2013 CB RADIO BUYERS GUIDE
2012 was a great year for new CB radios, export radios, and accessories, and mid-way through 2013 we thought we should make a list of the best radios, best buys, and to give a preview of what we can expect for the rest of 2013. Below you'll find our picks for some of the best items to pick up this year.
2013 BEST AM CB RADIO
Reader's Choice/CB Mag's Choice - Cobra 29 LX
Cobra led the CB market into the digital age in 2010 with the release of the Cobra 29 LX, a CB radio with a digital display and integrated menu system. The radio featured all of the traditional Cobra 29 favorites such as microphone gain, noise blanker and automatic noise limiter, and some fun new features such as weather frequencies, memory scan, and integrated talkback.
This radio blended all of the performance of the original Cobra 29 (the board inside mirrors the original model) with new technology for a radio that talks as well as its predecessor but looks better in a modern vehicle. Modifications and tuning methods used on the original Cobra 29 can still be implemented on this radio and that's why it gets my vote as the # 1 best pick for an AM CB Radio.
Honorable Mention - Uniden 880
While Cobra led the charge in the new style of digital CB radio, Uniden held back a year and decided that it would release a radio that not only had new styling, but also a new board inside that used SMT (surface mount technology). The extra year of design effort proved valuable and the end result was a beautifully styled radio that looks like it belongs in any new vehicle right next to your GPS and IPhone. The use of new technology also meant that they were able to reduce the size of the board and their new 680 and 880 AM radios are less bulky and more sleek than previous models such as the much loved Uniden 68 and 78.
Uniden included similar digital features in their menu as the Cobra 29 LX but because of the newer style board design, tuning and "swing modifications" from the Uniden 68 and 78 won't work in this radio. It gets our runner up award only because its modifications and tuning options are more limited. As far as styling and functionality, I believe it's the best looking AM radio on the market.
2013 BEST SSB CB RADIO
Reader's Choice/CB Mag's Choice - Uniden 980
Speaking of redesigned digital radios, Uniden showed that they believe the CB market is still alive and released the Uniden 980 in 2012. This was their first new SSB (single side-band) radio since the Uniden Grant LT was released in the 90's. As most of you know, radios using SSB mode are legally able to transmit more power (12 watts) and because of the nature of SSB, signals travel further and are usually easier to hear on the receiving end due to less noise.
The Uniden 980 was designed from the ground up and uses SMT technology for a very compact board and the radio overall is a small, sleek design. They integrated menu functions along with scan and memory features for a truly advanced radio.
While the new circuit board inside this radio has rock solid SSB frequency stability it meant that modifications and tuning was fairly limited. You won't see huge swing numbers or modifications to get those "extra" out of band frequencies (such as 27.425) but if you can stay within the CB band you'll be rewarded with a radio that has good audio, new styling, and SSB stability that stays on target all day long.
Honorable Mention - Galaxy 959
The Galaxy 959 falls into the more traditional style for CB radios but it offers more features than SSB radios such as the Cobra 148 GTL. The 959 has just about every feature you could ask for including variable power (ability to vary your output, useful for pairing a radio with an amplifier). The Galaxy 959 has great audio on AM and is fairly good on SSB but does suffer from frequency drift, which is especially noticable when compared to radios such as the Uniden 980.
Where the Galaxy 959 shines is in its ability to accept modifications and how well it talks with just a few tweaks. After tuning this radio will have loud audio and will show resepctable output, easily trumping the Uniden 980. It also can be modified for additional frequencies and has a built in frequency counter which will show the correct frequencies after the modification. The Galaxy 959 won't win any beauty awards or stability contests when facing the Uniden 980 but because of its easy tuning, output, features, and frequency modifications it wins a close second.
2013 BEST SSB BASE CB RADIO
CB Mag's Choice - Galaxy 2547
It's easy to win the "Best" title when you're the only thing going in the market, but don't let that bother you. The Galaxy 2547 is a great SSB base station and offers the ever popular board used in the Galaxy 949/959 mounted in a nicely designed base setup.
The Galaxy 2547 has been around for a while and its styling is very similar to some ham radios but it still is able to perform quite well as a SSB base station. It offers every feature you might need including variable power, variable talkback, roger beep, 6 digit frequency counter and multiple noise filter options. This radio is easily tuned for higher modulation and very good output. It also can be modified for extra frequencies (that will be displayed on the frequency counter) and pairs up well with desk microphones for additional audio boost.
While some older SSB base stations such as the Uniden Washington or Cobra 2000 might be worthy adversaries of the Galaxy 2547, this is the only CB radio base station still being sold in the U.S. It does suffer from some minor SSB frequency drift during warm up, but once it's on for a while it is fairly stable.
