The Best CB Radio
What is the best CB radio? The one that works best for you! When you purchase a CB radio, you need to consider size for placement in vehicle and the features you want built into the radio. While searching for a radio keep in mind every CB radio will output the same 4 watts of power unless they are illegally modified to put out more. The FCC limits all CB radio transmission power to 4 watts by law.
So with all CB's transmitting the same power, why are some $49 and others in the $200+ range? The price differential is due to features built into the radio. Basically, the more expensive CB radios have better receivers to filter out static than the low end models. The high end radios are designed for professional drivers and incorporate lots of “bells & whistles” that allow more user control and Blue-tooth integration. Radio transmit (send your call) power on high end models is the same as the low end CB models, however the receiver (sound you hear) is much clearer and quieter. Think of purchasing a CB radio as if you were buying a home stereo. You are basically paying for a better receiver and more control options.
If you are going to use your CB radio frequently to monitor channels you might want to consider purchasing a mid to high end radio with a good receiver. If you only plan on using your radio for emergencies then a low end model will fit your needs. Whatever CB radio you decide to purchase make sure you have a good CB antenna system. A good performing antenna is key to optimum performance. Please see our page on the best CB antenna for more information.
Types of CB Radios
There are 4 basic types of CB radios on the market today; traditional mobile styles, ergonomic all-in-handsets, walkie-talkie handhelds, and base stations. Each type has pros and cons. If you are looking for a radio for your vehicle a base stations is out. We will touch on base station radios anyway just for the sake of being thorough.
Mobile CB Radio
A mobile CB radio is the most common type of CB radio you will find. It's basically a small box with a bunch of dials and a mic attached to the front that is usually installed under/over dash or floor mounted. Traditional mobile units come in many different sizes, and with lots different features. If you are purchasing a radio for your vehicle, you will most likely end up with a mobile or all-in-handset radio.
Before deciding on a CB radio you will want to examine your vehicle to determine radio placement. Make sure you have adequate space to mount the CB radio you select. Typically, the underside of the dash or floor mounting provides the best options. Make sure the spot you select to mount your radio won't obstruct your leg movement or your passengers. Also, be sure the location you select to attach the mounting bracket is strong enough to hold the weight of the radio. Today's electronics tend to have a lighter weight that makes this problem trivial, but better safe than sorry. Also, keep in mind that depending on where the radio is mounted an external speaker may be required to hear conversations clear.
I am often asked which is the best CB radio. While it is hard to say one radio is better than all others because the features vary so much, my person favorite in the mobile category is the Cobra 29 LTD Classic. Cobra makes some of the best quality radios available today. The 29 LTD has features I look for like a built in SWR, noise blanker, and delta tune.
All in Handset CB Radio
All-in-handset radios are designed to have all the controls built in to the handset. In order to incorporate the controls into the handset these type of units have a slightly larger footprint than a standard CB microphone. All-in-handset CB radios are ergonomically designed to allow user control with one hand. Their compact size and ease of installation sets them apart from other mobile radios enough to make their own category. For a smaller vehicles, or difficult mounting applications an All-in-handset CB radio might be a good choice. This type of radio has a small connector box (connects to the antenna, power & external speaker) that easily installs under or through the dash. The All-in-handset CB radio plugs into the connector box and is packed with user friendly features. There used to be several models available in this category, now down to one choice. We stock and recommend the Cobra 75 WX ST. The Cobra 75WXST also offers the connector box to be purchased separately, the AC701. An additional connector box can be installed in another vehicle which enables user to move the head unit easily from one vehicle to another. This provides an economical way to use the same radio for multiple vehicles which really comes in handy especially in RV/Tow car applications.
HandHeld CB Radio
Handheld radios are walkie-talkie style units that generally operate on batteries. Most models come with a cigarette cord for vehicle use. Some models have rechargeable battery packs or the ability to charge rechargeable AA batteries in the radio. If you are using a CB radio on foot, this is obviously the only way to go, but they can also be used in vehicles. You can connect a magnet or fixed mount CB antenna to any hand held CB by removing the rubber antenna and attaching a BNC/SO239 adapter. Keep in mind that when you use a handheld CB radio in your vehicle you will have the antenna cable attached to the top of the unit and a cigarette cord, usually attached from side of unit plugged into the lighter. With all the wires connected it makes the handheld CB cumbersome to operate. The Midland 75-822 features a mobile adapter that slides on where the battery case attaches, which basically turns this unit into an All-in the handset radio. The 75-822 provides the best versatility, operating on land or in a vehicle. When operating the 75-822 in a vehicle you will need to connect an exterior CB antenna to the adaptor cord. A magnet mount will suffice for occasional use. There is also a NIMH rechargeable battery (NIBP) and a speaker microphone (22M11) available for the 75-822.
