For most guys, the radio that came with their RTR is just fine, but not for you, the hardcore racer. When you are looking to remove tenths of a second from your lap times, every advantage counts. You sleep with your setup logbook under your pillow. You can rebuild a diff with your eyes closed. You bleed silicone-35WT, that is. A basic radio won’t do, as your radio is the link between your fingertips and the car, and it has to respond to your commands just as your muscles respond to your thoughts. That is why you need a pro-level radio. All the models in this guide are of the pistol-grip variety that is the most popular style in the U.S and also more popular than ever in Asia. And in Europe, well, let’s just say they do things differently there. You’ll also note that all but one model uses the 2.4GHz frequency band; that shows how well racers have embraced the benefits of running in that chunk of the airwaves. Here we have the top radio offered by each of the represented manufacturers. So, if you are looking for the best, look no further than the next few pages…
THE M11X’S AUX CHANNEL CONTROLS MAKE IT AN ESPECIALLY GREAT RADIO FOR CRAWLERS. BIG-SCALE RACERS WILL ALSO LIKE THE MIXING FEATURES.
Of all the radio manufacturers, I liken Airtronics to Ford. They go along steadily refining their designs, building brand loyalty by offering an outstanding product that, despite new features and designs, feels as comfortable as an old shoe. The design cues of the latest edition of the M-series go back past the original M8 (a multiple RCCA Readers’ Choice Award winner) to the Caliber line of radios of the early 1990s. This newest version, the M11X, uses the third revision of their frequency hopping technology, which provides a rock-solid connection. The 2.4GHz system isn’t just a module; it was designed from the ground up as a spread spectrum system. And lefties aren’t shut out; the M11X can also be set up for left-hand use.
2S LiPo capable, without an additional regulator
Backwards compatible with 2.4 GHz FHSS-2 receivers
IF YOU WANT THE MOST FLEXIBILITY IN PROGRAMMING, ESPECIALLY IN CHANNEL MIXING, THE 4PK DEFINITELY WON’T LET YOU DOWN.
Way back in 1974, Futaba sold the first RC radio setup with a wheel setup specifically for cars, called the FP-T2F. That ugly brown box with an out-of-place wheel revolutionized the hobby and set up Futaba to be one of the premier RC radio manufacturers in the world. Their newest flagship model, the 4PK, is a culmination of radio control experience that goes back almost half a century. The 4PK can also be set up for left-handed use, and the wheel can also be dropped down or rotated around the original mounting location. Futaba’s FASST 2.4GHz transmission method promises sophisticated error correction in the signal and low latency times.
Comes with 6V NiMH pack
Backlit hi-res display faces the user
IS 2.4GHz ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?
Absolutely! We’re now at the point where even RTR packages are coming with 2.4-gig radios, and for a good reason-they are practically foolproof. Taking the whole crystal/frequency/calling-out-your-channel thing out of the loop has made it easier for kids (and adults) to get out to the track without “shooting down” someone else’s $1,000 kit. Another great thing that we’re seeing is racing heats with more than 10 contestants, provided that track can support it. And early concerns about signal speed have been put aside by all the development that the radio companies have put into the technology recently. What it comes down to is that 2.4-gig lets more racers, more bashers, or more fliers enjoy the RC hobby at the same time with no hassles. And less hassle is always good in our book.
RADIOS SURE HAVE COME A LONG WAY
We are so used to seeing these pistol grip radio systems, but they weren’t always this easy to hold and use. Check out this old school Futaba radio system from back in the day. It had a steering wheel like the ones we use now, but that’s where the similarity ends. The box is big and awkward to hold and that brown color is the worst. The throttle lever is off to the side and didn’t capture your finger like the ones we use today.
HITEC AGGRESSOR CRX
ALTHOUGH THE CRX HAS GONE UNCHANGED FOR MANY YEARS, IT IS STILL A RELIABLE AND FAST RADIO THAT WILL SUIT MOST RACER’S NEEDS.
The FM-modulated CRX is the only radio in our roundup that doesn’t use the 2.4GHz band natively. There is one advantage that FM has over 2.4GHZ, and that is speed. An analog signal doesn’t go through all the processing that the digital spread spectrum signals do, and the result is snappy response. The CRX has all the features that a racer needs, such as ABS braking, programmable mixing between either the steering/aux or throttle/aux channels and a basic timer. It’s right-hand only and is available in 27 band, 75 band, or synthesized 75 band. There are also aftermarket 2.4GHz modules available.
1024-step resolution for each channel
Third channel can be set to shift (full throw) or linear (proportional)
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). This feature pulses the brake channel to prevent the wheels from locking up and breaking traction. It is not a feedback-based system like on full-size cars, but you typically can set the volume and duration of the pulses to suit your needs.
EPA (End Point Adjustment). Lets you set the high servo travel and the low servo travel independently so that the servo throw is no longer than it has to be.
Dual Rate (DR). Sets the over-travel for both servos. In most radios with EPA adjustments, it changes the travel proportionally.
Direct Sequencing Spread Spectrum (DSSS). DSSS 2.4GHz radios use a fixed set of frequencies when the system is first turned on. Compared with FHSS, this system is fast, but it also uses a weaker signal.
Exponential (Expo). This setting lets you change the response of the steering or throttle from linear (1:1 relationship between how far you turn the wheel to how much the servo moves) to positive or negative exponential. For example, with the negative exponential set on the steering channel, the steering isn’t as sensitive around the neutral point. But when the wheel is turned all the way, the servo will still go to the end of its travel.
Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). FHSS 2.4GHz radios change channels throughout the 2.4GHz band to find free and clear reception. Compared with DSSS, it can be slower, but the signal is much stronger.
Idle up. This setting typically uses a switch to engage it, at which point the throttle servo moves forward slightly. This is useful when trying to start a nitro engine.
Mixing. Allows you to control multiple channels from one input. For example, in brake mixing on an electric motorcycle, moving the trigger forward not only engages the ESC braking for the rear wheel but also a servo for the front brake. Another use could be for four-wheel steering on a crawler, where the steering wheel turns the front-wheel servo in one direction and a rear-wheel servo in the other direction at the same time.
Servo speed setting. Radios equipped with this setting can slow down a servo’s response either going towards the end of its travel, when the servo returns to neutral, or both. For example, it can be handy to slow down a throttle servo in slippery conditions.
Subtrim. An alternate way to center a servo while leaving the throttle or brake trim settings at zero.
KO PROPO EX-10 EURUS
THE EURUS HAS GREAT PROGRAMMABILITY AND ERGONOMIC SETUP FEATURES BUT A SMALL DISPLAY. IT’S A SUPERB RADIO AS LONG AS YOU DRIVE RIGHT-HANDED.
When it comes to the radio war, there isn’t just Ford vs. Chevy-there’s also Dodge. And just like with Mopar, KO Propo’s fans can be fairly fanatic. KO’s newest radio, the EX-10 Eurus, is an evolution of their very popular EX-10 Helios transmitter, a radio whose organic design and ergonomic options have earned it a loyal following. What’s particularly special about the Eurus is its all-digital signal path from the wheel to the servo output, assuming that digital servos are used, of course. The benefit, they claim, is unparalleled response speed.
3D-adjustable brake trigger
Optional module to program compatible KO servos and ESCs remotely
WHY IS A PRO RADIO WORTH THE EXPENSE?
Bear with me, if you will, as I continue with the car analogy I started earlier. An econo-box will get you from point A to point B, just as a luxury car will. But the luxury car will get you there with more style, with comfortable amenities and (usually) with more speed. It’s the amenities we’re talking about here, and some of them directly relate to longer life of your servos gear. For example, just about every low-level RTR radio has a dual-rate setting that lets you adjust the overall travel of a servo, but only higher-end ones let you adjust the high and low points of a servo travel independently. This is important because no car I’ve ever run used exactly the same setting for steering left as for steering right, whether it’s due to the linkage or the servo itself. The same goes for the throttle/brake servo. Push the servo too far and it could burn out, and if it doesn’t have enough throw, you might not have balanced steering. Then there’s the brake mixing feature. If you have a ?-scale car or motorcycle that uses independent servos for the front or rear brakes, it’s possible to set them up using a Y-adapter on a 2-channel radio, but making adjustments becomes a nightmare. Another reason is build quality; you’ll find the fit and finish of a $400 radio to be much better than of a $50 one. I certainly don’t want rough mold lines cutting into my palm or scratchy trigger or wheel action bothering me in the final A-main of the season. Then there are idle-up functions for nitro cars, and timer functions for pit stops or lap counting, and ABS brakes, and…the list goes on and on. All these features add up to making it more enjoyable to run your car, truck, buggy, or motorcycle. Yes, there is a learning curve involved in using and programming all these features, and you might never even use half of what is offered, but we here at RCCA strongly feel that if you’re into RC enough to have more than one car, or are serious enough to be at the track, you could definitely benefit form a pro radio.
THE DX3R CAN DO 90 PERCENT OF WHAT ITS COMPETITION DOES AND COSTS 25 TO 40 PERCENT LESS-THAT IS AN AWESOME DEAL.
A few years ago, Spektrum brought the benefits of 2.4GHz radios to the masses, and a life without crystals or yelling out frequencies at the track had begun. Fast forward to 2010, and Spektrum’s top-shelf radio, the DX3R, has become a best seller. With its combination of a large, easy-to-read hires display, light weight, intuitive user interface, right- or left-hand use and strong DSM2 signal, the DX3R has become a popular choice among both racers on a budget and racers who want all the bells and whistles. Spektrum has expanded their line to include radios with telemetry built in, but even though that feature is lacking in the DX3R, it remains their flagship model.
DSM2 system, with increased bit rate and lower latency
AIRTRONICS M1X FUTABA 4PK HITEC AGRESSOR CRX KO PROPO EX-10 EURUS SPEKTRUM DX3R
|AIRTRONICS M1X||FUTABA 4PK||HITEC AGRESSOR CRX||KO PROPO EX-10 EURUS||SPEKTRUM DX3R|
|Modulation||2.4GHz FHSS||2.4GHz FHSS||FM||2.4GHz FHSS||2.4GHz DSSS|
|Display||Hi-res, backlit||Hi-res, backlit||Hi-res||Hi-res, backlit||Hi-res|
|Trims||Rocker, button, dial||Rocker, button, dial||Rocker, button, dial||Rocker, button||Rocker, button|
|Power||7.2V NiMH pack||6.0V NiMH pack||9.6V NiMH pack||8 * AA-size dry cells||4 * AA-size dry cells|
|Price (varies with dealer)||$430||$499||$180||$400||$320|
There are many good radio choices out there, but we wanted to show you the best of the best of what you’ll find right now. There’s no doubt: a pro-level radio isn’t cheap. But if you’re a hardcore racer, saving a month’s worth of entry fees will yield you a radio that will help you get the full potential out of your ride and one you’ll be proud to own.