Best Software Defined Radios: Choose the Perfect One

Published on: April 6, 2022
Written by Liam Jaxon / Fact-checked by David Rowan

Software Defined Radio is probably the latest species of radio. The usage of SDR is even more widespread and versatile. However, people always expressed mixed opinions about the SDR being very simple to tune but difficult to set up.

I believe that’s because everyone doesn’t have a clear concept about which one to buy to do the job they want to be done. Some even end up purchasing radios that cost more than 500 bucks to do something that only a 20 bucks radio can do. 

best software defined radios

To save you from that misfortune, we have incorporated 8 SDRs of different functionality and price range. As a result, purchasing an SDR will be a more confident job for you. It won’t need to leave you puzzled anymore.

You Need to Know Before Selection

The usage of SDRs is versatile, as are their types. Depending on the use you are making out of radio you should choose one for yourself. 

SDR for Beginners

If you are new in this field, then look for the easiest model with the lowest price range. It will help you to develop your skills in this regard. Choosing one model that comes with a user manual and free software will also help you to set up the unit and use it. Most of the SDR comes without any instructions. 

Pro Users

For pro users, an SDR with moderate functionality and a super quality antenna will be a great choice. The included antenna is not the best quality even in the top-rated radios. So, you can also decide to use an additional antenna to meet your needs. In our list, you will also find an upconverter to make better use of low-cost SDRs. So, by mixing and matching you can practically set a customized unit. You can also choose the bundle packs to lessen the hassle. 

Regular Users

Most people use SDR to fine-tune Tv program and to listen to the broadcast of emergencies like the weather forecast, air traffic, and fire department. If that is the case for you, then you will need an SDR that works in your area. Because for tuning tv programs, the SDRs are area-defined. The one assembled in the USA will only work to tune TVs that are located in the USA exclusively. So, your location and the location of the manufacturer plays a vital role here.

Editor’s Speech

Finding a perfect SDR is not easy if you don’t know the practical use of it. In other words, I can say, you must know your purpose of using an SDR before getting one. But still, there is no harm in trying out a tiny, cheap priced radio to get a hint of the possibilities of SDR; it’s not rocket science. So, explore the vast field of SDR radios by picking one from our list. You can make your way to the latest and pricey models as you master your skills.

Our Selected Top Rated Software Defined Radios-

Nooelec RTL-SDR, R Kit Software Defined Radio

  • MATLAB support;
  • GPS connector: SMA; 
  • Nooelec USB SDR and antenna;
  • Modes: AM, AMN, LSB, USB, CW, CWN, NBFM;
  • Spectrum:25MHz-1700MHz.

As an SDR, it is good at picking up low frequencies as its spectrum starts at 25kHz; but, to work with broad frequencies, it is not the best pick. 30MHz is its top peak for receiving frequencies. This kit comes with upgraded crystals, capacitors and inductors compared to generic devices.

The topmost advantage of this SDR is, four users can use this simultaneously and autonomously. So, it’s the best buy if you are planning to run a project that involves a large team of technical personnel. It arrives as an open hardwire and unassembled plastic enclosure.

Open SDR is best to reduce the problems regarding overheating, but hey, what about the protection of the interior? So, if you are planning to buy this, you must order an aluminum enclosure to fit this in. This way, it will be a lot safer to use and carry. 

Considering the high price, this unit should have had a digital record system. Then, it would be complete as a kit to broadcast your channel. However, its useability is four times higher than other SDR of a similar price range. So, for multi-talented teamwork, I strongly recommend this radio. 


  • Can be used by up to four users independently;
  • High-quality radio and antenna;
  • Easy to set up and use;
  • Cheap price.

ConsNo cons found.

NooElec-HackRF Bundle of Software Defined Radio for Programing

  • Operating frequency: 1 MHz to 6 GHz;
  • Compatible with GNU Radio, SDR and more;
  • Powered by  USB 2.0;
  • Software: 50 mA at 3.3 V controlled antenna port power.

I recommend this gem for geniuses who have some idea about SDR programming. To be honest, this is not a toy for you, if you really don’t know how to ‘play’ with it. It has programming functionality, but most users don’t know how to do it.

If you are enthusiastic about learning, you can look for tutorials prepared by  Michael Ossman. If you are looking for a decent radio just to fine-tune TV programs or decode weather forecasts, then it’s better to purchase a simpler one. 

