Cobra 29 LTD BT Bluetooth CB Radio Review
Ever since Cobra debuted the new Cobra 29 LTD BT Bluetooth CB there has been an unprecedented amount of media coverage about this new radio.
As someone who uses my cell phone daily and talks on my CB daily the idea of a combination product was exciting, but I had questions about how this radio would perform. Can a CB still be loud and proud if it is also a Bluetooth device? Will it be easy to use with your cell phone?
I’ll tell you right away that not only is it a great radio, but it’s also a great Bluetooth capable device. Secondly, they added some new features to this radio and some new styling, which make it one of the nicest looking Cobras I've seen.
UNPACKING AND SETTING UP
Once you get everything unpacked you’ll find that the radio comes with –
* Main CB Unit
* Bluetooth Capable Microphone
* Power Cord
* Mounting Bracket + Mounting Hardware
As I unwrapped the radio I was immediately struck by the new styling on the face of the radio. The Bluetooth radio has a black face much like the Dale Earnhardt edition they released a couple years back. The contrast of the black face and chrome knobs is stunning and it’s easily the nicest looking Cobra I’ve used. While I’ve always liked the Nightwatch radios, I can say the combination of the blue lights and black face is just plain cool.
The radio is very easy to set up for those of you not as familiar with CB radios. Screw on the microphone, mount the radio in an easy to access location using the included bracket and hardware, plug in the power cord and hook it up to a power source and you’re ready to go. If you want you can easily wire the power to a cigarette lighter adapter so you can just plug it into any accessory plug in the car.
FEATURES, CONTROLS & NEW ADDITIONS
This radio is a Cobra 29LTD at heart and much like the tried and true original it gives you all of the performance and features you expect from a 29 LTD. They’ve also added some new features that really make this radio stand out from the original. The BT version uses the same styling and layout as the BC (Black and Chrome Edition) radio that also debuted recently, with the addition of the Dual LED for the Bluetooth and the discarding of the chrome covers and microphone (a big plus in my opinion as the black covers look a lot nicer than the chrome).
The following features are found on the Cobra 29 LTD BT radio –
(Red for Antenna warning, Blue for Bluetooth)
I’m sure everyone immediately noticed the addition of talkback to this radio. Talkback is something that didn’t used to be a factory installed feature on most CB's. With such a large number of microphones, echoes and noise toys on the market, CB manufacturers recognized that people want to be able to hear how they sound so they can adjust their microphone accordingly.
The talkback on the Cobra 29 LTD BT is variable so you can control the volume level. While on the highest setting it’s not the loudest talkback I’ve heard, but it’s definitely capable and I didn’t experience any problems with feedback or squeal even with the microphone gain and talkback at maximum.
The other thing you’ll see right away when you turn on this radio is the blue meter light and the blue LEDs in the channel display. Having blue lights in your radio is the “in” thing right now so it’s no wonder they included them in the new Cobra radios since companies like Magnum and Stryker have had a lot of success and positive feedback with their blue lights. I have to say that I agree with the general public, the blue lights look cool, especially on a black radio like this one. The real reward comes when you run the radio at night as the blue LED’s cast a nice glow in the vehicle and seem to light up the face of the radio better than the old style white meter light and red LED channel display.
Moving right along, I’d like to point out something that Cobra has gotten right and lots of other CB manufacturers have gotten wrong: the control knobs on the radio. It’s doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to someone who uses their radios every single day of the year (much like a lot of our truck drivers out there) flimsy or poorly designed knobs can drive you nuts.
I’ve had radios with knobs that were too loose, too tight, and too small. On just about every vintage Cobra I've ever owned the original knobs were still on the radio and still working perfectly. The new Bluetooth radio is no different. The knobs have that same solid Cobra feel and turn with just the right amount of resistance. I really wish everyone would use these same controls on their radios.
Another thing Cobra 29 LTDs have always been good at is cutting out electrical noise - this is one of the reasons drivers of tractor trailers have chosen these radios for many years. The NB (noise blanking) and ANL (Automatic Noise Limiter) functions on Cobra 29s are known for cutting out unwanted engine noise or fuel pump noise better than other radios.
When I first tried out this feature on this radio I was really surprised, not only because it worked so well, but because once I started making calls on the road I realized that this was the perfect blend of two pieces of technology I use on a daily basis. With many states now passing laws making holding your phone while driving illegal, this new feature will definitely come in handy.
This radio allows you to be talking on the CB and then with the push of a button you're talking on the phone and you don't have to touch your cell phone, reach over to grab a headset, or take your eyes off the road.
I'll explain how it works first. Once you go through an easy set up procedure to pair your Bluetooth- capable phone with the radio you then can use the CB to conduct your phone conversations.
The CB microphone has a blue button that allows you to make a call, receive a call, and hang up calls. The Ant/Bluetooth light indicator located just below the RX/TX indicator lights up blue to indicate the Bluetooth feature is active.