The best handheld CB radio to purchase really depends on your needs. Overall, the Midland 75-822 is our best handheld. Many consumers purchase two units, which are ideal for multi-vehicle caravan communications while traveling. The 75-822 comes with a ton of features and includes the mobile adapter in the kit. If you want to save some money and don't plan on using the CB radio in a vehicle, the Cobra HH 38 WX ST might be a more economical choice. If you plan on using the HH38WXST in a vehicle you will need an adapter and external CB antenna. Cobra bundles the HH38 with a magnetic mount kit, which is model number HHROADTRIP.
Base Station CB Radio
A base station refers to a CB radio with a built in power supply that can be plugged directly into 110V (wall outlet). This type of radio is intended for using indoors as a home unit. The distinct advantage to a base unit is that the power supply is incorporated into the cabinet so it creates a clean footprint. For optimum performance a good base antenna mounted up very high is recommended. For instance, our neighboring warehouse has an 18 foot antenna mounted on a 30 foot pole. Needless to say, they get good performance and optimum range.
There used to be a lot of options for a base station radio. We are down to one model now. We offer the Galaxy DX2547.
CB Radio Size
Size matters. Don't let anyone tell you different! But probably not in the way you are thinking. The big, full featured radios are great, they have better receivers built in which creates clearer sound quality than the smaller models. However, sometimes there is not enough space to mount a large (7" x 2" x 8" box) chassis CB radio in your vehicle.
If you are limited on space and need a smaller radio, these are your best options:
- Cobra 75 WX ST - All-in-handset. A small junction box mounts under/through the dash, connecting the radio to the antenna, power and external speaker.
- Uniden PRO520XL - One of the smallest mobile CB radios we have with RF Gain & PA. Can be mounted in/under the dash or floor mounted.
- Cobra 19DXIV – Another small mobile CB radio we offer with RF Gain & PA. Can be mounted in the dash.
- Any of the handheld CB radios will also work but keep in mind they are difficult to operate due to power and antenna connections. You will need an external antenna if you are using in a vehicle because the rubber antenna that comes in the kit will provide extremely limited range (2 car lengths approximately).
CB Radio Features
This is where one radio stands out from others. The features incorporated into CB radios can vary widely from radio to radio. The more expensive CB radios are packed with features, many you will want and use frequently. Review the features and select a radio that will best fit your needs. Below we have listed several features available and a brief description of function. We will try to keep this list up to date and accurate. If you notice something missing or incorrect, just let us know!
- Bluetooth - This feature has been added to just a couple of Cobra CB radios. It allows you to use your cell phone through the CB. The Cobra 29LXBT will also display phone information.
- Channel Scan - Allows user to scan through all 40 CB channels for activity (someone talking). Some CB radio models also include the ability to scan a smaller number of channels stored in memory.
- Dynamic/Mic Gain - This feature allows you to adjust the modulation of the radio. Essentially, it allows user to adjust the voice output transmission on microphone. This is a handy feature because some users who talk loud or soft can adjust to compensate for their voice. Make sure not to adjust to off position or no transmission will come through the microphone.
- External Speaker Connection - Most CB radios include an external speaker jack on the back of the radio. This feature allows you to plug in an external CB speaker that can be mounted in vehicle to allow better reception. The internal radio speaker is dis-abled when an external speaker is used.
- Instant Emergency Channels - Back in 1969 channel 9 was designated for emergency transmissions by the Federal Communications Commission. For easy access most manufacturers have incorporated a channel 9 switch to aid users and provide instant channel access. Channel 9 is monitored by many REACT and emergency type organizations. Many Base Station operators also monitor Channel 9.
- Lights - Many CB radios have a back-lit face, lighted meters, or LED channel indicators or displays. They often have names like "Nightwatch" or "Starlight". Whatever the name, the effect is that the face of the radio, or part of it, is easier to see in the dark. Some models will have on/off switches, high/low switches, or dimmers for these lights. Many now offer multiple color faces that can be changed by user to match vehicle interior dash lights.
- PA - Most CB radios come with a PA (public address) switch on the front of the radio and have a jack on the back of the unit which enables connection of a PA horn. This feature allows user to instantly switch from the internal CB radio speaker to a PA horn mounted on the outside of the vehicle which is usually mounted under the hood. When in the PA mode the radio transmissions will broadcast over the PA horn instead of over the air. Keep in mind that if you require an extremely loud PA system that this feature will not meet your needs (Loud PA transmissions require an amplified PA system).
- RF Gain - This is the most important feature to have on a CB radio. This function allows the user to open/close the receiver to quiet the radio without utilizing the squelch control. By utilizing the RF Gain control to quiet the radio instead of the using the squelch control a greater receive distance can be achieved. See this guide to RF gain on a CB radio for more a detailed explanation.
- Roger Beep - This feature is available on the higher end CB models. When transmitting, your radio will emit and audible beep over the air each time you release (un-key) the microphone key. The idea of this feature is to inform the receiver that you are done speaking. Most of the Galaxy CB Radios incorporate this feature.
