Saturday, 26 March 2016

Updated RTL-SDR equipment

March 26, 2016

The RTL-SDR scene is evolving. Fast.

Disclaimer: Dongles featured in this post, with the exception of the Pro Stick, are free review samples from manufacturers, who send me products for evaluation without any instructions.

ADS-B market heats up

FlightAware announced its Pro Stick for $24.99+shipping, claiming 30% - 100% more range.
It is stated that "compared to other dongles" - compared to what? An R820T with a PAL connector? An E4000 which is deaf at 1090?
I have been using the universally acclaimed LNA4HF (same claimed 18dB gain figure) for years with  top dongles from and Nooelec, along with dozens of homebuilt and pro antennas.
I think a reliable average 30% range increase is_not_possible by replacing a top dongle with the Pro Stick, even with a filter, all else being equal.
From past experience, Adam's LNA consistently improves my average ADS-B reception range by about 10 %.
Second, 150mA draw is not possible. Full stop.
I'm doing some pretty extensive ADS-B gear testing at the moment, just my thoughts:

If you want a good ADS-B system for the same $50 you'd spend on the ProStick and filter, but you already have a dongle:
$25 shipped Adam's LNA4ALL, request it with bias-T enabled, no soldering.
$20 shipped Adam's ADS-B filter. Provides filtering and bias-T for the LNA4ALL.
LNA4ALLcan be placed at the antenna feedpoint, where it should be, not at the end of a high-loss coax run.

If you have no RTL dongle: 
For $25 shipped, dongle with R820T2 TCXO, enable bias-T in 3 minutes as detailed in my upcoming book (link).
Add the LNA4ALL at the antenna feedpoint.

Plus you got two usable antennas, TCXO, metal case and so on.

Add a RasPi for $40 and have a take-anywhere solution, as in the image above, for ~$130.

I have not tested the Pro Stick, but my 26th sense tells me FlightAware wants a nice corner of the RTL-SDR market. I bet the dongle will turn out to be a $8 generic Chinese with a $2-3 LNA sitting after the antenna, but this is purely speculation. We'll see.

Updated R820T2 TCXO from Nooelec

Officially still called NESDR Mini+, R820T2 chipset with temperature-controlled oscillator (TCXO), two year warranty, $24.95+shipping from Nooelec (link).
Its same-name predecessor proved to offer the best performance in my recent 5-dongle comparison review (link), and also proved louder and noisier in a separate video review (link).

Accessory changes are the addition of a suction cap mount, plus an MCX Male - SMA Female adapter.
It also offers better noise performance, a thorough evaluation will be published in a separate post later.

New suction cup and adapter

A first in the RTL-SDR world, designed for standard small magnetic antenna mounts, such as the one supplied with any dongle (exception is's mount with a wider base).
A surprisingly handy extra accessory, no more tape on the window to hold antenna in position. Works as an anchor point extremely well: imitating a static vertical load, like a physically heavy antenna, it held a plastic bottle weighing 8.8 lbs / 4 kg easily. No, that's a mirror.
Even larger collapsible antennas, such as's huge 5 foot / 1.5 m is held securely in a horizontal position when collapsed, and can be extended to about 3 foot / 0.9 m until falls off.

Supplied MCX Male - SMA Female adapter

Happy days, connecting an upconverter or LNA is easier. Usually costs ~ $2 on eBay (link), or $5.95 (link) from Nooelec.

Black Nooelec Metal Case

Exactly the same as the blue one reviewed (link) earlier, now in black. The updated NESDR Mini+ can be bought with this in a metal case, all for 31.95 plus shipping from the manufacturer (link).

New dongle case

Cosmetic changes: new paint will not rub off, two instead of four screws.
Was curious to see whether two screws will be enough, to maintain form I've driven over it and still no problems. Order from the manufacturer (link).

If you enjoyed this article 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 order the upcoming book, which details the ins and outs of setting up, using and enjoying the Pi 3 microcomputer.

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