The Three Best Low Cost SDR Radios You Can Buy Today

Amateur Radio Projects and Software Defined Radio

The Three Best Low Cost SDR Radios You Can Buy Today

1. RTL2832u USB Dongle + Ham It Up HF Converter

Ham It Up and RTL Dongle Ready to Go!

RTL2832U and Ham It Up HF Converter

The RTL2843u plus the Ham It Up HF Converter is still the best value in low cost SDR period. This combo will allow you to receive signals in the VHF, UHF, and HF bands for a variety of applications for a stingy $125 investment. The combo offers decent performance along with a pretty respectable bandwidth for waterfall displays. Does it compare to a $400 to $1000 direct sampling SDR receiver ? Of course not, but it is a lot of fun and a great introduction to SDR radio. There is plenty of software available to allow you to use it as an ADSB receiver for aircraft tracking, an inexpensive waterfall display for you HF reciever, trunk tracking, satellite monitoring and other applications. The RTL2832u plus HF converter is supported by popular SDR software such HDSDR, SDR Sharp, Studio 1, and SDR-RADIO.com V2. The big downside to the RTL2832u + Ham It Converter for some is that it is more of a DIY project than an out of the box turnkey SDR system. You will need to obtain a RTL2832u Dongle, the Ham It Up converter if you want HF plus the optional enclosure, the appropriate adapter cables to connect the RTl2832u Dongle to the Ham it Up converter, and the adapter you will need to connect to your antenna system. For this reason we would highly recommend you buy the parts from NooElec on Amazon. NooElec does provide support for their products and can help you with getting the right stuff together. Here is the suggested parts:

NooElec NESDR Mini USB RTL-SDR & ADS-B Receiver Set, (Previously TV28T v2), RTL2832U & R820T Tuner, MCX Input. Low-Cost Software Defined Radio Compatible with Many SDR Software Packages. R820T Tuner & ESD-Safe Antenna Input, Guaranteed

Ham It Up v1.2 – NooElec RF Upconverter For Software Defined Radio. Works With Most SDRs Like Funcube, RTLSDR (RTL2832U with E4000, FC0013 or R820T Tuners); MF/HF Converter With SMA Jacks

Extruded Aluminum Enclosure Kit, Blue, for Ham It Up v1.1 & v1.2 RF Upconverter for RTL-SDR Radios

This will be more than likely the cable you will need to connect the RTL-2832U to the Ham It Up Converter, but you may want to double check this.

Ham It Up Upconverter Accessory – SDR Connector Cable For MCX-Style SDRs (NESDR Mini, NESDR Micro & TV28T v1 & TV28T v2). Male MCX to Male SMA pigtail, RG174, 0.5′ (15cm) length

Lastly, you may want to add an SMA Male to Pl259 cable to adapt the Ham It Up converter to your external antenna

“SMA” to “PL-259” Adapter Cable

Next you will need to download the Zadig drivers for the Dongle and decide what SDR software you want to use. The rest is up to you to do a little research to find out how to get the RTL2832U dongle talking to your software.

Pros
Low Cost
Wide Coverage VHF / UHF / HF
Wide Bandwidth
Easy to put together
Good software support with SDR Sharp, HDSDR, Studio 1, and SDR-RADIO.com

Cons
Software setup can be a bit fiddly
Doesn’t come with instructions
No official vendor support

Price – Est $120

2. Afedri SDR-Net

Afedri SDR-Net

Afedri SDR-Net

If you are looking for a decent HF SDR at a great price, look no further than the Afedri SDR-Net. The Afedri SDR-Net receiver covers the HF band from 100 kHz to 30.00MHz. The bandwidth for the Afedri SDR-Net Ver. 3 is now 1850 kHz when using the network interface and 230 kHz using the USB interface. For those who may not be that interested in doing a lot of fiddling about with their shack computer, when used with the USB interface, the Afedri SDR-Net can be very easy to set up. Just plug it into a USB interface (no special drivers required) and download SDR-Radio.com and tell the software to automatically find the USB connected Afedri and you are ready to go. Connecting the Afedri SDR-Net to your home network will allow you to use the much larger bandwidth available in the radio. This also gives you the benefit of locating the Afedri SDR-Net closer to the antenna or further away from noise generating computer equipment. In addition, it is also possible to remotely control the Afedri SDR-Net over the Internet when away from your shack. Connecting the Afedri SDR-Net to your directly to your computers network interface or to a router in your home system will require some minimum knowledge about home networks. However, you can get help directly on the Afedri User Forum on Yahoo Groups.

Pros
Low Cost
Wide Coverage HF
Wide Bandwidth on USB and even wider via a network connection
Easy to setup when connected via USB
Good software support with HDSDR, Studio 1, and SDR-RADIO.com
Excellent vendor support

Cons
Network setup needs a basic knowledge of pc networking

Price – $259 plus shipping

 

19 Responses

  1. Paul PD0PSB says:

    Don’t forget the Funcube Pro Plus !
    A very capable receiver from HF to UHF.

