How to find the perfect radio

I get asked this question a lot, so decided to document it here. Executive summary – the perfect radio (HT, mobile, or base) just doesn’t exist for you.

Wowee – it is a dizzying array of specs, speeds, feeds, features, colours and choices out there when you go to buy your first radio, isn’t it? For the purposes of this discussion I’ll stick to the brands of Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu and focus on HTs.

First off, about handheld in a vehicle versus a mobile unit… yes, you can do this for short-area communications like a few kilometers but it won’t be good and signals will be choppy. Remembering that V/UHF is line of sight, if the other vehicle in your convoy is out of sight, choppiness or total signal loss happens. Further, the metal roof and pillars and body that surrounds you will act as a crude Faraday Cage keeping your signals IN the vehicle.

I’ll cite current or very recent models from this point forward (as of early 2021).
Dual-VFO: The basic HT is capable of listening to one VFO at a time. Most have dual VFO but can only listen to one at a time. Step up a lot in price and you can listen to two VFOs simultanenously like the Kenwood TH-D74, Yaesu FT3DR and others. With these top-end radios come features which you may or may not desire like Digital voice modes and APRS. Lastly there are few radios that offer the ability to simultaneously listen while you transmit, needed to work satellites in a single radio package, the recently discontinued Kenwood D72 is in this group, and there are others that haven’t been sold new lately.

The HTs in the middle are typically capable of listening to one VFO at a time and do some sort of Digital Voice mode. There are three standards most used in Ham Radio – D-Star (Icom, also licensed by Kenwood), System Fusion aka C4FM (Yaesu), and DMR (Motorola and a host of offshore brands like TYT, Tytera, Hytera, Radioddity…).  Of the three the System Fusion is easiest to use out of the box, says the guy who started in DMR and learned how difficult [challenging] it can be to program them. D-Star has been most accepted for the longest time but Fusion is where most seem to be headed lately. Off the top of my head this group includes Icom ID-51, Yaesu FT-70.

There are HTs that don’t do digital voice, they are analog only. These are a bit less expensive than their digital counterparts. These include the Icom V-86, Yaesu FT-65, Yaesu VX-6R, Kenwood TH-K20A.

Some are built tough as nails and some are plastic bodies and some are waterproof and so on. Each of these can be a desirable feature, you’ll have to decide.

So – the continuum looks like roughly this price and feature-wise: FT-65 -> V80 -> TH-K20A -> FT70 -> VX6R ->>>> -(big step up in price and features)- ID-51 – FT3DR – D74.

Baofeng wasn’t around when I got started and I’d likely have been tempted by it were it around then. I started with a Yaesu VX-5R at $450 and was so dissapointed to learn that dual VFO wasn’t dual-listen VFO, but I kept that radio for about 10 years. When I sold it and got a VX-7R for it’s waterproof feature and dual-listen. I have two of them, I like them so much. I can drive a nail with it, just about, metal body. It recently took a tumble onto a concrete floor from about 5′ up when it slipped out of my backpack as I was slinging it on my shoulder. It seems the feature yours truly desires most is durability 🙂

So, leverage Kepner-Tregoe to decide which list of features are Must-Have and which are Nice-To-Have when choosing, then compromise, as the perfect radio just doesn’t exist.

perfect radio