The days are over when you need to have a radio to transmit and receive transmissions. With the best SDR radio, you can do all that from your PC or laptop today.
What’s SDR you ask?
It is a simple device that uses software to provide radio services. You can plug it into your laptop like a pen drive and the software on that will help you to use the radio from your device.
No need for an actual radio anymore.
Doesn’t it sound cool?
If you want to know more about it or want to have one such to use, then you should give a look at the best software defined radio list I’ve got here.
What are the Best SDR Radios?
An SDR radio enables you to receive and transmit audio waves under the control of your PC or laptop. It saves you the hustle of having an actual radio. Here is a summary list of the best SDR radios. Please read it and pick your poison.
Best Budget Device: RTL-SDR Blog V3 R820T2 RTL283U SDR
It is very affordable with numerous features like general radio, air traffic control, HF frequency, and a multi-purpose antenna kit.
Best Overall:Noolec NESDR Smart v4 SDR
It comes with a beautiful aluminum casing, powerful noise reduction technique, better sensitivity, and flexibility.
Best HF Radio: Nooelec NESDR Smart Software Defined Radio
It offers the smartest option with an up-converter that gets HF channels with an exceptional frequency range.
Best Long-range Frequency: NooElecHackRF One Software Defined Radio
It has a wide frequency range of 1 Mhz to 6 Hz, with a transmission and reception available in half-duplex mode.
Editor’s Choice: NooElec NESDR Mini 2+ 0.5PPM TCXO RTL-SDR
The best low-budget device with a couple of features like less power consumption and improved sensitivity with noise reduction feature.
Best Adapter-free: HackRF One Software Defined Radio
It only comes with one ANT500 antenna, which effectively picks up radio signals and can monitor a wide range.
Best Integrated System: NooElec NESDR Smart v4 Bundle
It is redesigned to phase out noise, has heat sinks to keep it running, and a new antenna that significantly improves the reception.
Best For Mobile Compatible: NESDR Nano 3 OTG – Premium RTL-SDR Bundle
It comes with a 4 USB OTG adapter to enable you easily connect to your mobile device and other systems too.
Best Noise-free SDR: NESDR SMArTee v2 SDR
This device offers an ultimate low noise experience due to its redesigned PCB.
Best Top Choice: NooelecHackRF Complete Bundle SDR Radio
It has a 0.5PPM TCXO that keeps down noise and SMA adapters for the best reception ever.
Best SDR Radio – Reviews
There is a lot of SDR radio out there in the market, but not all are great. Someone looking into getting one of these can often make the wrong choice and later regret it. If you don’t want to be one of those folks, then check out the best SDR transceivers that rule the industry right now.
1. RTL-SDR Blog V3 R820T2 RTL2832U Software Defined Radio
If you’re looking for an SDR beside the NooElec brand, then RTL-SDR got just the right thing for you.
The RTL-SDR Blog V3 R820T2 RTL2832U Software Defined Radio is the device in question. It is a small dongle with an antenna and a couple of other things that come along with it.
But first, take a look into the dongle itself. RTL-SDR made big changes with the design of the board to lower noise. And this trend is seen all over. You get a better LDO in this unit that also works to lessen the noise. At the same time, it lowers the voltage required for the operation.
Many of the small dongle units overheat which deteriorates the radio performance big time. Not going to happen any of the things with the Blog V3 thanks to the thermal cooling pad it got to transfer the heat from PCB to the metal case.
And the metal enclosure itself does a superb job of reducing interference while using the SDR device.
Just like the earlier device, it can tune into HF frequency. The range it offers is 500 kHz to 1.7 GHz.
With those portable dipole antennas that come with it, you will get great terrestrial and satellite reception using the gear.
That’s one of the reasons you get to listen from general radio to NOAA to emergency channels with such crystal-clear audio.
Not bad for a budget device like such.
- Comes with a dongle and multipurpose dipole antenna kit
- Offers listening to general radio, air traffic control, and many other stations
- Improved designed lower noise
- Tuning range is 500 kHz to 1.7 GHz
- Recieves HF frequency
- Has a passive cooling thermal pad
- Aluminum shielded case reduces interference
2. Nooelec NESDR Smart v4 SDR – Premium RTL-SDR w/ Aluminum Enclosure
Looking at the NooElec SDR, you get a brushed aluminum case that looks quite stunning.
And it not only looks good, but it also does a great job of blocking interference to let the device perform without any issues. At the same time, it helps with the heat reduction in the device itself.
The noise reduction in the unit is the result of the 0.5PPM TCXO. It is one of the many improvements with the design alongside the voltage regulator, custom heatsink, and a couple of other stuff.
