Two-way radios are incredibly popular. While cellphones exist, the humble two-way radio remains the single best method for keeping in touch with people in the immediate area, especially if you want to talk to multiple people at once. On this page, we are going to take a little look at the benefits of two-way radios, as well as a few of the things you need to consider when purchasing one for yourself.
Who Benefits the Most from Two-Way Radios?
This is a question that we tend to get asked a lot. People seem to think that since cellphones exist, that they might never have a need for a two-way radio. However, there are several situations where it would be a whole lot more useful than your typical iPhone. Let’s take a little look at some of them.
The major benefit is that a two-way radio will allow multiple people to keep in touch with one another, all at exactly the same time. With a cellphone, conversations are typically limited to two people. You simply dial the person you want to talk to and wait for the person to answer. With a two-way radio, the communication is instant.
With a two-way radio, you do not have to worry about cell phone signal coverage. This means that two-way radios might be your only communication option, when it comes to more remote locations. They are most reliable, as long as you’re within range of one another. Range is usually the only real limiting factor when it comes to a radios usefulness, so we’ll cover that in more depth shortly.
Two-way radios are a whole lot cheaper than cellphones too, and the battery capabilities are better. This means that you can equip a good number of people with radios for the same price that it would cost to pick up just one or two cellphones.
Finding the Best Two Way Radio – Top 5 Ranking Criteria
Since No Wires Radio specializes in radio technology, we’re used to digging deep and answering what makes a two-way radio – great. There are the core criteria that we use to judge every single radio we field test and review. In this section, we are going to explain our reasoning behind each. This will provide you with a bit more information about the processes that we use, and hopefully most of all, help you find a radio that best suites you.
For us, one of the major considerations when finding a two-way radio will be the range the radio can extend to. Obviously, two-way radios are always going to be for more short-distance communications. However, it always helps to have the longest range possible. It will provide you with more versatility when using your radio system.
We are going to talk more about what can impact the range of a two-way radio in the next section. However, we do want to point out that we recommend opting for a range on your radio that exceeds your requirements. For example; if you are mostly communicating with people within the same building, you still want to ensure that the range of the radio is decent. It will result in better sound quality at short distances, and it also ensures that if there are any obstacles in the way, they are not going to hamper the radio signal too much. This is because long-distance two-way radios tend to have more powerful radio-waves.
Obviously, when you are buying a two-way radio, you want to be on the hunt for something that is going to last you for as long as possible. We all know how the saying goes, right? Buy cheap, buy twice.
You are going to drop your radio. You may avoid it for a while, but it is inevitably going to happen. You may get your radio wet. You want to ensure that you pick up a radio with the most durable components that you can afford. Not only will this often mean better sound quality when you are using your two-way radio, but it also means that you won’t be replacing that radio any time soon.
Ideally, you would also ensure that the radio comes from a reputable manufacturer. No radio is going to last forever, sadly. You could treat it as an absolute god, but it will eventually give up the ghost. One of the perks of buying from a reputable company is that these companies often have spare parts available e.g. if your radio antenna or the battery has gone, it is probably going to be cheaper to replace those as opposed to picking up a whole new system.
3. Sound Quality
Obviously, if you are using a two-way radio, you want to be able to be heard, and you want to be able to hear other people. When we are reviewing two-way radios here, pay special attention to the audio quality at both short and long distances. Remember; generally speaking, the more you spend on the radio, the better it is going to sound.
4. Channels & Privacy
The best two-way radios will have a multitude of channels that you can broadcast and receive audio on. Although, to be honest, most radios seem to fit the bill here nowadays.
In our opinion, the best radios will be ones that allow you to lock down specific channels with a ‘private key’. This will help to keep your conversations private, even if the channels tend to be open. This makes these radios perfect for businesses that are operating in particularly busy areas. It means you do not have to worry about non-permitted parties from being able to listen in on your conversations.
5. Battery Life
Obviously, a decent two-way radio will boast a substantial lifespan on its batteries. If you aren’t getting at least half a day of use out of a radio before it needs to be recharged, then the radio probably isn’t all that good. Although, do bear in mind that the more you are using the radio, the quicker the battery will drain.
When we are talking about the battery life, we are not just talking about how long the battery will last before it needs to be charged again. We are also talking about the overall number of charges a battery can take before it needs to be replaced i.e. the durability of the battery. Obviously, the best radios can put up with hundreds of charge cycles.
Don’t forget about whether you can replace the batteries too. If you are out in the sticks with little opportunity to recharge your radio, then obviously you will want to pick up a two-way radio that allows you to swap the batteries out. This means as little downtime as possible.
Finally; you will also need to ensure that the charge time of the radio batteries will be nice and quick. Some of the radios on the market have a woeful charge time. We are talking along the lines of 24-hours to recharge. In an ideal world, a good quality two-way radio will sit somewhere in the 6-8 time to recharge range.
We also consider the ‘extra features’ of a radio. Although, we see these more of a bonus than an absolute necessity when we are reviewing radios here. When we consider extra features, we often consider the main use of that particular radio.