I wouldn't bet on it being around for too much longer as base stations are going the way of the dodo.
2013 BEST AM EXPORT CB RADIO (10 Meter Radio)
Reader's Choice / CB Mag's Choice - General Lee
In the CB world old radios never die, they continue to be sold until people finally stop buying them. The General Lee could be considered a grandfather in the export world but it continues to sell.
The General Lee has proved itself over the years with great audio and solid output. This radio is traditional in every sense of the word. It uses an older style board, and has older style controls and faceplate.
These radios sound good out of the box, but with a small amount of tuning they scream on AM and can be set up with a low deadkey and good swing to drive a 2 pill amplifier. The General Lee is a favorite with truckers and AM CB enthusiasts and because of their proven older design are less likely to encounter some of the design bugs found on newer radios.
The radio gets stiff competition from Stryker and Magnum radios for great AM audio and output, but it wins best AM export radio for its simplicity, durability, price point, and many years of proven success.
Honorable Mention - Stryker 497 HPC
If you've heard of Stryker radios than you've heard about Stryker "audio". These radios have some of the best sounding loud, punchy, and clean audio of any AM radio on the market (when tuned correctly). Stryker is a fairly new player in the export radio world but they've already developed a following and the audio their radios produce matches up very well with what consumers of the AM export market were demanding.
The Stryker 497 HPC features their signature audio sound but also boasts output of around 100 watts, which should be plenty for most people who do local or dx talking and it's also enough to power a large amplifier without needing a smaller driver amplifier. This is a plus for many of the more hardcore AM operators out there.
The radio includes all of the standard features such as echo, talkback, variable power, and has a little bit of bling thrown in with its ability to change between 7 different display colors. This radio retails for around $389 and will definitely put a dent in your wallet, but if you want to be the big, loud guy on AM in your area than this radio can definitely do the job.
2013 BEST SSB EXPORT CB RADIO (10 Meter Radio)
Reader's Choice - RCI 2950DX
There isn't much that can be said about the RCI 2950DX that hasn't already been said. When the original 2950 came out it was a game changer and the DX versions continued to offer features and SSB stability that were rare in the export market.
The RCI 2950DX is one of the few export radios around that ham radio operators don't immediately turn their head in disgust with the mention of its name. This radio is a true 10-11-12 meter export and was aimed more at the serious hobbyist radio operator than your average trucker. It lacks features such as echo or talkback and instead offers a 6 digit frequency display, multiple tuning increments, scanning and memory functionality, and rock solid SSB performance.
In recent years we've seen the release of the new version of this radio with the black display (easier to read in my opinion). The big brother 100+ watt version of this radio was the 2970DX and in recent years we've seen the newer 2970N2, which offered the same features of the 2950DX but with more output, but due to some of the technical problems the N2 had I still prefer the 2950DX.
For many years the RCI 2950DX didn't have much competition, but as newer radios with new technology and slightly better SSB stability come along in the future the 2950DX might have to settle for runner up.
CB Mag's Choice - CRE 8900
As many of you know, last year the CRE 8900 made a dent in my normally grumpy view of the SSB export radio world. The CRE 8900 is one of the smallest SSB export radios to hit the market and was advertised as a DIN size radio (it could be moutned in your dash). It CAN actually be mounted in your dash and that is where mine is sitting as I write this section.
In late 2010 the Alpha Max AM-1000 and the Anytone radios started hitting the shelves and ushered in a new revolution in the export radio market to software driven radios with SMT parts and much higher SSB frequency stability than had been seen previously. These new radios were a bit quirky and didn't offer nearly the AM performance as older exports such as the Magnum S-9, but they quickly gathered a following as the hard core radio operators began to enjoy their programmable memories and SSB stability.
The CRE 8900 offered similar features, output, and menu options as the other new radios but its size and SSB audio performance continue to impress me. On the air many people have said the SSB audio of this radio rivals some ham rigs and it is clear, punchy, and has a good tone.
Since this is a newer radio, there are definitely some quirks that have been found, with some people complaining about the talkback and CW functionality. The biggest drawback is that a year after my original review it's almost impossible to find the CRE 8900 in the U.S. anymore due to distribution problems.
Don't worry though - some similar export radios are on the way in the near future.
Honorable Mention - Yeticom Optima
If you haven't read my review of this radio this might be the first time you've heard its name. In the serious CB and freeband world this radio already has a strong following and those that own them swear by them.
A true CB/Ham combo radio, this is an export that works equally well on both bands because of its tuning abilities (tuning steps down to 1khz). It also is a powerful radio in a compact package and uses a similar format to the Magnum 257.
Adding to the popularity of this radio is its frequency stability, quality sounding audio, and 50 watts of output, which should be plenty for maxing DX contacts. If that isn't enough, it also has a narrow IF filter, 5 memory inputs, and a built in fan to keep the radio cool.
