Cheap vs best: Long-term ADS-B shootout

4 stations, 4 antennas, let's see the difference between the cheapest and a quite expensive setup, Pro Stick vs Pro Stick Plus, on homemade and with a commercial antenna.
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ADS-B Stations

All based on Raspberry Pi microcomputers, only major difference is radio equipment used:

Benchmark: v.3 (review here, $20 receiver only, buy at manufacturer or on Amazon USA) connected to Uputronics 1090 MHz filtered preamp (review here, $45 at UK manufacturer or USA distributor) on a FlightAware antenna ($45 on Amazon USA, similar prices elsewhere). I consider this setup to be the ultimate for ADS-B reception this side of spending big money.
FlightAware Pro Stick Plus (review here, $19 on Amazon USA, similar prices at other distributors) on a homemade antenna. The performance-obsessed's penny-pincher choice.
FlightAware Pro Stick (review here, $17 on Amazon USA) on a DIY antenna. Built-in amplification.
Generic $8 RTL-SDR dongle, no amplification nor filtering on a homemade antenna.
Connectors and pigtails are from Nooelec, I've given up on unreliable Far East wonders a long time ago.
Back-end computing consists of two ModMyPi Starter Kits (review, shop) and two Pis of my own.


Location description and minuscule details in February's test diary. Homemade antennas are Coketennas, my simplified construction take on the popular cantenna concept:

This is not a scientific test, pro or contra trying to prove any agenda - simply put, I placed four antennas next to each other, then let them collect signals without any user intervention for a long time frame.


Compiled into a spreadsheet from FlightAware's control panel:

10-day Totals in a chart:

Benchmark setup was the best, unsurprising considering that all components represent the pinnacle of affordable ADS-B signal reception. 17.64% more position reports than a Pro Stick Plus and a homemade antenna.
Pro Stick Plus and a homemade antenna for $20 total equipment cost continues to surprise.
Pro Stick had less position reports than a Plus - filtering seems to work.
Plain vanilla dongle and a homemade antenna, for maybe $10 cash outlay, had half the totals of benchmark. On a botched Coketenna - I only cut off the bottom, so height is way off, still, not too bad for the price of two beers and 10 minutes of construction time.

Polar plots comparison

Best day's data, Totals from FlightAware, coverage off planefinder:

Draw your own conclusions, or read mine below.

Closing thoughts

Hardcore ADS-B enthusiasts should go for the benchmark setup, because bias-T capability in v.3 enables filtered preamp to be placed right at the antenna, so long coax runs with low-loss coax can be easily used for perfect unobstructed line of sight. If the preceding sentence did not make sense, or hundred-dollar bills don't stick to your bare feet when you get up for the 5am morning shift, a Pro Stick Plus and a homemade antenna won't be significantly worse for ADS-B only.
Best overall choice? In terms of equipment from this list, I'd go for the orange Pro Stick due to onboard amplification. Price difference is small versus an unbranded dongle and ADS-B performance is in a completely different division. Furthermore, it can be used for general listening unlike a filtered setup, with spectacular results on data signals.

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