The Three Best Low Cost SDR Radios You Can Buy Today
1. RTL2832u USB Dongle + 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
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.
Lastly, you may want to add an SMA Male to Pl259 cable to adapt the Ham It Up converter to your external antenna
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.
Wide Coverage VHF / UHF / HF
Easy to put together
Good software support with SDR Sharp, HDSDR, Studio 1, and SDR-RADIO.com
Software setup can be a bit fiddly
Doesn’t come with instructions
No official vendor support
Price – Est $120
2. 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.
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
Network setup needs a basic knowledge of pc networking
Price – $259 plus shipping