I’ve been testing a few aerials for my current handheld radio of choice. This experiment is hardly scientific. But I think it’s good enough to show you which aerial is the best of the bunch. At least in some conditions. It might also save you some money.
Here is a little background. You might want scroll to my findings if you’re in a hurry.
I started this experiment before I was a licensed amateur radio operator. Now I have my callsign things have got much more exciting. This does not mean I know what I’m talking about. I’m still learning and always will be.
I’ve had walkie talkies since I was a kid. And PMR since the early 2000’s. I had no idea I was using PMR446 on these devices till I bought my first Baofeng radio in 2013.
These radios are more than just walkie-talkies. Although it’s illegal to sell these radios here in the UK, getting my HAM licence has shown me that you may be breaking a number of laws when using them.
For the uninitiated, PMR446 stands for Private Mobile Radio (or Public Mobile Radio, to Personal Mobile Radio, it depends who you talk to). The 446 denotes the UHF frequency which is a part of the 70CM band.
Here is a chart showing you some information you probably don’t need to know.
The frequencies are designated licence free for business and personal use. Originally there were 8 channels. Recently this was upped to 16. Much more fun.
If you really want to dig deep into PMR446 and some of the legalities surrounding it, I highly recommend this blog post from M7TEM. Sai is someone I have met personally and he has covered everything you need to know.
I will also add how much fun radio comms is. The atmosphere on PMR446 and CB can be pretty relaxed if you are in an area with decent people on air. Or any people on air. I have travelled to some of the more sweary shouty places but feel really lucky that everyone around my way behaves themselves.
I’ll talk more about the tech now. But I’d like to be clear. All the technology I mention here I paid for in full with my own money. I have no affiliations with any of these companies and no one has paid me to write this. I’m open to offers though 😉
If you do want to support my work subscribe to my weekly content sent via email from here.
My first Baofeng was a UV5R. But as I was using it as a toy it felt too complicated and sat on a shelf while I played with the cheaper Baofeng 888’s. I still have them. These small screen-less handhelds can cost less than £10. Yet I still managed to make contact with people over 20 miles away on the standard aerial. This is not the norm but you can expect around a mile in normal village environments. If you are on a hill with line of sight to your contact then who knows what you might achieve.
It wasn’t long before I had left the 888’s with the kids and upgraded my handheld. I bought an Baofeng F8HP and learned to use the programming software Chirp. This meant I could start programming other interesting frequencies and listen to local HAM radio operators. It was the lack of CB Radio chatter in the area and wanting to join in with these conversations that spurned me to get my HAM licence.
The standard aerials on these radios are basic. If you need to connect over longer distances upgrading the aerial can really boost the radio’s capabilities.
Up until recently it was illegal in the UK to use a PMR radio with a removable antenna. Thankfully this has since changed.
The limited half watt operating power is still law though. This includes effective radiated power.
In my continued experiments, first on PMR446 and now across the 70cm/2m band, I’ve accumulated a few aerials.
Here are some of my findings
For the test I attached each aerial to my radio as it sat in a fixed location and ‘keyed up’ 5 times while rotating the radio. About 40 foot away my son watched a signal meter on a fixed frequency scanner. Then jotted down the average number from the five results. The scores are out of 16 as that is the number of bars on the gauge.
I ignored the standard aerials as they come with the radio and you may not be rushing out to buy them. But in case you wondered, they scored an average of 7 out of 16.
First up was the Expert Power XP-669C 7.5-Inch Dual Band SMA-F Antenna. Bought for £9.91, this is a recent acquisition as I wanted something short and reasonably sized to carry around when the radio is in my pocket. At 19cm long this averaged 11 bars out of 16.
Next was my current every-day-carry the 20cm long Radioditty RD-601. Costing me £7 it has prove to be a robust well built antenna achieving 10 out of 16.
Then I tested two identical antenna both bought from China and branded Nagoya NA-771. But as one cost £2 and the other £3 (Including postage!). I have no idea if these were genuine Nagoya or a copy. Although long and cumbersome, at 38cm they are still a very popular choice for many and have a great reputation. There are plenty of opinions about this much copied style of aerial but both of them achieved a respectable 11 out of 16.
The Retevis RHD 771 is also 38cm and the numbers in its name would suggest another antenna attempting to muscle in on the Nagoya’s reputation. Perhaps this is a closer clone that the two much cheaper versions I have. Whatever they have done it works. It feels really well built for £8.99 and managed 14 out of 16.
The Dual Band Tactical Antenna was a weird one. It cost £8.18 and was 38cm folded and a whopping 78cm extended. As the metal inside is flat like a tape measure, It’s quite directional. So as ever it was better to take multiple readings while rotating the radio. Now perhaps this was because I did this experiment indoors but when extended this antenna only achieved 7 out of 16 bars, while folded it got 14 out of 16.
I would like to do more tests with this. As ridiculous as it looks I expected more from a 78cm antenna.
This last antenna was bought this week and was recommended by a local amateur radio operator.
The Sinotel SRH789 is 21.5cm closed and 80.5cm extended. It’s the most expensive at £22 including postage and to be honest probably my worst purchase.
Being multi band and working between 95MHz and 1100MHz It might come into it’s own as a one-antenna-fits-all solution all but when extended to the stipulated length for 70cm/2m it managed a pitiful 6 out of 16 bars.
It’s so bad that it might be faulty. I’m inspired to but a proper antenna analyser. If so I’ll update this page with more stats.
As well as this bench test I tried all the antennas out in the field. I must thank friends both licensed and unlicenced for their patience as I swapped antennas back and forth.
My findings in the field echoed my static indoor tests and I soon found my favourites.
Day to day
As a result of these tests there are two antenna I would happily recommend for people needing to upgrade the aerials on 2m/70cm or PMR446 handsets.
When out walking, this is the set up I carry either in my pocket or in my bag. The Baofeng BF-F8HP with the Retevis PTT Speaker Mic and the ExpertPower XP-669C antenna.
The ExpertPower lives on the radio. But if I want a little extra range from what I feel is the best possible portable antenna for 2m/70cm, then I’ll attach the Retevis RHD771.
When it’s not on the radio I use the Retevis RHD771 on the car. It attaches to the Nagoya window mount clip and pretty good results. This is a temporary set up as I have just bought a full size duel band mobile antenna and mag mount.
So, there you have it. If you want to upgrade your 2m/70cm mobile handset with a greatly improved antenna I personally recommend the ExpertPower XP-669C if you need something compact and the Retevis RHD771 at all other times.
I haven’t linked to any of these aerials online as I trust you will call up your local radio supplier.
Thanks for reading. There are countless antenna options out there and I’m certain to have omitted some favourites. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and/or recommendations.
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