Are you looking for a powerful, reliable two-way radio you can use without a license? CB radios date clear back to 1945 and rose to their height during the 1970s. Since the advent of handheld FRS radios, they have lost some of their popularity, but they are still a mainstay for truckers, hobbyists, boat operators, and first responders.
If you are thinking about purchasing a CB radio, you are looking at either a fixed-mount or handheld model. Below is a product comparison table which can help you to take in the features of top cb radio models at a glance.
|Uniden PRO505XL||Check Price on Amazon|
|Uniden Bearcat 980SSB||Check Price on Amazon|
|Cobra 29 LX||Check Price on Amazon|
|Midland 75-822||Check Price on Amazon|
|Cobra 75 WX ST||Check Price on Amazon|
|Cobra HH 38 WX ST||Check Price on Amazon|
- 1 What Are CB Radios?
- 2 How CB Radios work
- 3 Uses
- 4 History of CB Radios
- 5 Mobile vs. Handheld CB Radios
- 6 Power and Range
- 7 Features
- 8 1. Uniden PRO505XL: Perfect for Casual CB Radio Enthusiasts
- 9 2. Uniden Bearcat 980SSB: An Affordable CB Radio Which Is Easy to Use
- 10 3. Midland 75-822: the Most Popular Portable CB Radio
- 11 4. Cobra 75 WX ST: A Cost-Effective, Compact CB Radio
What Are CB Radios?
CB radio stands for “Citizens Band radio.” The FCC first created them back in 1945. They were designed specifically to be easy to learn to use so that small business and ordinary individuals could communicate with them effectively. CB radios are cost-effective, powerful, reliable, and do not require a license. There are 40 channels available; a number of them are designated for specific unofficial uses. Channel 19 for example is used by truckers and travelers. While CB radios are more powerful than FRS radios, they are built for short-distance communication only.
How CB Radios work
CB radios operate using radio waves, just like VHF radios, cell phones, televisions, and AM/FM radios. Each CB radio is equipped with a long antenna, generally around 10 feet. If you use your CB radio in your vehicle, the antenna will probably be mounted on the back of the vehicle. The antenna captures the signals and transforms them into audio which you hear through the speakers.
A CB radio is a transceiver, which means that it is both a transmitter and a receiver. If you want to send out a communication, simply key into the microphone and talk. The words are converted into electrical signals and then are transmitted by the antenna. They travel through the air on radio waves which are picked up by other CB radios.
There are numerous different uses for CB radios. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Get traffic, weather, and travel updates and warnings when you are on the road (personal or professional use)
- Report emergencies or coordinate a response
- Chat on the road with friends in different vehicles
- Learn more about radio (CB radio is a popular hobby)
History of CB Radios
As mentioned previously, the FCC invented CB Radio in 1945 with the goal of giving individuals and small businesses a reliable two-way means of communication that wasn’t too hard to learn. CB radio reached a height of popularity during the 60s and 70s. The advent of solid-state technology allowed costs to drop precipitously.
When the 1973 oil crisis caused the US government to impose a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph, CB radio really took off. It allowed drivers to warn one another about police cars and gas stations which were out of fuel. Over time, CB radio clubs formed and invented special jargon for on-the-road communications.
In a way, CB radio was a precursor to the anonymous chat rooms of the internet. Of course, with the growth of the internet and FRS radio, CB radio usage has declined.
Mobile vs. Handheld CB Radios
While there is such a thing as a base CB radio which you install at home, most users want CB radio for the road. There are two main types: mobile and handheld.
Mobile CB radios are relatively compact, though not as small as handheld models (see below). You can mount one directly under the dashboard of your vehicle or install it on the transmission hump. Want to reduce static from the spark plugs? Wire the radio to the battery directly.
This is the most compact option for a CB radio. As the name indicates, you can hold the model in your hand and talk, or you can set it on your dash. Handheld models are not as powerful as mobile or base units, but they do offer the best portability.
Power and Range
The FCC sets power limitations for all types of radio communication. The maximum power allowed for CB radios is four watts. There is an exception—SSB radios, which transmit on 12 watts (we will delve into this in the features below). Most CB radios are limited to a maximum transmission range of around 10 miles. Note that this is the range you get with a clear, unobstructed path between two radios. Anything that interferes with line of sight can interfere with transmission and reception.
Being as most CB radios have the same wattage and range, most of the distinctions which impact cost and value take the form of features. Here are some important ones to look for.
Squelch control is a standard feature which reduces static on incoming transmissions. It is included in practically every CB radio on the market.
This feature lets you block faint signals and opt to receive strong signals only. It is a great way to filter out background noise. Alternately, you can use it to boost the strength of weaker signals.
If you have a PA horn, you can use your CB radio and microphone as a public address system.
Automatic Noise Limited (ANL)
This is another feature for filtering out static. It can also block out engine noise and other types of interference.
This is a feature which allows you to receive NOAA weather updates right on your CB radio (very helpful if you will use your radio while traveling).
This is a feature which allows you to skip directly to a popular channel such as Channel 19 for truckers or Channel 9 for emergencies.
This is a feature where you can set up your radio to automatically scan through channels on a loop. If it detects a conversation, it will pause and give you a chance to listen.
This is exactly what it sounds like, a display which is backlit for nighttime use. This is particularly helpful if you are a trucker who does a lot of night driving. This tends to be a feature that will cost extra.
Single Side Band (SSB)
As mentioned earlier, SSB (“single side band”) radios are permitted to transmit at 12 watts of power instead of at four watts. This triples the effective range of the radio. Note however that this triple range only works if you are communicating with someone else who also has a side single band radio. The rest of the time, you may as well drop the power to four watts (which is always an option), since you will be stuck with the limited range of other CB radio users who do not own SSB-outfitted devices.
