and high (6W UHF and 7W VHF).

If you like tinkering with a dual band ham radio to see how much usability and customization you can squeeze from it, you should try the DMR-6X2. First, you can monitor DMR traffic using the digital monitor regardless of the color code, private/group call or timeslot. You can set the radio to auto-detect channels or you can assign channels as analog, digital or split A/D.

Ad-hoc calling

This radio also allows you to Adhoc-call. This is a random call that you may want to make without saving it to your radio channels or memory. To make such a call, just press and hold the 0 on the keypad and dial. The radio will display that adhoc contact on the main screen until you make another call.

Display

Not many other radios come with this feature. With the DMR-6X2 TFT display, you can customize it to display either in blue or black background. The former is good on your eyes for nighttime display while the latter is good for daytime use.

For warranty, this radio is under BaoFeng Tech. They do not require customers in the USA to ship radios to China for repair or replacement of parts. They will be repaired in the US.

Pros

  • Nice, two color display – black or blue
  • Ad-hoc calling function is very enjoyable
  • Big memory to hold up to 200000 contacts and 10,000 call groups
  • Easy on your pocket – affordable price

Cons

  • It can start freezing up on you if you are late on the firmware update
  • Cross-band repeat is only available on digital but not on analog
  • This radio is not waterproof, so do not test its ability in the water.

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3. Greaval Walkie Talkie 2 Way Dual Band Ham Radio

Greaval Ham Radio
  • RF Power Output: (8w/5w/1w) High /Medium /Low Power Switchable, Programmable Amateur Radio Supports Keyboard or PC programming (for Outdoor /Home /Workplace, etc.)
  • Power Source: Rechargeable 2100 mAh Li-ion Battery, Supports 12-20 Hours continual use, one more extra battery supports non-stop communication, car charger adapter also included.
  • Frequency Range: 65-108 MHz(commercial FM radio reception only) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx), 128 channel memory, channel programmable via the keypad.

This is one of the affordable options for ham radio enthusiasts. However, it also comes with good features that place it almost at par with the big boys. In the package, you will find many accessories such as 2 high capacity batteries (actually there is only one but they advertise as two), car charger, power adapter, short antenna, high gain antenna, hand mike, belt clip, hand strap and programming cable to name but a few of them.

Frequency range

The frequency range of the Greaval Walkie Talkie 2 way radio is as follows: First, there is 65 to 108 MHZ for FM commercial radio, 136 to 174 MHZ for UHF and 400 to 500 MHZ for VHF. It also has low, medium and high transmit power settings from 1 Watt, 5 Watts and 8 Watts.

When you are communicating with a group, be keen not to change the frequency channel accidentally as that would put you on a different channel.

You will get 128-channel memory. The channels are also programmable through the radio keypad. Because the radio frequency ranges are the most commonly used in the ham radio world, you will be happy that it is compatible with different other radios.

Long battery time

With two 2100mAh batteries, your radio will be powered for a long time. Besides, if you are traveling on the road, you can always leave one battery charging in the car charger. However, even without that, you are assured of 20 hours of talk time with the two batteries.

Antennas

This radio comes with two antennas. First, there is the small, short antenna that you can use for indoor communication or for communicating with people who are within a short range. There is also the long, more flexible high gain antenna that you can use when you need a serious signal boost. It is high quality and it can withstand a lot of abuse unlike many stock radio antennas.

Pros

  • Backlit, tri-color display
  • Firmware updates to future versions easily
  • Has many accessories including car charger and high gain antenna
  • Channels are programmable through the radio keypad

Cons

  • The programming cable is not the genuine one from BaoFeng Tech as indicated
  • Advertised with two batteries but mostly comes with one

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4. Radioddity GD-77 DMR Two Way Radio

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Best Ham Radio Radioddity
  • Works Well with Hotspot/Repeater This solid and rugged radio works on simplex (radio to radio direct), as well as work in conjunction with a hotspot device or repeaters.
  • Digital/Analog Mode + Promiscuous Mode It allows monitoring both the DMR community and stay in touch with your friends on the local analog repeaters at the same time. Promiscuous mode enables it to hear all talk groups, not just one associated with the receiving group when the time slot and the color code in the channel settings.
  • Exceptional Audio Quality You will be surprised for the crystal clear sound and the noise-free on the transmit audio, it doesn't get distorted when the volume is turned up.