Now, coming to the frequency, it got a 25 MHz – 1700 MHz range that you can extend. Using the ham it up, you can get it 100 kHz or even lower.
There is 0 frequency drift. And it offers better sensitivity than some real radio systems out there that are too expensive.
For the price, the highly accurate radio service with its flexibility is one of the best, if not the best.
- Offers 0.5PPM, ultra-low phase noise TCXO RF-suitable voltage regulator
- Has a shielded primary inductor
- Dongle got integrated custom heatsink
- Has a female SMA antenna input
- Provides a black brushed aluminum enclosure
- Got PCB through-hole direct sampling pads
3. Nooelec NESDR Smart Software Defined Radio Set for HF/UHF/VHF
If you’re interested in listening to HF bands, then the NooElec NESDR smart is a serious option to look into.
Using its upconverter, it can ham it up to get those HF unlike anything else out there in the market. There is gain control loss with it.
The build quality of it is something that leaves all content. The solid build gives you the luxury to throw it in the bag and take it with you on trips.
Even the frequency range it covers is quite exceptional. Like the HackRF ones it not might on the higher range, but still, the 100 kHz to 1.7 GHz is quite an improvement over the simple receiver models.
The antenna that comes with the unit is quite good. But if you wish, you can get more powerful ones to pick up Ham radio conversations from all over the world.
And it is not that hard to use. Just insert the USB SDR and install the required software on your PC.
For listening to regular FM stations to Ham it up to tune into those HF signals, you can do a lot with this small kit.
- Has a frequency range of 100 kHz to 1.7 GHz
- Listen to FM radio
- Ham it Up for HF reception
- Has no loss of gain controls
- Offers Ham it Up v1.3 upconverter
- Comes with 3 antennas
- Made in USA and Canada
- Provides 24/7 technical support
- Works with a wide variety of software programs
4. NooElec HackRF One Software Defined Radio
The HackRF one is an SDR that, as mentioned, you can plug into the computer. Think of it as a sound driver for your PC. When you have it on the computer, it enables you to use the sound output. The same goes for this small device. When you plug it in, you get a radio service for use on your PC.
Coming to the radio, you get a simple, compact box with an antenna and 4 SMA adapters for the antenna. Plus a USB cable.
What makes the HackRF one unique is it can transmit and receive in half-duplex mode. And the range of frequency it offers is quite wide: 1 Mhz to 6Hz.
That’s not it, as it comes with many antenna adapters, you can use different antennas with the device to improve the transmission and reception too.
One of the things that really makes it great is that you can listen to two channels at one using it. And the fact, you get direct support from NooElec for installation makes it easier to get ready for use.
- Operates on a wide frequency range: 1MHz to 6GHz
- Works as a half-duplex transceiver
- Supports GNU radio, SDR#, and more
- Has configurable RX and TX gain using software
- Provides baseband filter using
- Connects a variety of antenna from F-connector, N-connector, BNC, and PAL
- NooElec provides installation support and assistance
5. Nooelec NESDR Mini 2+ 0.5PPM TCXO RTL-SDR
For something more within the budget, go for NooElec NESDR mini model.
It is a pen drive size device that can turn your smartphone or PC into a radio receiver. Yes, just the receiver as it can’t transmit.
Coming to the device itself, this small device has an adapter port where you connect the antenna.
With the package, you will get an antenna that comes with a suction mount to keep it standing as it isn’t attachable to the device itself.
There has been a lot of improvement to the Mini SDR as it consumes less power than the generic models of the past. Not only that, but the sensitivity of it also got better which helps with the noise reduction while trying to tune into the RF signals.
Even with this small SDR, you can achieve a lot. It can let you listen to amateur radio, police and fire scanning, trunking, and even get satellite images.
Though the frequency capability of it does not match the other two devices before it, still, the 25 MHz – 1750 MHz is a lot of stations to listen to for the user.
Even you can ham it up to listen to HF that goes down the 100kHz rate thanks to its sensitivity level.
For the price, it is one of the best SDR receivers, hands down.
- Has lower noise and better sensitivity
- Consumes less power.
- RF-suitable 3.3v power supply included
- Has a shielded power inductor for improved EMI rejection
- Comes with an antenna suction mount included as standard
- Has a free female SMA adapter in the package
- Frequency range: 25MHz-1750MHz
6. HackRF One Software Defined Radio
If you don’t have use for the adapter bundles from the last HackRF one kit, then go with this one.
This comes with just the device and a single ANT500 antenna—no adapters. It will certainly save you some bucks on the deal.
There is nothing to complain about the antenna as the collapsible ANT500 picks up the signal real well. Also, it is quite durable, the stainless steel telescopic antenna.