Built-in SWR Meter
SWR stands for “standing wave ratio.” If your CB radio is equipped with a built-in SWR meter, you can measure how effectively the power signal your device is emanating is moving through the antenna. You can use the SWR meter to properly adjust your radio or maximum effectiveness.
This knob is yet another feature for reducing static. It is also known as a “clarifier control.” As you adjust it, you will notice that the pitch of the person’s voice on the other end changes. Delta tune is handy if the other person sounds “squeaky,” and you want to reduce that effect so you can make out what they are saying more clearly.
Now that you are familiar with the basics of CB radios and know which features to look for, we can get into some CB radio reviews. The following reviews cover popular and highly rated models on Amazon.com which we can heartily recommend after conducting thorough research into the products which are currently on the market.
1. Uniden PRO505XL: Perfect for Casual CB Radio Enthusiasts
The PRO505XL is a good choice for beginner CB radio users. It doesn’t have the full range of features found in professional CB devices. However, it is cheap compared to most CB radios. Plus, it’s very easy to install.
- Simple installation. No need to take your car to a mechanic to install this radio. The whole installation process takes about 15 minutes.
- Mic sends out strong, clear signals. Even though it’s not as powerful as some CB radios, if you’re in range your transmissions will be strong and loud.
- Minimalist design. The PRO505XL has less knobs and buttons compared to other CB radios. But if you’re looking for a beginner CB radio, simplicity is a good thing.
- Very reasonable price tag. This radio is significantly cheaper than most CB radios on the market.
- Good quality built-in speakers. The speakers are clear and loud enough to hear with your driver’s side window open.
- Small, compact body. This CB is slimmer and more compact than most pro CB radios.
- Inline fuse prevents electrical problems. If your radio short circuits, the fuse prevents your car’s electrical system from taking damage.
- Made out of plastic, not steel.
- Lacks a RF gain knob to turn down noise.
2. Uniden Bearcat 980SSB: An Affordable CB Radio Which Is Easy to Use
If bang for your buck is what you are after, you will be impressed with the fantastic value offered by the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB. This CB radio is reasonably inexpensive, but gives you the ease-of-use and features you are after.
- Great mic options. The microphone which comes with the unit has noise-cancelling properties for a clear transmission. If you prefer your own mic, you can connect a wireless microphone of your choosing.
- Single side band USB/LSB. This radio offers you 40 channels.
- Beautiful display. The large, clear LCD display is one of the selling points for this radio. You can adjust the backlighting as needed. 7 colors provide immediate visual feedback on settings and make it effortless to read the display at a glance.
- Stylish design. The sleek, aesthetically appealing look of this radio makes it the perfect addition to any vehicle.
- Check the weather with ease. All it takes is the push of a button to get the forecast from NOAA.
- Excellent array of features. These include RF gain control, an integrated SWR meter, an automatic noise limiter, ANL/noise blanker, and more.
- Amazing price. The Uniden Bearcat 980SSB tends to be an affordable option even for more casual hobbyists. It includes better features and design than a lot of other CB radios in this price bracket.
- Some batches seem to have shipped out with DOA units. So long as you are not affected by this issue, you should find yourself with a great working radio which you can get up and running with quickly.
3. Midland 75-822: the Most Popular Portable CB Radio
If you need to stay in touch with people over CB when you’re away from your vehicle, check out the Midland 75-822. It’s the most popular portable CB device on Amazon right now. Unlike many portable CBs, this device from Midland has a long list of attractive features. It’s also quite inexpensive.
- Popular on Amazon. The Midland 75-822 recently moved to the top spot on Amazon’s list of most popular portable CB radios.
- Compact. This device is light enough to carry on your belt.
- Versatile. It performs well anywhere you take it.
- Batteries last a long time. You can get 8 to 10 hours of use out of a single charge.
- You can hook it up to an external antenna. Hooking up your car’s CB radio extends the 75-822’s range.
- Low price. This radio costs much less than most CB radios that are built to be used in an automobile.
- Accesses NOAA weather alert channels. If foul weather approaches, the 75-822 fires off a short emergency tone.
- Range isn’t quite as good compared to fixed, nonmobile CB radios.
- This radio will not survive an encounter with pavement. The shell is made out of cheap plastic.
4. Cobra 75 WX ST: A Cost-Effective, Compact CB Radio
Not looking for a huge, elaborate display on a CB radio—just a unit which can fit comfortably and ergonomically in the palm of your hand? The 75 WX ST (sometimes spelled 75WXST) from Cobra may be exactly the compact, simple, affordable model you are after.
- 40 CB channels. Get all the major CB channels using this device.
- 10 NOAA channels. Checking the weather is a breeze with the 10 included NOAA channels.
- Compact and ergonomic. The 75 WX ST features a streamlined design, and has been molded to the shape of your palm so that you can hold and use it comfortably.
- Easy to install. The speaker for this radio faces the front, which helps if you need to install it in tight quarters.
- Discrete. The small profile of the CB radio makes it possible to stow it inside your glove compartment if you want to conceal it from view.
- SoundTracker® System. This is a feature which can reduce around 90% of the noise in your transmission.
- Great features for ease-of-use. This include programmable memory locations, dual-watch, instant channel 9 and 19 access, and more.
- Some units are DOA, while others may die early. The vast majority do not suffer from these issues, but it does seem there may have been a couple of faulty batches.
- The speaker isn’t very loud. This is expected with its location, but it is something to keep in mind if you are driving in a really noisy vehicle. You can fix the issue simply by purchasing an external speaker.
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