How to Buy the Best Ham Radio Base Stations
A ham radio base station is a quintessentially must-have tool for serious preppers. It is also a great accessory for geeky hobbyists who want more freedom to transmit across the airwaves and meet other hams around the world.
Ham base stations are complex rigs that add a few more features and functions to what handheld and mobile radios offer. Unfortunately, this versatility also means that they can get a little bit tricky to purchase especially for first-time buyers.
Don’t fret though. This buying guide brings into focus a few must-have and nice-to-have features that make the best ham radio base stations.
We’ve analyzed 317 reviews of HAM radio base stations, and compared them side-by-side.
Below you will find comparison chart.
Kenwood TS-480HX HF
Galaxy 10m DX-2517
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|Actual Range||Audibility||Ease Of Use||Durability|
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Buying a base station shouldn’t be any hectic if you’ve bought a handheld or mobile radio before and learned how to use it from scratch.
As I have just pointed out, a base station HAM is basically an advanced version of its smaller siblings. It adds more features to the mix thereby putting more power and freedom into your hands. Of course, you’ll need to upgrade your FCC license (if you’ve not done it yet) to enjoy these privileges.
I have dedicated a few pages to discuss the most critical features later in this article.
Before that, here are a few important pointers that you need to have in mind when shopping for a base station;
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What is its maximum output power?
- Does the radio offer scan function?
- Does it offer weather alerts?
- Is it programmable?
- What type of broadcasting does it use?
- Does it have a CTCSS/DCS encoder/decoder function?
- How many memory channels does it offer?
- Are you looking for a gadget with an LCD display?
Our Picks of the Best Ham Radio Base Stations for 2018
Kenwood TS-480HX HF Base Transceiver – Best For Highest Power Output
Do you have a small fortune that you wish to spend on one of the best amateur base transceivers? If so, the Kenwood TS-480HX literally has your name on it.
One thing that I personally like about this radio is the amount of power that it holds within its compact size.
This model boasts a power output of 200 watts which is twice as much as the most basic models. As I have explained in the buying guide, more power output translates to a wider coverage plus the ability to maintain a connection for longer even with changes in weather conditions.
Another great feature of this station is that it allows you to transmit on all amateur radio bands ranging from 1.8MHz to 50MHz. Of course, you might want to upgrade to the General class license to be able to max out this radio’s versatility if you are yet to do it.
Buyers also like that this radio comes with a built-in automatic antenna tuner. This feature perfectly matches the radio’s impedance to the feed line for quality signal transmission and reception.
Besides saving you the hassle of purchasing this accessory separately, it also saves some extra space that a standalone unit would have consumed.
At 4 x 12 x 6 inches, this shack offers a very good option for hams who want a small yet powerful and versatile transceiver for small spaces. Even better, the TS-480HX boasts a removable front panel with a speaker.
This feature further cements it as an ideal option for compact spaces since you can fix the main unit at a convenient position and use the control panel separately.
It also fits the bill if you are looking for a rig that you can move around with it with much ease.
Most people find this rig quite expensive. In addition, a good number of them affirm that there’s a learning curve to it.
Yaesu FT-450D Compact Amateur Base Transceiver – Best For Ease of Use
The Yaesu FT-450D saves you a few hundred bucks in terms of price compared to the Kenwood TS-480HX above. The major compromise, however, is the level of output considering that it offers 100 watts.
Let not this seemingly lower output level fool you since this is still within the recommendable output performance for most transceivers within its price range.
I would highly recommend the FT-450D transceiver to beginner hams who are just graduating to complex rigs.
Most first-time base transceiver users praise it for its incredible ease of use even with a few dual-function buttons. So, if you fear that you might not be able to use the radio right away, that isn’t the case here.
How does it perform?
The Yaesu FT-450D operates at a relatively wide frequency band. It receives at 30Khz-54MHz and all AM and shortwave broadcasts. It also allows you to transmit at 6-160 meters.
This radio also allows you to listen in to Citizen Band channels only that you cannot transmit on them legally.
