Should You Upgrade Your RC Transmitter?
Why would you ever want to upgrade your transmitter? Some used vehicles include a transmitter, and every ready-to-run includes a transmitter. So, isn’t that good enough? Well, that’s the question we’re going to explore as we discuss the pros and cons of using one RC transmitter versus many.
This article is geared more towards radio control surface radios, but much of the information also applies to aircraft transmitters. For anyone with several RC models, you know that transmitters accumulate quickly. At AMain, we saved every RTR RC transmitter used in marketing, and to date, we have over twenty-four. So why should we keep them around?
There are numerous high-quality transmitters available that include a receiver. So anyone can use an upgraded transmitter and buy multiple receivers to attach to several R/C’s. Wouldn’t that be best? Well, let’s break it down.
Ready-To-Run (RTR) Transmitters
The obvious advantage of having multiple transmitters is that it allows everybody to play simultaneously. So if you have friends or family over and you have different transmitters linked to each car, you can divvy out those radios, and everyone can play.
Isn’t that how most of us got introduced to RC—some friend just let us use their car?
That’s the advantage to having multiple transmitters linked up, and those RTR transmitters end up being pretty simple. There isn’t much customization or functionality involved, making them suitable for new people in the hobby. These transmitters are the ultimate, turn on and go. So when you get a new radio with your RTR, you don’t have to do anything to it, it has been bound to the receiver, and trims are preset. Special features like self-righting or stabilization are pre-programmed, just turn on the transmitter, and everything should work. If one breaks, you can steal one from another car you have and bind it to your model—assuming the brands are the same. And, if you want to replace one of these ready-to-run radios, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase.
The simplicity of these RTR transmitters is also their downside—they lack in the features department. Precisely when it comes to adjusting the basic trims, sub-trims, dual rates, expo, and servo reversing. In addition, they usually aren’t ergonomic for prolonged use when it comes to hand comfort. They lack wheel and trigger adjustments like tension and travel or grip adjustments to accommodate different hand sizes. They cannot use a reusable battery, which lasts way longer than double A’s, and they often feel of low build quality and cheap plastic. Usually, they’re not even worth sending in for repairs or using the warranty, if there is one. They’re an item that you throw away if it fails. These cheap transmitters work perfectly fine for some people, but they often don’t.
Each time you move from one brand’s transmitter to another transmitter, there’s always a little bit of learning. The trims and buttons are in different places. The spring tension and the steering wheel are different. Sometimes it’s just really stiff and bounces back. Sometimes it’s soft. The trigger feel isn't going to be the same way. Sometimes the spring and the trigger are really hard, and sometimes it’s just kind of soft and spongy. And then you have the menus and the trims and the different procedures to bind. If you have to use any of that, it’s different. With each brand’s RC transmitter, it changes.
Pro Tip - If you have several RTR transmitters, use a silver Sharpie and write the name of the RC the radio belongs to on the back. It will be quick and easy to identify the correct radio.
Upgraded Multi-Feature RC Transmitters
This is where an upgraded transmitter comes in. It doesn’t just offer a bunch of extra features and benefits. They’ll actually help you become a better driver. In fact, using one transmitter over and over and over will help you build your skills. When you use one upgraded transmitter, it’s like your daily driver. You build the trigger’s memory and get a feel for the steering and springs. It all becomes familiar to you, which helps provide that feel. When you have a comfortable, familiar RC transmitter in your hand, you can feel it.
There’s also only one battery pack to worry about, most RTR transmitters require 4 AA batteries, and we have 24 in our studio, so that’s 96 batteries to manage. A rechargeable transmitter battery can charge on your battery charger and lasts way longer than AA batteries. Using only one main transmitter will also help you save tons of space. All those RTR transmitters take up a lot of surface space on your pit bench, shelf, or cabinet. One transmitter is a lot easier to deal with wherever it may be.
If you’re a fan of HV or high voltage* servos and all the extra speed and torque they offer, you’ll be happy to know that most upgraded radio systems are HV compatible with their receivers. Unfortunately, most ready-to-run radio systems are not HV compatible. Some are, but most are not. You can still use an HV servo in a radio system that isn’t HV compatible, but your servo will operate at a reduced voltage, and you won’t have the extra speed and torque gains.
