Monday, 18 July 2016

Avoid RTL-SDR Ripoffs Part 2: Summer Madness

July 18th, 2016
Last Update: August 1st, 2016 with Patriotwaves' comment (and mine)

1. Don't pay more than $10 for a non-branded generic dongle.
2. Order branded products directly from manufacturers.
3. Full-band receivers are to be generally avoided, thought there're exceptions.
4. Airplane tracking (ADS-B) is easy and can be done on a budget.
Suggestions are detailed below, personal circumstances and wallet thickness add unknowns to the equation. It's your money after all.
Part One here (link). Background information and testing notes in the Manifesto, underlined text are links, bring you to a new page in a new window. Click / tap images for full-screen glory.

Don't pay more than $10

18 dollars:

But that's cheap compared to this:

An RTL-SDR dongle can be bought for less than $10, or for less than $30 for premium models (Generic vs premium post link).

Buy branded from manufacturer.

If you want any branded dongle with Nooelec (link) or (link) written on it, visit the manufacturer's website. The example below costs $23 with 2-year warranty from the maker.

Flightaware ADS-B filter for approximately 150 dollars?

100 kHz - 1.7 GHz "full band" receivers

Ebay is awash with them.
Usually, these are dongles modified for direct sampling (detailed picture guide link for recent chinese generic and premium dongles link) and placed into a box with two SMA connectors.
Also appear at auctions for $0.01, just watch the shipping cost:

If you order a new Ferrari when the ashtray overflows with Cohibas, I got something for you:

Similar full-band RTL-SDR based receivers are also available around the $40 - $50 mark with built-in upconverters in a metal case - these can be spotted from a switch on the case, and "upconverter" and "oscillator" in product description.

If you need a small all-in-one RTL-based receiver, the Soft66RTL3 from Japan is yours for $38 shipped (eBay link, review link from Mike Ladd, one of the authors of SDRUno's cookbook).
The best all-in-one right now is the SDRPlay, but costs $150.


240 dollars on Amazon, users' opinions link. Freely downloadable software supplied.

Regular dongle for $25 from miniadsb :

All RTL-SDR dongles receive ADS-B signals, can feed FlightAware or Planefinder for premium membership, and a $10 dongle will do wonders if you cut the supplied black antenna back an inch or so and place it on a metal surface, preferably outdoors with a clear view of the sky.


This ADS-B oriented outfit was one of the first on the airplane tracking scene in 2007 with an integrated receiver / hardware solution. Bush was president, and smartphones were a dream.
In 2016, you can order the following for $50 - looks suspiciously like a dongle:

Actual user feedback:

"DVB-T Dongle performed BETTER than Radarbox" - link.

"I was deceived by their polished marketing materials and bought the Radarbox. Now, I regretted for life." - link.

"Similar devices can be purchased elsewhere for a tenth of the price!" - link.

Is it the software? Free download from AirNav website, officially supports RTL-SDR dongles. I can't verify that, crashed 7 out of 10 times, even when it started, unacceptable window scaling results in unreadable text, then it crashed again.
Here's a solution: Start => Control Panel => Uninstall a program. Works like a charm.
Flightaware sends you an activation code for Planeplotter, so if you want paid software for free that's an alternative option.
Countless other and free alternatives exist in 2016 for every platform imaginable - having an iOS or Android app is not high-tech anymore.
Why buy this? No clue.

Notable mentions

None of the following products qualify for ripoff label per se, as there are mitigating factors.
I just love the copywriting, so included for sheer amusement.

"RTL-SDR DARK KNIGHT DRONE DUAL RADIO RIG" is the best eBay description I ever came across; never mind R820T chipset for 47.50 dollars, I instantly want one.

Oh no. Wait.

Two blue receivers, "R820T2 (advanced)" for $46.90, blue tripod sleeves. Bluebeam will be the keyword for Christmas shopping - "drone" and "dual" just increase buying  impulse. Most drones operate on either 2.4 or 5 GHz WiFi bands, both way beyond RTL-SDR reception range.
I just want a bluebeam. Or two.
No, not really.

Manufacturer commented the following:
"The Drone radios are called such as they resemble a drone. Add the cost of two advanced dongles, 4 port 2.0 USB hub, tripod, Freight cost DHL China, eBay fees, Paypal fees and free $6 priority shipping, plus phone support for software installation and tell us what you think our profit is? Thanks for not completely trashing us though. - PATRIOTWAVES"

My response:
So we know why it's a drone rig. Many thanks.
Advanced dongles? You're selling two dongles with R820T2 chips, which are not advanced by any means - they are bog-standard RTL-SDR tuners available on eBay for $8.
Want to count together? You probably heard of alibaba, and assume that you order minimum 10 pieces. A dongle costs $4 (link) on alibaba (or less), and an USB hub and tripod is just a few dollars.
But let's say you can't order from China and using ebay, so order two dongles ($8 each), a 4-way usb hub ($5 if that) and and octopus tripod (about five bucks). Do the math.
Charging $48 dollars is absolutely fine, it's a free market, and I did not include you in the Ripoff section, because you provide assistance and free shipping in the USA.
Oh, just an advice: a codex is "a quire of manuscript pages held together by stitching: the earliest form of book, replacing the scrolls and wax tablets of earlier times" (link). The abbreviations listed on the eBay page are digital voice protocols, but I could be wrong, you're the professional charging for support.


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  2. Regarding PATRIOTWAVE comments, For $46, the personal telephone support of multiple SDR software packages including the latest digital decoding voice baseband software was well worth it! What is a turnkey SDR hardware/software/installation package worth to your readers? I saved several hrs of installation & testing and will order their new products!

  3. Fair enough Joe, many thanks for sharing your experience with Patriotwaves. Whenever you wish to elaborate further, write a post, will be published on this blog.
    Again, thanks for feedback, support means joy or an inert device, wanna hear from ya.