Among other great features, the Yaesu FT-450D has a built-in automatic antennae tuner for signal quality and audio clarity. You could also purchase an external manual tuner if you want to widen your coverage.
Its internal system also incorporates a Digital Signal Processing technology that filters unwanted signals in favor of the required signals.
Similar to our first option, this is a super compact station that you can easily move around. It also has an impressive colored LCD display with fairly large numbers and buttons for intuitive controls.
Most people seem content with this radio’s performance, especially at its price. The only issue, however, is that the lettering on its soft rubber buttons do wear out with time.
Galaxy 10m DX-2517 Base Station- Best For Loud Modulation
For those of us who would prefer a model with a classic look, I give you the DX-2517 base station. Okay, this radio does not look so old school as I make it appear. Its sleek-all black chassis gives it a modern appeal thereby making it a good choice for virtually anyone.
The main feature that makes this base station a suitable contender here is its impressive audio department. It has received a lot of praises for its loud modulation and very high-quality audio.
One aspect that makes this possible is that it replaces the Ranger board that is commonplace with most base stations with a standard 4-pin Cobra/Galaxy wiring configuration.
This allows you to swap and use any other mic of your choice to enhance its audio quality. This feature alone makes the Galaxy DX-2517 a go-to base station for enthusiastic hams who would want to tweak their rigs as they wish.
Speaking of audio quality, the Galaxy DX-2517 has several other features to boost its clarity including an Automatic Noise Limiter that reduces local noise and also eliminates repetitive, pulse-type signal present in a received signal.
It also has a noise filter circuit that boosts signal-to-noise ratio and mic gain and receive gain functions.
The DX-2517 puts you on AM (10 watts), FM, SSB (25 watts), and CW spectrums. The most impressive bit is that you can also use it as a CB radio and even as a public address system.
Other notable features of this base station include an on-demand talkback circuit that lets you tweak your voice as you would want it to reach other hams and a roger beep to signify the end of a transmission.
It also has a large, colored, transmit/receive LED with variable dimmer control to save on power and to enhance readability in various lighting conditions.
Icom IC-718 HF All Band Base Transceiver- Best For Value Of Money
The Icom IC-718 is yet another affordable way of making contacts with hams on the other side of the world. This transceiver aims at offering you a good mix of value, reliability, and ease of use at a price that you would never expect! Let’s take a tour!
One standout aspect of this transceiver is that it has been designed with top-level audio clarity in mind. It utilizes a front-facing loudspeaker to make all audio sounds audible without impediment. The definite advantage here is that you’ll never have to crank up the volume more than required to capture audio sounds.
This capable speaker gets some boost from the DSP technology that encompasses a Level Adjustable Noise Blanker to sieve desired AF signals from noise for better signal fidelity in AM, FM, and SSB.
The DSP technology also makes use of an Automatic Notch Filter that alleviates beat signals to make the receive signals audible. Interestingly, this transceiver also makes automatic notch frequency adjustments to follow noise signals in a bid to minimize interference.
Additional features that enhance audio clarity include a microphone processor that increases talk power by compressing microphone audio input and an IF Shift that minimizes adjacent interference.
Even better, there’s an RF gain control that joins forces with the squelch control to ignore weaker signals and adjusts the minimum level of the response receiver gain.
The Icom IC-718 also scores high marks for ease of use. Compared to other radios that we’ve reviewed here, this model uses a minimum of switches to make it user-friendly. To the right-hand side is a soft-touch 10-keypad that allows you to make direct entries of the operating frequencies.
This 100w base station also brings you 101 memory scan channels (99 regular and 2 scan edge memories) that allow you to store your favorite frequencies for speedy access.
In my opinion, Icom has really done it again on this base station. The only minor drawback, however, is that this model does not have an Automatic Tuner.
Yaesu FT-857D Amateur Radio Transceiver- Best For Versatility
Our last recommendation in this list is also one of the most versatile models that we came across. This is among a few other base radio stations that I can recommend for dexpeditioning, DXing, camping, vacation, field day, and virtually anywhere else where you might want to take it.
