If you’re a true radio enthusiast, it would be essential for you to find a solution that allows you to modify your radios in an easy and cost-effective way. However, an SDR is actually a much more versatile device with many uses, though the main feature would usually always be the ability to receive and/or transmit signals in a more advanced and digital way.
With that said, let us walk you through the 5 best SDRs on the market.
1. NooElec HackRF One Software Defined Radio (SDR)
This is one of the most advanced SDRs you will find on the market. It comes with pretty much every feature you can imagine, and actually a lot more.
It’s a half-duplex radio and transmits and receives just as easily at any point of its entire frequency range of 1MHz to 6GHz. However, it’s one of the few radios that is capable of using an incredibly large amount of bandwidth, and has absolutely no problem performing the more demanding tuning tasks like tuning a television station broadcast at 6 MHz.
In fact, it can handle a lot more than that, as it only uses some of its bandwidth to perform the above task. Just to make it more clear, a particular customer mentioned it’s almost capable enough to record an entire FM broadcast band at once, too. Now that’s really saying something as most other SDRs wouldn’t even come close to achieving anything like that.
However, the real thing you should note about this device is that it’s incredibly versatile and it’s just impossible to describe all the ways in which it can be used. It’s definitely not a “work out of the box” device though, and you do need a decent amount of knowledge of programming, operating systems and more to get the most out of this device or even understand its real capabilities.
It would help you understand the applications and ways in which RF (Radio Frequency) is being used in a much easier and practical manner.
Furthermore, as this device is also capable of transmitting low power RF signals too, you can get another one and set up your own radio applications and protocols that you can use with your walkie talkies and other devices like an HAM radio.
You can make it work pretty easily with both Windows and Linux. If you’re really enthusiastic about this innovative technology then just click on the yellow Amazon button at the end of this review and get this device to let the fun begin.
- Super versatile device with a virtually endless number of applications and uses
- Great bandwidth range and capable of using a large amount of bandwidth at once
- Handles the most demanding of tuning tasks extremely well
- Amazing way to understand RF applications and how it works in practical ways
- Can be used to set up your own radio applications and protocols
- Works well with both Windows and Linux
- There’s no manual or anything of that sort, so you’re all on your own with a steep learning curve
Do not let the lack of a manual disappoint you though. This is because considering the kind of versatility it comes with it would be impossible to cover everything in a manual.
But if you have some knowledge and find it fun to research and delve deeper into these technologies, you would love every second of using this device!Check Price on Amazon
2. NooElec Ubertooth One
This device is very different from the one we reviewed above but it can work great for a specific type of users.
It’s mainly designed around analyzing Bluetooth signals as well as performing experiments on them. It works incredibly well when it comes to finding all the detailed information about Bluetooth traffic. You would even be able to monitor the Bluetooth traffic in real-time, which is definitely pretty impressive at this price point.
Sure, you have to know how to program it properly but if you do or are capable of figuring out, you’re going to have a great time with this thing. It would allow you to see what really you can do with different devices.
Coming to the specifications, this device is a 2.4GHz transceiver that works for both transmitting and receiving, just like the HackRF One. It also includes a 2.4GHz duck antenna.
However, there are a couple things to note here.
- You wouldn’t just find drivers that you can download for this device, you have to build your own
- The same goes for applications as well, you need to build your own
- It’s particularly useful for analyzing and assessing Bluetooth, but don’t think you would be able to go hacking Bluetooth with this device
We are not listing these points under the cons as they aren’t really cons but more of a given with devices like this one, and most people that know what they are buying it for also know these things.
- Amazing device for analyzing Bluetooth and monitoring Bluetooth traffic even in real-time
- Great for performing experiments on Bluetooth signals as well
- It’s a 2.4GHz transceiver and comes with a 2.4GHz duck antenna too
- Works great with Linux but needs a bit of work to set it up
- There don’t really seem to be any cons but you must note it’s mainly for analyzing Bluetooth and not very versatile in terms of its uses and applications
3. NooElec Yard Stick One USB Transceiver
This is another great device which is priced quite affordably but can both transmit and receive just like the other products we reviewed above. However, it only claims to work over most popular license-free bands – and while it shouldn’t be a problem for most users – you would want to take this into account as well especially if you’re a more advanced user.
It comes integrated with a receive amplifier and a transmit amplifier. There’s also a female SMA connector so you wouldn’t have any trouble using an external antenna with it.
This device may not exactly fit the definition of an SDR technically speaking, but it would offer pretty much everything a true SDR does.
However, it does have a bit of a limitation in that it can only operate near the following frequencies:
- 281-361 MHz
- 378-481 MHz
- 749-962 MHz
Our top pick, the HackRF, clearly outperforms this device as it can receive and transmit all across the range from 1MHz to 6GHz.
