I make regular and frequent use of the $25 RTL-SDR v3 dongles and $35 RTL-SDR bundles. They have become my favourite budget Software Defined Radios as they are simply so versatile.

They cost under $25 yet provide great sensitivity from 25 MHz up to around 1.7 GHz.

Most users pair it with the excellent, free SDRSharp software, for which there are many plugins available.

The main things I appreciate about this particular SDR are

  • TXCO – no need to set a PPM value, and freq remains stable in changing temperatures (e.g. as it warms up).
  • Bias tee – The dongle has a software switchable bias tee which outputs 4.5V for peripherals and active antennas.
  • Low noise design – this is especially important when operating in noisier environments, or when using Low Noise Amps (LNAs) or preamps. Makes it a suitable option for decoding satellite signals.
  • HF – the SDR can be used in Direct Sampling mode to monitor HF signals. It is not officially an HF receiver, so don’t expect miracles in this mode, but if you attach a long wire antenna, you will likely receive several shortwave stations!
  • SMA antenna connector – this is much more convenient than the generic dongle’s MCX adapters, and is generally the standard for Software Defined Radios.

I created a video that shows how the RTL-SDR v3 performs against other budget SDRs which you can see below.

You can garner more information over on the official RTL-SDR blog store where you can also order direct from the Chinese warehouse. US purchasers can easily order from Amazon at the same price, and with fast delivery.

Get a $35 RTL-SDR Bundle

If you don’t have many antennas, then my recommendation is to buy the RTL-SDR bundle. It includes an excellent portable dipole kit (giving you better performance than a fixed whip). It also comes with a mini tripod mount AND window suction cup mount, increasing the versatility considerably.

I have used this dipole kit in cars, hotels, AirBnB rentals, on hikes, mountains, and more!

Frugal Radio

The NooElec NESDR SMArt is another superb SDR in the same price range that I also highly recommend, especially in Canada and the UK where it takes several weeks to get the RTL-SDR v3 from China.