*HV servos operate at 7.4V and up. / Most RTR servos operate at 6.0V
Just about all upgraded transmitters will allow you to adjust the spring tension on the wheel and the trigger to suit it for however you like it. You can’t do that on an RTR transmitter. Upgraded transmitters operate faster too. They have lower latency or less lag, so the transmission signal from the transmitter to the car receiving it just feels locked instantly. This is one of the main reasons RC racers always have quality, high-end transmitter systems. It helps them feel locked into the vehicle with how connected the system is and how quick and responsive it is. And then finally, upgraded transmitters are more ergonomic and feel better to hold. They are often designed to be balanced in your hand and weighted evenly, so you don’t experience any hand fatigue from long periods of use. So, if you’re out crawling or playing with your nitro for hours, your hand and wrist won't get strained.
Most transmitter brands offer different size hand grips to fit your hand size. Sometimes there are wheel dropdowns, so the wheel’s height is in line with the trigger. Some brands even offer wedges so you can pop the wheel out a little bit, so it’s not in line with the trigger—just slanted slightly.
There’s a lot of customization that you can do to an upgraded transmitter that you can’t do with an RTR transmitter. Upgraded transmitters are designed to be expandable to use with multiple models. So you can take extra receivers, put them into the vehicles you want to use, and the settings for each model can be saved in the model memory.
You can often even name your models in the transmitter so you can select the correct one when you’re ready to race or bash. Lastly, an upgraded transmitter provides the functionality that you just can’t do with an RTR transmitter, like model memory, anti-lock braking, lap timers, voltage monitoring, left-handed use, or even all-wheel steering for your monster truck. You can even get an upgraded transmitter with three, four, and five channels. They even make them beyond that so you can program and customize all those channels to do whatever you want them to do.
It may not be ideal to have one main RC transmitter linked up to all your RCs. Maybe it’s a good idea to leave a few ready-to-run transmitters linked so you can share specific models with friends or family. But keep the upgraded radio for your more expensive radio control vehicles.
You just can’t beat the build quality of an upgraded transmitter. It will be more durable, last longer, and typically the warranties are top-tier. An upgraded radio is definitely worth getting if something happens to your original RTR radio because, after all, the transmitter is the most essential device in radio control next to the vehicle.
What upgraded RC transmitters do we suggest?
Sanwa RC Transmitters & Receivers
Some good transmitter upgrade options are the Sanwa MX-6. It’s about $110 for the transmitter and one receiver, and then you can pick up additional receivers for about $50 each. The MT-44 is great step up, with even more functionality. It’s a high-end transmitter most commonly used by RC racers.
Spektrum RC Transmitters & Receivers
The Spektrum DX5C or DX5 Rugged are also good options and bind to any DSMR receivers that you typically find in an Arrma, Losi, or Axial ready-to-run vehicle. So you will be able to bind up these transmitters right to those ready-to-run receivers. The DX5C is about $220, with extra receivers starting at $100.
Spektrum also offers their Active Vehicle Control (AVC) stability management that comes pre-built into the receivers. So if that’s a function you’re interested in, you want to go with one of the Spektrum compatible receivers with AVC and a Spektrum radio system.
Futaba RC Transmitters & Receivers
For Futaba, the 3PV is an excellent option at about $150 for the radio and one receiver and then $50 for additional receivers. Futaba also has their 4PM radio, which has four channels and is another great option. All transmitters mentioned here have at least a ten-model memory and are perfect places to start looking for an upgraded transmitter, but they are the starting point. There are transmitters of even a higher caliber available.
Should you Upgrade your R/C Transmitter?
Watch Brett's "Should you Upgrade your R/C Transmitter?" on the AMain Hobbies YouTube channel. While you're there, be sure to check out our vast selection of informative and new product videos.
Sanwa/Airtronics MX-6 FH-E 3-Channel 2.4GHz Radio System w/RX-391W 3-Channel Receiver SNW101A32561A
Sanwa/Airtronics MT-44 FH4T/FH3 4-Channel 2.4GHz Radio System w/RX-482 Receiver SNW101A32161A
Spektrum RC DX5C 5-Channel DSMR Surface Radio w/SR6100AT Receiver SPM5120
Spektrum RC DX5 Rugged 5-Channel DSMR Surface Radio w/SR515 Receiver SPM5200
Futaba 3PV 3-Channel 2.4GHz FHSS/S-FHSS Radio System w/R203GF Receiver FUT01004353-3
Futaba 4PM 4-Channel 2.4GHz T-FHSS Radio System w/R304SB Receiver FUT01004388-3