Help me decide how to upgrade my RTL-SDR

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kb1ipd

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I recently bought the RTL-SDR and what can I say? I love the damn thing for $30 bucks you can't beat with it a stick

Then again, for 30 dollars, it leaves some to be desired. The bandwidth is only so-so. The stability is a bit iffy and needs some adjustment. It is not terribly stable and the auto gain is just meh. Probably worst of all is the sensitivity and the S/N range. I can clearly receive a weak FM station from a couple dozen miles away with the radio in my car, but the RTL just does not pull it in.

But, like I said, I'm not complaining for $30.

Still, given my love for the SDR, I think it's time to upgrade. I'm looking forward to an SDR that will do everything the RTL does and more.

I'd like something that works well with SDR#. While that is not the only SDR program I use, I find it the eaiest one to use for casual listening and it has some nice features like RDS and FM radio stereo.

Also, I'm willing to pay more, but I don't want to pay an absurd about for it.


So here is what I am looking at:

The SDRPlay -

IT looks good and it has a nice bandwidth of 8MHZ. That's not too shabby. In fact, that's enough to more than capature an analog or ATSC TV cannel in full and provide a great spectrum scope. to does 100 khz all the way up to 2 Ghz (Kind of doubt I'll need more than that very often) It has a build in LNA, so that should be helpful for weak signals.

I've heard unconfirmed reports that it has some gaps, which I find annoying

IT has a 12 bit ADC, which is pretty good. It does not transmit, not of much concern to me. Most reviews say it pulls in weak signals pretty well. The clock precision is only so-so.

I have no idea if it will play nice with the software I am accustomed to, shich included SDR#, PowerSDR and some ADSB software.

The big thing here is I found a review that said it was great at weak signals the others could not pull in

The SDRplay 2 also seems to have the nice feature of having two inputs, so I could connect it to two antennas, for different frequencies, whichout having to switch it.

I'm learning toward this, but only if it works well with SDR# and ADSB# and Power SDR and my other favorite softeare.




THe AirSpy -

It seems to be fully compatible with all the software I like. It has a bandwidth of 6Mhz, which is reliquary but a bit less than the SDRPlay. IT seems to have a better dynamic range and clock precision (Both very good things).

There's also the airspy mini, but I'm not interested in that, as it seems to have diminished capabilities.

The airspy was written by the same team as SDR#, so I know comparability will be perfect.

It does not seem to have any gaps, but the coverage us only 24 mhz to 1800 mhz. I do not listen to HF stuff too much, but I do from time to time. IT will be slightly annoying to have to buy a seperate up-converter and stick that on ever time I want to.

The HACKRF looks interesting. IT can transmit, which I am not terrlibly interested in. IT has an LNA, which is nice, and it goes from .1 to 6000 MHZ, which is a huge range, and will be nice if I choose to investigate the 2.4 ghz band. The Dynamic range is poorer than the other two.

The clock precision is not so great.



The HackRF One -

I know almost nothing about this one. Some people seem to swear by it. It receoives and transmits. Resolution is only 8 Mhz, but it has an impressive bandwidth of 20 Mhz. I'm not sure if it has a preamp or has very good stablility or S/N or pulls in weak signals otherwise.


OThers:

WinRadio WR-G305e, SignalHound BB60C, AOR-2300 - Nope Nope Nope. Way too expensive. I am looking at $750 or so, that includes the antenna mast, the secondary antennas, the waterproof enclosure and any necessary preamps.


Anyone have amy advice?

