THE purpose of CB radios as a communications device hasn’t really changed much over the years, but the radios themselves have evolved.
The two radios in my old LandCruiser partly shows this evolution, as one was an old AM/477meg dual-band jobby and the other an older 40-channel GME GX3200. Neither were working particularly well on a recent trip in convoy, so it was time for a more modern replacement.
AM CB radios are pretty well redundant now and the common 477meg units have advanced to 80 channels. Compact units have become the norm and allow you to mount the main body away from the fascia, and some are even controlled by Bluetooth.
I like to keep things simple with a basic radio and never thought I would use a unit with Bluetooth connection or the ability to locate you and other users with similar tech on-board. I also didn’t like the idea of UHF radios with the speaker, microphone and all of the main controls in the handpiece, as I didn’t imagine the sound quality of the speaker would be all that good.
This opinion changed when I used the GME XRS 330-CTP combination in the 4X4 Australia Ranger. It features the all-in-the-handpiece design, with the main body mounted behind the dash; and the revelation that the sound from the inbuilt speaker was excellent and changed my mind on such UHF units.
The XRS 330C radio itself retails for $499 when not sold in a kit.
When GME released the XRC Connect 330-COB Touring package it seemed to be the perfect kit to update the Cruiser’s comms. This package uses the same XRS Connect 330C radio unit as fitted to the Ranger but is paired with a stubby 2.1dBi radome antenna as opposed to the 6.6dBi one on the Ranger.
This lower gain antenna is better suited to the hilly and mountainous areas I like to visit in the High Country, while the high-gain 6.6dBi antenna works better over long distances, in flat terrain like the outback.
The XRS 330-COB kit comes with the radio unit and mounting bracket, antenna with spring base, antenna cable, handpiece/microphone/speaker, handpiece mounting bracket, power cable and all the required hardware.
Installation is something most folks should be able to do at home with basic tools, although I had a bit of a head start as I was replacing one of the older units and already had power running to the location where the new radio would go. Once you get the antenna and 12 volts to it, the GME radio is simply plug-and-play.
I started the install by mounting the antenna base on the bullbar and running the cable back through the inner ’guard, passing through an existing grommet in the firewall and up to where the radio main body would be mounted in the overhead console.
With no buttons or controls on this unit, it can be mounted anywhere but I put it up here where there was plenty of space and, as mentioned, I already had power running to it. Unfortunately the power plug on the new XRS Connect unit is different to the old one and required reconnection; alternatively, I could have replaced the wiring with the new harness that comes in the kit.
Having the handpiece mounted up high on the roof console makes it very easy to grab when you need to use it, so I chose to put the new one up there again. The kit includes an extension cable and adaptor to allow you to mount it wherever best suits you and the interior of your car. This is particularly handy in more modern cars that don’t have so many flat surfaces to mount the bracket.
With the install out of the way, it was time to delve in to the unknowns of modern technology. There are two apps to download to your smartphone or iPad that are used to set up the XRS Connect radio and its tracking function. The connection is via Bluetooth and once made gives you access to all the set-up functions. It also has a walk-though of the functions that give someone like me a bit of an idea of what’s going on. This includes setting favourite channels, Selcall settings, and customisable buttons on the handpiece, voice playback and location services, among other things.
Firmware updates are also delivered via the app and an update came through when I recently went back to it. Updating the unit then took a few minutes to automatically complete before I could access the settings.
I thought the location service would be bit of a gimmick, but after looking at it I can now see it would be of great use. When switched on it uses the inbuilt GPS to show the location of your radio/4x4 and that of others in your network. How often have you asked someone where they are over the radio and they couldn’t give you a precise location? If they are using an XRS radio you can see them on the map on your phone or tablet and you can then find your way to them. It’s clever use of technology.
As for the most important use of the radio – as a communication device – it’s so far so good, with the XRS giving strong signal and clear sound. The inside of the old Cruiser is a pretty noisy place, but the sound from the 2-Watt speaker in the handpiece is always clear. Having it mounted up high places it close to my ear as well, so that probably helps for an old bloke. The sound quality has never been an issue in the much quieter late-model Ranger.
The screen on the handpiece uses an OLED display, so it remains clear whether I’m glancing up to it in its mount or in my hand; even when wearing polarised glasses.
One of my favourite reasons for using the GME product is that they are made in Australia, and the XRS radios come with a five-year warranty. I’ve also retained the old 40-channel GME unit in the Cruiser as a backup or for when I need to be using two radios at a time. Such an occasion is when you are traveling in convoy and have a chosen channel, yet you need to be keeping an ear on the local channel such as Ch10 when in the desert.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but if you give him some new toys to play with he’ll certainly pick a few up. Such is the case with fitting this latest tech GME radio to the old LandCruiser for it’s even older driver.
We say: Quality Australian-made radio with features you never knew you wanted.
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