Best CB Radios: Staying in Touch Has Never Been So Easy
CB Radios are an important tool for truckers, campers, trail runners, and enthusiasts
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PUBLISHED ON May 8, 2019
Citizens band radios have long been associated with truckers, but there are also RV owners, off-road enthusiasts, motorcyclists, and hobbyists who are CB radio users. They are useful for staying informed of events, getting traffic updates, and making contact with emergency services in hard-to-reach areas. Check out our list of top of the line CB radios to help you find the right product to suit your interests.
- Best OverallCobra C75WXST Compact Mobile CB RadioSummarySummaryOptima handles the cold climate with ease and efficiency. Its powerful starting burst will fire the engine even in bad weather. That power is only equaled by its reliability, vibration resistance, and performance. The battery is both for the heavy-duty and casual user.ProsProsIt has a really high cranking amp and a good reserve capacity, which both translate into a fast start and reliable performance. Spiral Cell technology offers a cleaner source of energy.ConsConsThe packaging is an issue with this battery.
- Best ValueUniden PRO510XL CB RadioSummarySummaryNo other battery gives you as much value for your money as Odyssey. With its dual functionality, mounting flexibility, and faster recharge, it offers more than other more expensive options.ProsProsFunctions as a starting battery and delivers sustained power for a longer time. It’s both lightweight and has a compact design that makes it easy to mount and install.ConsConsTerminals are not included with the battery. It’s also prone to overcharge.
- Honorable MentionCobra 25LTD CB RadioSummarySummaryACDelco deserves a place here not because it’s the cheapest nor the best overall; it’s because of its unique high-density negative paste. It gives the battery high performance and long life. Since it doesn’t require water, it’s relatively maintenance-free; you can install and forget about it.ProsProsThe high-density negative paste combined with the enhanced life alloys gives the battery superb power and performance. Good vent caps design prevents leakage.ConsConsPremature battery failure is a high risk.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of CB Radios
- Cost: CB Radios have been utilizing the same basic technology since 1945, so they cost much less than other forms of mobile communication. In fact, you can get some of the best mobile CB radios on the market for under $100.
- Size: Back in the ’70s, the strongest CB radios took up a lot of room under the dash. With advances in technology, they are now very compact and come in sizes as small as an average smartphone.
- Licensing: Unlike General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), ham radios, and others, CB Radios don’t require any special licensing through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate. Professional CB radio manufacturers have already built their products to FCC standards, so all you have to do is hook it up and enjoy.
- Features: Just like everything else electronic, CB radios have advanced quite a bit over the past few decades. There are all sorts of features to enhance speaker and mic quality as well as increase antenna range.
- Community: Most people think of social media when it comes to having a community of friends to interact with, but CB radios have popular communities of its own. Truckers, trail riders, motorcycle clubs, and others all rely on CB radios to communicate.
Types of CB Radios
Mobile CB Radio
These are the most common CB radios sold. They consist of a small box with knobs and gauges that attaches underneath your dash with a corded handset attached. When figuring out where to mount a mobile CB radio, keep in mind that you don’t want it being an obstruction but also want to be able to hear the speakers clearly.
All-In-One Handset CB Radio
The big difference between these and mobile CB radios is that most of the controls are built right into the handset. To accommodate the extra controls, the handsets are bigger and are also designed to fit well in the palm of your hand. These are some of the best portable CB radios out there for smaller cars that don’t have the extra space for a dash-mounted box.
Handheld CB Radio
These walkie-talkie style CB radios are battery-operated mobile devices that come with either a cigarette lighter cord or USB attachment for car charging. The obvious advantage to this type of CB radio is the ability to take it outside of the car with you. To achieve maximum range, there are car-mounted antennas available that plug into this portable unit.
As one of the leading manufacturers of mobile electronics, Cobra has been one of the top choices of professional drivers since it was founded in Chicago back in 1951. The company is known for its radar detectors, two-way radios, marine electronics, and for having some of the best CB radios for truckers such as the 18WXSTII CB Radio.
Uniden (short for Uni Electronics Corp) is a Japanese company founded in 1966 that specializes in home and mobile electronics. The company rose to prominence during the 1970s by manufacturing millions of CB radios both under its own name as well as those of other private brands through licensing agreements. Among the more popular products Uniden offers is the R3 Extreme Long Range Radar Laser Detector
Midland has been in business for over 50 years, and in that time this Kansas-based company has been a pioneer in developing two-way radio technology. It currently offers weather-alert radios, mobile and base stations for different government entities, and some of the best-rated CB radio equipment available. One sought after product Midland offers is the 1001LWX 40-Channel Mobile CB Radio.
CB Radio Pricing
- $50-$100: At this price range, you will find many handheld CB radios and smaller mobile units. You can expect to find solid reception within two to three miles and basic features like a backlit LED, noise limiter to reduce background static, and a jack for external speakers.
- $100-$200: Mid-range models have more features and are used in both personal and professional applications. At this price range, you can expect enhanced audio controls, better reception, and extras like an external PA system.
- $200 and up: You can find some of the most powerful mobile CB radios as well as home units at this price level. Some of the features of these high-end units include an enhanced noise filter, talkback circuit, six-digit frequency counter, and a modulation meter.
