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CHIRP Fish Finders: Our Buying Guide

If you’ve been looking for a high-performance fish finder, I’m pretty sure you have come across the term “CHIRP sonar” at least once. CHIRP is a type of sonar technology superior to the classic, single frequency type sonar, and up until a few years ago, it basically was a term which reflected highly priced recreational sounders.

But beginning with 2013, smaller and more affordable units with CHIRP began to enter the market. Nowadays, you can actually get a fish finder with CHIRP for less than $300.

What Is CHIRP Sonar and How Does It Work?

First of all, the term CHIRP stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse. In other words, CHIRP is a frequency-radiated sonar pulse, meaning that each pulse of the sonar sweeps through a range of frequencies, rather than consisting on only one, single frequency.

Standard Sonar vs. CHIRP Sonar Diagram

Standard sonar uses only single frequency pulses. Depending on frequency, each pulse has a certain length. Now, when the sonar pulse hits several distinctive targets, with a smaller distance between them than the length of the pulse, they will be read as one, bigger target. This is where CHIRP comes in.

Since each sonar pulse is modulated over a range of frequencies, from low to high, each target in the said group of targets will be hit with a range of frequencies along a sonar pulse. The targets which are closer than the length of the pulse will reflect the pulse back to the transducer also at different frequencies, and will appear on the screen separately, rather than clumped together. Therefore, CHIRP sonar offers better definition and separation of targets.

Advantages of CHIRP Sonar Technology

Fish Arches on Chirp Sonar

Fish Arches on CHIRP Sonar

There are two main words to describe CHIRP: clarity and depth. Needless to say, since CHIRP sonar offers a better target separation, a fish finder with this type of sonar technology will be able to detect considerably more fish than a unit with standard sonar. A CHIRP fish finder is highly capable in telling apart fish from structure, or from vegetation. Fish arches will appear on the screen with superior accuracy. Even more, depending on the power of the unit you are using, and the transducer type, it can even tell apart the targets in a bait cloud.

CHIRP can drastically reduce noise in your final imaging, without losing targets. This is actually a problem with fish finders that use standard, single-frequency sonar. Depending on the power of the unit, or transducer used, the readings on your screen may feature a lot of noise. This noise can typically be reduced, but along with it, you can also lose fish or other important targets. With CHIRP you won’t actually have to filter anything. Targets will be shown crisp and clear.

Most anglers would say that CHIRP is synonymous with “depth capability”. It’s actually more than that. CHIRP is better than standard sonar at any depth. However, it’s the higher depths where CHIRP stands out. With a standard sonar, in order to penetrate higher depths, a longer pulse is required. But this also results in losing resolution. CHIRP also uses long pulses, but each pulse is modulated, spread over a barrage of frequencies, and this resolves the resolution loss. So, to put it simply, with standard sonar, you will get “noisy” images for higher depths, but with CHIRP, the image clarity will remain crisp.

So, as a little conclusion here, the main advantages of CHIRP sonar, are superior target separation, excellent clarity and lack of noise, and depth performance.

How to Choose Your CHIRP Fish Finder

If you want to purchase a fish finder with CHIRP sonar, there are several aspects to consider.

Price

One of the most important aspect when choosing any product is the price. And when it comes to CHIRP technology, the bigger units with this sonar feature don’t really come cheap. The primary indicator for a highly priced fish finder is the size of the screen: the bigger, the more expensive.

Cross-touch or total touchscreen technology also increase a unit’s price, but a unit with classic navigation (through buttons) may serve the purpose just as well. Also, features such as GPS, various mapping packages, and chart plotting, typically lift the price of a unit up. Performance doesn’t often come cheap.

However, several affordable units have been released during the past two years. As I mentioned above, nowadays you can find CHIRP fish finders for less than $500. On the other hand, if you’re the captain of a professional fishing vessel, you may want to opt for one the most advanced fish finder available. Anyway, regardless the budget you’ve decided upon, there are a few CHIRP fishfinder recommendations for different price intervals, in the last section of this post.

Note that you can get a considerable discount for older generation units with CHIRP, made by different manufacturers. But keep in mind that an older model may not come with the extensive technical support that a newer model benefits from. Older fish finders may be discontinued by manufacturers, and if yours break, it will be difficult or nearly impossible for it to be repaired, due to lack of parts. Therefore, if you come across an older fish finder model, which has a juicy discount, find out if possible, whether or not the unit is still supported, and whether or not will it be supported at least for the next one, two years.

Your fishing methods

CHIRP sonar really shines for deep water fishing. So, if deep sea fishing is your cup of tea, a fish finder with this technology is what you should opt for. This doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for any other type of fishing, though. You can use a CHIRP fish finder for down dropping, jigging, or still fishing, in shallow waters as well.

But, for shallow waters, up to 300 ft., Side Imaging and Down Imaging are also great sonar features to have, and you may get a better deal. Or, in a case like this, you may consider one of the less powerful and smaller CHIRP units. There aren’t many models yet to offer both CHIRP, SI and/or DI. So, you’ll have to decide here which one of these sonar features suits you best.

Transducers

Depending on manufacturer or seller, there are fish finder models which support CHIRP, but the box does not include a transducer that supports CHIRP. In that case, you will have to pay extra, to enjoy this sonar feature. Therefore make sure you choose the right package. Most of the units reviewed under the CHIRP category on this site though, do include the right transducer, and the built-in CHIRP sonar. However, in case the CHIRP transducer for a particular fish finder is an additional purchase, you will most definitely be informed in the review of the unit.