The radio is now being released in its third version, the MKIII. One of the only drawbacks of this radio is that its price is generally $25 - $50 higher than the 2950DX, which is why many people have overlooked it. If you're a serious operator who likes to freeband and wants an export radio that acts more like a ham radio than the Optima is a great choice.
2013 BEST SSB EXPORT BASE CB RADIO (10 Meter Radio)
CB Mag's Choice - Ranger 2995DX
As base radios become a dying breed there are fewer and fewer to choose from. I suspect there might not be any new ones for sale in a couple of years, but for those of you who require the full size base radio the 2995DX is one of only a few still available.
This monster still uses the original rack mount style case so make sure you have some room on your table. It also features a large AC to DC power supply to power the multiple transistors which create 150+ output watts. The radio is basically a 2950DX with extra output wattage and similar features and controls on the face.
Just like the 2950DX and 2970N2 these radios can sound great on AM and SSB and have been around for a while so you're getting a proven performer. If you can get past the $500+ sticker price than this might be the radio for you, but keep in mind for around those same prices you can buy a used Icom 718.
Some people might ask where are the runner up radios for this category and I will admit I'm not mentioning the Galaxy 2517 or the Ranger 2980WX, mostly because they are getting harder to find and honestly I don't feel their high prices for older technology are justified.
BEST MAGNET MOUNT MOBILE ANTENNAS
Reader's Choice / CB Mag's Choice - Sirio 5000 Performer Magnetic Mount
This year I tried a Sirio 5000 magnet mount antenna (see my review) and I really was blown away by the ease of tuning and performance of the antenna. It outperformed the Wilson 5000 which had been a favorite of mine for many years.
The Sirio 5000 is not for the faint of heart -it's a big, tall, magnetic mount antenna and much like the Wilson 5000 it will make your average sedan look like an RC toy with the big whip sticking out the top, but if you demand performance over style than this is the antenna for you.
You have to buy the "magnetic" kit of this antenna or buy the magnetic mount separately. The antenna offers an interesting lay back option if you have to go somewhere with low clearance and it can easily be removed for storage. The coax length on this antenna is a bit short and that might be because of its european origin where cars are smaller.
Pricing on the Sirio 5000 is high (over $100 with the magnet mount kit) and there is only one company selling them in the United States, but I feel the money is well spent for the performance of the antenna. In our review we explained that it isn't a day/night difference from the Wilson 5000 and while the extra cost might not be justified for most people it wins our "best magnetic mount" mobile antenna for 2013.
Honorable Mention - Wilson 5000 Magnetic Mount
For years there has been only one magnetic mount antenna I'd suggest to people who want the best and that was the Wilson 5000. It tunes well, works admirably on just about any vehicle, and we know it can handle higher power levels.
The Wilson has a stylish black design and while none of these length antennas can be called sleek, I will say that the Wilson has the best styling of any of the base load antennas.
In recent years it seems like some of the quality control on these antennas has suffered slightly but I still have no problem recommending them to friends. This is still the best-selling and most widely available performance-oriented magnetic mount antenna, and while the Sirio might have bested it slightly in performance, it easily wins the runner up award.
2013 BEST COMPACT MAGNET MOUNT MOBILE ANTENNAS
CB Mag's Choice - K30
In the last couple of years the K30 went through a slight redesign and we think the quality on more recent models isn't quite as good as it was, but they still are my favorite compact magnetic mount antenna.
The K30 is simple, has a very low profile base load and a fairly short whip height, which means it's about as small as you can go in a magnetic mount antenna while still retaining some of the performance of a longer antenna. These antennas aren't very broad banded and after tuning you might end up with a 1.2 to 1.4 reading on channel 20 and a 1.8 on channels 1 and 40 but that's reasonable for most installs and safe to operate your radio.
Small antennas are always a compromise but the K30 offers acceptable performance at a very reasonable price. It also looks good on just about any vehicle.
Compact antennas aren't meant to be used in conjunction with high wattage radios and I wouldn't recommend putting more than 50-60 watts into a K30. Running more wattage than that might damage the antenna and in turn damage your radio.
Honorable Mention - Wilson Lil' Wil
The Lil' Wil is Wilson antennas' answer to the K30 and it offers a slightly longer whip length. While my testing between the two antennas didn't see any noticeable difference, others have said the Lil Wil will outperform the K30 but any advantage is slight. I did find the Lil' Wil tended to tune for better SWR's than the K30.
The Lil' Wil is slightly more expensive than the K30, and like the K30 I believe their quality has also suffered over the last couple of years. This is still a great entry level antenna and if the K30 isn't available I'd suggest the Lil' Wil as the runner up.
