In the Autumn of 2005 Cobra released its first significant new radio for quite some time. With legends such as the Cobra 148 GTL DX in the distant past it was about time for the company to move on and create something a little different for the 21st century market. Chrome facia, classic looks and famous cobra emblem on the microphone – sound familiar?
Maybe, but that’s where the similarities stop. The new 200 GTL-DX might look like a classic radio but it’s a completely new concept underneath the hood. For a starter the PCB layout now consists of surface mount components allowing greater reliability for use on the road and hopefully stand up to the battering of modern day life. At 9.43 lbs including the box it’s a bit of a heavy weight in the mobile world. The glossy cardboard packaging carton makes this new radio even more impressive before even opening the box. Excited? I certainly was and needless to say the radio didn’t stay in the box very long!
Let’s take a look at what makes this new Cobra so much different from its older brother. For a starter you can’t help but notice the huge wrap around heat sink unit that protrudes from the back of the set to right round the underside of the radio. In deed without the bracket attached to the rig it looks bottom heavy. This is due to the fact that this beast can put out over 120 watts PEP on SSB and well over 30 watts on AM and FM. Surely this is enough to keep even the most power crazed operator happy? As many people will know the 200 GTL-DX is marketed for the Amateur Radio sector to licensed ham operators so they can run this kind of power legally, however 10 meter radios are more often opened up and used by CB operators due to their easy to convert nature. The manufacturer is fully aware of this and makes the process easy to do for “export” use. Let’s face it, how many ham operators would consider using the Echo function of the Cobra? Exactly. Now you see the main line of customer for the new 200 GTL-DX. It’s basically a CB at heart and that’s how we like to review these types of radio.
As for aesthetics of the 200 GTL, one of the best new features is the “nightwatch” illumination. This is one of Cobra’s best new features and what this basically does is illuminate the whole of the front panel of the radio in a bright electroluminescent green. During the day this feature cannot be seen but as soon as it starts to get dark the front panel really comes alive. This is a superb feature from truckers and motorists alike. It’s also excellent for use at home in the radio shack under low light conditions too. I have taken a night time picture to show how effective this feature really is. In my opinion this is one of the best lit radios I have ever seen. Whilst the nightwatch is not a new feature for Cobra (it’s been on some of the legal UK spec radios such as the 29 LTD for quite some time), it’s certainly an essential for the night driver.
If you are considering installing this in a car or a truck then consideration will need to be given to supplying the power for this radio. Don’t even think about using the cigarette lighter socket as it will end in blown fuses or a major meltdown of your wiring. Instead consider tapping a connection straight to a direct source of power. In our tests at home whistling into the mic on SSB drew 20.1 amps and around 7 amps on FM! In other words you need a large power supply for base use and good cabling for mobile unless you want to use the radio on low power. This option is available by simply pressing the “high power” key on the front of the radio and limits the power to a more manageable level, somewhere in the region of about 10 watts AM, FM and 25 Watts on SSB.
Speaking of measurements, the Cobra has a built in SWR and CAL function driven through the built in S-Meter. The large analogue type s-meter is excellent compared to many radios that only have a token gesture with LCD bars. Whilst this type of s-meter is sometimes viewed as old fashioned they usually provide better and more meaningful results than digital ones apart from one very expensive radio gear.I tested the SWR function and the results were a bit disappointing as the meter would not agree with my external one and found myself quickly discarding the feature all together. To be honest, I’ve not really found many radios with accurate built in SWR meters. I always prefer to use an external one. That said, the radio does have a useful function when it comes to warning of antenna maladjustment, if you are transmitting on a band that’s way out of tune with your antenna the SWR warning light will illuminate in red. Unfortunately this was also no good since whenever the radio was on low power the SWR warning light illuminated even though the antenna was perfectly tuned. The solution? Turn up the power and the SWR warning goes away. Sorry, but this is a joke, the feature doesn’t work properley on the review model and according to other reports around the Internet, I’m not the only one with this problem.
Moving along the front panel you have the frequency readout based on a 6 digit counter type display plus two further digits representing channel numbers. This way you have the best of both worlds. For the DX’er, a frequency display and for the CB user, a channel system. once modified the radio opens up the bands from 26.065 right through to 29.695 MHz but how do you select the channels when there is only a bank selector with A, B, C and D labelled? Easy, the channelised bank system still works in sets of 40 channels but Cobra thoughtfully allowed the band selector to turn through 40 channels but twice on each bank, thus giving 8 virtual bands. The second set of 40 channels is indicated by a small “dot” at the bottom of the digits on the LED display to indicate this. Sounds complicated but it’s not really and once you’ve used it a couple of times is becomes easier. Of course you can ignore the channel indicator altogether and select by frequency which is always the best approach for DX work.
