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Cobra 200 GTL DX AM/FM/SSB CB Radio Review

 

FIRST STEP - CONVERTING

Received this radio brand new in the box. Radio was stock and untouched. Original box is pretty good size, radio itself is quite heavy.

Removed radio from the box and opened it up to perform the frequency conversion so the radio can transmit and receive on 11 meters (CB band). To do so requires removing the top cover (it's not necessary to remove the bottom cover for the conversion). I got my instructions from CBtricks.com.

This radio incorporates "surface mount technology" which means that the parts are very small. This type of technology is very cool because there aren't a lot of resistors or ceramic discs sticking up off of the board. I think this would lessen the chance of a resistor or something vibrating loose which can happen in normal cb radios.

The downside to surface mount technology is that the parts are super tiny - to the point where it is actually difficult to even see the solder points and the legs of the resistors. TO DO THE CONVERSION for 11 meters requires unsoldering a resistor and moving it to a open spot just above. Sounds easy - but due to the tiny size it's almost impossible unless you have a very fine tip soldering iron, some tweezers and a magnifying glass or light combo. I did it with a big ol soldering iron but I had to zip tie some wires out of the way to make sure I didn't damage anything - and also I basically just touched the ends of the resistor and used a plastic swiss army toothpick to poke it until it came loose - I then slid it up to the spot above (which already has some solder points ready) and heated it until it stuck in position.

The conversion is not something for an amateur - which I am - I was lucky to do it correctly. It's possible to do it yourself but although it's a simple task of moving a resistor - I wouldn't say it's "simple" at all.

Once moved I powered up the radio and now had totally frequency covereage up and down including 11 meters.

RECEIVE

The radio has an excellent receiver - I would say it's almost as good as my Magnum Omegaforce, but it does pick up a little more static noise than my Omega did. The AM stations sound clear far off or close up.

There were some reports of this radio having problems with strong signals. I did notice that certain stations running high wattage became a little fuzzy on the receive side when I was within 1-2 miles of their locations.

You will get bleedover with this radio - I'd say it's worst within 6 channels. Especially when the person bleeding has a overmodulated radio it can get bad enough to make it hard to hear on the channel you are on. If there are loud stations nearby, you may need to do the rejection modification.

SSB receive is very clear - the radio stays on frequency for receive very well - no drift whatsoever from turn on to turn off. Many of the SSB stations sounded so clear that I thought I was on AM. No warble - no daffy duck sounds...when you set this radio to be on frequency it stays on frequency.

I do get some engine noise but it's no worse than my General Lee and was acutally better than my Magnum Omegaforce. The NB/ANL switch works great for cutting noise without killing any incoming signals.

The squelch is a tad sensitive and when setting it you may have to set it slightly higher than you like to make sure it doesn't do the on/off on/off back an forth. Since I normally talk DX I leave my squelch all the way off. With the NB/ANL on I was able to drive around and talk to stations without any excessive background engine or electrical noise.

RF gain works pretty well but doesn't really start to cut down the stations until it's been moved back to the left around the 11 o'clock position, then it begins to really work. The first half turn portion will turn it down, but for strong stations you'll need to turn it farther to the left.

TRANSMIT

On low power the AM deadkey on my stock radio was 3 watts swinging to around 12-15 watts. The SSB output was about 12-14 watts.

On high power the AM deadkey on my stock radio was 30 watts swinging to 70 watts. The SSB output was about 110-120 watts.

I didn't test FM or CW.

The modulation with the stock microphone is pretty poor which is the norm with any newer Cobra microphone these days. I added a 2028 Truckers Series Power mic which is similar to the DM-452. With the power microphone on the modulation increased greatly.

With the power microphone I got the clearest/strongest modulation reports with the mic gain in the 3 o'clock position. I can turn the mic gain to max and still get great reports of loud modulation and a clean signal - but it's not quite as clean as in the 3 o'clock position.