Just like the previous one, you can monitor a wide range using the HackRF SDR and the antenna. Having 1 MHz to 6 GHz frequency to operate on at 20 million samples per second makes it quite useful.
It gets better with the fact the device works with a wide variety of software programs. You can use GNU radio, SDR#, or any other software to operate it on your PC.
And just like the real radio devices, you can configure it to have RX and TX gain as well as a baseband filter. This lets you use the antenna power effectively to get more precision in the signal, giving better results.
- Has a wide frequency range of 1 MHz to 6 GHz
- Works as a half-duplex transceiver
- Has a 20 million per second sampling rate
- Device gets powered using a USB
- Comes with a telescopic ANT500 antenna
- Compatible with GNU Radio, SDR#, and other programs
- Provides configurable RX and TX gain
- Software-configurable baseband filter
7. Nooelec NESDR Smart v4 Bundle
With the Smart v4 NESDR, you get a great deal.
First of all, you get a smart, small dongle device to run the radio system on your laptop. The re-designed device does a great job of phasing out the noise.
It also makes a difference with the heat sinks to ensure the performance is stable no matter the condition.
That said, the re-designed antenna with the feed cable of it is the real game-changer.
The reception quality improves with the antenna system that comes with it. And with the base mount, attaching it on top of the car or making it stand on the table had never been easier.
And when it comes to reception, the telescopic antenna does an awesome job of getting variable frequency for you to listen.
- Comes with an antenna base w/ 2m RG58 cable
- The telescopic antenna has variable frequency capability
- Has an RF-suitable voltage regulator
- Offers an ultra-low phase noise TCXO
- Provides a shielded primary inductor
- Has an integrated custom heatsink
- Superior quality black brushed aluminum enclosure
8. NESDR Nano 3 OTG – Premium Tiny RTL-SDR Bundle for Android
The Nano 3 OTG is the ultimate portable SDR radio for you to get.
If you’re looking to use your mobile device for using the SDR, then this option will give you exactly that.
This small device also boasts an aluminum enclosure that works to keep out the interference. And for getting the signals, it has a nano-sized antenna on it.
To use it with your mobile, you’ve got a 4 USB OTG adapter that comes with it.
Don’t have to worry about it consuming too much power, as the heatsink of the Nano 3 OTG helps to regulate power quite well. Also, the heat sink helps to perform the NESDR Nano to perform in a stable way.
And it is not just a device to use with mobile phones. You can use Windows, OS X, and other operating systems too.
- Has a durable aluminum enclosure
- Got a Nano-sized antenna
- Comes with a USB OTG adapter
- Has a USB OTG Y-adapter, USB OTG cable, USB OTG Y-cable
- Offers SMA female antenna adapter
- Got SDR heatsink
9. NESDR SMArTee v2 SDR – Premium RTL-SDR w/Integrated Bias Tee
Like all the NooElec devices, the v2 SDR also has that ultra-low phase noise. Tuning it is much smoother than usual as it offers maximum stability.
Voltage regulation within the small dongle has also improved. It got a power supply that uses an RF-suitable voltage regulator to keep the noise within the signal. Compared to the previous design of the NooElec, there is 10 times lower noise.
Not to forget, the power supply improved the EMI rejection within the unit as it introduced a quality shielded inductor. And to make sure the EMI stays in place, an aluminum enclosure makes the housing for the device that keeps the EMI from getting to the RF circuitry.
All in all, the frequency it captures and the quality of audio it produces are quite phenomenal for a device in that price range.
- Offers an ultra-low noise SDR
- Receives nearly ANY RF signal from 25MHz-1700MHz. Includes SDR only!
- Redesigned PCB reduces noise by full 3dB
- Has 250mA power capability
- Designed and manufactured in North America
- Has lower board-level temperature to improve the SDR noise floor.
10. Nooelec HackRF Complete Bundle – Genuine HackRF One Software Defined Radio
The complete bundle set of HackRF is undoubtedly the ultimate choice. If you want to take advantage of transmitting and receiving with the SDR, you’ve got to have it.
Just like all of the others, you will see an aluminum enclosure with the device. It helps to keep the EMI strays from getting in the sensitive RF circuitry and causes a problem.
Besides the 0.5PPM TCXO module works to keep the noise down to make sure there is no interference within the signals.
While talking on the subject of the signal, the ANT500 antenna with the 4 SMA adapters help you to get the best reception possible,
The device also offers a great range. With 1 MHz to 6000 MHz at your disposal, you can tune into a wide variety of environments to listen to different stations.
And using it is quite easy due to its support for a variety of SDR software. All in all, it’s an investment that is worth every penny.