So, what makes it unique?
The Yaesu FT-857D measures 6.1” x 2” x 9.2” thereby topping our list of the most compact base stations. But what’s even more stunning is what it houses within its tiny shack.
This is a 100w HF/VHF/UHF multimode station that allows transmission at HF, 50MHz, 144MHz, and 430MHz. it also offers receive coverage on 100kHz – 56MHz, 76kHz – 108MHz, 118MHz- 164MHz, and 420MHz- 470MHz.
This wide coverage means that you can comfortably monitor public safety, weather broadcasts, aviation communications, and AM/FM broadcasts from one gadget.
Despite its small size, this radio is loaded with 200 memory channels. But what’s interesting is that it allows you to name them with an alpha-numeric label consisting of up to 8 characters.
For added convenience, this radio allows you to separate the memories into 10 groups. You could also set a Home Channel and a Quick Memory on each band as an added bonus.
Similar to its sibling the FT-450D, this base station has also been engineered to offer the most the crispier audios with highly reduced background noise.
To achieve this, the FT-857D employs a 24-bit D/A chip for speedy signal processing. It also includes a series of noise reduction filters, bandpass filters, an auto-notch, and a mic equalizer.
This radio has also been designed to offer easy operations thanks to its 1.7’’ main tuning dial and very few keys that have strategically positioned for flawless access.
Unfortunately, as good as this base station sounds, it also has its share of drawbacks, especially around its LCD screen. For instance, I did come across several complaints across the internet of premature failures of the LCD display.
How to Buy a Ham Radio Base Station – Know What Matters
Power output is virtually what differentiates a base station from its siblings. There is a tie-in between power output and range in that, the higher the power output, the higher the range.
If you’ve gone through my other article of the best ham radio for beginners, then you probably know that handheld radios output 3-5 watts although some advanced models such as the Baofeng UV-82HP may move the needle to around 7 watts.
Consequently, such models will only allow you to communicate with local hams within a radius of 1-2 miles.
On the other hand, mobile stations (mostly used in vehicles) offer around 25-50 watts and will allow you to go regional and reach more hams via repeaters.
Ham radio base stations take the output level even higher. Mostly entry level base stations offer at least 100 watts. This is enough power to connect to other hams countrywide or even worldwide with a powerful antenna.
As you climb up the price ladder, you’ll come across more capable rigs that offer 600-1500 watts with the use of power amplifiers (also known as linears or linear amplifiers).
Thanks to their high power output, such models will not only allow you an extended transmit range, but they also make it possible to maintain a connection longer even with changes in weather conditions.
But there’s a catch.
As you think of your ideal transmitter’s power output in relation to coverage, you’ll have to ensure that your power source is enough to fit its needs as well.
Usually, a high power HF unit that requires at least 13 amps power supply will kill your car battery in 25-30 minutes not unless there is a low power setting. As such, you may want to connect it directly to a wall socket.
Type of broadcasting
Ham radio stations can be divided into 3 categories depending on the type of broadcasting that they use; analog, digital, and digital-and-analog. Your ideal choice from the available options depends on your preferences, budget, and location.
As the name suggests, analog transceivers rely on mechanical systems to make transmissions. The good news with these models is that besides being relatively affordable, they also maintain consistency in terms of power consumption.
This makes them ideal for emergency situations where power is limited. This is because they can transmit for longer without the need to opt for power-saving modes.
The major drawback of analog units is that their performance is interrupted by changing weather conditions.
Digital ham transceivers are slowly becoming the industry standard thanks to their ability to adapt to changing weather conditions.
These high-end models allow hams to hold multi-person conferences from various regions across the globe and even in space without succumbing to adverse weather changes.
Digital base stations are linked to a software from which they can be controlled. The key benefit here is that the station can be upgraded to the latest versions down the road and thereby make it more versatile.
