The bad news is that the venerable RTL2832U / E4000 chipset DVB-T stick that has been the source of many SDR projects is getting a little harder find. The good news is that the new kid on the block the RTL2832U / R820T looks like a worthy replacement. The other advantage is the the RTL2832U / R820T is a bit cheaper. The RTL2832U / E4000 is typically selling from $25 – $35 while the RTL2832U / R820T sells for around $10 to $20. The frequency range of the RTL2832U / E4000 is generally around 64MHZ to 1700MHz with a gap around 1100MHz to 1250MHz. The RTL2832U / R820T frequency range is 24MHZ to roughly 1850MHz with no gaps (found yet), and no DC offset spike. RTL2832U / E4000 uses a Pal type antenna connector and adapters are easily found at your local Radio Shack for external antennas. The RTL2832U /R82oT sticks typically come with a MCX antenna which means external antenna adapters are little harder to find , but can be ordered from Amazon or other electronic supply sites. The RTL2832U / 820T can be purchased for about $10 – $15 on Ebay from Chinese dealers or from NooElec in the US for about $21.
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I did a little informal testing between the two sticks using SDR Sharp using the supplied whip antennas. These tests were just to take a look at the real world performance between the chipsets on some commonly used frequency range. I am sure that at some point someone will do some more accurate testing, but these real world listening tests will at least give you a rough idea of the differences between the two DVB-T sticks. Here is a synopsis of the results.
FM Broadcast Band
The E4000 seemed to be noticeably more sensitive in this area. The R820T did fairly well also, but the E4000 definitely did a better job with very weak signals. This might make the E4000 a better candidate for use with a HF converter since most of the inexpensive ones available convert HF to the FM band on the RTL2832U sticks.
Both sticks exhibit a lot of susceptibility to RFI in this band in my environment. Both failed to pick up a weak ASOS signal at 132.875MHz that I can usually receive on most scanners with a whip antenna. Both sticks will do much better with an external antenna and both will receive stronger nearby aircraft signals easily with the whip. Overall the two sticks were fairly close in performance with a tiny edge going to the R820T.
NOAA Weather Band
Both sticks were able to receive the local NOAA weather broadcast at 162.400MHz with their whip antennas with no problems. Again the R820T was slightly stronger.
800 MHz Trunking
This is where the R820T really began to become noticeably more sensitive. While the E4000 could receive the same signals, the R820T signals were noticeably stronger and clearer.
1090MHz ADS-B Aircraft Navigation Signals
Here the R820T totally “wipes the floor” with the E4000. ADS-B signals were tremendously better with the R820T. This makes the R820T a much better choice to use as an inexpensive ADS-B receiver with gr-air-modes.
10 Meter Amateur Radio Band
The E4000 cant go here, but the R820T can. Actually the R820T can do a fairly good job with signals here. However, the R820T is not going to compete with a competent HF radio. Just consider it as a “bonus”.
At the the end of the day, I would have to declare the R820T the victor in this shootout, if you are willing to give up a little performance tradeoff in the FM Broadcast band. The R820T appears to become a tad more sensitive starting around 160MHz with larger gains the higher you go. The R820T seems much better suited for monitoring higher frequency signals such as 800MHz trunking systems and most definitely ADS-B. Also you do get additional coverage from 24MHz to 30MHz. Not to mention that the RTL2832U / R820T chipset runs about $10 cheaper than the RTL2832U / E4000 DVB-T stick.
Here is a video comparison of the two DVB-T sticks.