This buyer’s guide explains the basics of radio transmitters for FPV drone. Apart from price, the supported frequency and protocols and the number of channels, there are a lot more to consider when buying a TX.
A radio transmitter (a.k.a. TX) is used to control a drone remotely. The user commands are then received by the radio receiver (RX) which is connected to a flight controller.
A radio transmitter should be one of the very first items to buy when getting into FPV, as you can use it to play with drone simulators before even owning a drone. Unlike many other components and accessories that are more likely to break or become obsolete, a good radio will follow you for many years, so it’s okay to invest a bit more on a decent one.
New to FPV? Make sure to check out my beginner guide to FPV drones.
Table of Content
- My Recommendations
- Radio Receiver
- External Modules
- Simulator Support
My Radio Transmitter Recommendations
Here is a list of all the popular radio transmitters on the market currently.
|BetaFPV LiteRadio 2||Frsky/Bayang||$40||BetaFPV | GetFPV | RDQ|
|Flysky FS-T6||Flysky||$56||Banggood | Amazon|
|Frsky X9 Lite||Frsky + External||$90||Banggood | GetFPV | Amazon|
|FrSky Taranis Q X7||Frsky + External||$120||Banggood | Amazon | HorusRC|
|Radiomaster TX16S||Multi + External||$130||Banggood | RDQ | Amazon|
|Jumper T16 Pro||Multi + External||$160||Amazon|
|Jumper T18||Multi + External||$155-$195||Banggood | RDQ | Amazon|
|Flysky Nirvana||Flysky + External||$180||Amazon | Banggood|
|Frsky X-Lite||Frsky + External||$140||GetFPV | Banggood | Amazon|
|Frsky X-Lite Pro||Frsky + External||$200||RDQ | Amazon | GetFPV|
|Spektrum DX6||Spektrum||$230||RMRC | Amazon | GetFPV|
|FrSky Taranis X9D+ 2019||Frsky + External||$250||Banggood | Amazon | HorusRC|
|TBS Tango 2||Crossfire||$160 – $200||GetFPV | RMRC | Amazon|
|TBS Tango||Crossfire||$250||Amazon | GetFPV|
|Flysky Paladin||Flysky||$285||Banggood | Amazon|
|Frsky Horus X10S||Frsky + External||$470||HorusRC | Amazon|
|FrSky Horus X12S||Frsky + External||$500||Amazon | GetFPV | HorusRC|
|Spektrum DX9 Black||Spektrum||$480||Amazon|
Too many choices right? Well, here are my recommendations below. However, I encourage you to do more research and check out reviews on the radios you like before deciding.
Cheapest Worth Having (Frsky Whoops)
BetaFPV LiteRadio 2 – this is the cheapest option on the list and it even supports FPV simulators. It’s very small so you can take it everywhere. The main limitations are the lack of switches, and it only supports Frsky D16 and D8 protocols and nothing else. See my review of the LiteRadio 2.
Best Value and Versatility
Radiomaster TX16S – in my opinion, the most versatile and best value radio ever made has to be the TX16S. It has a multi-protocol module inside that supports almost every protocol in the hobby, and it also fully compatible with Crossfire. The full size hall sensor gimbals gives you full range of stick travel and excellent precision. All these, and more for only $130. See my review of the TX16S. I’d recommend getting the Crossfire module with this radio.
Portable TX for Crossfire
TBS Tango 2 – It’s extremely portable and yet with great ergonomics. According to TBS, the Tango 2 has high quality full size gimbals that have fordable sticks (only in pro version), which is great for transportation. It has built-in 900MHz Crossfire module with a maximum output power of 250mW. It runs OpenTX, has built-in USB charging. And it’s made by TBS – the brand you can trust when it comes to quality.
Note: my friend Giovanni who owns the Tango 2 disagrees that it has full size gimbals, he said they are way smaller than the full size gimbals on a Taranis X9D for example.
However it doesn’t support 2.4GHz, and it has no external module bay. You are pretty much locked to TBS’s eco system. And it’s not great for wing and plane flyers, it doesn’t have enough switches/slider, and there is no trim buttons.
If all you fly is multirotors and Crossfire, and you want the most compact radio, the Tango 2 is definitely my pick :)
Radio For Frsky ACCESS
Frsky Taranis X9D+ 2019 – If you prefer to use Frsky’s latest ACCESS protocol, this is a good option. The Taranis X9D+ dominated the RC hobby for many years until the cheaper T16 came along. Frsky renovated the good old X9D+ with new hardware and protocol in 2019. See my review of the X9D+ 2019.