It the SDRplay 2 play will work well with PowerSDR, rtl1990, ADSB#, Trunk Tracker and all the other Stuff I like, I think I will get it. Also, has that gap been resolved? It's not that I would likely use it, but I hate having a gap in my receiving!
 

br0adband

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Just a comment about reception: if you're using the "stock" antenna or antennas that come with most RTL-based "cheap USB TV tuners" that would be one reason why your broadcast FM reception sucks - those antennas are just absolute crap for that band since it does require a longer element and also the cabling on those cheap antennas is crap too so, it's a double-crap mashup basically. :)

If you're not using a proper antenna attached with a pigtail of some kind then you're not going to get good/great reception anywhere with an RTL-based device or even better quality SDR hardware unless you get a decent antenna or antennas, preferably one or more designed and tuned for specific bands is what I'd recommend. There is no single perfect antenna, not even a discone would qualify in that respect because it like all antennas has weaknesses.

Regardless, you can have the very best RF tuning hardware that modern technology can muster but if you don't give it a respectable antenna to do the reception then you're not going to hear much, so don't skimp on the antenna(s). Hell, you can make one yourself from coat hangers and chassis mount jacks and coax cable that will outperform those cheap stock antennas by wide margins but again, make getting or even making a better antenna or antennas a priority if you intend to get more serious about SDR, especially if you're now considering spending serious cash on the hardware.

Of the ones listed I personally would get an SDRplay at this point but that's my own personal choice because it fills in everything I'd require and it's supported by SDR-Console/Radio. Not sure about SDR# support anymore but I have the last known working version of SDR# that did work with SDRplay (because of .NET issues). I also prefer the particular form factor and most notably the particular USB jack they chose because it's vastly more rugged than what's on competing units (usually a simple microUSB as flimsy and breakable as they are). The SDRplay setup is fantastic: once you're plugged in that isn't going to just come loose on its own and takes some effort to unplug it so it's a lot more stable in my opinion.

There's also BladeRF out there too aside from the ones you mentioned but that's even more expensive than the HackRF and even less supported across most SDR applications.

HackRF has an almost cult following behind it, a great piece of hardware but as noted it's expensive - the transmit option is only like 50 mW so don't go thinking it's going to be blasting out the wattage allowing you to talk to anyone worldwide. Always possible to add a transmission amplifier I suppose but the real purpose for the TX capability there is of course development - it's not supposed to be a massive transceiver like other dedicated hardware can be. And HackRF doesn't have a wide variety of SDR application support so that could prove to be problematic, check into it before committing to anything obviously.

There's positives and negatives to each so my suggestion is to do a pros/cons list of each device you're considering and I do mean cover everything from cost, connectivity (USB jacks/ports/etc), antenna support (most use SMA nowadays which is becoming the standard but some still might support MCX or even Type F connectors, the original SDRplay did iirc), bandwidth availability (raw bandwidth), application support (across all the popular SDR applications), and so on then pick the one that has the most pros and the least cons, but you already understand that. ;)
 
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Dygear

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The HACKRF looks interesting. IT can transmit, which I am not terrlibly interested in. IT has an LNA, which is nice, and it goes from .1 to 6000 MHZ, which is a huge range, and will be nice if I choose to investigate the 2.4 ghz band. The Dynamic range is poorer than the other two.

The clock precision is not so great.



The HackRF One -

I know almost nothing about this one. Some people seem to swear by it. It receoives and transmits. Resolution is only 8 Mhz, but it has an impressive bandwidth of 20 Mhz. I'm not sure if it has a preamp or has very good stablility or S/N or pulls in weak signals otherwise.
I love my HackRF One. I'm currently using it for the mudane task of listening and recording my departments transmission to show some of my guys how not to use their radios by example. Before I had it setup with OP25 recording Medical Control transmissions. All of the frequencies used by the Police Department (who runs Medical Control where I'm from.) span a little over 3MHz, so I needed something more powerful than an RTL's 2.8 MHz range. It's nice as with OP25 I can record all of the Med Com talk groups simultaneously. I don't have to worry about one transmission being on one end of the range, and the other being at the other end all while keeping track of the control channel for coordination. That and you also get the DC offset out of the picture as 20MHz when your monitoring 3MHz of bandwidth you just set it 5MHz down from the top of the spectrum space that your monitoring and it for sure won't interfere with any of their channels.