Another aspect to know on this matter is that most units with CHIRP come with a standard transom transducer, which should be suitable for a wide array of boats. However, depending on the boat you own, you may need a different type of transducer. So, make sure there is one available. For example, in case you may need a through-hull transducer, keep in mind that for fiberglass or metal hulls, a plastic transducer is recommended, while for a steel or aluminum hull, you’ll need a transducer with a stainless steel housing.

Upgrade Possibilities

Most of the newer fishfinder models come with upgradable software, and each year you should benefit from 2-3 updates. These are normally free. The upgrade possibilities you should be looking for though, are the compatibility of a unit with diverse superior mapping packs, superior GPS, other navigational features such as RADAR, or whether or not can support other types of sonar, and other transducers.

There are different units out there which come at an affordable price and leave a lot of room for upgrades of this sort. Opting for such a unit may be a better choice for you.

One last aspect regarding the upgrade possibilities of a unit is the existence of one or two microSD card slots. Various upgrades can be done via SD card only.

A Few Recommendations…

Under $200
Garmin Striker 4

Although Garmin has released the Striker series in 2016, most of the models are still available in 2018. The Garmin Striker 4 is one of the most affordable CHIRP fish finders available at the moment. It’s also one of the Garmin units that continues to benefit from 5-star reviews from most users. It’s preferred especially by kayak fishers as it’s a unit very easy to install and operate.

Despite the fact that it is a small unit, featuring a 3.5″ display, it features a dual-frequency CHIRP sonar. Its base operating frequencies are 77/200 kHz, and therefore, the unit can use high and medium range CHIRP modulation. The unit includes the 010-10249-20 transducer.

This Garmin fish finder system is also equipped with a basic GPS plotter. It doesn’t use charts, nor can be upgraded with any charts. However, you can view your current position and also mark waypoints via its plotter application… Read Full Review.

Raymarine 4PRO Dragonfly$200 – $300
Raymarine Dragonfly 4PRO

Raymarine has done a pretty good job when it comes to providing top quality fish finders featuring CHIRP sonar. Their smaller and medium-sized units have great fish finding and navigational potential.

The Raymarine Dragonfly 4PRO currently is a complete unit with CHIRP, under the $300 limit. Even if it’s a small unit it really has a lot of potential, and comes with quite an extensive array of features for the price. Not only it has CHIRP sonar, it also has DownVision sonar that uses CHIRP. On top of that, with this unit, you will benefit from a range of navigational features, such as built-in GPS, and the C-MAP Essentials chart package. There aren’t many fish finders with CHIRP to be mentioned for this price range, and most of them do not include any navigational capabilities. The Dragonfly 4PRO though would seem to take the cake for this price category… Read Full Review.

HELIX 5 Fish Finder and GPS Combo - Humminbird$300 – $500
Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP GPS G2

The Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP GPS G2 is a re-designed HELIX 7 GPS. As its name suggests, it’s a unit that offers CHIRP sonar, featuring dual-frequency capabilities. It actually has DualBeam Plus sonar, which means that you can use both of its sonar beams simultaneously, and observe the returns in split screen. The unit comes with the XNT 9 20 T transom transducer, which allows the system to use High CHIRP (175-225 kHz) and Med CHIRP (75-95 kHz). However, the unit also capable of using 50 kHz transducers, for a greater depth penetration. It has the Humminbird precision GPS, and in terms of charts, it has the Humminbird UniMap or the upgraded Humminbird Basemap. As opposed to the older unit, this one is also AutoChart Live capable and can use SmartStrike fishing charts… Read Full Review.

$500 – $1,000
Simrad GO7 XSE HDI

This unit is pretty close to the lower price mark of the interval. Its price is around $550 (depending on retailer). As its name suggests, it comes with the HDI Skimmer transducer, which can only use DownScan imaging and 2D CHIRP sonar. However, if you also want SideScan Imaging sonar, you should opt for the GO7 XSE TotalScan, part number 000-12671-001.

The Simrad GO7 XSE HDI is quite an advanced fishfinder and chartplotter. Along with the 2D/DownScan imaging sonar, it’s also equipped with a very fast and accurate, 10 Hz GPS and comes with the US Insight charts, which offer advanced details for over 8,000 US lakes and rivers, with detailed contour lines, relief shading, shoreline details and depth soundings to 1,000’… Read Full Review.

Over $1,000
Humminbird HELIX 9 CHIRP MEGA SI GPS G2N

The HELIX 9 CHIRP MEGA SI GPS G2N is a unit released by Humminbird in 2017. As its name suggests, it offers a more powerful type of Side Imaging sonar – MEGA SI. It’s also CHIRP enabled, and its side beams will extend up to 125 ft (38 m) on each side, 250 ft (76 m) in total. Also, if the CHIRP mode is enabled, the sonar pulse will be modulated in a frequency range between 420-520 kHz instead of a flat 455 kHz, and 1150-1275 kHz instead of a flat 1.2 MHz, evidently providing higher detail.

The unit is equipped with the Humminbird Precision GPS and ContourXD or Humminbird Basemaps (depending on version). It also has the AutoChart Live feature, along with SmartStrike Capability… Read Full Review.