The Radioddity GD-77 DMR two-way radio is rugged and quite solid in build. It weighs 254g with the antenna and battery included. This is a handheld radio and the two-band antenna is 6.5 inches long. There are more features, as you will see in the upcoming sections. These, plus the high capacity battery makes this one a peer leader in its price range.

Frequency range

This radio operates within frequency ranges that give it VHF, UHF and FM capabilities. Its frequency ranges are 12.5 to 25 kHz for FM, 136 to 174 MHz for UHF and 400 to 470 MHz for VHF. It also has DMR ETSI Tiers 1 and 2. The power output is 1 Watt and 5 Watts. The radio also has dual 1 and 2, which work very well as a hotspot or with a repeater.

When using this as a ham radio, you will be happy with many of the features, especially in DMR mode. In addition, the firmware is updated frequently to ensure there are no bugs. You may also use this radio for business because you can program the radio to many business band frequencies. To do that, you would have to have a license and business band radio.

You can save up to 10921 individual contacts in the radio and up to 1024 talk groups.

SMS function

This function gives the two-way radio cellphone-like qualities. To use the SMS function, you have to set the radio to DMR mode and it will enable you to send text messages from your radio to others. It actually comes with up to 32 premade text messages. Therefore, the only thing you have to do before sending one is to ensure that you put in your Radio ID. You can do that via computer programming, which we are going to look at next.

PC programming

To program this radio through your computer, the radio is provided with a cable for just that. You will also not mess with communication ports when programming so everything remains intact. The provided software is simple and straightforward. However, a more complex mode can be availed on request.

Pros

  • High capacity 2100mAh battery for long use
  • Simple to program your radio through its keypad or through a computer
  • You can use it to send text messages
  • Frequent firmware updates ensure all bugs are fixed in time

Cons

  • The Radioddity GD-77 DMR has a small display – could be better.

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5. TYT TH-9800 PLUS Version Quad Band Radio

TYT Ham Radio
  • Welcome to Off-Road Equipment, The Latest Plus Version of TYT TH-9800, 50W/40W Full Quad Band Dual Display FM Amateur Mobile Radio/Transceiver, A MUST HAVE For all HAMs, FUN & GREAT VALUE as BASE STATION. Size: 5.5 x 1.6 x 6.6", Weight: 2.65 lbs. Package Content: TYT TH-9800, Mic Hanger, Power Cable, Mounting Bracket & Screws, User Manual, Programming Cable & Factory Disc.
  • Frequency: TX 26-33(10M)/47-54(6M)/136-174(2M)/400-480MHz(70CM), RX: 26-33/47-54/108-180/320-512/750-950MHz (P.S. AM mode selectable on VHF receive frequencies for Air Band reception), Output Power VHF: 50/20/10/5W UHF: 35/20/10/5W.
  • Features: V/V, U/U, V/U Simultaneous Receive, V+U Cross-Band Repeater, Full Dual Display and Receive, High/Mid1/Mid2/Low Power Setting, Wide/Mid/Narrow Bandwidth Selectable, CTCSS/DCS, DTMF, 2 Tone & 5 Tone, Voice Compander & Scrambler, Remote Detachable Faceplate, 809 Alphanumeric Memory Channels, SQL, Scan, TOT, Full Direct Entry Keypad Mic.

First, the TYT TH-9800 quad (meaning four) band radio has been given FCC approval. Secondly, as a four-band radio, it is affordable and there is no reason to have a two-band radio when you can get a four-band one.

Frequency range

This radio transmits and receives on different bands such as High Frequency (10 meter), Ultra High Frequency (70 centimeter) and Very High Frequency (2-meter and 6-meter), and the latter comes in twos.

