Even in this digital age, radio communication is far from dead. From hobbyists to professionals, many people still use the radio. However, not all radios are the same. They differ depending on range and frequencies, among other things. In this guide, the focus is on the best HF radio.
In a nutshell, an HF radio is a High-Frequency radio, which ranges from 3 to 30 MHz. It is essential for communicating over vast distances. A handheld transceiver or base unit will transmit signals, which will then bounce off to another transceiver in the same band.
When looking for an HF radio, below are some of the most critical considerations:
- Signal Quality: It is important to have reliable signal quality as it is directly related to the audio. One thing that can improve the signal is automatic antenna tuning, ensuring the optimal settings for the best performance.
- Ease of Use: Especially if you are a first-time user, pick a user-friendly HF radio. The buttons should be strategically laid out. A bright display is also a must. The radio must come with a comprehensive manual.
- Display: High-end models will have a touchscreen color display, which will make the operation of the HF radio more intuitive. It is vital to have a backlight for better visibility. Some will have the option to turn off the backlight so you can save the battery.
Are you looking for an HF radio? Read on and I will share some of my top picks.
Table of Contents
- Top 4 HF Radio Reviews
- What to Look for When Buying HF Radio
- How Far Can HF Radio Transmit?
- Are There Any Handheld HF Radios?
- Why Are HF Radios So Expensive?
- What Is the Difference Between HF and UHF/VHF Radio?
- What Are the Best Brands of HF Radios?
Top 4 HF Radio Reviews
1. ICOM 7300 02 Shortwave Radio
From new to seasoned users, this product is my top recommendation for anyone looking for the best HF transceiver ever made.
Among others, one of the stand-out features is the 4.3-inch color touchscreen display. It is highly visible. Plus, it offers intuitive operation. Instead of dealing with tons of buttons, the digital display allows more flexibility.
Another feature that makes it user-friendly is the multi-dial knob. After pushing it, the menu will show up on the digital display. Turning the knob will move the menu and let you choose specific settings. You can also do so simply by touching the screen.
To deliver the best performance, this mobile HF transceiver has RF direct sampling. The latter is an innovative system that converts radio frequency signals into digital data. Once processed, it simplifies circuit construction while also reducing noise.
Another commendable feature is the built-in tuner. The latter ensures the best possible signal. It has a memory function, so I do not need to program it. When I change the operating bands, the tuner selects what is best for the frequency transmission. It also has 101 memory channels.
For high-quality audio output, it has a state-of-the-art speaker. The speaker has an allocated space in the radio’s die-cast aluminum chassis. There is also a hand microphone that comes with the package.Heads-up: However, one of the shortcomings of the radio is the manual. It includes a basic Getting Started guide. I prefer a more detailed booklet with comprehensive instructions regarding its operation. It is also expensive, but there is a reason for such. It packs innovative features that you will not find in its cheaper counterparts.
- Intuitive touchscreen display with backlight
- User-friendly multi-dial knob
- Has RF direct sampling that reduces background noise
- Comes with a built-in automatic tuner
- Excellent speaker for clear audio
- The manual lacks details about the operation
- Not for people on a budget
2. Xiegu G90 HF Radio
This product is a high-performance ham radio receiver with amazing technical specs that make it worth every dollar. It has a receive frequency range of .5 to 30 Mhz and output power of 20 watts.
The compact body is one of its best assets, making it a great choice if you are looking for a portable HF radio. It weighs only 2.2 pounds. Plus, I love how you can detach the faceplate from the body of the radio.
It is easy to monitor the functions of the radio because of its 1.8-inch LCD screen. It is colored and has high brightness, so it is easy to view whether it is day or night. The screen helps monitor the surrounding signal conditions. It also shows other functions I need to use when operating this HF radio.
I can recommend this if you are searching for HF radio for beginners because of its straightforward operation. The hardware buttons will activate the most common functions. It also has a Quick Menu feature for immediate access to its highlights.