While there are some people who are not massive fans of it, and we will explain why soon, there is no denying that a lot of people are going to find some use in having a voice-operated two-way radio i.e. one that you can operate completely ‘hands-free’. These radios are perfect for people (e.g. hunters and sports enthusiasts), who probably do not want to have a radio in their hands at all times.
We talked about privacy features before. However, there are some radios that will take this to a whole other level. Some radios function in a similar way to a cellphone. This means that you will have a contact list built into the radio. You will be able to call the specific radio in your contact list and be thrown into a private conversation with them. This can be highly useful in some situations but, of course, not everybody is going to have a use for this sort of thing.
In certain situations, you may also find that having the radio gives you regular weather reports or even function as a radio scanner can also be useful. The former is especially important if you are outdoors. It always makes sense to keep up to date with the weather, right? Radio scanners are not as useful if you are using your radio for private purposes, but some people love them when they are looking for a bit more of an open communication.
We also like to consider radios that can easily be synced up with any radio system. We are not massive fans of radio systems that try and force you into using the same brand of radio to communicate with one another. Obviously, doing this is great for the manufacturer as it means that they will be able to get their hands on more of your money, but it isn’t really going to be a brilliant thing for your wallet. These radios tend to be a lot more expensive, mostly because the manufacturers know that you have little choice but to stump up the cash for it.
Long Range Two-Way Radios
As we said before; it is highly unlikely that you will ever be able to achieve the maximum quoted range with a two-way radio. The quoted range will always be for the most ideal conditions that you could be using your radio in. This means that if you were standing in the midst of a wide-open field within the direct line of sight of the other person using the radio. Obviously, this is unlikely to happen. In most situations, with a decent radio, expect a range of about 5-10-miles for the absolute best audio quality.
We are going to talk more about the different types of radio frequency soon. However, at this point we do want to point out that the type of frequency has an impact on what can impact the range of the radio. Generally speaking, though, the more obstacles there are in the way, there more there is that will end up messing up the signal, and this means a shorter range. So, you would get a far better range in an area that is completely wide open than if you were in a building, or in a forest full of trees.
Battery-Life Matters for Long Range Two-Way Radios
It is also worth noting that the power of your radio can have a massive impact on the range that your radio can accomplish. As your battery starts to drain, you will often find that the radio frequency can reach smaller and smaller distances. Radios are designed like this. The manufacturer wants to help to preserve your battery life so, as a result, your radio simply will not be able to cope with broadcasting long distances unless you have a fully charged battery. So, if that is your plan, then make sure the battery is charged at all times!
When you are looking to boost the range of a signal from a two-way radio, you will often have two options available to you.
The first is a repeater. This is a rather simple option. The idea is that you have a two radios connected up to a system. One radio will receive the incoming signal, and the second one will send the signal out again. As the name suggests, it is ‘repeating’ the signal. This is probably one of the best ways to (legally) increase the range of your two-way radio. Repeaters do cost a decent chunk of change if you are opting for the best of them, though. However, in theory, if you have tons of repeaters at various points of the radio range, the signal range could be unlimited, although setting up that number of repeaters would certainly be expensive!
The second is an amplifier. This will send out a more powerful signal from your radio and, ultimately, this means that it will have a greater range. However, you do need to be aware that it is not always legal to use an amplifier, particularly if you do not have a license. This is because on some frequencies, the range is limited for a reason. For example; with a CB radio, you are not technically allowed to boost the power of the signal, which is exactly what an amplifier would do.
In some cases, you may find that you can boost the signal of your two-way radio by investing in a better antenna. However, this is not always going to be possible, particularly if you want your two-way radio to be portable.
Motorola Two-Way Radios & Commercial Applications
If you are after quality two-way radios that really shine in commercial environments, then Motorola radios are the best you will find. These radios boast superior sound quality, battery life, and durability. It is these reasons why you will find them most commonly in both retail stores and on construction sites.
Durability and the Motorola brand is what really sets their radios apart from the rest. The Motorola radio lineup was designed to be dropped on the ground and beat up a bit. Most people recognize that any electronics on the jobsite might experience some abuse. When it comes to business, you need to have something dependable. Their reviews speak for themselves. The Motorola brand is well recognized, respected, and has been around a long time. Their customer service is great and specifically tailored to support other businesses.
Motorola offers a full lineup of two-way radios and accessories to go along with them, more geared for the business setting. A lot of these, you won’t find in other brands. You can purchase the radios in large packs with large charging bays made to go with them. So if you’re trying to equip a group of say 20 people to be able to keep in touch on the job, there’s no need to setup 20 individual chargers etc. The larger, multi-bay charging accessories can handle many batteries at the same time.
If you are using radios regularly to keep your business running, then Motorola radios are the defacto standard, and for good reason. However, do bear in mind that Motorola radios do come with a higher price tag. Not to be overly cliche, but this is one of those times when you really do get what you pay for.