Being able to transmit is nice. It's only 50mW, but it's good enough to go across a room and if your lucky a small building. I was actually looking for something that can transmit without costing me an arm and a leg and frankly you can get two of these and do full duplex for less than a USRP costs. Not to mention that Mossman is working on a add on board that will add full duplex to a single HackRF. I feel that there is a future with the board. It's still getting work done to it.
 

RayAir

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I'm quite pleased with the Nooelec smart premium RTL-SDR. It has an SMA connector and aluminum body. For an antenna, I selected a Wilson Cellular mag mount that simply sits on a soup can by the window.

I'm using my RTL-SDR in conjunction with OP25 and the set up never let me down yet.

Sure, there are more expensive devices like the AirSpy, but most of the time I only use that for monitoring plane transponders or tuning local FM with SDR#.

Oh and unless things changed the AirSpy will not work with OP25.
 

p1879

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The sdrplay is a fun box; so many version 1 owners want to upgrade to the version 2 that I think you can get a real deal on a used Version 1 right now. Antenna versatility may drive most upgrade urges, I think most other specs are similar.
 

SCPD

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Consider the LimeSDR and (already mentioned) BladeRF.

For $500 USD, you could purchase five AirSpy Minis to cover five different bands at once - something a single HackRF / BladeRF / LimeSDR can't do.
 

KA1RBI

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Oh and unless things changed the AirSpy will not work with OP25.
That's interesting, I hadn't heard that. Don't own an airspy, but I do see that it's listed as one of the supported devices by the osmocom GrOsmoSDR support library (which is what OP25 uses): GrOsmoSDR with hardware support provided by the libairspy low-level driver.

In theory OP25 should support any device that GrOsmoSDR supports...

73

Max
 

deadite66

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I have an Airspy R2 it has 8MHz bandwidth, considered upgrading to the SDRplay 2 but binary drivers put me off and i'm mostly a linux user.
 

kb1ipd

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Just a comment about reception: if you're using the "stock" antenna or antennas that come with most RTL-based "cheap USB TV tuners" that would be one reason why your broadcast FM reception sucks - those antennas are just absolute crap for that band since it does require a longer element and also the cabling on those cheap antennas is crap too so, it's a double-crap mashup basically. :)
I have a diskcone mounted on a poll
 

kb1ipd

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At this point, I am leaning toward the SDRPlay.

It just looks like it does everything I want. It has good bandwidth (granted, some have better, but it's still pretty good) and it has a great frequency range. The performance seems good and everyone who has one seems to really like it.

It's not terribly expensive.

The multiple antenna inputs look very appealing. I can connect it to an HF antenna, a VHF/UHF discone and a higher frequency antenna and I can just switch it by software. That's a very nice feature, because I can put it outside, in a water tight box and I don't need to fool around with antenna switched.

No need for a converter for HF or MF stuff.

The price is reasonable.

I was thinking I could use my current RTL SDR as a dedicated ADS-B receiver. I'll put a filter and a good 1090 mhz antenna on it and that way I will not need to worry about using my main receiver for that.


It looks like the SDRPlay works with all the stuff I want it to: HDSDR, SDR# and so on for windows. It looks like it has better than decent Linux support.

I am really just interested in receiving with this setup. I already have my transmitting gear, so that's no issue.


Am I missing something or does the new SDRPlay pretty much do everything I would ever want it to?
 

kb1ipd

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I have an Airspy R2 it has 8MHz bandwidth, considered upgrading to the SDRplay 2 but binary drivers put me off and i'm mostly a linux user.
I've seen people use it with linux without problem.


I'm mostly a Windows guy. This is despite the fact that I am the first to admit that Linux is vastly supperior. I work in IT, and increasingly the corporate world is going to Windows and leaving Linux in the dust, so I use windows, just because that's what I am forced to use at work every day.
 
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