If you are going to run RC vehicles, you need a good transmitter. A good transmitter can sometimes be the difference between having a good time while driving, and a miserable one.
However, you might not know how to pick the best transmitter for your RC vehicle, as there are a lot of factors you need to consider.
Good news! It doesn’t have to be a painful process that twists your mind into knots as you try to remember all the positives and negatives of twenty different transmitters.
Today, I will discuss what sorts of transmitters are out there. After that, I’ll explain how to pick the right one for you.
Comparison of the Best RC Transmitters
|FRSKY Taranis X9D||Futaba 6J ACCST||Turnigy 9x (v2 Firmware)|
What Are Transmitters and Receivers Anyway?
The short answer to this question is that a transmitter, sometimes called a TX, is a model’s controller. It sends your commands wirelessly to the model.
A receiver is a component of the model that receives your commands and translates them into servo movement. Most modern transmitters are computer transmitters.
This means they can hold a number of models in their memory, that you can control almost every dimension of your model’s operation and much much more.
Choosing a Computer Radio System
If you plan on being an RC modeler for a while, a good-quality transmitter is a great investment. It allows you to do much more, and store more models than the types that the RTR vehicles come with.
However, if you plan on buying a good transmitter, there are some basics you will need to know. Keep reading to find out more.
When an RC enthusiast talks about channels, they aren’t referring to TV channels of course. In RC, a channel refers to one dimension of a model’s movement.
For example, if you have an RC car, one channel could control forward movement while another could control reverse movement. Your average computer radio system comes with six channels.
However, it is better to buy something with more channels than you need, up to seven or eight. This way, if you get into more complex models, you can be assured that your transmitter will grow with you.
If you are going to fly a model plane, for example, you really need only four channels, yaw (Left and right rotation), roll, (left and right lean) pitch (Forward and backward lean) and throttle.
However, why stop there? There are so many more fun add-ons that are coming standard with models these days.
Flaps, retractable landing gear, bomb releases and lost model alarms are all common and each add-on needs a separate channel to function. Add-ons are fun. Why should your radio hold you back?
Transmitters with more channels are expensive. However, they generally have better build quality and are more functional than a basic four or five channel model.
If you are planning to fly a quadcopter, it is important to know something about transmitter modes.
There are four modes you can fly your copter in. A mode is basically the configuration for the transmitter’s control sticks or gimbals.
In Mode 1, the elevator control is on the left joystick and the throttle on the right.
Mode 2 is the one used by most quadcopter pilots. In this mode, the elevator control is on the right joystick and the throttle is on the left one.
The right joystick will self-center in all axis but the left one will only center in the yaw axis, left to right and will click or slide in the up and down axis, allowing constant throttle.
Mode 3 is almost the exact same as mode 1. The only difference is the aileron and rudder have swapped places. Likewise, mode 4 is the same as Mode 2 with the aileron and rudder swapped.
A Note On Pairing
Most transmitters come with a receiver for installing into your model. However, some transmitters are limited in the number of receivers they are compatible with so if that receiver breaks, you might need to get the same kind.
There are more and more receiver models out there that will run with any transmitter running the same protocol. This makes matching your transmitter with a receiver much easier.
One mistake beginning hobbyists make is to underestimate how many models they will have. It’s possible for your fleet to grow exponentially in just one weekend if you attend a swap meet or other place where RC vehicles are sold.
You can completely wipe out your transmitter’s model memory and have vehicles left over.
Very few computer radios today hold fewer than twenty models in memory. However, you may need even more than this.
Some transmitters even use memory cards. This means you can actually store an unlimited amount of profiles.
Even if you happen to buy a transmitter with only a few memory slots, that doesn’t mean you can’t expand. Transmitters, like all other kinds of computers, are constantly evolving and improving.
This means that by the time you fill up your first transmitter, you may be ready for the next big thing in radio.
Reversing the Servos
Always make sure that your model’s control surfaces move in the correct direction for every control input.
If you ignore this step, your model could crash on its maiden trip, leaving you needing to repair it or get a new one. Nobody wants that.
The servo reverse menu on your transmitter will allow you to reverse the way the servos articulate for a given channel. It will not, however, change the direction your model’s motor spins.
Dual rates allow you to control the sensitivity of your model using switches on the transmitter. You can designate two values for the control surface movement, called high rate and low rate.