More so, it has tons of features that ensure a strong signal and clear reception. For instance, the wide range tuner automatically adjusts the optimal settings of the antenna. I can even use a linear amplifier for digital modes, but such will require using an external pack.Heads-up: If there is one thing that the manufacturer can improve, it is the quality of the microphone. It feels finicky, which is why I have doubts about its longevity.
- Lightweight body with a detachable faceplate
- Has a bright display for easy signal monitoring
- Intuitive operation even for beginners
- Has automatic tuning to optimize antenna function
- Quality of the microphone can be better
3. YAESU FT-818ND All-Mode Mobile Transceiver
With a solid power of 6 watts, this is another option that should be on your list. It is not necessarily a cheap HF radio, but its features and performance are worth every dollar.
Among others, I love this radio because of the large-capacity NiMH battery. It is 9.6 volts and 1,900 mAh. A battery tray is also included, so I can use eight AA alkaline batteries when needed.
Another great feature of the radio is the digital display albeit small. Its lighting is available in violet, amber, or blue. I have the option to disable the backlight if I desire, which is a great way to conserve the battery. The display has a bar-graph icon that shows power output. Additionally, it shows SWR graphical modulation.
It packs a wide array of advanced features that make it high-performing. For instance, it has a split frequency operation, so I can transmit on one frequency and listen to the other. The noise blanker is also notable, which reduces radio noise from the received signals for clearer communications. It also has a programmable memory that saves up to 200 channels.Heads-up: I do not recommend this QRP HF transceiver for people who have large fingers. The buttons are small, making them hard to press. Even the screen is small, so it is challenging to see the display.
- Comes with a large-capacity battery
- Multi-function LCD with different background colors
- Has a noise blanker to improve audio quality
- Allows split frequency operation
- Small buttons and screen
4. HYS HF Transceiver Power Amp
Wrapping up our list is not an actual radio. This amp pairs well with an HF handheld radio, delivering more power and enhancing performance.
The versatility of this amp is one of its best features. I can pair it with 10, 12, or 15-meter bands. More so, the compatible frequency ranges from 20 to 30 MHz. Plus, the input power varies from 2 to 10 watts, which will depend on the specific mode.
I like how compact and lightweight this amp is. I can bring and use it almost anywhere without the size being a burden. Despite being tiny, it is high-performing and packs decent features comparable to its bulkier counterparts.
Many amps do not last long. This model, however, has one feature that can extend its longevity. With reverse polarity protection, it is not easily susceptible to damage that can occur when there is reverse polarity in the power supply.
A common problem in an amp is that they easily get too hot, which can impact durability. Luckily, this model comes with an internal fan. The latter provides the necessary air circulation to prevent overheating, especially with continued use.Heads-up: Nonetheless, before buying this product, take note that it is only an amplifier. It will enhance the function of top-rated ham radios. Also, the fan is quite loud, which some people might find annoying, especially when operating the radio in a small space.
- A versatile amp that works with different radios
- Compact but has high power
- Has reverse polarity protection
- Comes with a built-in fan that prevents overheating
- The fan is quite loud
- This is only an amp and not a radio
What to Look for When Buying HF Radio
Go online and search for HF radios. For sure, you will be overwhelmed with the long list of choices. As you narrow down the possibilities, below are the most important considerations.
- Signal Quality
The quality of radio signal it can generate is a crucial factor that will impact your purchase decision. The problem is that it is difficult to assess the radio’s signal quality unless you try it. With this, the best thing that you can do is to read reviews. You can learn from the real-life experiences of other people.
- Ease of Use
Especially if you are a first-time user, it is frustrating when the HF radio is complicated. So, choose one that offers intuitive operation. It should come with a detailed manual that explains how to set up and operate the radio.
It is also a must to have an intuitive interface. The most expensive ham radio in this review comes with a touchscreen display, which is a snap to navigate. The buttons should have a strategic layout as well. Even troubleshooting should not be a headache.
Another thing that will make it easy to use is the memory function. This way, you can save multiple channels. Instead of manually inputting the channels for every use, they are already pre-programmed into the radio.
In front of the radio, the display is one of the first things that you will see. It shows critical information you need to know for monitoring performance. It must be large enough to present the important details. More importantly, it needs a backlight to improve visibility, especially at night. Some will even have an option to change the color of the backlight.