To begin your very own first-ever broadband frequency. The output signal of this unit is relatively weak for that, but it’s enough to test and run it primarily. Later, you can purchase two of these and broadcast your frequency proudly. 

There are countless legal and illegal uses for using an SDR; when it comes to programming it, the possibilities become endless. So, the choice is yours. It is a great start-up for exploring your limits. 


  • A great way to program SDR;
  • Versatile use;
  • Captures weak signals perfectly;
  • Plastic case.


  • No manual or software included. 

Nooelec-NESDR Low-Cost Software Defined Radio

  • Capability: 25MHz-1750MHz;
  • MCX–male MCX USB on antenna;
  • Female MCX on the SDR;
  • Model: NESDR Mini 2+.

This is what I call, ‘beginner’s best deal’. It’s simple, cheap, easy to use, easiest to set up and can be used worldwide. To begin your first SDR experience, this model from Nooelec is the wisest decision. If you are living in any corner of Europe, then this one is also useful for tuning TV as well. Other than that, capturing signals and decoding them is the general task of this pocket-friendly SDR. 

As it is a cheap one, it gets affected by the noise of the computer easily. So, to use it with a computer, it is better to use an extension USB wire to keep the radio a little bit far away from your operating device. The reception of other frequencies will be uninterrupted and clean.


  • It’s easy to use;
  • Value for money;
  • Lower power consumption;
  • Lower noise;


  • No cons.

NooElec NESDR Smart XTR HF Bundle Software Defined Radio Set

  • 3 Antennas;
  • Frequency gap near 1.1GHz
  • 300Hz-2.3GHz bandwidth;
  • Work with LF/HF/UHF/VHF.

Its Dipole Antenna makes it unique from other models on this list. The included mounting gears make placing the antenna in different positions to get your preferred signals. If it is placed vertically, then you will get satellite and terrestrial signals well, in a horizontal position, it will get all the local frequencies effortlessly. Both the antennas are telescopic and high quality. 

If you already have a ham radio, then there is good news for you. This SDR works with ham radios as well. But, the only problem is, you have to spend some time online to figure out how to use this radio, fetch the software and decoders and other info. Another good fact is that it has 3 antennas,  and an impedance matching balun for long wire and dipole antennas. This also helps to interconnect adapters and cables. All in all, I chose this radio because of its budget-friendly price and superb antenna. 


  • Portable dipole antenna;
  • Suitable for mounting antenna indoor and outdoor;
  • Lightweight;
  • Budget-friendly.


  • No negative issues.

ANALOG DEVICES-ADALM-Pluto SDR Software Defined Radio

  • Compatible with Android and smart devices;
  • Antenna & USB OTG adapter is nano-sized;
  • Range 325 MHz to 3800 MHz;
  • SDR on the go

When you are on-the-go, there is no time and space to open the computer and set up the radio and antenna to get the right frequencies. Using one radio that works with the mobile phone makes the whole thing a lot easier. This small  SDR with a telescopic antenna provides all the advantages you get from any other SDR. as long as the device you are using has a USB-B connection, this radio will work. It’s very helpful for the electrical engineering students. This radio is very easy to use so a new user can also manage this. 

Included in the MATLAB and Simulink are many software packages supported by PlutoSDR. It smoothly gives an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) so users can easily work with this device. The Radio Frequency rate is also very high. It comes with RF analogue signals from 325 MHz to 3800 MHz at up to 61.44mega samples per second, which indicates the power of this device. 


  • Works with android and smart devices;
  • Portable;
  • USB port connectivity; 
  • Easy to use.


  • No issues were found.

Nooelec-Great Scott Gadgets SDR Bundle

  • 2.4GHz duck antenna;
  • Expansion connectors included; 
  • LPC175x ARM Cortex-M3 powerful microcontroller;
  • USB 2.0 full-speed.

Another SDR from Nooelec, and why not? They are the best to make a variety of SDR to catch all the customers. Have a look at this Great Scott Gadget bundle from Nooelec. It is a small USB device with a powerful duck antenna. The best thing about this radio is, the software you need to run it is available everywhere. Even that software that you need to hack signals. 

It works best as a Bluetooth analyzer. It also snatches the info from Bluetooth traffic if you know how to program it to do that. This gadget is good for operating in monitor mode. All the traffic will be monitored and displayed in real-time. The price is high for a simple SDR, but who says it is simple? 


  • Powerful antenna;
  • Wireless;
  • It comes with expansion connectors.


  • Expensive.