According to FCC regulations, there is a 40-channel CB radio limit everyone must follow. The channel scan will search all of them for activity (people talking), so you can keep your hands on the wheel while looking for a conversation. Popular channels on CB radios include channel nine for emergencies and channel 19 which truckers use to send out traffic updates.
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.
Instant Emergency Channel
In 1969, the FCC designated channel nine for emergency use only. To help you out, CB radio manufacturers have incorporated a channel nine switch so you can get a hold of the authorities quickly.
Automatic Noise Limiter
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.
- Antenna: While handheld units will come with their own antenna, mobile CB radios do not. This means you need to purchase an antenna or else the radio will not work. There are a bunch of different antennas available as well as ways to mount them to your vehicle.
- Bluetooth: Higher-end mobile CB radios have the ability to sync up mobile devices through Bluetooth. Users can make phone calls through their radio as well as see all the phone’s information on the display.
Best CB Radio Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Cobra C75WXST Compact Mobile CB Radio
While it’s hard to say with absolute certainty who makes the best CB radio on the market, models like the C75WXST definitely put Cobra into the conversation. This compact mobile radio features a remote mounting system that can be conveniently tucked away under the dash leaving only the all-in-one handset and cord showing. The handset is ergonomically designed to fit nicely into the palm of the hand while still having a button layout that makes it very versatile.
There are a ton of features packed into this compact CB radio that make it our top pick overall. For starters, the SoundTracker System cuts background noise by 90 percent for crisp sounding conversations, while a phase lock loop synthesizer gives excellent frequency control to avoid fade-outs or static. Instant channel nine and 19 switches give immediate access to emergency services and road updates while 10 NOAA weather channels keep you aware of adverse weather conditions. There is also a channel scanner to find conversations while on the road and four programmable channels to save your favorites.
On the negative side, poor reception and transmission distance are somewhat common due to the small coaxial cable used to connect the antenna to the unit. Also, there is no external speaker jack, so if the speaker in the handset breaks then receiving transmissions becomes impossible.
Best Value: Uniden PRO510XL CB Radio
This mobile CB radio is a great choice if you are in the market for an affordable product with some great features and a compact design that won’t get in the way. The PRO510XL boasts high-performance 40-channel operation utilizing a superheterodyne circuit with phase lock loop technology that gives it tight frequency control to avoid static-filled miscommunications.
Among this radio’s more notable features are an automatic noise limiter and squelch control which work together to mitigate background noise from your car’s engine or any other noise polluting sounds in the immediate vicinity. Added to those is RF gain control to increase the signal and communicate over longer distances. The easy-to-read LED-backlit display lets you know at a glance what channel is on, and the faceplate design makes adjusting the squelch or finding a new channel quick and easy.
There have been some problems with being able to install the PRO510XL due to the placement of the holes for the mounting bracket, and a custom mounting setup may be needed. Also, this model lacks a scan mode, which can be frustrating if you’re on the road and want to find a new station to talk on.
Honorable Mention: Cobra 25LTD CB Radio
Our pick for our honorable mention comes from Cobra in the form of this compact designed CB radio with tons of features and a classic design that harkens back to the 1970s. The 29LTD comes with a silver faceplate, chrome knobs, an easy-to-read LCD display, and level meters that complete the look, while its many features put it at the cutting edge of CB radio technology.
The 29LTD comes with features to enhance your CB radio experience such as Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) calibration to improve antenna reception, an antenna warning indicator if it becomes unaligned, and an instant channel 9 switches to locate emergency services quickly. The public address system lets you make announcements outside of your car (speakers sold separately) and a microphone booster will make sure everyone hears you loud and clear. There is also an RF gain switch to mitigate background noise.
There are a couple of issues that have cropped up involving the 29LTD. First, it is Bluetooth capable, but in order for it to work, the unit has to be sent back to the factory for a firmware update. Second, the radio sometimes has problems with fuses blowing out easily, even after old ones are switched out.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of a properly mounted antenna. To get the maximum range out of an antenna, make sure it is mounted to the roof or another high point of your car and that it’s properly grounded.
- If you are planning on installing the CB radio yourself, make sure you know which wires and connectors are safe to use. Miswiring your radio could blow out fuses, short out the ignition, or start a fire.
- An important piece of hardware that gets overlooked while trying to diagnose reception problems is the coaxial cable. This cable connects the antenna to the radio and any kinks, knicks, or other damage will severely inhibit its effectiveness.
- When tuning your antenna, make sure to do so with the doors, trunk, and hood all closed. Leaving them open can mess with the SWR meter which will lead to poor reception.
Q: How far can my CB radio transmit?
A: The general rule of thumb is one mile per watt of power output. Since almost all CB radios on the market use the maximum legally allowed the amount of 4 watts of power, the average range is four miles.
Q: What is “shooting skip?”
A: This refers to a technique where radio waves are bounced off the ionosphere to communicate with someone who is very far away. You can communicate over hundreds or even thousands of miles using this technique. However, it is not allowed per FCC rules.
Q: What is the best antenna for my CB radio?
A: There is no exact answer to this question as there are many different variables in play. Generally, you want an antenna that is tall enough to not be inhibited by your car or the surrounding terrain.
The Cobra C75WXST is our overall CB radio pick for its many features, all-in-one handset, and crisp, clear reception.
With the number of features, sound quality, and affordability, the Uniden PRO510XL makes the cut for our best value CB radio.