The best DMR radios

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In this article, I review 5 of the best DMR radios:

If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here is my recommendation:

I recommend the BTECH DMR-6X2 due its huge capacity, wide range of features (including GPS) and its superior sound quality.

What is DMR ?

Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) is an international digital radio standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). DMR was developed to replace analog radio.

In layman terms, DMR radios are essentially digital handheld 2-way radios, similar to walkie-talkies, with which you can transmit and receive on a given frequency.

The ETSI DMR Standard defines three different tiers:

Tier I (unlicensed): DMR equipment works in Direct Mode (unit-to-unit) on public frequencies (446 MHz band). Tier 1 DMR devices are best for individuals, recreation, small retail, or other situations that do not require wide area coverage. Tier 1 radios are restricted to a maximum 0.5 Watt transmission power and don’t have any advanced features.

Tier II (licensed conventional): Tier 2 operates in PMR licensed frequency bands from 66-960 MHz. Products operate with high power levels enabling a greater range. These DMR systems operate under individual licenses working in Direct Mode (unit-to-unit) or using a Base Station (BS) for repeating. Tier 2 radios support text messaging and packet data, including support for IPv4 and IPv6.

Tier III (licensed trunked): DMR trunking systems operate under individual licenses with a controller function that automatically regulates the communications. It also supports packet data services in a variety of formats, including support for IPv4 and IPv6.

In this article, I review radios from Tier 1 and 2. Tier 3 is beyond the scope of this article.

Do I need a license for a DMR radio?

It depends where the radio will be operated and what tier of radio you will be using. (see above definitions)

DMR in Europe

If you are based in Europe, then tier 1 radios do NOT need a license to operate them. That is, in Europe, a radio with a maximum power of 0.5W and transmitting on frequency 446 MHz do NOT need a license.

Tier 2 and tier 3 radios require their operator to have an appropriate radio licence.

DMR outside of Europe

The operator must have an appropriate radio licence for all 3 tiers of DMR radio. In other words, a licence free allocation is not present at the 446 MHz frequency outside of Europe.

Benefits of DMR

Audio quality

For the operator, one of the key benefits of DMR digital radio technology is the improvement in audio quality when compared to analog.

Data applications

DMR is capable of much more than simply transmitting voice. With DMR, many data applications are also possible such as text messaging, GPS, SCADA, and telemetry.

Long battery life

DMR has longer battery life than regular analog portables due to greater power efficiency.

TDMA – Two voice channels per analog channel

A major feature of DMR is something called “TDMA”. TDMA stands for Time Division Multiple Access. It provides two voice channels for every one analogue channel by dividing a 12.5 kHz channel into two independent time slots.

Advanced control features

Thanks to TDMA (see above), it is possible to use the second time slot for reverse-channel signaling. Instructions in the form of signals can be sent to the radio on the second time slot channel while the first channel is in a call. This capability can be used for priority call control, remote control of the transmitting radio or emergency call pre-emption and gives precise control and flexibility to the operator of a radio system.

I hope I have convinced you of the many benefits of DMR. Now let’s take a look at some of the best DMR radios on the market.

The best DMR radios

BTECH DMR-6X2

The DMR-6X2 is a true dual slot DMR radio compatible with DMR Tier 1 and 2 and has been designed for both amateur and commercial usage. It has a large, bright 1.77″ color TFT display. The DMR-6X2 can store 4,000 channels with 10,000 talk groups and 200,000 contacts.

It comes with 2 batteries (3100mAh and 2100mAh), 2 belt clips, programming cable, charger base, charger transformer, earpiece kit, 6″ (15cm) dual band antenna, wrist strap and user manual.

The frequency range is 136-174MHz and 400-480 MHz. The DMR-6X2 has a maximum output of 7W on VHF, and 6W on UHF. The DMR-6X2 includes a built in GPS and audio recorder.

Daytime or Night-time Display – You can adjust and customize the DMR-6X2 to display one of two themed display modes: ‘vibrant blue’ or ‘contrasting black’. The black display mode is easier on the eyes during night-time operation.

On-the-fly group / private calling – Simply holding ‘0’ on the keypad will allow you to dial a new group (or private call). The DMR-6X2 will display the Adhoc contact and type right on the main display until you change the channel.

DMR APRS Supported –  With Digital APRS, your current location will be sent as an APRS beacon. This feature is set up through the free programming software and detailed in the software download.

DMR Digital Store & Forward Repeater – The DMR-6X2 has a built in recording chip which is utilized in the “Store and forward repeater” mode. Once activated, the DMR-6X2 will store and forward conversations on the same band or as a cross band repeater. It records the incoming audio and once the signal drops – it will forward the audio to the assigned frequency (and vice versa). The DMR-6X2 will even allow you to store and forward on the same frequency.

Free programming software – Customize the DMR-6X2 with the free programming software. Create, import, and customize pre-made DMR channel and contact templates available online. You can also generate your own .csv list to easily import your favorite channels right into the software.