Now, let’s get down to the technical stuff and learn about radio transmitters.
The common frequencies used in FPV drones are 2.4GHz and 900Mhz.
2.4GHz is the standard nowadays for radio control thanks to its frequency hopping technology, which manages channel automatically to avoid interference between pilots.
900MHz is another popular frequency mostly used in long range flying. Those who don’t fly long range could also choose 900MHz over 2.4GHz purely for its better signal penetration and reliability. The exact operational frequency differs depending on the region, EU uses 868MHz, while non-EU countries use 915Mhz.
There are other less common frequencies used in RC, such as 27MHz, 72MHz, 433MHz and 1.3GHz. But these are either older technology or used in very specific applications, you will learn about these as you progress, all you need to know now is 2.4GHz and 900Mhz.
The sticks on a radio are referred to as “gimbals”, they translate user inputs into digital data and control the drone’s movement.
There are two types of gimbals:
- Hall Sensor
Potentiometer based gimbals are normally cheaper and deteriorate faster over time due to friction between contacts. On the other hand, hall sensor gimbals uses magnets to determine stick position and thus should last longer.
Apart from increased longevity, hall sensor gimbals also offer better accuracy and resolution with reduced jittering.
For a beginner, the difference in gimbal quality might not be huge, but it becomes an important consideration as you grow as a pilot.
Regardless the type of gimbals, you can normally adjust the spring tension to achieve certain stick feel. This is mostly a personal preference, and it could help tremendously with your control precision. In my reviews I usually attach a diagram where you can do this inside the radio. Here is a guide on adjusting stick tension for the Taranis and other popular radios.
How to Hold Gimbals?
Another thing to consider is how you should hold the gimbal sticks. I have another post explaining the different ways and benefits.
“Thumbers” typically want shorter sticks and a thinner radio body, similar to how they would hold a gaming controller. “Pinchers” might prefer longer sticks and travel, and a neck strap might also help stabilize the radio due to the weakened grip.
There is no right or wrong way, it’s purely personal preference.
The tip of a gimbal stick is called “stick end”, and it can be replaced. “Pinchers” might prefer a different type of stick end to “thumbers”.
Gimbal sticks are either M3 or M4 threads, so make sure you check before purchasing replacements.
Here is an example of the different types of stick ends:
Before getting your first radio, decide which mode you prefer. The mode determines the configuration of the two control sticks. There are 4 modes – mode 1, mode 2, mode 3 and mode 4.
Mode 1 configuration has the elevator control on the left joystick and the throttle on the right one.
Mode 2 is the most common among FPV drone pilots because the stick represents the movement of your quadcopter. It has the elevator control on the right joystick and the motor throttle on the left one. The right joystick self centres in the both axis, whereas the left joystick only self centres in yaw axis (left/right direction) and slides in the throttle (up/down) axis in order to allow constant throttle.
Mode 3 – same as Mode 1 except Aileron and Rudder are swapped.
Mode 4 – same as Mode 2 except Aileron and Rudder are swapped.
There is no right or wrong mode, just personal preference. If you are not sure which mode to use, just go for mode 2, because that’s what the majority of pilots use. You can change to other modes in some radios if you want to experiment.
Transmitters also have an array of switches you can use for arming and changing flight modes etc.
Switches come in two-position or three-position forms as well as sliders and rotary knobs. However as FPV drone pilots we don’t need as many switches as RC plane flyers do.
I think having 2 to 4 switches are enough for most FPV drone pilots. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have more.
Each control, or switch on the transmitter requires a channel to send the data to the receiver. Channel values range between 1000 to 2000.
The two gimbals has 4 control inputs: throttle, yaw, pitch and roll. Each of these takes up a channel and so to control a drone, at least 4 channels are required.
The extra channels are called “AUX channels” (Auxiliary), they can be assigned to the switches on your radio for arming the drone and activating other features.
You don’t need to use a lot of channels to fly an FPV drone. Personally I only use 6 to 8 channels normally: 1- arm switch, 2 – buzzer switch, 3 – flight mode switch, 4 – flip over after crash.
The number of channels is also limited by the receiver protocol. For example, Frsky D16 (SBUS) can support up to 16 channels, while Frsky D8 (PPM) can only support up to 8.
