Finding a new sonar unit that fits your budget is no easy task. Most of the new models that have come out this year include a price tag well over $700. It’s just simply not necessary to pay that much for a quality sonar unit that offers the same performance. The marine electronics manufacturers promote their higher priced models as if they are superior, but you are really just paying for extra bells and whistles that don’t offer the best value. We know how difficult and how important a decision for purchasing your next fishfinder is. For this reason, we put together a quick guide of the best fishfinders available for under $500. For this price, you can get a unit that has all the features you want, but you are usually limited by screen size. We feel that these units offer a superior value compared to the higher priced models. Unfortunately, the major manufacturers usually jump up the price on units with a display over 5″. The 3 units that I feel offer the best value and are the best fishfinders under $500 are the Lowrance Elite-5X HDI, the Garmin Echo 551DV, and the Humminbird 678c HD/DI.
Lowrance Elite-5X HDI
This unit delivers big time performance into a small compact unit. This particular model doesn’t include the chartplotter, but it’s hard to beat this price for a quality screen with both a dual frequncy transducer that also includes HD Down Imaging. One of the nice features is that the what Lowrance calls Hybrid Dual Imaging. The two different sonar settings (Broadband Sonar and DownScan) can be viewed separately or overlayed on top of another all on the same screen. The resolution is 480×480 and the screensize is 5″. If you have an older Lowrance model, you will happy to find out that same power connector will work with the model which makes upgrading very convenient. This unit is a great value at a $499 price tag.
Garmin Echo 551DV w/ DownVü
This unit is strikingly similar to the Lowrance Elite-5x, but with a Garmin twist. The Screen is the same size at 5″ but boasts a slightly higher resolution at 640×480 and it provides a very nice crisp image that can be easily seen day or night. I would consider this to be the most easilly readible screen of the 3 models I have chosen for this list. It may not be a huge difference, but it’s important enough to include in the review. The 551DV offers 2 different frequency sonars which includes the base dual frequency and also the DownVu HD Imaging. The Down Imaging on Garmin units is very comparable to those of both Lowrance and Humminbird. Essentially, it gives you a much more clear and detailed version of the bottom compared to traditional dual frequency readings. Many anglers are loyal fans of Garmin and it’s easy to see why. They offer reliability, great customer service, and an overall long lasting product. If you like Garmin products, you won’t be disappointed with this model.
Humminbird 678c HD DI
This is the newest model reviewed in this comparison, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best value. Much like the other 2 models, this unit offers both regular Dual Beam sonar along with Down Imaging. The screen resolution matches the Garmin Echo 551Dv at 640×480 and a 5″ display. Humminbird has been making increasing better units over the years and this helps keep them right on that path. This unit offers the full performance of much higher priced items at a great value making it the perfect fit for a wide variety of boat sizes. Humminbird units are now the most reliable on the market and you know that you are getting a unit of high quality backed by an improved manufacturer warranty. The only complaint that I have with this model is that if you are fishing deep water (100 ft +) regularly, you will need to purchase a more expensive version of the model that includes 50khz. Overall it’s a great unit for the price and will deliver everything you need from a 5″ sonar unit.