Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Comparison: Generic RTL-SDR R820T2 vs Nooelec Mini 2

Generic or branded? $8 or $21? Observations after Nooelec sent a brand-new Mini 2 (manufacturer, Amazon) for review (many thanks, disclaimer) and bought a fresh R820T2 off eBay. Identical receiver specs on paper, but are they really the same?

Interchangeable cases:

PCBs look quite similar, click on image for full screen view:

Upon closer inspection, component mounting on PCB, sideview:

Supplied mounts and coax cables: same diameter, same holding power of magnet, discover the difference between coax cables:

Supplied antennas: Mini 2 has more than twice the length and adjustable.

Why does it matter? Signals are received by the antenna, and with a larger / longer antenna you got a fleeting chance of listening to fun action bands below 200 MHz, e.g. airband with generic and silver telescopic, higher peak in the image better (able to understand voice):

Sidenote: receive performance matters primarily on antenna used, location, line of sight, and a host other factors, simply put, the Mini 2 with the supplied antenna will provide more listening pleasure.
Performance with external antenna: indistinguishable on an external discone by ear, tested on ADS-B and totals within three percent. Mini 2 has a less noisy waterfall image:

Try that again:

Don't ask why, only swapped dongles, both were fully warmed up.
Warranty: Mini 2 6 months, generics comes with 30 or 60-day warranty:

Support: close to nonexistent with a generic, Nooelec seems to be staffed with people who actually use what they sell, therefore can intelligently answer questions.
Reliability: Bought a Nooelec dongle more than four and a half years ago after generics failed, and that dongle is still ticking without any hiccups:

Featured in many old posts of yours truly (e.g. Reducing electrical noise) so it wasn't pampered, in fact, I bought my first Ham-It-Up after seeing that a dongle with Nooelec written on them won't let me down.

Comment and answer:

Came up elsewhere as well:
"What was the results of tests of both units with the same antenna mounted outside?"
Two eggs, same PCB, Nooelec is clearer, but won't matter at the $8 level. Difference is antenna, warranty, build quality, receive performance will be hard to see or impossible to hear for sighted people.


This or that? Truly believe that a generic RTL-SDR R820T2 is the best value for money in the radio world, and - be realistic - with bills looming on the horizon, $8 is less painful than $21. But with limitations: shoddy antenna, questionable build quality and no long-term support. Feel free to read up how to do a few mods for better performance if you understand the "DIY" moniker.
Which one would I buy? Reliability, warranty and performance are the keywords for me, so I'd go for the Mini 2, better still, spend that extra few bucks and get a Nooelec SMArt or v.3.


  1. What was the results of tests of both units with the same antenna mounted outside?

    The first thing I did was get an adapter so that I could use an antenna that was outside my shack. I have not performed any testing; I am just curious what the results would look like.


    John McGrath

    1. Updated post with answer to comment many thanks.