2013 BEST SOLID MOUNT MOBILE ANTENNAS
Reader's Choice / CB Mag's Choice - 102" Stainless Steel Whip
It's been around since the beginning of time and it's the most effective hard mount antenna on the market. You can buy it at Radio Shack for $27.99 (more expensive than the $19.99 price of 5-6 years ago) and they are readily available at almost every CB shop across the country.
The 102" stainless steel whip is pretty easily described, it's 102 inches long and it's made of stainless steel. It has a 3/8" thread section on the bottom which is standard for pretty much any CB mount. The antenna shouldn't need any tuning for most installs as it's a 1/4 wave antenna, but in some cases it can benefit from the addition of a 6" spring. I've never had to actually trim one shorter but some people have done so for their install.
The antenna can handle the wattage from high power amplifiers and is so durable that it doesn't mind banging into low hanging branches, parking garages, or McDonald's drive thrus.
At 8' tall this is one big antenna and unless you have a larger truck it can look a bit awkward to most people, but once you enjoy the performance of a 102" whip it's hard to go back to the compromise of something smaller.
Honorable Mention - Predator 10K
The Predator 10K is a coil type antenna so its physical length is shorter than the 102" SS whip but this antenna is still fairly long. One of the benefits of this type of antenna is that it doesn't suffer from the bending issues that 102" antennas run into at freeway speeds. Additionally the Predator 10K can more easily be tuned for SWR than a 102" whip and I've found it can tune better in a larger variety of install location compared to the 102".
The construction of this antenna is very well done especially compared to some of the cheaper knock off coil style antennas on the market.
The Predator 10K is definitely a good option for those looking for a slightly smaller more rigid option. One last thing to keep in mind - with a big coil antenna, be ready when people ask "What is that thing on top of your car?"
2013 BEST BASE STATION VERTICAL ANTENNA
Reader's Choice - Maco V 5/8
Metal trumps fiberglass, at least that's what most people will tell you when it comes to vertical antennas, and for the most part they are correct. Antennas such as the Maco V 5/8 tend to be more durable and last longer than their fiberglass counterparts, but beyond durability performace is also a reason to choose something shiny.
The Maco V 5/8 has large ground plane radials which most simple fiberglass vertical antennas lack and in the case of the Maco you'll most likely find less RF interference compared to an Imax or A99 style antenna. The tuning section on the Maco V 5/8 has more range than the Imax 2000 and so with this antenna you're more likely to be able to tune for a lower SWR.
In my experience the Maco V 5/8 does outperform the Imax 2000 but only slightly. Many people believe the receive on the Maco V 5/8 has a lower noise floor so when listening to the radio static seems quieter.
The last thing I'll mention is the power handling of these antennas. The use a more durable matching/tuning section than fiberglass antennas and that means they are better designed to handle larger amounts of wattage. The Maco V 5/8 is resonably priced, easy to assemble and tune, and can handle larger amounts of wattage and that's why it was the reader's choice pick.
CB Mag's Choice - Sirio Vector 4000
While the Maco V 5/8 might be the most widely popular antenna for its combination of durability, performance, and price, my vote for the best performing vertical antenna goes to the Vector 4000.
I actually haven't got around to owning or testing one yet, but there are a select group of people I trust when it comes to opinions on antennas and the Vector 4000 has had a ton of positive feedback.
It's a big, somewhat strange-looking antenna, but Sirio hit a good formula with the design.
Honorable Mention - Sirio Gain Master
If you've read my review of the Sirio Gain Master you know I like this antenna. In fact, it's still up at my home station and is my primary vertical.
It outperformed the Imax 2000, although it costs more and can handle less wattage, but I still give it a big thumbs up for it's ability to RX and TX.
While I'd recommend a Vector 4000 first, if you don't have room for ground planes or want something that is a bit less noticable, the Sirio Gain Master is a great antenna. (Mine is painted green and pokes out the top of a tree).
COMING SOON - THE PRODUCTS ONLY SANTA KNOWS ABOUT
You probably haven't heard of Maxlog before, unless you already own the Maxlog M-8800. The M-8800 was smiliar to the Anytone AT-5555 but early versions suffered from a couple of issues.
From what we've heard from the famous CB insider (Simonradioman) the new M-8900 will feature -
* Programming software
Following up on the success and multi-version production of the AT-5555, the AT-6666 is still somewhere behind the magic curtain but we've heard rumors it's on the way. A leaked picture on cbradio.nl purportedly shows the radio, however no one is sure quite what it will look like.
President Lincoln II
This one was under wraps and is perhaps the most widely anticipated radio, but no one even knew it was coming until a small leak a couple of months ago. Apparently President wasn't planning on letting the cat out of the bag this early but once the hype started building they confirmed that this radio is going to hit the market.