I bet this might be the way to go for serious preppers and enthusiastic hobbyists who want to develop their stations with time.
Needless to mention, digital ham base stations employ additional electrical circuits and will, therefore, require more power to enhance consistency amidst harsh conditions.
Having explained the first 2 models, I bet I don’t need to explain what digital-and-analog transceivers are, do I? Basically, this is a blend of the first two models and covers the 2 types of signals.
These base stations are way expensive. On the upside, they ensure consistent digital signal coverage and minimal chances of signal loss.
Different base stations offer varying frequency coverage. While most of them operate on the HF (High Frequency) spectrums, you’ll also find some that cover the UHF and VHF bands (2 meters to 23 cm).
These are units that will allow you to transmit at between 160 meters (1.8MHz) and 10 meters (28MHz). A few of them also allow transmission on the 6m (50MHz) band.
Also known as all-mode radios, these types of base stations also include AM, FM, SSB, CW and digital modes into the mix.
What this means is that there are virtually no limitations on what you can do on this radio whether you want to hit the local repeater or maintain contact with other stations several thousand miles away on the HF bands.
Needless to mention, a HAM radio base station is only as good as its ability to ensure clear communication. It can only be able to do this by filtering unwanted signals to pave way for the important ones.
The reason for this is that the HF bands are a mixed bag of signals that range from extremely weak to ultra strong.
Different base stations employ varying types of filters to reject unwanted signals. For instance, some radios utilize electronic filters. Usually, such models have a discrete filter for AM, FM, and SSB. You may have to add a separate CW and RTTY filters if you transmit on these modes too.
Other base stations have DSP (Digital Signal Processing) filters. These types of filters are embedded in the base station’s microprocessors and eliminate the need for discrete filters.
The good part about DSP filters is that they are software-based. Besides eliminating the need for several electronic circuits, they also allow you to generate new filters whenever necessary and even adjust the existing ones when conditions call for it.
Number of memory channels
Similar to VHF and UHF hams, base stations also have programmable memory channels only that they are popularly known as band-stacking registers.
These memory channels allow you to save certain frequencies for instant access. The higher the number of programmable channels, the more frequencies you can save. This is not only fun, but it can be lifesaving in SHTF situations.
Antenna and Antenna Tuner
This is yet another very important feature that you don’t want to ignore when purchasing or creating your ham radio base station.
What you need to know is that your base station’s performance is highly dependent on the antenna. The good news is that you can build one or simply order it alongside the base station (if the package does not include one).
If you are going to purchase the antenna/antennae, it’s advisable to purchase the entire unit (antenna plus mount) together to ensure compatibility. Otherwise, you might be frustrated to realize that the mechanical connections don’t fit.
The type of feed line also matters a big deal when buying the antenna. There are basically 2 major types of lines; coaxial and open wire.
Coaxial feed lines are the most convenient and definitely the most popular since they don’t require an antenna tuner (more about this below). The only drawback is that they have very high power losses that increase with length.
On the other hand, open wire lines have the upper hand in minimizing losses. Unfortunately, you’ll need to invest in an antenna tuner. Read on.
What is an antenna tuner? Does it literally tune the antenna? You may ask.
Simply put, an antenna tuner is a device that is positioned between a radio and the antenna. It works by tweaking the radio’s impedance to match the antenna’s feed line.
Some advanced rigs have built-in antenna tuners. The benefit here is that you’ll not need to spare room for an extra device.
A ham radio base station is an easy way of uniting with different people around the world. Besides being used for fun, these gadgets also play an important role during emergencies.
We believe that any of the above models will suffice if you are thinking of starting up a base radio station. However, remember that different people have different needs.
That being said, the important thing would be to go through the buying guide and come up with a list of all the qualities that you would like in a station then go ahead and pick the model that fits your requirements.
In my opinion, however, I feel that the Yaesu FT-850D makes a really good bet here. Besides its attractive modern design, this model is lightweight and compact for all your portability needs.
It is also fairly easy to use and allows you to operate at a relatively wide frequency band.