AM REPORTS- So far I've been talking to the locals on low power and high power. Everyone says the audio is loud and clear. There doesn't seem to be a lot of drop off in modulation when talking - I haven't had any people coming back saying "sorry I missed that". And after hearing myself on my base at 3.5 miles away on low power I can see why. It gives a very steady signal and very clear steady modulation.
On high power you definitely get a boost in modulation on both AM and SSB. On high power I've had good reports from all over the island, even in a lot of the "RX holes".

Everyone says the radio sounds great and has a very unique sound to it.

SSB REPORTS - This radio is never going to outdo a Connex, General or even a Galaxy for audio on AM. But for SSB where you don't need that screaming audio is where this radio really shines. In the last week I've talked to all the SSB locals and everyone said the radio sounded great. I told them it was stock and untuned and I got a lot of "DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING, IT'S PERFECT". Everyone said that the modulation is clear, clean and LOUD. My signal has been hitting everyone well. From 20 miles away in my mobile I was giving a fellow local a "3" on his meter. I switched to high power and jumped up to a "7".

In the last week I talked to Australia, California, Washington, Oregon and Oklahoma without any problems and even on days when DX really wasn't happening. The 100-120 watts SSB output really gives you plenty of power to make DX contacts.


THE RADIO LIKES AND DISLIKES

* I love the NIGHTWATCH

* The echo is really clear and has no distortion problems at all. BUT with no adjustments for speed all you can adjust is the level of echo.

* There is NO talkback - stupidest thing I've every seen. Why have adjustable echo or roger beep when you can't hear it to adjust it.

* Knobs are pretty solid - better than most of the Magnums - but not as good as the old Cobras 146 etc. Some of them have a tiny amount of "play" and the plastic of them feels a little cheesy but you get over it pretty quick.

* The front facing microphone jack is in the way, BUT it's nice for up front installs since the radio is already pretty big.

* The fine/coarse controls are excellent. The clarifier is unlocked from the factory and moves on TX and RX.

* Six digit freq counter works great and mine is spot on freq from the factory.

* The push buttons are small and a little cheezy - I wonder how they will hold up over time....buttons on radios like my Omega worked great, but on some older radios I know at some point they pop out or become loose, only time will tell.

* Output from the radio is great on AM and SSB. NO it is not as high as a 2970 or a RCI 6300 150 Turbo, Galaxy 95T etc...BUT this radio is $200 less than most of those. It's advertised as a 30 watt RF radio. If you have it tuned and get 80-100 watts AM I'd say its a fair deal. 60-70 watts stock is still plenty to get you heard. Think of it as buying a Cobra 148 with channels, echo, + a built in KL60. It actually is cheaper overall!

* The stock speaker is okay..not great..but it works good enough for me. I tried it with my external speakers but haven't found a good match yet.

* The heatsink is big and heavy, but I think this radio could still use a fan. After 30 mins of solid use on SSB the heatsink is almost too hot to touch.

* The rotary channel knob is a little picky. Somtimes when you turn it, it won't go to the next channel, sometimes it may skip a channel. Not really a huge problem, 80% of the time it won't miss, but every couple of times you may skip over a channel.

* I don't like that I can't cycle through the 40 channels and end up back at channel 1 - because it's 80 channels per bank you have to go up/down or all the way through all 80 to get back to the beginning.

* BLEEDOVER - of course this radio is a 10 meter radio and ham's usually don't run stations that are overmodulated to the point where they can bleed over 30 channels. As a CB it can be a problem with this radio.


As a buyer you do have to be aware of some of the problems - ones acknowledged by Cobra

- Overload possibility with strong signals
- Possible Warble or popping noise due in modulation (I didn't run into this at all)
- Channel rejection decreases with the NB/ANL on.
- Choppy Squelch control
- Possible that freq display needs adjustment, not accurate from factory.  

WHEN THINGS WENT BAD

After about three weeks of positive use of this radio I decided to send it into the Cobra authorized service center to have two service bulletin fixes done to the radio. I mailed it off and about two weeks later the radio came back.

