In today’s world where just about everyone has a smartphone, looking for the best DMR radio may seem a bit strange for some people. But having reliable 2-way communications is imperative for some people, and smartphones may not be adequate for their needs.
What is DMR Radio?
DMR stands for digital mobile radio. They are the modern digital versions of the old analog walkie-talkies. These offer many advantages, such as clearer signals. With the dual band DMR radio, it’s even possible to have 2 distinct conversations going on simultaneously, while using a single frequency.
Here are some top rated DMR handheld radio options you can get at this time:
Our Top Picks
Best DMR Radio Reviews in 2020
1. Radioddity GD-77 Dual Band Dual Time Slot DMR Radio
Radioddity bills the GD-77 as your most cost-effective DMR option, and it’s hard to argue with this contention. You get a long list of nice features with this budget price range.
It’s true that if you’re a newbie to DMR that the digital version can be intimidating. There are just too many features and other stuff to figure out. Here, however, you can wade in gently by watching videos and joining the Radioddity Facebook Group for tips and advice. Many beginners find the GD-77 actually easy to use after a while.
This handheld unit feels nice to hold, and it seems solidly built. You get clear audio on both the digital and analog channels as well. The performance is solid for 2 days, and you have a charger indicator light telling you when you need to recharge.
- Compatible with digital and analog modes, and that includes dual-band UHF/VHF
- Free for a lifetime upgrades for software and firmware
- The keypad and side leys can be programmed for customized frequencies, channel names, tones, and other stuff
- Can be programmed with MS Windows PCs
- 1024 channels, 128 received groups, 250 zones
- Weighs just 1.64 pounds, measures 5.5 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches
2. Baofeng DM-1701 Dual Band Dual Time Slot DMR
Here’s another “cost-effective” option, as its price is very budget friendly. This is designed for amateur use, so if you’re not a cop or a first responder you may want to go with this.
This is a bit on the large size, but then you get a bigger screen and a very nice solid feel. The storage here is quite ample, while audio is quite clear. The color display measures 1.77 inches, and you can use this to send SMS messages up to 144 characters.
Some of you may be put off by the Asian brand name, but Baofeng actually partnered with Radioddity to bring you the DM-1701. This can be programmed by your PC if you’re using Windows 10, 7, or XP.
- Can store 120,000 contacts, 10,000 talk groups, and 3,000 channels
- Comes with PTT earpiece and programming cable, and you also get free upgrade and support for a lifetime
- The battery can last for 48 hours
- Can work as digital or analog radio
- Talking range can reach anywhere from 1.8 to 6.2 miles (3 to 10 kilometers)
- Available encryption and digital alarm function
3. BTECH DMR-6X2 (DMR and Analog) 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
This doesn’t really call itself a “cost-effective” option, because the price is almost twice as much as the first two DMR units on this list. But then again, you can get your money’s worth with its capabilities and features.
This is especially true if you go with the DMR-6X2Dual Battery Kit. The default 3100mAh battery gives you 35 hours of use, and then the 2100mAh battery gives you another 18 hours (and 30 minutes). When this was first launched, quite a few complaints came out about bugs. But these were all fixed through the software and firmware updates.
The DMR-6X2 does have an impressive features list, which keeps getting longer due to all the new updates. It’s not surprising that it comes with some features that you don’t get with more affordable options, as the research and development for the model took more than 2 years.
- Long battery life on a single charge
- Large display screen, which has daytime and nighttime settings
- Can store 10,000 talk groups and 4,000 channels along with 200,000 digital contacts
- Can call new talk group or use new repeater without saving the talk group to memory
- Built-in GPS
- You can group scanning channels together and add channels to these groups
- Can store and forward your conversations on the same band with the Store and Forward Repeater Mode
4. TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio
Quite a few newbies recommend the MD-380, because it’s quite easy to learn. It does have 2 versions available (for VHF or UHF) as this is not dual band.
The communication distance is between 1 to 7 kilometers, so a group of people travelling together can get a bunch of these so they can keep in contact with each other. You can use it normally for about 9 to 12 hours, with a standby period of about 52 hours. Or you can use up the battery by using it continuously for 2 hours or so.
This does work for digital and analog, and the updates are great for the software. You may want to do some research (or find someone with DMR experience) when doing the programming. But on the whole, it’s great. The audio doesn’t give you the hisses you normally get with old-style radios, while the controls are easy enough to understand.
- 1,000 channels
- Measures just 5.2 by 2.4 by 1.4inches
- Weighs about a pound and a half
- Nice to hold
- Very dependable
5. Ailunce HD1 DMR Radio Dual Band Waterproof
We’re back with the more advanced DMR radio models, with this one a bit more expensive as well. This is a proper dual band DM radio with a long list of features to justify the price. The customer support is excellent as well, which is great especially for newbies confused about the various software issues.