- Operates on 1 MHz to 6 GHz frequency
- Offers half-duplex capability
- Provide up to 20 million samples per second
- Support GNU Radio, SDR#, and other software programs
- Has software-configurable RX and TX gain and baseband filter
- Got convenient buttons for programming
- Has internal pin headers for expansion
- Hi-Speed USB 2.0
What is SDR?
Regular radio devices for data transmission and receiving depends on the hardware level. That’s because those components are an integral part of making the processing happen.
Whereas, in SDR, all that processing happens on the software or firmware level. There is no dependence on the hardware.
And that’s what makes the SDR so popular as there are not many components to worry about. If anything gets wrong, fixing it gets easier. And you get more flexibility with the reprogramming or reconfiguration of the device.
How SDR Works?
Using the software-defined radio you make the communication based on the fact that it got an RF front end that converts RF signals from analog. The same goes for analog which gets converted to RF signals. Here, you’ve got a system that turns the analog to digital converters and digital to analog converters. They get used to converting IF signals from and to analog form and vice versa.
In simple words, everything gets done using the software. No hardware required.
Benefits Of Using SDR Radio:
If you consider going with SDR radio, then surely you’ve thought about how it comes to benefit you. If not, no worries, I will show you how it can help you.
Here are some reasons why switching to SDR makes a lot of sense.
You can get almost similar performance with all SDR radios as the software is the main focal point of the device. You don’t depend on the hardware much.
Without a radio gear, you can achieve a superior level of radio performance just by plugging it into your PC or laptop. It is much easier to take it around, a dongle stick rather than having real gear on you in the backpack.
You can easily reconfigure your radio setting and have the right configuration for the radio platform. Something unimaginable with the traditional radios.
It can support various waveforms. You can use it as a regular RF radio as well as ham it up to listen to long-distance communication just using the same device.
Future Of SDR Radio:
SDR is the present now. However, what holds for it in the future is something that you can’t really know.
To be fair, with all the 5G technologies used around us, SDR is falling behind because it can’t meet the performance level.
So, the next-gen of SDRs is to have found a way to integrate the analog and digital tech in the mixed-signal chips.
But the software growth has come to a standstill. Whereas hardware systems might still see improvements. But without the proper software programs for GPP (general-purpose processors) and FPGA (Field-programmable gate array), there is no use of that hardware.
To move forward with the next-gen SDRs, there is going to see some innovation that wireless engineers need to figure out quick. Or with the surrounding 5G, it will be in a development standstill.
SDR Radio Buying Guide
When you choose an SDR radio, then already the things you need to look for is something that requires more focus than usual.
There isn’t much to see. You’ve got to understand the features more to know what can make a difference.
Here are some that you should know about for sure to make the right pick.
The first thing you need to consider is the frequency range the device can offer. Some of the devices like HackRF can give you a range up to 6 GHz as well as very low frequencies.
That something to think about for sure.
Transceiver or not:
Not all the SDR will offer you the ability to transmit and receive. Some will only be able to receive. Most devices have that quality. But only a few can transmit the signal. If you want that too, then make sure the SDR radio you’re getting has that.
Most of the SDR radios here are suitable to use with a variety of software packages. Can’t be said for all SDR devices.
That’s why before getting the radio device, make sure it is compatible with the program you’re looking to use.
Plus, make sure it supports the OS system you’re planning to run on too for safe measures.
Basic receiver performance:
Most people get the device for receiving signals. Therefore some basic things you need to make sure the device offers you.
For instance, the sensitivity level. It should be able to capture those weak signals while reducing the noise for clear listening.
Also, having the ability to receive the signals you want while rejecting the ones on the channels is a feature that comes real handy.
Those small dongles or devices can heat up real fast. And that can cause the performance to go downwards big time. That’s why having a proper cooling system on those devices is as important as anything else.
What is the top rated SDR transceiver in the market?
Without any doubt, the top-rated software-defined radio transceiver is the HackRF One.
Can you listen to HF with SDR radio?
Yes, alongside a wide variety of frequencies, you can also listen to HF using the SDR?
Do you need special programs to run SDR on the PC?
Yes, you will need a special GNU or SDR# like a program on your device to use the SDR.
Is SDR legal to use?
It depends on the locality and frequency you’re listening to in that area. If there isn’t any restriction by the state, then you’re good to use it.
Ok, you’ve got all the best SDR radio to see on the list. Hopefully, one of them will be your go to partner.
Whatever the budget, you won’t have trouble getting the right device.
But if you feel like you can do better than that, go ahead. Use the buying guide and look for other SDR devices in the market.
Either way, you will have an SDR radio to use. That is for sure.