- Sound Filters - Many CB radios include one or more noise filters. The purpose of these filters are to reduce or eliminate engine whine, static and atmosphere noise. These filters are referred to as ANL (automatic noise limiter), NB (noise blanker), SoundTracker, etc. The net effect is to enable clearer reception.
- Squelch - Every CB radio incorporates a squelch control. This function tunes out the static and weak signals. However, using the squelch to quiet the radio reduces receive distance.
- SSB operation - Without getting too technical, SSB (Single Side Band) operation is a different way of transmitting over the CB frequencies. There are several advantages to operating a CB radio in Sideband mode; 1) Instead of the traditional CB radio signal riding the atmospheric wave the signal emitted on SSB is a straight carrier wave. 2) The FCC allows 12 watts of transmit output power when SSB is enabled rather than 4 watts of transmit power allowed in regular CB mode. Therefore, due to enhanced power output and a straight carrier wave signal, greater distance is achieved when operating in Sideband mode. One draw-back is that in order to communicate with other users on Sideband, they must also have radios with Sideband built-in.
- SWR - Some CB radios come with a built in SWR meter. This feature allows you to check the CB antenna and radio system (SWR) easily to ensure they are performing properly without purchasing a separate meter. This feature is extremely handy for trucker’s or users who change vehicles often.
- Talkback - When a radio with a talk-back feature is enabled, it allows user to hear their own broadcast transmissions through the speaker. This comes in handy for setting microphone volume or adjusting the Mic Gain on the radio.
- Weather - CB's with this feature, when enabled have the ability to pick up NOAA weather broadcast frequencies. This feature provides instant weather information 24/7. Some of these radios even have an emergency alert feature that switches on automatically when NOAA broadcasts alerts are in the area of travel.
That's a lot of information! So what CB Radio should I buy?
Purchasing a CB Radio is like purchasing a home stereo. The more expensive models have better receivers that bring in the stations loud and clear with less static. The RF Gain is the most important feature on a CB Radio. A radio with an RF Gain normally has a better receiver and incorporates better noise filtration circuitry which is necessary to adjust the atmospheric static on the radio. When purchasing a CB Radio consider the following;
- If you are going to purchase a radio for emergencies only or don’t plan on using it very much, a low end model will fit your needs. Keep in mind that the radio will be noisy to listen to but will still operate efficiently.
- If you plan on using your radio a lot you will want to buy a mid-to high priced radio that has a good receiver with the RF Gain feature. The higher end larger chassis CB radio models will also have better noise filtration to reduce the static and atmospheric conditions even further.
- The high end CB radios incorporate the best receivers and offer many added benefits that professional drivers want. Most of the more expensive models in addition to the RF gain feature will incorporate a SWR bridge, weather & alerts, clocks, sleep timers, blue-tooth capabilities along with many other bells and whistles.
CB Radio Recommendations by vehicle
There was a time when you couldn't get by without a CB in your big rig. While some companies still require them for safety reasons, they are not utilized nearly as much today as they were in the 70's and 80's. If you are putting a radio in your truck, you most likely have a lot of room. We recommend a full featured radio like the Cobra 29 LTD, Cobra 29 LX, or Uniden PC78ELITE.
Jeep owners usually have less room to spare. A smaller radio like the Uniden PRO510XL or PRO520XL. If you want a few more bells and whistles, try the Uniden BC880 or BC680. Our most popular CB radio we sell for Jeeps is the Cobra 75 WX ST . If you are looking for everything in one package, have a look at our Jeep CB Radio Package.
We have seen everything from the smallest radio to the largest installed in pickups. It basically boils down to personal taste and available space. If you have a lot of room follow the recommendations under Semi/Professional Driver above. If you are short on space follow the recommendations under Jeep above.
For RV owners we recommend one of three CB radios. If you can make room for it, we recommend the Uniden PC68LTW. This radio has several great features including weather channels and a weather alert. These features will keep you up to date as you travel across the country. If you have less space, you can go with the Cobra 75 WX ST. The 75WXST is a smaller All-in-handset unit but still incorporates instant weather and many other features, however it does not have weather alert. The Midland 75-822 is another small radio with weather channels and it can be easily converted to a hand held radio with the accessories included in the kit. If you are looking for everything in one package, have a look at our RV CB Radio Package.
There are several options for motorcycles, but most riders choose handheld CB radios. You can also get creative and find room for a small mobile, wire it into your bikes power, and install a no ground plane antenna on the motorcycle somewhere. We generally recommend a Midland 75-822 with a Motocomm headset for the sake of simplicity. Make sure that you purchase an antenna designed to work on a motorcycle or boat. A “No Ground Plane” antenna is specially designed to radiate off the earth’s surface, not metal like traditional CB antennas. See our motorcycle CB radio kit for an all in one package.
We have only a hand full of our available radios listed on this page. The recommendations here are by no means absolute. All of the radios we carry are worth their salt. If we find that a model is faulty or just junk, we quit selling it. Any radio we do sell we back 100%.