Best CB Radios (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022
Now you can be the Rubber Duck.
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON November 10, 2021
Dreaming with the heart of a child is what keeps you alive. We might not use a playhouse as a vehicle to escape into space or to rush off to put out a fire with our best buds, but we all pretend our daily commuters are big rigs from time to time. One way to feel a little closer to that dream is to set your ride up with a sweet CB radio. Well, maybe playing trucker isn't your goal as maybe you just want a CB radio for practical uses. There's no arguing that it's a great way to keep in contact with other members of your mini convoy and maybe even seek help in an emergency. Whatever your motivation, we're going to help you find the best CB radio for your needs.
The tried and true platform is trusted in both professional and recreational applications. This CB radio keeps things simple by minimizing the number of additional purchases you need to make but maintains optimal control in all settings.
- Classic design boost style points
- In-dash installation possible
- Professional-grade quality
- Integrated SWR metering
- Microphone issues are somewhat common
- Size can prevent use in some vehicles
It's affordable. That usually means performance is out the window. That's not the case here, as the President Adams gets you in the ring with the big dogs without the premium expense.
- Compact size makes mounting simple
- Affordable price point
- Easy to set up and use
- Decent performance despite price and size
- May not meet aesthetic standards for some vehicle owners
- No integrated SWR metering
While looks caught our attention, the overall quality separates this model from most. It's a pro-level CB radio designed for use in the field, and its noise-canceling mic and other premier features are proof of that.
- Throwback and modern cues for styling points and improved control
- Relatively affordable price point
- Integrated SWR monitoring
- Noise-canceling microphone included
- Quality control issues are somewhat common
- Size limits it to use in large vehicles
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
In picking out CB radios to feature on our list of top picks, we stuck to the typical formula. We took the time to research the world of CB radios, and YouTube reviews, as usual, were a massive help in getting the basic information down, while sites dedicated to the industry, such as rightchannelradios.com, were an essential tool in feeling out what brands to trust. After turning in our homework, we opted to think about what we'd want in CB radios. We don’t pilot big rigs to make a living and we admit our list is proof of that. What we've come up with is a list of CB radios we think are tailored to general automotive enthusiasts ready to get their feet wet in the craft.
Best CB Radio Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on CB Radios
If you're looking for a solid CB to hit the ground running with, the Cobra 29LTD Professional CB Radio is hard to ignore as necessary additional equipment is limited, and the quality is hard to beat. Still, the President Adams FCC CB Radio is a fantastic option for the budget-oriented.
What to Consider When Buying a CB Radio
Now that we have the suggestions out of the way, let's get into how you can select a CB radio for yourself as, after all, nobody knows what you like more than you do. This guide is here to help you sort through all the jargon and variables to hone in on what model best suits your needs.
Types of CB Radios
Mobile CB Radio
A mobile CB radio is the type that's likely the first thing to come to mind when anyone brings up CB radios. They're about the same size as the single-din AM FM radios that cars used to come with before navigation systems took over. Only, the selection of dials and features vary greatly and you're not exactly changing channels to find the station that pumps out your guilty pleasure songs.
We'll take the time now to say that you need to be mindful of where you mount these units. Because you don't want to obstruct the speakers or the heatsinks if present. Most opt to simply mount them under the dash, but careful mounting can keep them out of sight to prevent an obviously aftermarket piece of equipment from dragging down the interior's looks.
All-In-One Handset CB Radio
An alternative to the traditional mobile CB radio, all-in-one units to limit the amount of room a CB takes up in your vehicle. Making the central unit smaller, or even non-existent in many cases, is achieved by moving a majority of the controls to the handset itself.
It's not always feasible to mount a full-size CB radio. Jeeps, UTV's, and many other small vehicles simply don't have the room to spare. By compromising some functions, you can still equip your vehicle with a CB system with one of these units.
Handheld CB Radio
Modern technology makes it possible to downsize communications equipment. Think about how much smaller cell phones are and how much more capable they are than the original models introduced in the early 1980s. It should be no surprise that CB radios can also be scaled down into a single handheld device.
Handheld CB radios are great for a number of situations but are best suited to groups that tend to stay within a few miles of each other. Unlike cell phones, handheld CB radios are limited to their larger counterparts. The range is typically limited to just one or two miles, which is why you may only want to consider them for your off-roading club.
CB Radio Key Features
You already know what channel scanning is all about. It's what your old AM/FM radio used to do. You know, it'd automatically scan through channels, giving you a glimpse of hot tracks playing on various channels until you stopped it. Channel scanning on a CB radio does the same thing, except it automatically stops when it finds a channel that people are talking on.
The obvious benefit of channel scanning is that it keeps your eyes on the road while you search for discussions to chime into. This is typically a standard feature but is worth keeping an eye out for and making use of.