NooElec-NESDR Nano 2+ Tiny Software Defined Radio (RTL2832U R820T2)

  • 25MHz-1750MHz frequency;
  • Frequency stability: 0.5 PPM (max);
  • Connector: -male MCX on the antenna, female MCX on the SDR;
  • Phase noise @1kHz offset.

With its 0.5PPM TCXO, you will be able to get more accurate and stable tuning with this tiny radio. It is surprising how they provide such wonderful features in this small device and more importantly, at a reasonable price. Apart from the accuracy, the noise level is also low. Crystal clear frequency with the goodness of accurate tuning is guaranteed. 

This radio works with almost any device and can be operated with any SDR operating software. With mounting gear and telescopic antenna, you will not only get the portability you are looking for in a pocket-size radio, but you will also get the comfort of using a stable antenna and all the wires you need. 


  • Low noise;
  • Portable Android and IOS application;
  • Free antenna and remote control.


  • No helpful instructions. 

Nooelec NESDR Mini USB RTL-SDR & ADS-B Receiver Set

  • Nooelec USB dongle & antenna;
  • RTL2832U interface IC & R820T tuner IC on a USB dongle;
  • Low-cost software-defined radio compatible;
  • Frequency capability of approximately 25MHz-1750MHz.

If you purchase this bundle, you will not need to purchase anything else to make the most of your SDR. This set involves SDR, adapter, upconverter, balun, antenna, and many more. This unit will cover roughly 25 MHz to 1700 MHz including HF bands. 

So far, this bundle pack offers the longest warranty for an SDR with all its attachments. Meaning, all the included items are covered under the guarantee. Now you can invest in it with your eyes closed, all your money will be safe. 

This amazing bundle is available for a limited time. So, hurry up if you have been looking for a solution like this for your SDR. 


  • Outperforms many devices 10x its cost;
  • Long warranty;
  • Bundle including upconverter. 


  • No cons.

NooElec Ham It Up v1.3 – NooElec RF Upconverter for SDR

  • MF/HF converter for software-defined radio;
  • LED indicator;
  • Ultra-high-Q & low ESR components used;
  • PTC protection.

First of all, it is an upconverter, to be used with an SDR. it is not a radio. Mostly, RTL based SDR lacks the ability to capture short and medium wave HF. so, when an upconverter is paired with it, the add-on device lets you enjoy all the HF and MF using the same SDR! It is a low-cost accessory that enables the radio to do things that only the pricey radios do. 

It is an open-hardware and has multiple protective measures so that it never causes any damage to the radio itself. For example, an enable-disable switch, ESD protection, low ESR filters and many more. 

Before purchasing it, I recommend visiting the manufacturer’s website to know all the specifications, features and usability of this upconverter. Make sure your SDR really needs it and can be paired with it, before you make the move to go for it. 


  • Backed by warranty;
  • High-quality materials used;


  • No cons.

FAQs by People

Which Software Defined Radio would be most compatible with an OBD2 Scanner for automotive diagnostics?

When looking for obd2 scanner options for automotive diagnostics, it’s important to find a software defined radio that is compatible. Some popular options include the HackRF One, RTL-SDR, and Airspy. Make sure to research the specifications and compatibility of each SDR before making a decision.

What is the Best SDR Software for Linux?

GQRX is the best GUI-based, be that as it may, Linux has plenty of other help, as well. librtl SDR/RTL-SDR is largely headless apparatuses (low asset, similarly as practical), loads of GitHub activities, and the sky’s the limit from there. SDRangel is the best universally useful application, no challenge.

What is SDR in Ham Radio?

Software Defined Radio in which RF correspondence is finished utilizing programming or firmware, to complete transmission handling errands which are ordinarily handled by the equipment. This equipment incorporates blenders, channels, enhancers, demodulators, modulators, and so on

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About This Writer

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Hi, I am responsible for the 'Homeowners Power Solutions' category. My name is Liam Jaxon and a licensed technician with 7 years of experience in vehicle batteries, electrical gadgets, and home appliances. My working experience in different residential & light commercial electrical sectors and the automobile industry helped to acquire vast knowledge in this industry.

Hi, I am responsible for the 'Homeowners Power Solutions' category. My name is Liam Jaxon and a licensed technician with 7 years of experience in vehicle batteries, electrical gadgets, and home appliances. My working experience in different residential & light commercial electrical sectors and the automobile industry helped to acquire vast knowledge in this industry.

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