The display, however, can consume a lot of battery, especially when it is at its brightest setting. You can find some HF radios with the option to turn off the backlight to conserve energy and make the battery last longer.
It is good if the HF radio offers various connectivity options, making it multifunctional. You can find some models that can connect to a computer, which is great for updates to enjoy the latest features. You must also have options to connect it to a speaker, headphones, or microphone.
Looking for an HF radio that is easy to move around. Despite being compact, however, it should still have a decent-sized screen that is easily visible and has accessible buttons. Especially if you have large fingers, pressing small buttons can be a nightmare.
While some HF radios connect directly to a power supply, some are portable enough and have batteries. If it has, then you should pick a high-powered battery. It is also good if it is rechargeable. Consider how long it fully charges and how long the juice will last.
It is tempting to choose the cheapest HF radio on the market. However, most high-quality products are expensive. Manufacturers invest in developing innovative technologies, so it makes sense that those with superior quality will be costly. The good thing is that they are worth every dollar if you end up with the right product.
Do not forget to read reviews. Take note of what other people are saying. Their experiences will make it easier to narrow down your choices. If you do not easily trust the opinions of strangers, ask around people you know if they have recommendations.
How Far Can HF Radio Transmit?
The distance of transmission of an HF radio is dependent on many factors. For instance, it is highly influenced by the quality of the radio itself. More so, the terrain and surrounding conditions will also have a huge impact. On average, however, it can reach up to 3,000 miles. The skywaves will make multiple hops, which will allow worldwide communications.
Are There Any Handheld HF Radios?
There are no handheld HF radios. They exist in the form of base stations, which are not as portable as their handheld counterparts. Nonetheless, if you know where to look, you will find lightweight and compact models that you can set up anywhere you want to.
Why Are HF Radios So Expensive?
HF radios are pricey because of their functionality. They are meant to communicate over long distances. To be able to do so, they need state-of-the-art technologies. Aside from the range, manufacturers also must invest in making sure that audio quality is superior even when communicating far away. These things will contribute to the radio’s high price.
If you want a budget HF transceiver, be ready to compromise. For instance, instead of having a touchscreen display, it is better if you will find one with a more basic digital screen to bring down the cost.
Compared to UHF and VHF radio, HF radios will require more power. This will allow it to cover more bands. Plus, it has complex designs, which require more advanced components to ensure superior performance.
What Is the Difference Between HF and UHF/VHF Radio?
The biggest difference lies in the numbers, specifically in terms of the frequency range. With an HF radio, the frequency ranges from 3 to 30 MHz. On the other hand, with a VHF and UHF radio, the frequency range will be 30 MHz to 3 GHz.
More so, they are different when it comes to how the radio waves travel. In the case of an HF radio, the transmission happens from a handheld transceiver or base station to the atmosphere. From the ionosphere, the signals will then bounce off, returning to land. It will be received by another radio or transceiver that connects to the same band.
Meanwhile, in the case of VHF/UHF radios, radio signals will travel over a line of sight. This is prone to distortion when there are obstructions present, such as trees, buildings, and similar physical structures. This is unlike HF radios, which are not affected by the terrain conditions.
What Are the Best Brands of HF Radios?
ICOM, Xiegu, Yaesu, and HYS are some of the top-rated HF radio brands. To each his own, but based on my research, these names stand out. They have high-quality radios packed with innovative features.
Communicating over vast distances is possible with the best HF radio. Its ionospheric transmission allows long-range communication, making this radio a must-have for base stations. It also allows remote regions to connect to other parts of the world.
Picking an HF radio can be confusing. Especially if you are a first-time buyer, you will be overwhelmed. Avoid regret and consider my recommendations above. They are from reputable brands and pack some of the best features I have seen in the market.
Hi, I am Amaro Frank – the Wind Up Radio’s content editor and writer. Working with Adam is so much fun, as his stories and experiences enrich my knowledge about radio communications and radio accessories. My main tasks in Wind Up Radio are building content and generating great articles on different topics around radio accessories.