When you have an incoming call the CB itself will emit a ringtone and you'll press the blue button on the microphone to receive the call. You talk into the standard CB microphone and you hear the caller through the CB speaker. You do not need to push the PTT (press to talk button) when using the microphone on a call, and the CB functions of the radio are disabled except for the volume control.
When using this feature you'll notice the amazing clarity of the caller's voice through the CB speaker. If you've used the speakerphone feature on your cell phone before you'll know that often the caller will sound scratchy or hard to hear, or sometimes the cell phone speaker vibrates or the sound is distorted. The CB speaker is larger and provides much more audio than a cell phone so you can easily hear the person and the clarity is second to none.
At times it sounded as though the caller was sitting in the car with me - no joke.
I was worried that maybe because I was using a CB microphone that the caller might hear background noise while I was on the road, but with all of my calls everyone said I was loud and clear. In fact none of the people I called knew I was using the CB to make the call until I told them.
I found you could hold the microphone anywhere up to a foot away and they could still hear me speaking normally. It had excellent response and reproduced my voice very well. The radio also has an external Bluetooth microphone plug on the back for use with an external microphone.
For dialing out, you can call the last number dialed on your cell phone by just holding the button down for two seconds. If you want to make a call to a specific number that wasn't the last number called you will have to either select the number on the phone OR if your cell phone has voice recognition software you can just say the name and the phone will start dialing and will route it through the CB.
To really show off the Bluetooth part of this phone I did do a short video which can be seen here.
The only downside I found at all with the feature was when you first turn on the radio and it synchronizes with the cell phone there was a slight digital buzz for around 20-30 seconds, but as soon as my phone matched up with radio it went away and I didn't hear it again.
After thoroughly testing the Bluetooth feature I can say I am very impressed. I would even go so far as to say it's the coolest new feature I've seen on a Cobra CB radio in a long time. Often manufacturers try to boost sales with features that aren't really that great or things that you'll never use, but Cobra has hit a home run with this one. I found this feature useful and even fun to use.
When word of this radio started spreading the idea of the Bluetooth got a lot of buzz but people were concerned that adding this feature to the radio might compromise the performance of the radio. Cobra 29 LTDs are known for being great talkers and radios which can handle modulation modifications well. Truckers and CB competitors have used them for years and have come to expect high performance out of these radios.
When I opened up the case I was greeted by a familiar radio, the Cobra 29 LTD BT looks much the same inside as previous 29 LTDs.
The stock radio had about a 3.5 watt deadkey with swing to around 8-10 watts. Average watts while talking was in the 5-8 watt range.
Incoming signals were easily heard and I had no problem picking up far off stations and even heard some DX on one of the days I was testing the radio. As with previous Cobra 29s the signal to noise ratio was very good.
Many previous Cobras I've purchased in the last couple of years used a crappy microphone and it was always the first thing I replaced. This radio has a special microphone for the Bluetooth and so you can't just swap out, but you don't need to. It captured the audio well and allowed for the radio to swing which is something previous Cobra stock mikes haven't done. So if having to use the Bluetooth microphone was a concern - don't worry. If you really want to add a different microphone I have seen people offering custom aftermarket mics modified to work with the Bluetooth radio!
As a stock radio it worked great, but of course people asking me about the new radio wanted to know how the radio would sound after it had some adjustments and tuning.
I adjusted the modulation pot inside (VR4) and was greeted with a 3-4 watt increase in peak output and the audio definitely came up quite a bit and sounded loud and clean.
The next thing I wanted to see was if it would take the capacitor/resistor modification (Often called the super modulation modification, swing mod, or deadkey mod). I've done this mod on many previous Cobra 29s and I wanted to see how well it would work on this radio.
The mod was exactly the same as any other 29 and the result was the same as well. It boosted the audio even more and gave the radio more swing while lowering the deadkey. (You can see the light blue capacitor in the picture below).
The end result of my playing around inside was a radio that could deadkey low and swing just like many of my other Cobra 29s I've owned in the past. The stock microphone gave good audio and as a noise canceling mic it also did well on the freeway, picking up my voice and cutting back on the roadnoise.
After testing out this new radio I can say that the performance of the CB was exactly what I expected - excellent. After all, this is a Cobra 29 LTD, one of the most popular CB radios of all time. The transmit and receive worked just as good as the previous Cobra 29s I've owned over the years.
For me the big surprise was the Bluetooth feature. I had expected it to work, I just didn't know that it was going to work so well. I found myself calling people to talk to them just so I could use it while I was driving around. It really was one of the coolest things I've seen on a CB in a long time and I have no problem recommending it to people as a great radio with a great feature.
Cobra did a lot of things right with this radio -
+ I love the look, the black case, black face, chrome, and blue lights just looks awesome.
+ Variable talkback - something people used to have to add themselves is now a standard feature.
+ Bluetooth - works perfectly and it allows you to have a great CB that also works as a great Bluetooth device for making phone calls. For truck drivers this radio is a must have - and for people in states where it's illegal to hold your cell phone this radio is going to sell very well.
+ Kept the features and setup of the original Cobra 29 LTD - why mess with a good thing?