Other frequencies that you can use to transmit and receive on are 108 to 136 MHz, 320 to 399 MHz and 750 to 950 MHz. In addition, there are 809 channels accompanied by 256 memories. For an amateur user, that is just about enough to keep what you need to save.

You can program the radio using the keypad itself, or you can program it using your computer. It comes with a USB cable for that. It also has the required programming software. However, it is also CHIRP-compatible if you would like to go that way.

By design of this radio, you can separate the head/front panel and body and mount the controls where you want them. This can be on your desk or your car. There is a short cable provided for head/body separation but you can buy another one if you like, a longer one. You can use it as an 11-meter CB radio and for air traffic; you can catch it when it is tens of miles out.

LCD Display

This radio has a nice LCD display that displays two frequencies. The display is large enough and you won’t strain to see the stats displayed there. At the same time, the handheld microphone has a backlit keypad.

Pros

  • You will find it quite easy to program this radio
  • Easy to separate the head from the body for remote installation
  • It is a four-band radio
  • You can catch air traffic from tens of miles away

Cons

  • The radio might refuse to turn on unless you can also replace the fuse with your own

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6. Xiegu G90 HF Amateur Radio Transceiver

Xiegu Ham Radio
  • Detachable Display Unit - The display unit and the radio body can be separated. This allows you to place the head remotely.
  • Wide Range Auto Antenna Tuner - Unlike other QRP radios, the G90 has a wide-range internal automatic antenna tuner so you can load up your favorite field antenna!
  • Beautiful Color LCD Screen - All vital operating information is clearly visible in daylight conditions. 48KHZ wide spectrum display with waterfall gives you excellent awareness of the signal conditions around you.

Do not buy a boring radio when you can have one that is flashy and full of pomp such as the Xiegu G90 HF Ham Radio. This one comes with a detachable head unit so that you can place it wherever you want. Please note that this radio is going to set you back a substantial amount of money, but the features and functions more than justify it.

Frequency ranges

The frequency range within which this radio receives is 0.5 MHz to 30 MHz. With a wide talking range of up to 2500 miles maximum, you can communicate with people from other counties and states.

The transmission frequency range is 1.8 MHz to 29.9 MHz. To enhance the performance of this radio much further, you may embed an automatic antenna tuner internally. This will ensure that you have high quality transmission and reception.

Display

The display is a nice size at 1.8 inches. It displays all the stats of the radio and it has a fast refreshing rate so that you can always be sure that the functions displayed are in real-time. As you saw in the first paragraph, this is a colorful display to keep things a little exciting.

Pros

  • Convenient features such as the side interface with a headphone port (3.5mm stereo jack)
  • The microphone also has a backlit keypad.
  • It also has two buttons that you can fully customize to meet certain needs
  • It supports SL16-K type antenna socket and you have to buy your own compatible antenna

Cons

  • There is not much about antennas and that can be a bother for beginners

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7. Icom IC-718 HF All Band Amateur Base Transceiver

Icom Ham Radio
  • USB, LSB, CW, RTTY(FSK) and AM modes are built-in
  • 0.03-29.999999 MHz* general coverage receive capability. *Guaranteed range: 0.5-29.999999 MHz
  • Total 101 memory channels are available

If you would like a ham radio that can access HF, this is it for you. The Icom IC-718 is a bit expensive, but you might have noticed that ham radios that can access HF are more expensive. Simplicity is the name of the game for this radio, something that makes it easy to use for beginners.

You can adjust the wattage level from 2 Watts to 100 Watts. Therefore, you can use it with different amps without any trouble at all. But even with the simple features, this radio is still a very good choice as a mobile or base installation radio.

You will need an external power supply of 12 Volts DC. In addition, it also comes with a preinstalled UT-106 DSP board. DSP – digital signal processing board is used for audio signals and speech processing as well as voice recognition. In addition to the built-in DSP, you also get other modes such as LSB, AM, RTTY/FSK and USB are built-in.