However, just like the HackRF, it works great at RF hacking and anything that has to do with RF.
- Great device at a great price with both receiving and transmitting capabilities
- You can connect an external antenna to it
- Works pretty well at anything and everything RF
- Relatively easy to use
- Monitoring and injecting sub-GHz frequencies is a breeze
- Comes with a fixed length antenna
4. Seeedstudio KiwiSDR
This is a great SDR if you’re looking to do some serious monitoring or learning. While it might seem disappointing that it doesn’t have transmitting capabilities and can only be used for receiving, but that’s also its advantage.
This is because it allows you to use the device to learn HF without getting into harm’s way as it can’t be used to transmit so you would never be able to transmit over bands or frequencies that are illegal for unlicensed users. You would be able to explore as much as you want and learn a lot while doing so without having to worry about any licensing issues.
Furthermore, it’s considerably easier to set up and use than most other SDRs out there, including all the ones we reviewed above.
This makes it a great way for beginners to venture into HF and learn more about it before even having to purchase a CB radio or any other type of radio for that matter.
However, a particular downside is that it tends to perform poorly when used with a cheap inside antenna. But with a good external antenna, the signals would flood in like you may not even expect.
- Great SDR for learning HF and figuring out your licensing requirements before even having to buy a radio
- It can only receive but that’s exactly what makes it a great learning tool
- Super easy to install and use
- Great at catching signals with a good antenna
- For the more advanced users, the lack of transmitting capabilities can be a deal-breaker
- No digital record
5. Nooelec NESDR Mini 2+
This is actually an external TV tuner, but that’s not what we will be reviewing it for. This is because as a TV tuner, it would be pretty much useless for most readers reading this as it’s not designed to receive the signals that are used in the US, at least not out of the box.
That said, it can actually be a much more versatile device for the right user, and that’s precisely what we will be reviewing it for. In fact, it can be used much more like a digital radio receiver than anything else.
A particular user was able to “unlock” its receiving capabilities just by installing an app called “Radio Receiver” and tune into their local FM broadcasts and a lot more like local HAM repeaters as well.
With a good antenna (not the same as an CB antenna) however, you would be able to get much more out of it, being able to receive AM, FM, SSB signals and more.
And this is all for an unbelievably low price of under $25. Sure, you can’t expect it to work in a way a full-blown shortwave radio can, but at this price you would be well out of your mind to complain.
What’s more, it receives the signals so well that a particular user was also able to use it to track airplanes flying at 40,000 ft.
All said and done, this SDR radio offers an incredible value for money coming with a high-quality oscillator and lower noise levels too.
- Very versatile device with many uses
- Great at receiving many different types of signals
- Easy to set up by just installing some app or software
- Comes with an antenna
- Excellent sensitivity
- Great price
- Won’t work as a TV tuner in the US
Benefits of Using an SDR
The benefits of using an SDR are certainly appealing enough for the amateur radio enthusiasts to get one of the above devices right away. Let us discuss some of the more important ones below.
As we mentioned at the beginning, an SDR can go a long way in helping a radio enthusiast discover useful information about RF that they can use to achieve a better performance from their radio devices.
It doesn’t matter what type of radio you’re using; be it a HAM radio, CB radio, two-way radio, or a handheld HAM radio, a good SDR would be help you achieve an improved performance from your device.
Most advanced SDRs can both receive and transmit – and although not at the same time – it does offer a lot of flexibility to radio enthusiasts.
With a good amount of bandwidth, an SDR can do a lot more in terms of its applications and uses, adding to the overall versatility.
The Digital Appeal
SDRs have a digital appeal to them unlike the hardware-based solutions that do not. They connect to your PC and allow you to analyze the RF signals in a digital way.
The digital appeal also allows manufacturers and radio service providers to upgrade the capabilities of their device in a way more convenient manner as they can just release software updates that the users need to download.
What to Consider Before Choosing an SDR?
You must keep in mind the following things when deciding on a particular SDR.
- Your needs, use, and the main purpose you would want the SDR for
- Whether the SDR is capable of both receiving and transmitting or only receiving
- The frequency range over which the device can receive and/or transmit
- Tuning capabilities – depending on your needs
- How versatile the device is (for example, our second pick is only suitable for analyzing and monitoring Bluetooth traffic and signals)
- Price (some of them can be unnecessarily expensive)
- Licensing requirements
- Ease of use (especially if you’re a beginner with little programming knowledge)
SDR Review Conclusion
Most of you already know enough about an SDR and may not really be looking for general information about it, but the best options you can go for as a user. And that’s exactly what we focused the most on in this post: Finding and reviewing the 5 best SDRs for you.
It’s important to note that each SDR differs quite a bit in terms of their frequency range, ease of use, and other important features, so you must carefully figure out your needs before deciding on one of the products we reviewed above.