Two-Way Radio Headsets – What You Need to Know
A lot of two-way radios will now include a headset with them. This allows hands-free operation and means you do not have to have your radio out, exposed to the elements, to listen in on broadcasts. The problem is that most of the two-way radio headsets that are included, tend to not be all that good. The sound quality is never going to be as great as if you were listening out of the speaker. If you do need a radio headset, then it may actually be worth purchasing a separate one. They are often going to be far, far better built.
A lot of the newer models of two-way radio on the market boast a nifty little feature known as VOX (or voice-operated exchange if you want to sound cool). This simply means that your two-way radio works by voice operation. If the microphone connected up to the two-way radio handset detects that you are speaking, then your voice will be broadcast. There is no need to continually push the button to speak.
Obviously, VOX does have its uses. There are some situations where you really can’t press your two-way radio handset for whatever reason. For example; if you are cycling, or you are doing certain jobs. However, do bear in mind that VOX is not all that it is cracked up to be. Due to the way in which two-way radios work. only one person can be broadcasting at any one time on a channel. The problem is that some VOX systems are hypersensitive and can clog the radio channel. This is annoying. So, if you are looking for a two-way radio handset that has VOX, make sure you read a couple of reviews to see how good it actually is.
Two-Way Radio Frequencies
When you are looking to buy a two-way radio, you will want to pay attention to the frequencies the radio broadcasts at. This will give you an idea as to the type of jobs the radio is going to be best suited for.
VHF Radio Signals (Very High Frequency)
VHF operates at 30-300MHZ. Not all of the frequencies in this range will be public, but your two-way radio will come programmed with channels that you can access, so do not worry about stumbling across something that you shouldn’t be listening in on!
One of the main advantages of VHF is the length of the radio waves. They are nice and long, which means that if you want a radio that has a fantastic range, then VHF is the way to go. However, due to the shape of the radio waves, they are not particularly brilliant in areas that there are a lot of obstacles in the way. Throw a wall or a couple of trees in the way of the radio signal, and the range is going to be drastically reduced. However, if there are no obstacles, or they are very minor ones, the range of VHF cannot be beaten.
UHF Radio Signals (Ultra High Frequency)
These start at 300 MHZ and go all the way up to 3GHZ. These two-way radios are going to be the most versatile radios you can buy.
The advantage of UHF is that it is fantastic for getting through obstacles. If you want a two-way radio system designed for use in a building, then UHF is absolutely the route to go down. However, do bear in mind that this will come at a price. UHF radio signals tend not to have a brilliant range on them.
CB radio isn’t a specific type of frequency in itself, although it does operate on shortwave frequencies.
CB radio is more of a ‘type’ of radio, often used by truckers and in the marine industry. CB radio consists of 40 open channels. You will not be able to go private on them. CB radio is for when you do not mind your communications being open, or if it is important that they are open. One of the main reasons why CB radios are used so extensively in the trucking industry is because communication is open. It will allow people to easily discuss road conditions and the like.
There is nothing that says you will not be able to use a CB radio for private purposes. After all, the technology is not as popular as it was in the past. However, as we said before, there is no way of actually making the channel private, so even if you feel nobody is listening in, you should probably assume that they are.
Need a Two-Way Radio That’s Waterproof?
If you are ‘out and about’, then you need a radio that is able to brave the elements just as much as you can. This means picking up a radio that is quoted as being waterproof.
Most of the radios built for ‘outdoor use’ e.g. radios for construction sites, hunting, or other outdoor activities, are able to put up with a decent amount of water getting on them without faltering. Obviously, no radio is ever going to be 100% waterproof. Not unless you pick up a specific diving radio, but most of the normal two-way radios on the market can stay submerged in water up to 1-meters deep for a fairly substantial amount of time, normally around the thirty minutes mark.
These radios tend to have protective coverings on, mostly made of rubber. These coverings help to stop water from getting into the cracks of the outer shell which can, of course, end up ruining the sensitive electronics contained within.
Even if you are not taking your radio outdoors, it may still be worth investing in a quality two-way radio that is rated as being waterproof, or at the very least water-resistant. These radios tend to be a little bit more durable which, of course, means that they are going to last longer. We all know how likely it is a stray drink can be knocked over onto the most sensitive of electronics too, so it is nice to know that there is a little bit of extra protection there.
Two-Way Radio Reviews
If you are looking for the best two-way radio reviews around, we’ve published some of the very best.
When we review two-way radios on this site, we take an objective approach. We judge all radios against the same criteria, while also considering the reasons why that radio was designed. For example; the ‘base criteria’ e.g durability, range, channels, etc. will also be the same, but beyond that, the purpose of the radio will be considered. One designed for ‘commercial use’ may be looked at in a different way in comparison to a radio designed for hunting. This helps to ensure that we are giving you the information that you need in order to make a more informed purchase.
We ‘field test’ all of the radios here, so we know exactly how a unit is able to stand up to the rigors of regular use. However, we also like to dive into a few Amazon reviews too. As much as we love our radios, we know that we are never going to be able to spot every single pro and con with the units that we test. By going through Amazon reviews, we can get an overall feel for how other people have experienced a radio and can convey that information to you. Once again, this will allow you to make a far more informed decision with your purchase.