The fixes took care of the bleed-over problem completely.

I used the radio for about two weeks - but locally people told me the radio "sounded" better before I had sent it off for repairs.

Then the bad stuff happened.

On the way home from work while talking to a friend the radio stopped transmitting on SSB. I checked it out when I got home and it did not transmit on AM or SSB. The radio would receive still in all modes but no transmit.

I contacted Cobra about this because the radio was purchased on June 5th and by mid July it was no longer working.

Under the warranty Cobra agreed to refund me or replace the radio with a newer production run model.

At the time I found out that 8 people I knew who had purchased this radio had them fail on them. From blown finals to other problems the complaints against the radio started to stack up.

The Cobra 200's had only been out for a year and this did not bode well.


Based on what I was hearing I opted for the refund at this point.

Cobra’s customer service was excellent and after returning the radio to them I promptly received a check in the mail.


SUMMARY

For a high power radio in the $225-250 price range the Cobra 200 GTL DX looked like an excellent deal. And even though I had great reports with the radio when it was working, I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend it at this time.

The word on the street is that a lot of people are having problems with their Cobra 200’s ranging from frequency counter problems to radios that just died. I didn’t really believe the hype until my Cobra 200 died as well.

The price, functions and output power of this radio gave it the potential to be one of the best deals on the market, but it seems that there is a design flaw somewhere that is shortening the life span of these radio. Most likely the lack of a fan and buildup of heat are causing problems.

I’m sure Cobra is well aware of the issues and I fully expect that as they continue to manufactuer these radios they will address and correct the problems until the quality level is satisfactory.

For those who bought this radio and have experienced no problems it really is a great radio at an awesome price. The functions all work, the receive is good and the output power is impressive. As far as the output power goes, it's never going to out do a radio + a solid 2 pill amplifier...but if you don't want to run an external amp the radio will do enough to get you heard with good audio. Figuring that many places sell the Cobra 148 for $159.99 new, spending the extra $70 for a radio with more options and more output doesn't seem too outrageous.

So you really have to weigh out what you are looking for with this radio. If you are a serious AM talker who wants to run the bowl everyday...I'd say go for a radio with more audio and add the amp. But for the average talker who enjoys AM/SSB and doesn't want to run an amp, I'd say the cobra is a fair choice.

Just take into consideration the quality control issues and complaints about the radio before jumping in and buying one.

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Below is a Link to Video tour and some RX and TX testing for this radio

(Part 1 TOUR) First Part of the Video is just a short tour of the outside of the radio and the back

(Part 2 SSB RECEIVE) This part of the video is while I was listening on 38 LSB to a couple of locals. Audio quality is very good - doesn't even sound like they are talking on SSB.

(Part 3 AUDIO TX TEST)  3.5 miles away testing the transmit and audio of the Cobra 200 GTL DX.

Because of video and audio compression understand that the quality is compromised for the video. The actual audio is much cleaner sounding than what you will hear in the video.

Remember this is a STOCK Cobra 200 GTL DX - the only thing that has been added is a DM-452 knock off microphone.

Type: 10 meter (export radio) - will cover 11 meters after conversion

Frequency range: 28 to 29.7 MHz from factory - 26.0650 to 29.6950 after conversion

RF power: 4 watts low power - 30 watts high power (deadkey)

Transistors: Dual 40-watt SC2290 finals

Control frequency switch: 10 kHz - does not work after conversion to 11 meters

Bands: 4

AM/FM: Yes

SSB: Yes, 100+ watts

Channels: 320 (80 per switch setting)

Variable power : Yes - high/low button, high (max range) and low (conserves power)

Antenna warning indicator: Yes

SWR calibration: Yes

NightWatch panel illumination: Yes

Echo control: Yes

Analog meter: Yes

Mic gain: Yes

Frequency counter: Yes, 6-digit

Jacks: 4-pin front mic

Warranty: 1 year parts and labor

In the box: 200 GTL DX radio, microphone, user's manual

 





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