Sunday, 13 March 2016

Beginner Help Choose First RTL-SDR Dongle

You want value for money, after all, that's what RTL-SDR is all about.

Read the description

R820T or R820T2 refers to brain of the dongle, the latter is much better - for listening and ultimate reception, R820T means that mother-in law is gone to Florida, with R820T2, the hawk is in the living room screwing your brain.
Go for the R820T2, it is much better for reception, costs the same money, you hear signals better.

(-$10) Less than 10 dollar

Look for blue in image results, and R820T2 in description. Discard anything with "E4000 replacement".
Results will be generic RTL-SDR dongle, shipping from China / Shenzen / Hongkong takes 3 weeks, image with short black antenna or short metallic-looking extendable antenna, go for silver shiny looking one, better value.
What's inside is better left to electrical engineers, but it works.

($20) Twenty dollars

Get a NESDR Mini 2 from Nooelec, oldest player on the scene and brand-name manufacturer, looks and will feel the same a Chinese, but comes with one-year warranty and useful customer service.
You got a problem, they reply with a solution.
I've been using their products for years and couldn't destroy them. I tried.

($25) Twenty-five dollars

Next level up is the Silver dongle from, my dad asks and that's what I would recommend.
Metal case, noiseless performance, great overall package with huge antenna. Enter a frequency and you're there.
Alternative is Nooelec's NESDR Mini 2+, same specs on paper but better performance, if you know what you're doing. Less features, do some mods as detailed in my upcoming book and it will blow the Silver dongle to kingdom come.
Nooelec's R820T2 TCXO is only for perfectionists and purists, or anyone who wants the ultimate.
Beginners: go for the Silver dongle and be happy. It is really good and if you got $25 but confused, results and signals will come in.

($35) Thirty-five dollars

Metal case with R820T2 TCXO from Nooelec, two-year warranty, bullet-, zombie-, apocalypse- or car-proof package. Expensive in comparison, you get what you pay for.
Performance will be matchless to any of the options above.

($50) Fifty dollars

E4000 tuner with TCXO, 2-year warranty, lots of money for lots of surprises.
Can't give you a verdict, been testing for a week and can't make head or tails out of it every time I plug it in. Can and will blast headphones with surprisingly loud reception, but usually only on par with $35 option above most of the time.

What next?

Do buy from or, you get warranty, peace of mind and less chance of an imbecile at the other end.
Do buy the cheapest from online marketplaces if you're financially stuck, as long as you read somewhere R820T2 in the desctiption.
Don't buy an R820T, it's not as good.
Don't pay more than $10 if on a budget.

If you enjoyed this advice, please pre-order my RTL-SDR
Guide Book on Amazon Kindle. More than a hundred pages of knowledge, information and diagrams for all levels of expertise.

Kindle is available for computers (Windows and Mac), and for smartphones and tablets (Android and Iphone, iPad and iPod touch).

If you're interested in the Raspberry Pi, please sign up for the upcoming book, which details the ins and outs of setting up, using and enjoying the Pi 3 microcomputer.

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