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 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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2
The HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 is one of the oldest Humminbird fish finders from the HELIX series that is still available today. For reference, this is the Humminbird part number 410210-1.
The unit’s sonar is CHIRP DualBeam Plus. This means it can use two sonar beams simultaneously and you can view the data from each one of them side-to-side in split-screen. The unit supports three main frequencies. These are 50/83/200 kHz. It comes with the XNT 9 20 T transducer which supports 83/200 kHz, but you can opt for a 50/200 kHz transducer in case you want to scan deeper waters. The XNT 9 20 T transducer has a built-in temperature sensor. It uses two conical beams with a coverage of 20° @ 200 kHz, and 60° @ 83 kHz. The maximum depth capability that can be reached with this transducer is 1,500 ft. (457 m).
The unit has built-in GPS as well. It is also pre-loaded with the Humminbird Basemap. These charts cover more than 10,000 U.S lakes with 1-foot depth contours, and also provide coverage for coastal waters, showing depth markers, buoys, hazards, marinas, nav-aids, and various other points of interest. Plus, the unit is compatible with the Navionics+, Navionics Gold, Navionics Platinum+, LakeMaster, LakeMaster Plus, and SmartStrike fishing charts… Read Full Review.
Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP GPS G3N
Although the HELIX 7 CHIRP GPS G3N is one of the units released by Humminbird in 2018, it’s still available at the moment. It’s one of the Humminbird CHIRP fish finders without Side Imaging or Down Imaging. It only has Dual Spectrum CHIRP sonar but it definitely is an excellent unit for both in-land and offshore fishing.
The unit supports multiple frequencies including 50/83/200 kHz. It has three available CHIRP modes, these being Full Mode (150-220 kHz), Wide Mode (140-200 kHz), and Narrow Mode (180-240 kHz). The Wide and Narrow modes have fixed intervals, but the Full Mode is adjustable. It comes with the XNT 9 HW T transducer which uses conical beams of 42° for the Wide Mode, and 25° for the Narrow Mode, with a maximum depth range of 1,200 ft. (365 m).
The unit is also a chartplotter. It is equipped with a 10 Hz internal GPS which means that it can provide position updates 10 times per second. It is pre-loaded with the Humminbird Basemap. These charts offer both inland and coastal coverage for the U.S. waters. Plus, the unit has AutoChart Live so you can create your own fishing charts.
In terms of networking, the unit is Ethernet and NMEA 2000 capable. This gives you the possibility to connect multiple fish finders in order to transfer data or share transducers, upgrade to add-on technologies such as Minn Kota i-Pilot Link, 360 Imaging transducers, or CHIRP Radar… Read Full Review.
Raymarine Element 7 HV GPS Hv-100 Navionics+
The Element series includes several fish finder and chartplotter units released by Raymarine in 2019. The Element 7 E70532-05-NAG is one of the highest-rated so far. This model includes the HV-100 transducer and the Navionics+ charts.
The unit offers three sonar technologies. These are standard CHIRP, structure scanning DownVision and SideVision, and RealVision 3D. The structure scanning sonar and the RealVision 3D sonar applications support the Hyper mode, being able to use the 1.2 MHz frequency for high detail imaging and superior target separation.
The included HV-100 transducer supports all three sonar types. It casts oval beams for DownVision, SideVision, and RealVision 3D, and a conical beam for the standard 2D sonar. The maximum depth capabilities are 900 ft. (274 m) for 2D CHIRP, 600 ft. (182 m) for DownVision, 300 ft. (91 m) for SideVision, and 300 ft. (91 m) for RealVision 3D.
The unit has a built-in 28-channel GPS receiver. It can store up to 5,000 waypoints in its memory, up to 50 routes, and 15 tracks. It is pre-loaded with the Navionics+ charts which provide in-land and coastal coverage for the US and Canada. They offer 1-foot HD contours for more than 22,000 inland lakes, and a lot of information for each listed point of interest… Read Full Review.
Humminbird HELIX 8 CHIRP GPS G4N
The HELIX 8 CHIRP GPS G4N is one of the Humminbird fish finders released in 2020. Although it has Dual Spectrum CHIRP sonar, it lacks Down Imaging and Side Imaging. It also offers a pretty decent range of navigation and networking features. For reference, this is the Humminbird part number 411330-1.
The unit supports three main frequencies; these are 50/83/200 kHz. It includes the XNT 9 HW T transducer (710274-1) which has a built-in temperature sensor, a transom mount, and 20 ft. (6 m) of cable. It uses conical beams; their coverage is 25° in Narrow Mode, and 42° in Full Mode and Wide Mode. Also, its maximum depth range is 1,200 ft. (365 m) but with a 50 kHz transducer the unit can scan depths up to 3,500 ft. (1,066 m).
In terms of navigation, the unit has a 10 Hz built-in GPS receiver. It is pre-loaded with the Humminbird Basemap that offers both coastal and inland coverage for the U.S. waters. It also has the AutoChart Live feature that allows you to create your own bathymetric maps.
Finally, the unit’s display is 8″ in diagonal with a pixel resolution of 1024H x 600V. It has Ethernet and NMEA 2000 connectivity so you can easily connect it to an existing boat network. It also has Bluetooth and WiFi for easy software updates, map downloads, and more… Read Full Review.