This is nice to hold in your hand, and you with practice just one hand will be enough to use it. Newbies who are only experienced with smartphones may be a bit put off by the long antenna, but that’s always the issue with DMR radios in general.
The durability of this unit is outstanding. As the name says, it’s waterproof and that’s great when a bunch of you are using this to maintain contact hiking or riding your bikes.
- Excellent build quality
- Free for your lifetime upgrades for software
- Keypad can be used for adjusting settings without the need for the PC
- Terrific audio reception for both DMR and analog
- Uses 3200Mah battery for longer standby time
- Can store 200,000 contacts and 32 radio IDs
6. Radioddity GD-77S DMR Dual Band Two Way Radio
Didn’t we already cover this? Actually, this is different from the Radioddity GD-77 as this is the GD-77S. This one is even more affordable. You can also see that there’s no LCD screen.
What makes this different aside from the price is that it’s much easier to use. This is great for newbies, especially when you’re handing this out to employees and family members. It also comes with 2 different antennas, with a shorter antenna for outdoor use. The longer antenna comes into play when you want to boost the gain.
Basically, this is the basic walkie-talkie you can rely on that most people can use without any sort of difficulty. You can just make adjustments with the dials and buttons, and you’re all set. You can also program your unit using your Windows PC.
In time, it’s very easy to use. All Radioddity GD-77S units have been preprogrammed to the same frequency, so everyone can start talking to each other within 3 miles.
- Dual band, and dual time slot
- Digital and analog mode
- 1024 channels
- 2200mAh battery
- Easy to use with no LCD and fewer buttons
- Voice operation tells you radio status
- 18-hour working time, 48-hour standby time
7. TYT Upgraded MD-390 UHF DMR Digital Radio
Despite the price tag, this is billed as an entry-level DMR radio. It’s a rather tough little device, and it’s waterproof enough that it can still work after being submerged in a meter of water for half an hour.
This comes with 2 antennas as well, with the standard one better for outdoor use. It’s not very long at all. The other antenna is much longer and thinner too, so be careful moving around with it.
As this is more expensive, the list of features is rather long. The learning curve for beginners can be daunting, but you can start by reading the instructions and hanging out with DMR vets online. This allows for dependable voice and text communications, and you even have a GPS option.
- IP67 waterproof rating
- Up to 1,000 channels
- Comes with programming cable (for Windows PCs) and earpiece
- Measures 5.2 by 2.4 by 1.4 inches, weighs less than 0.6 pounds
- Software updates
8. Radioddity GD-73A 2W Dual Time Slot DMR/Analog Two Way Radio
Does it annoy you to deal with bulky DMR radios with extra-long antennas? This is the mini-DMR you need, if that’s the case. It has a short antenna, and it’s small enough all in all to fit inside your pocket. Yet you still get the keypad and LCD screen that makes the radio much more usable.
This uses a 2600mAh battery, which is great for 48 hours of standby and 16 hours of continuous use. The micro-USB cable that comes with the unit works for both charging and for connecting the radio to your PC for programming.
This comes with a rather detailed user manual, which you absolutely need to read so you can make use of each feature available here. You have 21 functions available, and you can assign 4 of them to 2 customable keys.
- Can send text messages
- 1024 channels
- Measures 4.48 by 1.95 by 1.25 inches, weighs a third of a pound
- Dual time slots
- Range of up to 5 miles
9. TYT MD-9600 Transceiver, 50W Mobile DMR Car Ham Radio
If you prefer to use the DMR radio when you’re driving, then you may want to consider this one instead. You get 250 zones with 16 channels each, so that’s a total of 4,000 channels. This is a dual-band radio too, and it offers digital and analog modes.
Since this is designed for use while you’re driving, you can expect this to work over a larger area. In fact, the range is about 31 miles, so it’s great when your family is using several cars to transport the family members to your vacation spot.
It’s easy to use as well, even though the user manual is next to useless. Your best bet is to look up the various online videos demonstrating how to use the MD-9600. It’s not all that expensive either, considering its features. However, it’s more expensive than the handheld transceivers.
- Long range
- No problem to install
- Color, lighted LED display with lighted keypad
- Durable microphone
- Full list of features for communications
10. Retevis RT84 DMR Dual Band Two Way Radio
We end the list with another affordable handheld unit, which for many is much more versatile. This offers talk option for up to 3 miles, plus you can send SMS text messages. The 2000mAh battery offers 24 to 36 hours of standby, with about 10 to 15 hours of working time.
This offers a digital and an analog option, and either way you get clear audio for transmitting and receiving. If you’re a newbie, you will have to learn how to write the code plug for this, but then you can get a DMR vet to help or find useful instructional videos online. It’s a very durable gadget, so it’s great for outdoor use.