    73
    Paul
    PD0PSB

    • Ball says:

      The FCD range is excellent. Howard himself is a rather agreeable chap also. He’s done a lot for our group at AMSAT-UK

  2. Danny Mullins AB4TI says:

    Purchased an AFEDRI after reading your review. It was well written and informative. Would like to see articles more often.
    Thanks,

  3. Jon Hudson says:

    The new ‘Radio Spectrum Processor’ from SDRplay offers 8MHz bandwidth bewteen 100KHz and 380MHz and 43MHz to 2GHz. It is currently selling for $299

    • Jon hudson says:

      There’s a good review of the SDRplay RSP on the worldwide FM-TV DX association website

      • Phillip Williamson says:

        Late to the post party, seeing how this article is from June of 2014, but SDRPlay is now selling for $150. I picked one up at the local HRO store. I’m very impressed with it. Unfortunately, SDR# isn’t playing well with some SDR radios, but I use SDR Console and HDSDR mostly these days.

  4. Tim Bucknall says:

    yes Excellent article, i think i’ll go for the afedri too for simplicitys sake- i never managed to get my RTL2832 dongle working as an SDR- don’t mind though- it was very cheap and i can still watch TV and listen to DAB on it.

    is FCD any easier to set up than the RTL2832 dongle?

    the Alinco SDR handheld which i had working initially (i even posted some Wav files) now doesn’t work due to some stupid software update from microsoft affecting my system.
    i had the same problem with spectrum lab,
    when funds allow i’m going to go back to having 2 laptops -one for dxing which i never connect to the web and one for work stuff

    will be following ‘Radio Spectrum Processor’ from SDRplay with great interest- seems perfect for FM broadcast dxing

  5. “THESE RTL-SDR USB KITS ARE REALLY COOL! I LOVE THE COOL LOOKING GRAFIC COLOR SCREEN ON THESE NEAT UNITS!!

  6. Jon Hudson says:

    It would be good to update this article – especially now the SDRplay is only $149 for a 12 bit ADC.

  7. Jon hudson says:

    The frequency gap has been removed! The latest API/driver and EXTIO software releases enable coverage from 0.1MHz to 2GHz – more info on http://www.sdrplay.com

  8. Jon hudson says:

    Apologies for duplicate posts. They came back as “failed” the first 2 times! Jon

  9. Jon says:

    We are pleased to announce release 1.8.0 of the API for the SDRplay RSP. This is a major upgrade to the API with new features and an improved gain map which should result in improved performance over a key portion of the gain control range. Currently this API is available for Windows only, but versions for Linux and Mac OS and Android will follow shortly.

    The API now incorporates automatic post tuner DC offset correction and I/Q compensation. This will almost completely eliminate the DC centre spike that was previously present in zero IF mode and also correct for amplitude and phase errors in the I/Q signal paths that can lead to in-band images when strong signals are present.

    There is a new gain map for the RSP which should help improve the receiver noise floor for gain reduction settings in the range of 59-78 dB. To achieve this, the IF gain control range has been increased from 59 to 78 dB. In addition, the user can now turn the LNA on or off at any point within the IF gain control range. This means that the LNA can remain on for gain reduction settings of up to 78 dB, whereas previously the maximum gain reduction that could be attained whilst the LNA was on was only 59 dB. Being able to leave the LNA on will result in improvements in the receiver noise performance for gain reductions in the range of 59 to 78 dB. The upper 19 dB of the IF gain control range have now been disabled. In practice this part of the gain control range was useless as trying to operate within this region always lead to receiver overload even when signals were very weak.

    To fully exploit the features of this new API release, we have also issued release 3.5 of the ExtIO plugin. This plugin will work with HDSDR, SDR sharp (releases 1361 or earlier) and Studio 1. Automatic I/Q compensation and DC offset correction will work with later versions of SDR sharp, but we will need to update the native plugin for users of these later versions to be access the new gain map.

    Similarly, users of SDR Console will gain the benefit of automatic DC offset compensation and I/Q correction, but will not yet be able to access the new gain map. We hope that a version of SDR console that unlocks this feature will become available in the near future.

    Until a new release of SDR-Console is available, you can copy the API into the SDR-Console installation directory…

    from C:\Program Files\MiricsSDR\API\x64\mir_sdr_api.dll to C:\Program Files\SDR-RADIO-PRO.com\mir_sdr_api.dll

    The API installer has also contains an extra certificate to be more user friendly for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 users.

    The new API and ExtIO plugin can be downloaded from our website at: http://www.sdrplay.com/windows.html

  10. Sandro says:

    Hi
    I have got both , RSP and AFREDI.
    From side dirver ,RSP is more complete and have the best compatiblity with all software.
    Afredi have less bandwidth but a signal more strong and clear.
    Extio.dll of AFREDI aren’t so complete like RSP.

    Now i use AfREDI with first IF of my icom 7410 and i can say that i prefer to listen signal by HDSDR

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