We often get asked – What is the best RC transmitter for quads, helicopters and planes? The answer is that it depends. But that is hardly satisfactory, so we’ll dig into the topic. This article is split up into two sections –
- Buying considerations like budget, number of channels and memory that you must take into account before you decide on your purchase
- A small list of what we think are the best RC transmitters with a brief review of each one.
In this section, we will explore the different considerations you must take into account before purchasing a transmitter.
Before you go about looking for the best RC transmitter for your RC quad, heli or plane, you should first set a budget. RC transmitters can range from $50 to all the way up to $1000! Now of course, this will depend on how committed to flying you are. If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you get a cheap (but good quality) transmitter.
However, if you plan on flying for years to come, we recommend you invest in a higher end, higher quality transmitter that you can use for multiple, different crafts that you would purchase or build on your own.
Number of channels
This is more or less tied to the budget. Typically, the higher the number of channels the transmitter supports, the higher the price. RC transmitters for quadcopters, planes and helicopters range from 4 channel to all the way up to 10 channels and beyond.
The basic 4 channel transmitter offers the following functionalities on its 4 different channels –
The additional channels on the transmitters are typically used for changing flight modes or changing control to a camera gimbal by ‘switching’. For example, on a quadcopter, you could use the additional channel switches to change from ‘Acro’ mode to self-level mode.
For a beginner, a 6 channel transmitter like the Spectrum DX-6i would be a great long term investment. A transmitter like this would allow you to have all the basic functionalities plus the ability to change flight modes.
If you are more advanced, an 8 channel transmitter like the Futaba T8J or a 9 channel model like the Hi-Tec Aurora 9 is a great buy. Another GREAT transmitter you should check out is the FrSky Taranis X9D. It is reasonably priced and supports over 14 channels!
Model memory is another consideration that must be taken into account, especially if you plan on flying multiple different crafts including different quadcopters, helicopters or planes. Needless to say, the ability to store settings for your different crafts should not be underestimated.
The basic models like the Spektrum DX-6i has a model memory of 10, which should be more than enough for a beginner. On the other hand, some models like the Spektrum DX9, can store up to 250 models!
Features and build quality
The amount of features your transmitter has is yet another consideration. Having a backlight in the display screen can seem trivial but can make a big difference in your usability experience. Other things to consider are:
- Build quality and how the gimbals and the sticks feel
- Buddy training support
- Programmable firmware
Bind and fly models
This is something that cannot be stressed enough. If you plan on purchasing a transmitter for a bind and fly quadcopter, plane or helicopter, make sure that it is going to be compatible with the model or you’ll be wasting your money.
Note that there are 4 different modes transmitters come in. The most common mode that you would see is mode 2. Make sure to check that your transmitter supports the correct mode you are used to flying in.
Here is a video that might help you with changing transmitter modes:
The ability to use with a simulator
We recommend that you do not overlook this. Especially if you are a beginner, you might want to train plenty on a flight simulator. The OrangeRX T-SIX is a cheap, 6 channel transmitter for beginners and it works well with flight simulators, so we consider it as a great buy.
Flight simulators are a great way to train if you are a beginner. They are also an excellent tool to maintain your skills during harsh winter conditions since you probably wouldn’t be able to head out much!
Best RC transmitter reviews
Here, we list what we consider are the best RC transmitters out there for planes, helicopters and quadcopters. We arranged it in the order of price, starting from the cheap beginner transmitters to the more expensive pro ones.
Please check if the transmitter is setup in the correct mode that you want and if it comes with a receiver (if you don’t have one already, that is compatible with the transmitter) before plunging in to buy.
Best RC transmitter for beginners: Spektrum DX6i – 6 channels
What do we think is the best, affordable RC transmitter for beginners? The Spektrum DX6i hands down. The OrangeRX T-SIX is cheaper, but we think that it doesn’t cut it when it comes to the quality of the build (especially how the gimbals and sticks feel) to land a spot on this list.
The transmitter can also be used in “buddy box” mode and with flight simulators like the Phoenix RC. This is great if you are a beginner and still learning the ropes. It also comes with a model memory of 10 which should be plenty for beginners.
In summary, it offers everything a beginner would need and more so it should last quite a while in your flying career before you feel a need to buy something else, especially considering its durable build quality. You could go for something more expensive, but it is really not necessary for entry level flyers.
