Great for many applications including general radio scanning, monitoring air traffic control, public safety, ADS-B aircraft radar, marine AIS, ACARS, trunked radio, P25/MotoTRBO digital voice, POCSAG, weather balloons, APRS, NOAA APT and Meteor M2 weather satellites, radio astronomy, DAB, or for use as a low cost panadapter with a standard ham radio.
Includes two telescopic antennas with magnetic mount. The short antenna is perfect for ADS-B when collapsed and works up to around 230 MHz when extended. The larger antenna is perfect for frequencies between 230 MHz down to 50 MHz. You can improve reception and stability of the large antenna by placing the magnetic base on any metal plate such as a cookie tin lid. For custom antennas note that this dongle has an SMA F connector (not RP-SMA).
This model has several improvements over other models. It uses the improved R820T2 tuner, has a 1PPM TCXO (2 PPM initial offset, 1 PPM temperature drift), has improved component tolerances and an SMA F connector. It also comes with a bias-tee circuit for powering external devices such as LNA’s and active antennas and also has break out pads for the direct sampling mod (both require soldering to activate).
Requires USB 2.0 (works on most USB 3.0 ports, but we cannot guarantee it to work on all so please ensure your PC has a USB 2.0 port just in case). Installation on Windows is simple, please Google for the free RTL-SDR Quickstart Guide for installation instructions.
We have just released a new and improved RTL-SDR unit in our store, which we are currently pricing at $19.95 USD, or $24.95 USD including 2x telescopic antennas. The unit comes with the following improvements:
- 1 PPM temperature compensated oscillator (TCXO) – Accurate tuning and almost zero temperature drift (2 PPM initial offset, 1 PPM temperature drift)
- SMA female antenna port – Most dongles use the less common MCX or PAL antenna ports. Ours use SMA which is much more common so more adapters and antennas are available for it. It is also more durable and has lower insertion losses.
- R820T2 tuner – More sensitive/lower noise floor than the older R820T tuner. 100% compatible with software for the older R820T.
- Improved component tolerances – Allows the RTL-SDR to work more optimally over all frequencies.
- Experimental: 4.5V USB powered bias tee – Can be enabled by soldering two pads on the PCB together. This allows the RTL-SDR to power LNA’s (like the LNA4ALL and HABAMP) and active antennas through the coax cable.
- Experimental: Break out pads for direct sampling – Allows easier soldering to pins 4 & 5 on the RTL2832U for enabling the direct sampling mod.
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Temperature Compensated Oscillator (TCXO)
The 28.8 MHz oscillator used in most RTL-SDRs is passive and not frequency accurate. This means that when you tune to a known frequency, it will likely be offset by a few kHz. Usually the PPM offset on a normal RTL-SDR is in the range of 30 – 150 PPM. Furthermore, as the dongle warms up, the frequency will drift up to ~20+ PPM until the temperature stabilizes.
The 1 PPM Temperature Compensated Oscillator (TCXO) in our units provides accurate tuning with an initial offset of 2 PPM and a 1 PPM temperature drift over time. This means that a known signal will appear where it should on the frequency spectrum and will not significantly drift in frequency as the dongle warms up.
SMA F Antenna Port
On standard RTL-SDR’s the antenna port is either a MCX or PAL connector. MCX connectors are relatively uncommon and are susceptible to connector strain when using an adapter. PAL connectors are common with some TV connections, but no decent radio or antenna will use PAL due to its high insertion losses above ~100 MHz.
We’ve made these RTL-SDR dongles with SMA female antenna connectors. SMA is a very common connector in the radio field and provides a sturdy and secure connection. In addition SMA antenna adapters are much easier to find and insertion losses are lower.
We know some people prefer the F-type connector used in the previously sold ThumbNet dongles, but from our previous polling we believe the majority (~80%) of users prefer SMA. We may bring out F-type RTL-SDR’s again in the future if there is demand.
As discussed when we brought out our previous generation, the R820T2 tuner has slightly better sensitivity than the R820T and also works better at frequencies around 1.5 GHz. It also works better with the experimental HF drivers.
Improved Component Tolerances
We have these units manufactured with tighter tolerances on all passive components.
In our $24.95 USD package we provide two telescopic antennas. The smaller one goes from 6 cm to 20 cm, and the larger one goes from 20 cm to 1.5 m. The antenna base is also larger with a 4.5 cm diameter, when compared to the smaller bases shipped with most models. This provides more stable operation when using the larger antenna.
With antennas, usually the larger the antenna is the lower the frequency it can receive. These two antennas allow you to tune to almost the entire range of the RTL-SDR. Of course the antenna should be placed outdoors and up as high as possible to get the best performance. Placing the magnetic mount on a metal surface can also help complete the antenna as a quarter wave ground plane.
When fully collapsed the small antenna works decently at 1090 MHz for ADS-B frequencies.
Experimental 4.5V Bias Tee
A bias tee allows you to power external RF devices such as Low Noise Amplifiers (LNA’s) and active antennas through the coax cable. Since LNA’s should be placed right after the antenna, it can be sometimes hard to get power to them if a bias tee isn’t used.
We have included a simple (experimental) bias tee option in our latest units, inspired by mods made by other experimenters. The bias tee is disconnected by default, but it can be activated by soldering two pads together on the PCB. Connecting the pads connects the antenna output to the USB 5V rail. The resistance in the fuse and inductor can reduce the output voltage to about 4.5V.
The USB power rail is protected from over current and shorts through a PTC resettable fuse with a hold current of 80 mA and trip current of 200 mA. This means that the fuse will become a short circuit if greater than 200 mA tries to flow through it, which may happen during a short or with faulty equipment. Between 80 mA and 200 mA is an unknown state, where the fuse may or may not trip, depending on the temperature. In practice we’ve tested it with a hold current of 120 mA in a ~16 degree ambient environment (and much hotter inside the dongle casing) and had no issues with premature tripping.
We used a 4.7 uH 250 MHz SRF inductor as the bias tee choke. At the highest frequency tunable by the RTL-SDR (~1700 MHz) this should only give a (simulated) ~1-2 dB loss through the inductor. For better performance at frequencies above 1 GHz you could experiment with a smaller value inductor and possibly with removing the static protection diode, though in our tests we saw very little difference with the diode removed.
We have tested the bias tee with an LNA4ALL and HABAMP both in bias tee mode. Both worked fine running for a number of hours. The HABAMP really improved ADS-B reception a lot and we highly recommend it. We also tested the unit with two LNA’s connected together, both powered by the bias tee and this also worked fine. An LNA like the LNA4ALL draws about 60 mA of current, so running two at once is pushing the hold current of 80mA on the fuse, but we had no trouble with about 120 mA of current, though we need to note that people in hot climates may have different results as the trip current reduces with higher temperatures. We also tested an active GPS antenna (active antennas contain built in LNA’s) which also worked.
With the bias tee and LNA’s we were able to improve weak signal reception and also receive several signals not usually receivable by the RTL-SDR alone such as L-band satellites like Inmarsat, GPS and Iridium with an appropriate antenna.
Experimental break out pads for direct sampling
The direct sampling mod is a hardware modification that allows you to tune to HF frequencies with an RTL-SDR. The best way to apply this mod is to directly solder your antenna or matching transformer to pins 4 & 5 of the RTL2832U chip. However, these pins are very small and so the mod requires extreme soldering ability.
These units have break out pads for these pins which make soldering to them much easier.
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