Battery Life – The DMR-6X2 can last for up to 35 hours on a single charge using the included 3100mAh battery, and up to 18.5 hours on a single charge using the included 2100mAh battery.

Dimensions

Without antenna:  5 x 2 x 1.5 inches (127 x 50.8 x 38.1 mm)
With antenna:  10.5 x 2 x 1.5 inches (267 x 50.8 x 38.1 mm)

Weight

With 3100mAh battery:  11.3 oz (320 grams)
With 2100mAh battery:  10.4 oz (295 grams)

Pros

  • The speaker is nice and loud.
  • Clear MIC.
  • Very sturdy
  • Large memory bank.
  • GPS
  • Accepts Anytone AT-D868 codeplugs and accessories.
  • Nice bright screen showing caller name, callsign, city and country.
  • Programming cable included.
  • Frequent firmware upgrades.

Cons

  • Only does digital repeat. No cross-band repeat on analog.
  • The user manual is understandable but sparse.

Ailunce HD1

The Ailunce HD1 comes with a 3200mAh battery, antenna, adaptor, charger, user manual, belt clip, sling and programming cable.

The Ailunce HD1 dual band digital radio uses Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) tier 2 standard protocol. It is compatible with the popular MOTO TRBO series tier 1 and 2 using standard encryption, as well as other makes and models of DMR supported radios. It is also compatible with any existing analog two-way radio operating on the supported UHF and VHF frequencies. Almost all operations can be done via the radio’s keypad. The radio is completely dustproof and waterproof.

GPS Function – The GPS function provides you with data on latitude, longitude, altitude, bearing, and speed. There is support to text the information to another Radio with the same DNA protocol.

Promiscuous mode – The promiscuous mode allows you to listen to / monitor all talk groups.

FM and DW Function – When a call comes in, the radio can automatically get the signal and stop the FM radio. As soon as the call finishes, it will switch back to FM mode.

Radio ID- The Ailunce HD1 can save a total of 32 radio IDs. You can choose and edit the radio ID that you have saved via the keypad.

True-2-slot – There are2 talk paths on 1 frequency. This allows two operators to talk on a simplex channel at the same time.

Three channel mode – The radio can display three channel modes: Frequency, channel, and name. It can also display the caller ID, name, city, state, etc.

Waterproof and dustproof – The radio is certified IP67 which means it’s completely dustproof and waterproof. It can still work after being completely submerged in water for 30 minutes!

Frequencies:  136-174 MHz, 400-480 MHz and 76-107.95 MHz(receive only)
Number of channels: 3000
Contacts: 200,000 contacts + 1000 priority contacts
Dimensions: 5.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (150 x 64 x 40mm)
Weight with battery: 12.7 oz (360 grams)
Battery: 1x 3200 mAh rechargeable battery.
Battery life: 15 hours of normal use  / 160 hours in standby

Pros

  • Very sturdy design.
  • Good battery life
  • GPS
  • Loud audio output
  • Waterproof and dustproof
  • Can be programmed through the software or keypad.

Cons

  • Scan speed is a bit slow.
  • User manual is a bit confusing and not very well-written.

TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

The TYT MD-380 utilizes Time-Division Multi-Access (TDMA) digital technology. This radio is compatible with Motorola TRBO Tier 1 and 2 radios including radios manufactured by Motorola, Hytera, Kenwood, and Vertex Standard.

The TYT MD-380 is a DMR two-way radio with both digital and analog features combined. It comes with a USB programming cable and software, AC charger, 2000 mAh Battery, belt Clip, antenna and English manual.

The radio has 1000 channels, 1000 contacts, provides clear voice communications and clear operation display. This is a great beginner’s DMR radio.

Frequencies:  136-174 MHZ, 400-480 MHz
Output power: 5W
Number of channels: 1000
Channel spacing: 12.5KHZ
Contacts: 1000
Dimensions: 5.03 x 2.4 x 1.5 inches (128 x 61 x 38mm)
Weight with battery: 9.1 oz  (258 grams)
Battery: 1x 2000 mAh rechargeable battery.

Pros

  • Rugged design
  • Compact and light
  • An excellent DMR radio for beginners

Cons

  • No GPS
  • User manual isn’t very detailed.

Radioddity GD-77

The Radioddity GD-77 is a dual-band, dual time slot DMR digital/analog two-way radio.

The GD-77 is compatible with digital and analog modes, including dual band VHF/UHF coverage of 136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz.

Channel names, TX & RX frequencies, channel number, tones etc. can all be programmed through the keypad or through the free software. Users can also customize the side keys for shortcut functions.

The radio comes with a programming cable for easier PC programming. The software is free and can be downloaded from the vendor’s website. (Microsoft Window 7/8/10 only. Mac and Linux are not supported).

The Radioddity GD-77 DMR radio features 5W high power output, UHF/VHF capability, tier I/II dual time slot capability, a 2200 mAh battery.  The greatest appeal of Radioddity’s GD-77 lies in its ability to deliver great DMR compatibility & crystal clear audio. Its light-weight portability, high capacity battery (2200 mAh), and user-customizable design makes it the perfect radio for both experienced and new HAM users.

