A Software Defined Radio (SDR) is a radio communication device in which the standard components (filters, mixers, amplifiers, etc.) are instead implemented with the help of software on a PC or embedded system. The primary advantage of this device is the provision of ubiquitous wireless communication, which allows end-users to communicate with whomever they want, whenever they need, and in whatever way appropriate. Sounds fun, right?Today, SDRs are continuously evolving. There is always a “latest” model popping up somewhere. This article brings you five of the most top-rated and popular SDRs with antenna. You will also learn how to choose the best SDR for you in the buyer’s guide section. We considered several important factors, such as cost, ease of use, application, and workable frequency range for our list. Hopefully, you will find the best SDR with antenna for your needs by reading the article below.
1. HackRF One Software Defined Radio (SDR) with ANT500 Antenna
If you are looking for a great radio with lots of bandwidth, the HackRF One SDR is for you. This model is capable of transmitting and receiving half-duplex communication. Besides, it is fully compatible with an extensive range of SR software applications. The bundle that comes with this model includes an ANT500 antenna, four SMA antenna adapters, and a USB cable for powering up the device.
This device allows you to tune from 1 MHz to 6 MHz, which is no small feat. With such a wide range coverage, you can experiment a lot just by changing frequencies. Buy two, and you can even develop your own radio protocols and applications, like encrypted walkie talkies.
This device is not plug-and-play, and there is no instruction manual, so you are on your own in setting up the communication. We recommend looking up Michael Ossman’s tutorials on YouTube in case you have any problems with the setup. You can also use the GNUradio application that is available online to design your custom radios and instruments.
If you just want to listen to the radio, go get a radio. However, if you want to explore all the other ways that RF is being utilized today, this is a must-have device to begin your journey. That said, the cost of this model may be a problem for some beginners.
Buy Here: Amazon
2. RTL-SDR Blog V3 SDR with Dipole Antenna Kit
The RTL-SDR Blog V3 is undoubtedly the most popular SDR model in the market today. This device can tune from 500kHz to 1.7GHz, with up to 3.2MHz (2.4MHz stable) of bandwidth. This makes it perfect for use as a computer-based RF scanner with software like GQRX, HDSDR, SDR-Radio, SDR#, or SDR Touch on Android. It works like a charm on Windows, Linux, Android, OSX, and Raspberry Pi.
This model offers several improvements over previous models that also give it an edge over its competitors. For instance, this model includes an improved R820T2 tuner, a 1PPM TCXO oscillator, better components, a redesigned low-noise PCB, extra ESD protection, tough aluminum casing with thermal pad cooling, and an SMA F connector. This device also features a high-performance USB 2.0 supported RTL2832U DVB-T COFDM ADC chip. Moreover, the dongle has a software activatable bias-tee for firing up active antennas and LNAs.
The package comes with a multi-purpose dipole antenna kit. While short antennas are good for ADS-B, and the longer antennas perform decently at low frequencies, they struggle with frequencies below 50 MHz. Also, on HF, you may have to employ external filtering to avoid overload.
That said, the RTL-SDR can be employed in endless ways, including public safety, weather balloons, air traffic control, general radio scanning, ACARS, P25/MotoTRBO digital voice, POCSAG, NOAA APT/Meteor M2 weather satellites, APRS, radio astronomy, trunked radio, DAB, or even as a low-cost panadapter along with ham radio.
Buy Here: Amazon
3. NESDR Mini 2+ Receiver Set with Antenna
The NESDR Mini 2+ comes factory tuned for SDR. This model features a higher accuracy of 0.5 PPM TCX EO crystal GPS (Japanese fabricated), RF-suitable voltage supply, and improved components. As a result, the sensitivity levels have also improved, while reducing power consumption and noise levels.
The package includes a telescopic antenna, a magnetic suction base (to facilitate other antenna mounting options), and a female SMA adapter in case you require SMA antennas. Just be careful of one thing, though. The antenna connector included here is a very tiny MCX female jack. Therefore, if you are upgrading another device that uses SMA, be sure to locate some converter cables first.
The unit is based on Rafael Micro’s R820T2 tuner IC, providing considerable efficiency improvements over the previous R820T IC model. The frequency range of this device is approximately 25MHz to 1750MHz. This is an approximation because frequency can differ from unit to unit. In addition, the RTL2832 (RTL2832U) IC onboard acts as a USB interface and the demodulator for the device.
