This buyer’s guide explains the basics of radio transmitter 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.
Radio Transmitter Round-up
Here is a list of all the popular radio transmitters on the market currently.
|Radiomaster T8 Lite V2||Frsky||$46||Banggood|
|BetaFPV LiteRadio 3||Frsky/ELRS||$60||BetaFPV | GetFPV | Banggood|
|Jumper T-Lite V2||ELRS/Multi + External||$60||Amazon | AliExpress | Banggood|
|Radiomaster T8 Pro||Multi||$89||Banggood | GetFPV | RDQ|
|BetaFPV LiteRadio 3 Pro||Frsky/ELRS + External||$90||Banggood | BetaFPV | RDQ|
|Frsky X9 Lite||Frsky + External||$90||Banggood | GetFPV | Amazon|
|Radiomaster Zorro||ELRS/Multi + External||$80-100||GetFPV | RDQ | Amazon|
|Jumper T-Pro||ELRS/Multi + External||$100||Banggood | RDQ | Amazon|
|FrSky Taranis Q X7||Frsky + External||$120||Banggood | Amazon | HorusRC|
|Radiomaster Boxer||ELRS/Multi + External||$140||Amazon | Banggood | AliExpress|
|Radiomaster TX16S MKII||Multi/ELRS + External||$200||Banggood | RDQ | Amazon|
|Radiomaster TX16S MKII Max||Multi/ELRS + External||$250||Banggood | RDQ | BuddyRC|
|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|
|FrSky Taranis X9D+ 2019||Frsky + External||$250||Banggood | Amazon | HorusRC|
|X||TBS Mamba||Tracer + External||$140||GetFPV | BuddyRC|
|TBS Tango 2||Crossfire + External||$160 – $200||GetFPV | RMRC | Amazon|
|Flysky Paladin||Flysky||$285||Banggood | Amazon|
|Frsky Tandem X20||Frsky + External||$330||Banggood|
|Frsky Horus X10S||Frsky + External||$470||HorusRC | Amazon|
|FrSky Horus X12S||Frsky + External||$500||Amazon | GetFPV | HorusRC|
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
Jumper T-Lite V2
Product Page (ELRS Version):
- Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HoWkDP
- Banggood: https://oscarliang.com/product-qawf
- AliExpress: https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_DdKvR2X
For just $60 on AliExpress, the T-Lite V2 it’s probably the cheapest worth having radio: it has an extremely compact form factor, super light weight, comes with the cutting edge EdgeTX and ExpressLRS built-in, it does pretty much everything you want at an unbelievably low price!
It’s also one of the smallest radios. I recently went abroad for holiday and I was deciding which radio to take with me, the first radio that came to mind was the Jumper T-Lite V2. It’s absolutely tiny and yet it packs with all the features you’d want in a modern radio.
However it’s by no mean a perfect radio. Compared to other gamepad style radios, the T-Lite does not have the best ergonomics, especially for pinchers. I always feel like I don’t have as much control precision with the T-lite because of the small, low quality gimbals. The radio build quality overall does feel cheap, but that’s to be expected for a radio at this price point. It has more than enough switches for most people and it has support for FPV simulators so you can get this to practice flying before even building/buying an FPV drone. It’s definitely good enough as a beginner radio.
The T-Lite only uses one single 18650 battery, which is why it’s so light. Despite this, battery life can still lasts a long time surprisingly (10+ hours)! That’s partly because the built-in ExpressLRS module is limited to 100mW, which is one of its main downsides, but that’s plenty output power for a couple of kilometres of range.
If you are interested, check out my review of the Jumper T-Lite V2 for more detail.
Best Value and Versatility
- Radiomaster: https://oscarliang.com/product-bccn
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-2yj0
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-tjkh
In my opinion, the best value and most versatile radio right now has to be the Radiomaster Boxer. It has a built-in 1W ELRS module, basically everything you’d get on the TX16S without the colour touch screen but in a slightly smaller form factor and much lower price. See my full review of the Boxer here.
However if you prefer a large colour touch screen, then definitely check out the TX16S. It was my go-to radio during 2019-2022, and still is an excellent radio.
Radiomaster TX16S MKII
- Banggood: https://oscarliang.com/product-c6gv
- Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Mhyc5W
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-fs4n
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-6wlg
It has a traditional layout and form factor, provides great ergonomics and versatility. ELRS and Multi-protocol built-in module are available 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 MKII.
Portability and Performance
TBS Tango 2
The Tango 2 is a premium radio – it’s compact and portable yet offers exceptional ergonomics, suitable for both “thumbers and pinchers”. It has built-in 900MHz Crossfire module with a maximum output power of 1W (in the latest version, 250mW in older version). It’s compatible with OpenTX and 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 with TBS’s claim of using full size gimbals in this radio. He said they are noticeably smaller than the gimbals on a larger radio like the Taranis X9D.
The Tango 2 also support external module (lite module), meaning you can use a multiprotocol module or ExpressLRS module with the Tango 2 so that it can used with practically everything in the hobby. However, this requires user DIY to install the module bay add-on.
It’s primarily designed for multicopters, not idea for wing and plane flyers due to the lack of switches and sliders. Also there is no trim buttons. See my full review of the Tango 2 and how it compares to the Frsky X-Lite Pro.
The main difference between the pro and non-pro versions seems to be the sticks. The Pro has foldable sticks which is easy to pack in your bag, the non-pro is $40 cheaper without this feature.
One downside of this radio is the lack of 500Hz packet rate support in ExpressLRS. Also the internal RF module is only available in Crossfire, to use ExpressLRS you’d have to use an external module which makes it more expensive and bulkier if you are mainly an ELRS user. The Tango 2 is considerably more expensive than other radios, but the build quality is worth it in my opinion. This would be my go-to radio if you are a crossfire user.