- Simple and direct to the point info on LCD display
- 250 channels available on scan list
- Can store 1,000 channels, 250 talk groups, and 120,000 contacts
- Removable antenna
- Nice size for keypad buttons
Best DMR Radio Buying Guide
Here are the factors you should consider when you’re picking the DMR radio for your own use.
In the list we offered, you may have noticed that almost all of them are HTs (handheld transceivers, which apparently is a more “professional-sounding” term than “walkie-talkie”). But there’s also an option for a car radio.
While most of these units are generally lightweight and the same size as a regular smartphone, the antennas can be rather long. So, you may want to check out the overall size and also look to the belt-attachment accessories.
These are basically short-range radios, with some only working for short neighborhood-sized distances. Shorter distances are good enough if you’re getting these things for employees working in the same building. But you may want a longer range if you use these for cycling.
Some cost less than a hundred dollars each, which is great if you’re outfitting a large number of people with these gadgets. Others cost twice as much because they generally offer more features. The car radios are a bit more expensive than even the more advanced handheld units.
A 1-year warranty is common, so a 2-year warranty can indicate an especially robust model. You’ll want a tough unit if you’re going to use these things for hiking with your family. If it’s mainly for outdoor use, check out its waterproof capacity as well.
Each model comes with its own sets of features. You may notice that those with more advanced features will be more difficult to learn for newbies. Beginners may want fewer features, which them makes the DMR radio easier to use.
We even feature a model on the list that doesn’t have an LCD display. This is uncommon among the best DMR radios, but it works very simply. However, the LCD display does make things easier for those used to cellphones and smartphones.
Basically, you should tailor the model you get with your current knowledge of DMR radios. Get the simpler types if you’re a newbie, and find an experienced user to help you out. Check out demonstration videos as well.
The battery should work long enough during the times you need it, so that you can be absolutely certain that you can make use of your DMR radio when it’s time. A 2-day standby time is common, with a few hours of working time available. It’s best that you get a powerful battery if possible, especially if your business depends on reliable communications between your employees.
Benefits of Using a DMR Radio
Some people find out (often during the most inconvenient times) that smartphones aren’t always the best options when you need a certain group of people communicating with each other. You can then opt for a classic walkie-talkie, but you’ll find that modern handheld DMR radios are superior options.
Better Audio Quality
Just as CDs tend to offer better sound than cassette tapes and LPs, you enjoy better audio with the DMR digital radios. Analog radios sound worse the farther you get with the other guy using another radio, and hisses are common.
With a DMR radio, as long as you’re within the range the audio quality remains the same. No hisses at all will come into play.
Traditional ham radios can’t send text messages, but DMR radios can. In some cases, it’s better to send text such as when you’re supplying an address or a phone number. When you’regiving data that the receiver needs to remember, text is the better option.
Even the best DNR radios cost less than $200. How much do smartphones cost these days? When you’re out in the outdoors hiking or cycling, you don’t want to risk your smartphones.
Many smartphones don’t really last long in the outdoors anyway. What if it rains? Many of the DMR gadgets have terrific waterproofing, while smartphones aren’t all that tough. You can drop a DMR radio and it will still work, while things can get iffy with a more fragile smartphone.
Longer Battery Life
The DMR radios as a rule tend to last longer than smartphones and traditional analog portable ham radios. They use the power more efficiently. With battery life extending to whole-day use and with standby time set at least 2 days, you won’t have to keep charging your DMR radio. This is great when you’re in the wilderness, where you can’t find an electrical socket for charging.
Dual Time Slots
Even when you’re engaged in a call with someone, another call can come in. This is great when the second call is a high-priority call. When the entire family has been separated from each other during a holiday vacation in a hiking zone, you’ll want to get calls coming in no matter what.
What is DMR Radio
DMR is limited open digital mobile radio.
Do I Really Need a License to Use a DMR Radio?
It depends on the situation. You can go unlicensed in the 446 MHz band if you’re a private user, with a transmitting power of less than 0.5 watt. But for other uses, you need a license and an ID too.
Can DMR Work with Other Digital Technologies (such as P25)?
No, it can’t. It’s not compatible with P25, NXDN, System Fusion, or D-STAR.
Who Can I Talk To Using the DMR Radio?
You can talk to people all over the world if you want, if they have DMR radios and you’re on the same talkgroup. You can form your own talkgroup as well.
Aside from the military and the police, public sector organizations find these modern walkie-talkies much more dependable, useful, and cost-effective than using Smartphones. Various businesses that require workers to communicate with each other regularly, can use these best DMR radios too. They’re great for security personnel, delivery workers and other employees who have to work in the field.