On the receive side of things the Cobra is excellent, for the test I connected up to a Solarcon IMAX 2000 to give it a good test and the first thing I noticed on the SSB side of things was that the radio was so quiet with the squelch open that it was a real pleasure to listen to compared to noisy old cybernet chassis radios and indeed, earlier uniden models too. Whatever Cobra has done is a step in the right direction. Likewise AM was a joy too but in the UK not many people run this mode so it was excluded from any tests apart from a quick self monitor with another radio and a pair of headphones. Needless to say the AM mode blasted out loud and clear and should suit anyone using the radio overseas where AM is permitted and used on a regular basis. Here in the UK FM is the predominant mode of operation and the audio quality on this mode was good with the supplied standard cobra microphone. on the receive side of things the reception was as good as any other radio in this class that we had tested. Speaking to a few different stations provided good reports and you will be pleased to know that if you should wish to use a desk microphone the wiring on this radio is standard 4 pin, Uniden style.
Moving over to SSB provided interesting results. Within 30 minutes of unpacking the radio from the very large box we managed a very short QSO into 27 division and the reports were good considering the very poor conditions of the 11 meter band at the time of writing. I was running high power at the time and the heatsink of the radio hardly got warm. This is in part thanks to efficient design and dual output finals (HF50-12F) so that the load is balanced correctly and can easily handle the power required. Speaking of the SSB audio quality the 200 GTL-DX was a little below average, by this I mean only slightly under par with most other SSB CB radios but not a patch on sets such as the Magnum S-9. To me this was the only real disappointment with the radio when you consider the price tag but what you need to bare in mind is the value for money you are getting in output. Don’t get me wrong, the radio is by far the best value I have seen in a CB for a long while but if you take away the high output power I would still prefer my S-9 over the Cobra. Anyway, back to the SSB report, I can confirm that the receive is spot on in quality and now all I need is some seriously better propagation on the deflated 11 metre band. Local stations confirmed that the radio is working fine and the classic cobra roger bleep still stands true with this new model.
Tuning in stations on the SSB side of things is easy thanks to the fine (clarifier) and coarse tuning knob and yes, they are fully unlocked meaning that if you adjust on the receive side it also affects the transmit side of the radio too and this change is noted on the frequency display. Some radios in the past such as the President George only affected the receive unless a modification was performed. With the 200 GTL-DX this is already done – a great achievement, but sadly there are more problems with this than I first realised when I tried to QSY to a DX station operating on 27.540 MHz. I rotated the coarse control anti-clockwise from 27.545 MHz but I had a real problem getting to the zeros, the span was not great enough, it seemed to bomb out at around 27.542 MHz. Oh dear Cobra, what have you done? (Apprently some sets have this problem from the earlier production lines but others don’t. There seems to be some consistency problems with the productional line here)
The Cobra 200 GTL-DX even has an echo chamber built in. Echoes are very much the subject of discussion amongst operators, you either love them or hate them and fortunately Cobra has provided the function to turn this off along with a knob for adjusting the echo delay value. This works very well and sounds as good as many stand alone echo chambers.
The other usual refinements are provided on the Cobra such as Mic Gain and RF gain controls along with the obligatory NB/ANL button for use in noisy electric environments such as a badly suppressed car engine. The effectiveness of the NB is very much dependent on the type interference being received.
The Cobra 200 GTL-DX is probably the most significant release for Cobra in recent times. The quality of the radio is excellent and the over all build quality seems very good. The best features without a doubt are the frequency/channel display, high output power and nightwatch illumination. These features should help push forward to design boundaries for future models and hopefully regenerate some interest in CB radio worldwide as numbers of users are declining due to the Internet and instant messaging in general. The Cobra isn’t a cheap radio coming in at around $220 in the states and a whopping £250+ from at least one supplier in the UK [although prices are coming down rapidly since writing this article]. Anyone spot the rip off price difference there? It might be cheaper to import from the states even paying import taxes than buy in the UK which is how I did it.
The big question – would I buy one again? Not really as I still prefer my magnum S-9 for its audio quality. The audio quality on this set lets it down big style compared to some of the older tried and tested radios that have been around for years. For example, the President Lincoln is a far superior radio and better engineered than the new Cobra but yet it has been around for over 20 years. Surely things should have improved since then? It’s a shame since the Cobra looks the part but I can’t help but feel that there is something lacking. It’s probably down to the fact that the 200 GTL-DX had a lot to live up to when compared with the world famous Cobra 148 GTL-DX and people expected the same quality. Sadly Cobra made the mistake of choosing Maxon to make their new masterpiece rather than the tried and tested Uniden engineers. Maybe saves on the production costs but the radio isn’t living up to the legend that the 148 has. The saving feature is you get a lot of output power for your money. Just make sure you can handle the power supply requirements! TM1