A radio receiver (a.k.a. RX) is the device that receives user commands from the radio transmitter, and passes that data to the flight controller.
A radio receiver is normally only compatible with transmitters from the same brand, using the same protocol. The “protocols” are like a language spoken between the transmitter and receiver, every brand has their own protocols. Here is an overview of all the TX protocols and RX protocols.
However the exception is “multi-protocol module” that is designed to be compatible with receivers from many different manufacturers. And there are 3rd party receivers made to work with Frsky transmitters. Check product pages, they should tell you what protocols are supported.
When you buy a radio transmitter, you need to realize that you are also locking yourself into their receivers (eco system). This becomes an important consideration: some brands of receivers are more expensive than others; some brands might have a better selection of light weight receivers for micro drones; Some brands don’t have certain features such as telemetry…. etc…
Remember, you are going to put a receiver in every quad you build so the cost adds up quickly the more drones you own.
Here is a size comparison between some of the popular receivers from different brands.
Binding TX and RX
To establish communication between a radio transmitter and a receiver, you must bind them first.
Binding of TX and RX only needs to be done once, and only needs to re-bind after updating firmware.
The binding process is usually straightforward (matter of pressing a button on the receiver), but the steps might differ on specific brand. It’s best to refer to their user manual for instructions.
Note that you can bind multiple receivers to the same TX (in theory, you can control multiple drones using the same transmitter at the same time), but you can only bind the RX to one TX.
How to choose receivers
Things to consider: size, weight, RX protocols, telemetry. Here are the popular RX Round-ups:
Antenna on radio receivers is usually coax wire where the active element is wrapped in shielding. Some receivers have two antennas – this is so called “diversity” which improves reception. To achieve the best result, it is recommended to keep the two antennas at 90-degree apart.
If you broke the receiver antenna, you can try to fix it following this guide.
There are many factors that can affect the range of your RC link.
- Lower frequency system are better at long range
- Line of sight gives you the best possible signal, obstacles between your TX and RX can significantly reduce range
- Higher transmitter output power usually results in longer range, but beware of local regulations
- Receiver sensitivity, the more sensitive the better the range
- Receiver diversity, some “full range” RX offers two antennas for diversity
- Antenna placement
Typically, a 2.4Ghz radio system could give you up to about 1K to 1.5Km range. If you want to go further with reliable signal, you will want to invest in a “long range” UHF system that runs on lower frequency. Popular options are the TBS Crossfire and Frsky R9M.
External Module Support
A lot of radios these days have a module bay on the back, which allows you to insert an external transmitter module in order to bind to receivers from a different brand or frequency.
Here is the Jumper T16 with Crossfire module.
Every radio has its own operating system (OS), which is basically the user interface.
My recommendation is OpenTX, which has become the industry standard in recent years. Many popular radios ship with OpenTX these days.
OpenTX is an open source project, it’s an extremely powerful and highly configurable radio system. It also offers support for many different types of aircraft. Learning curve might be a little steep for beginners, but the knowledge you gain will serve you well in the many years to come.
You can even change drone settings from your transmitters, including PID, rates and other Betaflight settings, thanks to the powerful LUA script feature in OpenTX.
Telemetry is a feature that allows the receiver to send crucial flight information back to the radio transmitter, such as RSSI (signal strength), battery voltage, current draw etc.
In OpenTX, you can display telemetry data on your radio screen, or have the value read out as audio warnings.
FPV Simulator Support
I strongly recommend getting a radio that supports FPV simulators, when you connect the radio to your computer via USB, it will show up as a joystick controller.
Training in FPV simulators will help you build up muscle memory and practice without damaging expensive components.
Ergonomics is very much a personal preference, considerations including radio weight, the location of the sticks and switches, housing material, radio form factor, all play a part in this.
In my opinion, it’s not the biggest factor to worry about, as all of the companies we recommend on this page have been around in the RC industry long enough to know how to make a good radio transmitter.
The best thing to do is probably going to a local meetup and try a few different radios from other pilots and decide for yourself.
- Oct 2013 – Article created
- Jun 2016 – Updated with popular TX options
- Jun 2017 – Article updated, added receiver info
- July 2018 – Added info about gimbals, switches, OS, and Range
- Oct 2019 – Updated product listing
- Jun 2020 – Updated products, and my recommendations