Main Features

  • Programmable CTSS/DCS, squelch, busy lock, TOT, VOX, encrypt, password lock, radio ID, scan.
  • Up to 250 zones, message, contact, emergency alarm.
  • Up to 128 received groups, dual ban, side keys.
  • Supports digital and analog mode.
  • Support DMR repeater function: both DMR Tier I and Tier II.

Specs

Frequencies:   136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz (dual-band)
Output power:  5W
Range: Up to 3 miles (5 km)
Number of channels:  1024
Contacts: 1000
Dimensions:  5.5 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (140 x 56 x 28 mm)
Weight with battery:  9 oz (254 grams)
Battery: 1x 2200 mAh rechargeable battery.
Battery life: 10-15 hours when in use / 24-36 hours in standby.

Pros

  • Sound quality is very good.
  • Long battery life.
  • Very sturdy design.
  • The firmware is updated regularly.
  • Good speaker volume in loud environments.
  • Excellent support from the manufacturer.

Cons

  • The software needs a bit of getting used to.

Baofeng DM-1701

The DM-1701 offers a large capacity with 3,000 Channels, 10,000 Talk Groups and 120,000 Contacts. Channel selection can be made by turning the top knob or by inputting the channel number via the keypad. CPS supports mass editing on channels and contact IDs, importing and exporting them with CSV format, which makes it easier to write code-plugs and more complex application requirements.

1.77″ (45 mm) color TFT Display – The TFT display is big, bright and very clear. It displays lots of information at a time.

SMS Function – This product supports DMR data function, and allows sending and receiving messages; the maximum length of each message is 144 characters and fewer than 50 lines.

Multiple Customizable Keys – The DM-1701 provides five user-defined keys based on user habits. Three side keys are designed as default setting, P1 and P2 are blank setting, users can change their setting through the software.

Military Quality DMR – Design for both commercial and amateur usage, the DM-1701 has high quality housing, strong spring belt clip makes it more portable. The 2200mAh Li-ion battery has endurance for 48 hours. Equipped with original baofeng or radioddity SMA-F antenna, its talking range can be up to 1.8-6.2 miles (3-10 km) under most circumstances.

Strong Digital Function – The DM-1701 is DMO True2-slot DMR. It not only supports DMR protocol, including single call, group call and all call, it also supports two way radio detection, call alert, remote monitoring, remote inhibit/kill and SMS Data transmission function. Digital alarm function and encryption are also available, encryption only supports calling between the DM-1701 devices. In digital mode, you can monitor the color code, time slot, frequency and contact ID.

Larger Capacity Li-Ion Battery – Equipped with a 2200mAh Li-ion battery. Up to 18 hours working time and 48 hours standby time.

Digital & Analog Compatible – The DM-1701 is compatible with digital and analog modes, including dual band VHF/UHF coverage of 136-174 and 400-470 MHz.

Multi-function – The DM-1701 is able to scan analog and digital channels. Other functions include manual programming, DTMF, VFO, SMS, emergency alarm, digital monitor mode, CTCSS and CDCSS, color codes and DMR encryption. There are 5 customized keys for faster access to those features.

Updated Software & Firmware Support – The DM-1701 CPS (software for programming the radio) supports mass editing. Users can define complex application requirements which make it easier to write codeplugs. Firmware and software upgrades are free for life.

In the box

  • 1x Baofeng DM-1701 DMR
  • 1x 2200mAh Li-ion Battery
  • 1x Belt Clip
  • 1x Dual Band SMA-F Antenna
  • 1x Desktop Charger
  • 1x User Manual
  • 1x PTT Earpiece
  • 1x Wrist Strip
  • 1x USB Programming Cable

Summary of specs

Frequencies:   136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz
Range: Up to 1.8-6.2 miles (3-10 km)
Output power:  5W
Number of channels: 3,000
Zones: 250 (allow 64 channels per zone)
Contacts: 120,000
Talk groups: 10,000
Dimensions without antenna: 5.12 x 2.17 x 1.18 inches (130 x 55 x 30 mm)
Dimensions with antenna: 10.95 x 2.17 x 1.18 inches (278 x 55 x 30 mm)
Weight with battery:  1.5 pounds  ( 700 grams)
Battery: 1x  2200mAh Li-ion Battery rechargeable battery.
Battery life: Up to 18 hours working time and 48 hours standby time.

Pros

  • Huge capacity (120,000 contacts).
  • Long battery life.
  • LCD screen is big, bright and very clear.
  • Audio quality is very clear.
  • Dual-band

Cons

  • The volume seems a bit low on the DMR receive side.
  • The radio is quite big/tall. Not very practical if you want to use the belt clip.

Conclusion

So, what is the best DMR radio?

Honestly all of them are good and you won’t be disappointed with any of them but if I had to choose one to recommend, it’d have to be the BTECH DMR-6X2 due its huge capacity, wide range of features (including GPS) and its superior sound quality.

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