In general, the NESDR Mini 2+ is an ideal choice to begin your exploration of SDR devices. This model is also a cost-effective radio for novices that can be used to play with fire and police scanning, ADS-B, trunking, satellite imagery, and other similar applications.
Buy Here: Amazon
4. ANALOG DEVICES ADALM-Pluto SDR
Primarily geared towards students, the PlutoSDR is yet another interesting option. This device is an independent full-duplex transceiver capable of working with signals from 325MHz to 3800MHz at up to 61.44 MSPS. But that is not all!
You can even make slight modifications to this device to get the most out of your purchase. First, you can extend the range to 70-6000MHz and 56MHz BW. Second, you can also enable a second CPU core. This one is a dual-core CPU with one disabled by default.
PlutoSDR is small enough to fit in your shirt pocket, yet is capable of helping students from all levels and backgrounds to learn the SDR fundamentals, radio frequency, and wireless communication. Because it is enabled by libiio drivers, this device is compatible with OS X, Windows, and Linux.
All in all, this model is a great piece of equipment for any SDR enthusiast, not just students. The ability of this device to transmit RF opens up a whole new vista of learning, testing, and fun.
Buy Here: Amazon
5. NESDR Nano 3 OTG – RTL-SDR Bundle
If you want a mobile SDR bundle with your existing USB On-The-Go compatible devices, then NESDR Nano 3 is a great portable option. This device is compact, easy to configure, budget-friendly, and works like a charm.
In addition to Android (we recommend SDR touch), this RTL-SDR can also be used with devices running on Windows, Linux, and OS X. As it is focused on MicroUSB host devices, this model is not compatible with devices that require USB C. A smaller form factor allows this device to fit conveniently in tight spots without visually standing out like other products.
The package that comes with this device includes a nano-sized antenna, four USB OTG adapters, a heatsink, and an articulating adapter for the SMA antennas. The included Y-cable and Y-adapter allow for an auxiliary power source to be connected to provide power to the SDR and prolong the battery life of the host device.
Our only concern is overheating. The device runs a little warm and can be hot to the touch. Nevertheless, this device remains stable during the entire operation. Just consider placing this device in a place where heat can dissipate easily, and you should be fine. Besides, the device does come with a two-year manufacturer warranty. So, if the device does malfunction or break, your investment remains safe and secure.
Buy Here: Amazon
Choosing the right SDR can be complicated for beginners. Before heading out to purchase one, consider the following three key aspects:
In broad terms, SDRs can be classified into the following three categories:
- Entry-level SDRs – Typically in the form of USB dongles, low-end SDRs for beginners.
- Medium-level SDRs – Require the control and display capabilities of a PC or laptop.
- Top-level SDRs – Aimed at professionals, mostly self-contained, but can be connected to computers.
Most popular SDRs can cover frequencies as high as 6 GHz. If it is not a well-known model, make sure that the device covers a similar range to get the most out of the SDR.
Interface Speed and Bandwidth
The speed of the interface dictates how much data can be moved to and from the host processor. For instance, USB and 10/100 Ethernet have specific standard speeds. Similarly, bandwidth is determined by the digitizer sample rate and analog design, which enables SDR to process analog signals.
At times, a device may generate internal noise, preventing it from detecting weak signals. Likewise, strong nearby signals may interfere and overwhelm the SDR. Therefore, the tracker’s ability to discover weak signals in the absence (and presence) of strong signals comes in handy.
The software support is what makes an SDR so useful. There is a large ecosystem of software in fields such as signal monitoring, test and measurement, and research and design, that make these devices so versatile. Similarly, community support is also essential. The broader the user base, the better the help you can get. This also improves support for different applications and hardware, and of course, it ensures more collaboration.
The SDR field changes rapidly as new modifications in chipsets and components get introduced. We studied several products and reviewed the top five best SDR devices with antenna in 2020. These are low cost, efficient, and provide the best value for the price. With the development of newer platforms offering Arduino accessibility, expect the cost to decrease further while increasing capabilities. We will keep you posted on the latest developments.
That is all for this article. Thank you for reading.