RTL-SDR vs Airspy – which one is better?

Two popular choices in the Software defined Radio (SDR) market are RTL-SDR and Airspy, each with its distinct features and user base. This article provides an in-depth comparison of these devices, helping enthusiasts make informed decisions based on their specific needs.

Here is a quick comparison table of the products

SpecificationRTL-SDRAirspy Mini
Frequency Range500 kHz – 1700 MHz24 MHz – 1700 MHz
ADC Bits812
FilteringAM/FM NotchTracking
Clock1 ppm0.5 ppm
Noise Figure8 dB3.5 dB
PriceCheck PriceCheck Price

Table of Contents

RTL-SDR – Affordable Entry-Level Choice

RTL-SDR started as a project to repurpose DVB-T TV tuners as cheap radios and has since become a favorite first step for many into the world of SDR.

RTL-SDR Blog V4 R828D RTL2832U 1PPM TCXO SMA Software Defined Radio (Dongle Only)

Key Features:

  • Price: Typically available for around $30, it’s an extremely cost-effective way to get started with SDR.
  • Frequency Range: With the most recent V4 product the frequency range is 500 kHz to 1.7 GHz, which is ample for listening to HF, FM radio, amateur bands, air traffic, and other communications.
  • Hardware: Based on the R828D chipset, it offers a straightforward setup that works well with many SDR software packages.
  • Performance: Offers a satisfactory performance for the price, though it may struggle with signal noise and sensitivity compared to more expensive setups.

Airspy – Advanced Performance for Enthusiasts

Airspy targets a more serious hobbyist or professional segment of the market with its higher performance and price point.

Key Features:

  • Price: Ranges from under $150 for the Airspy Mini to over $200 for the Airspy HF+ Discovery.
  • Frequency Range: 24 MHz to 1700 MHz
  • Hardware: Features high-quality components that offer improved sensitivity and dynamic range, which are critical for weak signal work.
  • Performance: Known for its superior performance, especially in crowded signal environments where its higher resolution and filtering capabilities can make a significant difference.

Comparative Analysis

  1. Use Case: RTL-SDR is ideal for beginners and those interested in exploring various frequencies without a significant investment. Airspy is suited for more serious users who need enhanced capabilities and are willing to invest more for better performance.
  2. Software Compatibility: Both devices are supported by popular SDR software like SDR#, but Airspy often benefits from optimized software that leverages its advanced hardware features.
  3. Community and Support: RTL-SDR has a vast online community, given its lower cost and popularity. Airspy also has a strong community, though it’s smaller and more niche, focusing on advanced topics and applications.
  4. Future-Proofing: Airspy offers more in terms of future-proofing due to its higher performance. It’s more likely to satisfy long-term needs without the need for an upgrade.


The choice between RTL-SDR and Airspy depends largely on your budget, experience level, and what you hope to achieve in the radio spectrum. For novices, RTL-SDR offers a low-risk introduction to SDR, while Airspy provides a robust tool for the more dedicated enthusiasts and professionals. Whichever path you choose, the world of SDR opens up a new frontier of possibilities in radio communication and exploration.

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