Instant Emergency Channel
In 1969, the FCC designated Channel 9 for emergency use only. To help you out, CB radio manufacturers have incorporated a Channel 9 switch so you can get a hold of the authorities quickly. At the very least, this is something to keep an eye out for in a CB radio as it can obviously get you in contact with the right people when things go wrong.
Another great channel to be mindful of is Channel 19, which is dedicated to truckers or other drivers who can provide traffic updates to one another. Some CB radios also come equipped with an instant Channel 19 switch, which is a feature you will get plenty of use out of.
Automatic Noise Limiter (ANL) and RF Gain
The automatic noise limiter reduces the amplitude of impulse noise by clipping incoming audio signals. This lets users avoid ear-piercing signals that not only hurt but can also damage the speakers. Along with ANL, one of the most important features any CB radio can have is RF gain. Basically, it allows you to quiet the radio by opening and closing the receiver instead of using the radio’s squelch control. The result is improved reception over a greater distance.
In short, these two features are in place to ensure clear transmissions from one unit to another. Thankfully, they are standard features for most units and you don’t have to worry much about them being left off the table.
Benefits of CB Radios
Back-Up on Command
The benefits of using a CB radio are obvious to professionals. Those who make a living on the highway already know the value, and they probably keep them in their personal vehicles because of it. So, why should you? You instantly tap into a network, or community for that matter, of individuals who can provide company on lonely highways.
Aside from getting to use cool trucker jargon, a CB radio really can be a life-saving piece of equipment. Other drivers can give you a heads up on obstacles ahead or a helping hand when you're left stranded. It's also a great way to stay connected with the people who are road tripping or exploring off-road trails with you.
Setting up a CB radio isn't difficult. In fact, a few simple leads and locating the mounting bracket is really all it takes to get rolling. Today's models also aren’t all reliant on that big hulking antenna made famous by a certain orange hot-rod roaming the backroads of Georgia. That is unless you are chasing nostalgic vibes or superior signal quality.
Not only that, but they're relatively affordable. We'll come back to pricing in a moment, but you really don't need to spend an arm and a leg to get your hands on a reliable piece of potentially life-saving technology. Nor do you need any kind of special licensing to start communicating on public channels.
Years of Experience
CB radios may have been made famous in the 1970s and 1980s, but what you see in film and television programs from then isn't what you get today. Today's models are designed to give you plenty of options to adjust sound and mic quality.
Also, like many other things in the electronic world, CB radios can be built in compact layouts. There's some room for an exception for professional models, but even then, you get the classic look and feel with modern performance—something we can all appreciate in the automotive industry.
CB Radio Pricing
You can spend a few hundred dollars on a high-end CB radio, but you don't need much to get started. $50 to $100 can get you handheld CB radios and smaller mobile units. These smaller units usually only have a 2- to 3-mile range, but are great for new hobbyists or use in smaller clubs. Moving up to the $100-$200 range starts to draw in some better quality models with better signal quality and enhanced audio controls, some of which are suitable for even professional use. Going above the $200 price point brings you exclusively into the territory of professional-grade CB radios. Some of the features of these high-end units include an enhanced noise filter, talkback circuit, six-digit frequency counter, and a modulation meter.
Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and CB radios. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Learn the Etiquette. No, the fun trucker talk isn't just for the movies. While it gets played up, terms like "10-4", "over and out," and the many nicknames are often a real part of the language you’ll pick up on the air.
- Have Fun With It. Don't be intimidated to communicate with others in the community. You can use this as a tool to get vital information about conditions down the road, seek help, or just to keep you company on long trips.
- Double-Check the SWR Meter. Think of an SWR meter as a means to dial in your antenna. Actually, that's exactly what it's for. If your unit doesn't have an integrated SWR meter, you will need to buy one separately.
- Get a Good Antenna. Your CB radio is highly dependent on the antenna to function. It's worth spending a little extra money on a good one and setting it up properly—with a good SWR meter, if necessary—to ensure a strong signal.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: How many miles can a CB radio transmit?
A: For the most part, CB radios have a range of just a few miles. Better units in ideal conditions can sometimes expand their range to 20 miles, but all transmit with 4 watts of power, as required by the law. In some instances, a rare phenomenon known as "skip" can essentially expand your range to hundreds, if not thousands of miles.
Q: What is ''shooting skip''?
A: Atmospheric conditions can cause the range of a CB radio to fluctuate but, but not always for the worst. When the atmospheric conditions are just right, your CB radio may be able to make contact with operators that are thousands of miles away. The phenomenon of shooting skip gets its name because you're essentially able to get your radio waves to "skip" along the earth's surface and reach much further than they normally would.
Q: What is the best antenna for my CB radio?
A: Proper antenna selection for a CB radio is worthy of another discussion on its own. It is dependent on the model you select, the intended range, and personal preference. Unfortunately, because of all the variables that come into play, it's hard for us to give a clear answer here.