Now, let’s get down to the technical stuff and learn about radio transmitters.
Radio Transmitter Frequency
The common frequencies used in FPV drones are 2.4GHz and 900Mhz.
2.4GHz is the standard nowadays for radio control thanks to its smaller antenna size and it’s legal to use for hobbyists in most countries.
900MHz is another popular frequency mostly used for 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 due to the lower frequency. However 900MHz has lower bandwidth than 2.4GHz therefore it fits fewer pilots in the air. The exact operational frequency differs depending on the region, most of the world uses 915Mhz while EU uses 868MHz.
There are other less common frequencies used in RC, such as 27MHz, 72MHz, 433MHz and 1.3GHz. But these are either obsolete technology or used in very specific applications. For FPV drones, all you should consider now would be 2.4GHz or 900Mhz.
Before picking a radio, you should decide on which radio link you want to use on your FPV drone.
The most popular RC systems used in FPV drones today:
- TBS Crossfire (868MHz/915MHz)
- ExpressLRS / ELRS (2.4GHz and 868MHz/915MHz)
- TBS Tracer (2.4GHz)
- Immersion Ghost (2.4GHz)
- Frsky ACCST V1/V2 (2.4GHz)
- Frsky ACCESS (2.4GHz)
There are some other brands, but they are less common for FPV drones. I highly recommend to stick with a popular radio links, if you use a less popular link you might not get as much online help when you encounter a problem.
Personally I would only choose between ExpressLRS and Crossfire in 2023. I might be a little bias because I am currently using ExpressLRS, and before that I was using Crossfire, but these are undoubtedly the most popular radio links right now. ExpressLRS is known for high performance, affordability, open source and cutting edge features, while Crossfire is known for its user-friendly configuration and reliability. See this post to find out why I like ExpressLRS.
Some radios have these radio link built into them, they also exist in the form of an external RF module that can be installed in the module bay at the back of your radio. Therefore it’s a big plus to have an external module bay when choosing a radio so you can use other radio link if you want.
There are two main styles of radio: full size and gamepad style.
Gamepad style radios are very compact at the cost of reduced features such as smaller gimbals, fewer switches and smaller screens due to the lack of space. They might not feel as comfortable to hold as a full size radio, especially for “pinchers” and people with big hands.
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 they are replaceable. “Pinchers” might prefer a different type of stick end to “thumbers”.
Here are the stickends I am currently using: Review: Radiomaster Sticky360 Stickends
Gimbal sticks are normally either M3 or M4 threads, so make sure you check before purchasing replacements.
- FRSKY Taranis Standard Gimbals – M3
- FRSKY Taranis Hall Effect Gimbals – M4
- FRSKY X-LITE – M2.5
- TBS TANGO 2 – M3
- TBS Mambo – M3
- Jumper T-Lite v1/v2 – M3
- Jumper T12 Pro – M3
- Jumper T16 – M3
- Jumper T18 – M3
- Radiomaster TX16S – M4
- Radiomaster Boxer – M4
- Radiomaster Zorro – M3
- Radiomaster TX12 – M3
Before getting your first radio, decide on which radio mode you prefer. Radio 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, I recommend mode 2, that’s what the majority of pilots use.
Most modern radios allow you to switch between all these modes by simply making adjustments in the hardware and software, so you can try out all these modes without the need to buy a new radio.
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 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 take up 4 channels because they have four inputs: throttle, yaw, pitch and roll. Any additional channels to these are called “AUX channels” (Auxiliary), they are usually assigned to the switches on your radio for arming the drone and activating other features.
You don’t need many channels to fly an FPV drone, for example I normally only use 8 channels: 1- arm switch, 2 – buzzer switch, 3 – flight mode switch, 4 – flip over after crash. I can even cut it down to 6 if I must, as I don’t always need to use to switch flight mode and flip over after crash.
The number of channels can also be limited by receiver protocol. For example, Crossfire (CRSF) can support up to 12 channels, while Frsky SBUS/FPort can support up to 16. However if you don’t use all the channels then there’s no advantage of having more channels available, in fact having more channels available usually means there’s a higher latency in the radio link as there are more data to transmit.
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. Your receiver choices would be limited by what RF link you use, because a radio receiver is normally only compatible with transmitters from the same brand that uses the same protocol. A “protocol” is like the 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
Binding means to establish communication between a radio transmitter and a receiver. Binding only needs to be done once, unless you lose the bind for some reason e.g. due to firmware update.
Binding is usually straightforward, it’s just a matter of putting both of your transmitter and receiver into bind mode, but the steps might differ on specific brand. It’s best to refer to the 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 just a coax wire where the active element is wrapped in shielding, with the tip of certain length exposed.
Some receivers have two antennas – this is known as “diversity” which can improve signal reception. To achieve the best result, it is recommended to have the two antennas mounted 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, but 2.4GHz ExpressLRS with LoRa modulation also perform exceptionally well for long range
- Line of sight gives you the best possible signal, obstacles between your TX and RX can significantly reduce range
- Higher output power can give you better range
- 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.
The operating system (OS) in a radio is basically just the user interface. There are really not many choices these days. The two I would recommend would be OpenTX and EdgeTX. EdgeTX is more advanced and updated more regularly though, so I’d go with EdgeTX if you have a choice. The latest radios are mostly shipped with EdgeTX pre-installed.
Just like OpenTX, EdgeTX is an open source project, it’s an extremely powerful and highly configurable radio firmware. It also offers support for many different types of aircraft. Learning curve might be a little steep for beginners, but the knowledge you gain along the way 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 EdgeTX and 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/EdgeTX, 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
- Mar 2021 – replaced BetaFPV Lite Radio 2 with Jumper T-Lite
- Jan 2023 – updated guide