02-21-2016, 09:20 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
2016 CB Radio Buyers Guide
This updated guide is a basic comparison of pros and cons of the readily available and most popular CB’s among Jeepers. This is just to answer some of the most common questions. It does not cover all radios by any means. All of these radios are 4 watts and good quality. The antenna is what makes the difference in distance. Noise canceling microphones are a plus in noisy rigs especially you travel the highway with a group to wheeling spots. Keep in mind that some limitations can be addressed by those that are so inclined. Most of this is for those who are new to off-roading and just want to be able to talk with the group they ride with. When sound quality is mentioned, this refers to the built in speaker and microphone. For the most the transmit circuitry is similar and uses similar components so the signal will be similar. The speaker on a lower end unit may sound just fine, the higher end units may sound better due to more room for a larger speaker. Even with more room they may still be cheap speakers. Pick the radio you like and give it a whirl. I you have a difficulty hearing others clearly, an external speaker can be purchased that simply plugs into the back of the radio.
FULL SIZE RADIOS:
PROS: most features, usually include SWR meter, best sound quality
CONS: large chassis can be obtrusive to some
These radios will have the best sound quality and all the features you could reasonably want in a CB. The newer LCD radios give a modern non-trucker look but can be difficult to mount in a way that doesn’t stand out. Mounting them in a compartment or under a seat makes using the features you chose the radio for difficult.
Uniden Bearcat 880 also 980 and all PC78 series (my personal favorite and current radio)
Cobra 29LX also other 29 series
Galaxy 929 also 919, 939, 949, 959, 979
MID SIZE RADIOS:
PROS: smaller than full size radios, similar/same sound quality as a full size
CONS: less features than a full size, usually does not have a built in SWR meter, can still be obtrusive compared to other options
These radios are a compromise between full size and compact radios. The sound quality is as good as the full size units with a slightly smaller and easier to mount chassis. There are a few features that are removed such as the SWR meter and a few others. Overall these are for those that want a higher end radio but just can’t squeeze the full size chassis in the desired mounting area.
Uniden Bearcat 680 and all PC68 series
Cobra 25NW also other 25 series
PROS: small and easy to mount, can be hidden for security, most affordable
CONS: the least features, no SWR meter, poor sound quality
These radios can be mounted almost anywhere. Do enough searching the web and you will find all kinds of mounting ideas. Due to the small size and low cost, the speakers and microphones are generally lower quality than higher end radios. This can usually be addressed with an external speaker and noise canceling microphone but to most trail riders it works well enough not to bother. If you have never had a better radio and only get one for the trail I doubt you’ll even notice. My experience with Midland mics puts them above par for this category and the Uniden 510 and 520 models are also well reviewed with sound quality on par with higher end models. This category may the most popular among off-roaders as I see a lot of these on the trails.
Midland 1001LWX also 1001Z and CB1
Uniden PRO505XL also PRO510XL and PRO520XL
Cobra 19 DX IV also 18 WX ST II (close to DIN size can be mounted with a DIN size radio in a double DIN dash opening)
PROS: easy to mount or install, best for security, not obtrusive at all, least interior modification, can be removed with little if any evidence it was there
CONS: small speaker and microphone are not the best quality or limited by size, small display can be difficult to read compared to the larger LCD units, control can be inadvertently changed while using the mic
These radios offer many benefits and each is considerably different from the other. The Cobra 75 has a very small module that can be tucked almost anywhere. The module has connectors for power, antenna and an external speaker if better sound is desired. The microphone cable is the only visible cable that plugs up to the hide away module. This radio is no frills but has everything you need. All of the controls are in the handheld mic/speaker module. Find a place to mount the mic and you’re set.
The Midland 75-822 is unique. It can operate similar to the Cobra 75 but can also be used as a handheld. As a handheld it operates like all handhelds…poorly. Don’t get me wrong handhelds work but they are only for the short distance. Think yards instead of miles. The antenna is too small to be efficient in any way but the Midland unit has a trick up it’s sleeve. The battery and short antenna can be removed and an adapter goes in it’s place that includes a power plug and full size antenna connector. Like the Cobra all the controls are with the microphone/speaker. I installed one of these for a friend of mine. He has a 4’ Wilson Flex antenna on the spare tire carrier. The adapter was hardwired to 12V power and routed under the passenger seat along with the antenna cable. When he isn’t using the radio the adapter and cables are tucked under the seat.
There are many other models with different features. This is in no way a complete list of every radio available. These are just the most popular. If you browse the manufactures websites in the links you may find exactly what fits you. I also recommend going to a local meeting or group event and check out what others are running in person. I personally recommend staying away from strictly handheld units as your only radio and look for ones that can go both ways if you must have a handheld. As far as any built-in SWR meter goes, I have many that are not accurate at all but some are close enough to help you troubleshoot the antenna. You can balance channel 1 and 40 but don’t put too much stock in the number it displays. Find someone local or swing by a CB shop and have them verify the tuning with a better meter before long term use. I personally use a Dosy PM-1000-TS for an SWR meter.