To do this, set the amount of servo movement, called throw, in each axis. If you are flying a model airplane, you might want to set low rates to 60% travel to make your model more docile during takeoffs and landings, while having the high rate set to 100% to give you the extra control surface movement for aerobatics stunts.
It is even possible to set rates for each axis. That way, you can have combinations of high and low rates, giving you unparalleled control over your model.
Many model kits have suggestions for the amount of throw for high and low rates. However, you have to transpose these values, often defined as movement angles or deflection positions, into the percentage of servo rotation comparative to the whole.
This takes some trial and error, but once you get the hang of it, it is an easy process.
Exponential is an often overlooked feature of computer radios. Generally, there’s a linear relationship between the movement of your control stick and the movement of your model’s servos.
That’s all well and good, but what happens if you want to do some sort of crazy aerobatics while keeping the model straight and level without it getting twitchy.
That’s where expo comes in. The total travel of the servo is unchanged. However, you get more precise movement of the control surfaces near the neutral positions.
Expo settings are usually connected to the dual rate menus. This means you can have a different expo setting for each control axis.
Endpoint adjustment is a really important feature if you have components that will be damaged by too much movement, as it allows you to define the maximum servo movement for each channel.
If you have bomb releases for example, you can greatly reduce the EPA values before connecting them to their necessary servos.
Once they’re connected, you can slowly bring the amount of movement to where it should be without worrying about something getting damaged.
While EPA is a useful tool, it is not always the best solution. If you find yourself reducing the throw of your servos significantly, you might be better served to make mechanical adjustments to the control mechanism.
Failsafe defines how the onboard components of your model will operate when the link between the transmitter and the receiver is broken.
It doesn’t happen often, but it is necessary to prepare for, especially if you fly airplanes.
If your plane will fly by itself, for example, you might want to include just a gentle Yaw setting and a low throttle so that it orbits in circles till you can get control.
For more acrobatic models, you might kill the throttle and neutralize the control surfaces. Whatever the failsafe you choose, it needs to take into account the conditions at which you’re flying, as well as the type of model.
You want fail safes that maximize recovery or that at the least minimize the collateral damage your plane can do.
Best RC Transmitters Reviewed
Now that you know the various features you need to look for in a transmitter, it is time to review some.
These transmitters are my pick for the best of the best on the RC market today and can give you an idea of what is out there.
When buying a transmitter, always remember to evaluate your circumstances to choose what you really need. Just because something has all the bells and whistles, it doesn’t mean that TX will be right for you.
This transmitter features a custom-order shell. That way, you can truly have a transmitter that fits your style. However, this TX isn’t just about style.
Pretty much if you can think of it, this radio has you covered. You can mix all sorts of combinations of things into one switch, configure any setting you like, and program any of the sixteen channels while still in the field.
The software on the Taranis is open-source and it is running on a very solid build. The gimbals are solid, and the throttle has micro clicks.
If you are someone who has vision impairments and/or does not want to be looking down at their transmitter constantly, it even features audio feedback and vibrations to alert you to various things.
If your flight control supports GPS, this transmitter can do that, too.
If you happen to accidentally break a switch or part, you can find factory parts for everything, including the circuit boards. This is not a radio that will be down for the count if broken.
For the price, this transmitter offers a great suite of features. Unlike with most transmitters, you can scroll forward and back while programming which can save you a ton of time.
This TX also features a fifteen-model memory. This means you can use it with all your models.
Most of the mixing functions for the 6J can be assigned to the switch you prefer. Prepare to have things your way.
There’s even a bigger LCD screen. No longer will you have to squint just to see the information you need. There’s also an included R2006GS S-FHSS receiver.
This Turnigy receiver features the second version of the firmware. This firmware corrects many of the flaws of the older version.
Along with these improvements, the transmitter features built-in 2.4GHZ technology, meaning that you won’t have to worry about accidentally interfering with someone else’s flight or drive.
This is an excellent radio system for the value and features 8 amazing channels for those of you who run complex models.
Speaking of models, this Turnigy receiver can hold up to eight in its memory.
The system does have a few downsides though. It is not flexible, and if you are a first-time user, there is an extreme learning curve.
A transmitter is a necessity, no matter what sort of RC model you run. Without it, you might as well have a fancy paperweight.
However, not all transmitters are created equally. They range immensely in price range and quality.
Some are more user-friendly than others, and there are a number of features you should look for in a good TX.
Now that you have read this article, it is time to go out and find your perfect transmitter. Happy hunting!