- Supports only up to 6 channels. If you are going to be in the flying business for a long time to come, it is better to invest in something that offers more channels.
- Model memory of only 10. Again, if this hobby is something you are hooked to, you’ll probably own a ton of different models. 10 might not be enough in the long run.
- No built-in telemetry.
FrSky Taranis X9D plus – 16 channel
Ah, the Taranis X9D. It doesn’t get any better than this for price. If you are willing to spend a little bit more, definitely go for the FrySky Taranis X9D. What’s more, it offers 16 channels which is probably more than what most of us will ever need!
It offers excellent telemetry, audible feedback capabilities and has a model memory of 60 extendable by memory card, which is again, more than most of us will ever need. The Taranis X9D has excellent backwards compatibility with receivers. It also comes with the OpenTX firmware that is programmable.
- Battery connector: Due to the way the battery connector is made, connecting the battery the wrong way, could potentially damage the transmitter.
- Build quality and the way the sticks feel may come off as poorly made, if compared to some of the more expensive models. However for the price, it is one the better built transmitters you can get.
- Antenna not removable.
Futaba T8J– 8 Channel
The Futaba T8J comes with an internal antenna, which makes it easier to carry than the other transmitters. While heading out, you could toss in the transmitter into your backpack pretty easily without worrying about the antennas getting damaged.
This brings us to the next point: The transmitter build quality and feel is excellent and far superior to the DX6i and Taranis X9D. Of course that is to be expected, given its price. The sticks and the gimbal has a ‘premium’ quality to it which you’ll definitely want if you are an intermediate to advanced pilot. The transmitter offers a model memory of 20, which is great.
Please note that unlike the FrySky Taranis, this transmitter has only 8 channels. Nevertheless, we reckon it is still worth it, especially considering the build quality and ‘feel’, the programmability and the UI.
- Model memory of only 20 and only 8 channel support.
Note: The transmitter comes pre-programmed in different modes (Helicopter and plane versions)
Hi-Tec Aurora 9 – 9 channel
The Hi-Tec Aurora 9 is a 9 channel transmitter that comes with a pretty wide TOUCH SCREEN display which makes it extremely easy to program. It is one of the only radio with a touch screen display that isn’t in the high end price range.
Probably the most popular transmitter among the RC glider plane community, it comes with incredible programming features for all kinds of crafts including helicopters, planes and sailplanes. It comes with a model memory of 30 and great telemetry capabilities for a mid-range transmitter. It also has selectable modes (1, 2, 3, 4 and custom mode), unlike most other transmitters.
Hi-Tec receivers are pretty cheap, compared to others transmitters like the Futaba. Overall, the build quality is excellent and the sticks feel premium. Bonus: Nicely packaged and comes with a beautiful manual.
It is an excellent transmitter if you are planning on making a transition from a simpler transmitter to a more complex one.
- No SD card support. You might need to purchase something like HPP-22 programmer to update the transmitter. However with the Hi-Tec, you can also update the receiver software so you won’t have to send it back for that purpose.
- Can be extremely slow to update.
- Can seem heavy and big, especially if you have small hands
Best RC transmitter for pros: Spektrum DX-18 – 18 channel
One the pricey end of the scale, the DX-18 is the best transmitter that Spektrum has to offer. It is ideal if you are a pro level flyer. Boasting 18 channels and a model memory of 50, the capacities should be more than enough even for a pro. The DX-18 is also extremely programmable, which is to be expected for a transmitter that costs this much.
The build quality is excellent, especially the antenna. However, we found Futaba models to have better build quality, even the less costly ones. Much like the other Spektrum models, the DX-18 also comes with a vibration feature that can be used as a much more effective notification.
- Something like the Taranis X9D plus which has 14 channels and 60 model memory can be bought for a quarter of the price. However, it has a MUCH, MUCH better build quality and feel.
Once again, make sure to keep the following in mind before buying a transmitter:
- Whether or not it comes with a receiver
- The transmitter mode that you are used to.
- Number of channels
- Programmability and the ability to use with a flight sim and in buddy mode.
- Whether or not it is compatible with the bind and fly model you have purchased (if that is what you are looking for)
- Model memory
That’s all folks! We hope this guide helped you out in deciding what is the best RC transmitter to buy for your flying needs. If you have any questions, please drop them below and we’ll be sure to answer!