The radio has 101 memory channels. They are not as many as those of some of the radios that we have reviewed here, but they will help you store important contacts.

Pros

  • It has a nicely detailed user manual to help you understand General License test
  • Good and sturdy build quality
  • It is a semi-mobile design radio that you can carry in your car or keep at home
  • Nice front panel equipped with a display screen, keypad, ports and many more

Cons

  • Radio does not come with a means to control the tone
  • It does not have an antenna tuner

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How To Choose A Ham Radio: A Buyer’s Guide

Because of the availability of so many ham radios in the market, beginners find it challenging to buy a good one. Therefore, you need to read the upcoming guidelines to help you get the best radio. Before you can commit your money, you need to know what it is that you are buying. You need to know the features on which you are splashing your money.

Bands

Ham radios come with VHF, UHF, HF and FM. Most radios will have the UHF, VHF and FM frequency bands, with the latter being used for commercial radio. However, not all radios come with HF frequency.

Those that come with this one are more expensive. Since a ham radio is also called amateur radio, you should feel right at home with the short-range VHF and UHF bands. The HF band is very useful for long-range communication, covering thousands of miles.

To clarify on the bands some more, a 2-meter band (144 to 148MHz) is the best for emergencies because of its long range. The 70-centimeter band (420 to 450MHz) frequency is also very common for ham radios. However, it only offers short-range transmission.

Accompanying equipment

When you get a ham radio, you need some equipment to make it work as you want. The four main pieces of equipment that radios come with include power supply, antenna, transceiver and antenna tuner.

Transceiver

As the name suggests, a transceiver is a combination of a receiver and a transmitter. This is what the ham radio is about mostly, so of the total cost that you will pay, about a third is the cost of the transceiver. The build quality of your transceiver is very important.

Power supply

The power supply is for powering the transceiver. Now, this can come in the form of batteries or DC connectivity. Without a power source, you will not be able to make the transceiver work. It also needs to be the right power because too much power overpowers the transceiver and too little power underpowers it.

Antenna and antenna tuner

You need to have a yagi or dipole antenna with your radio. Without a proper antenna, you will not have good reception for your radio. You should also have an antenna tuner so that it can help you match the antenna and the transceiver for better reception all the time.

Design and Build quality

A good ham radio should be designed in such a way that it can take a lot of abuse without breaking down. By abuse, we mean it should stay intact even with a lot of handling. However, unless a radio is indicated as waterproof, you should protect it from dampness and similar conditions.

The radio should also not be as delicate as a mobile phone. When you buy a radio, you intend it to last a few to several years. That is why it needs to have excellent design and build quality. If the radio should slip from your hand and fall, it should remain intact. Therefore, it is better to pay more money for more features and better build quality than pay less and get poor build quality.

PC or radio programming

All ham radios will come with manual programming, PC programming or both of them. Actually, most of them come with both. For manual programming, you will just use the buttons available on the set, on the keypad.

You can also program the radio using your computer. You have to connect the radio to the computer using a cable that usually comes with the radio. However, some cables are not very good, so you might have to buy another one. Usually, people program their radios through their computer when they want to use complex software.

Memory channels

Some radios come with large memory channels and some come with small ones. Therefore, you can buy what suits your needs most, starting from 100 to 4000 as you have seen in these reviews. The more the better but the memory channels are programmable. Therefore, you can always remove some and add some.

Display

The display is very important. It will display the frequency band that your radio is running on at a particular moment. It can also display other functions if it is big enough. An illuminated display is also better because it enables you to see properly at night. In addition, a bigger display beats a small one because you can see the numbers without straining. The best displays light up in blue at night and black in the day for better visibility.

Conclusion

The best ham radios come in their numbers and choosing the very first one to usher you into the world of wireless communication is not so easy. Do not think about the price too much. Just think of whether the features give good value for money.

It is in your best interest to find all the information that you can about these radios. In addition, it is very important that you get all the equipment that make a ham radio work seamlessly. For example, you might need to mount an antenna on your car. You might also have to buy extra accessories such as a car charger.

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