How Do I Choose the Best Amateur Radio Transceiver?

Benjamin Arie

There are literally hundreds of amateur radio transceiver units on the market. For newly licensed ham radio operators, this wide selection can seem overwhelming. By carefully considering the intended use and the target frequency band, amateur radio enthusiasts can narrow these options down. After the list of amateur radio transceiver choices is prioritized based on these important criteria, operators can make the final purchase decision based on their budget.

A handheld transceiver is a portable option for radio enthusiasts.
A handheld transceiver is a portable option for radio enthusiasts.

The most important factor for radio operators to consider when buying an amateur radio transceiver is the intended use. For ham operators who spend a significant amount of time in a car, a mobile transceiver might be the best option. Mobile transceivers are able to run on low-voltage direct current (DC) power and are designed to be installed in vehicles. When this type of transceiver is paired with a vehicle-mounted antenna, the operator can communicate from the field or during a long road trip.

Used amateur radio transceivers may be available at swap meets.
Used amateur radio transceivers may be available at swap meets.

Handheld amateur radios are another good option for operators who travel frequently. A handheld transceiver does not offer the same level of output power as a mobile radio. The advantage, however, is that a handheld unit can be go anywhere and fit easily in a pocket or carry case. This portability makes a handheld model a good choice for an operator who is on his or her feet often and needs to communicate only with users and repeater nets in a local area.

The largest and most full-featured amateur radio transceivers are base or "fixed" units. These transceivers typically are installed in a permanent location, such as a home or office. Base units usually have a very high level of output power and are often paired with large outdoor antenna towers. This gives them great range. For amateur radio operators who do not travel often and want to reach contacts over long distances, base units work well.

Not all amateur radio transceiver types can be used for every band. Typically, the smaller and more portable the device, the more limited the frequency band options. For instance, many handheld transceivers are able to transmit on only the 2-meter or 6-meter very high frequency (VHF) bands. This makes them perfect for users who need to access only local 2-meter repeater networks but practically useless for ham operators who prefer the lower, high frequency (HF) spectrum. When choosing a transceiver, amateur radio enthusiasts should double-check that the radio is designed for the ham bands that they prefer.

The final consideration for choosing an amateur radio transceiver is the operator's budget. Amateur radio equipment is not cheap, but new radio operators do not need to spend vast amounts of money to get started with the hobby. Used transceivers are often available at swap meets, and many single-band handheld transceivers are inexpensive. Ham enthusiasts can start with these less expensive options and move on to more high-end equipment after they gain experience and discover which amateur radio specialty is more appealing to them.

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