The RTL-SDR and HackRF are both software-defined radios (SDRs) that have become popular tools in the hobbyist, educational, and security research communities due to their versatility and relatively low cost.

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Each device serves as a platform for experimenting with and learning about radio signals and communications, but they cater to different user needs and capabilities due to their distinct features and specifications.

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Comparison Table

Device TypeReceiver OnlyTransmitter + Receiver
Frequency Range24 MHz to 1766 MHz1 MHz to 6 GHz
Bandwidth2.4 MHz20 MHz
Front-end FilteringNoYes
Noise Figure8 dB11 dB
Max Input Level+10 dBm-5 dBm
Expansion HeaderNoYes
10 MHz In/OutNoYes
Open SourceNoYes
Form FactorUSB Dongle (4 × 1 × 0.6 in)Small Box (6 × 4 × 1 in)
PriceCheck PriceCheck Price

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Pros and Cons



  • Affordability: The RTL-SDR is very affordable, making it an excellent entry-level option for beginners.
  • Ease of Use: It is widely supported by a variety of SDR software, which is great for those new to radio signal exploration.
  • Frequency Range: Typically covers 24 MHz to 1766 MHz, which is sufficient for a wide range of applications, including FM radio, amateur bands, VHF, UHF, etc.


  • Limited Bandwidth: The maximum bandwidth is about 2.4 MHz, limiting its ability to capture wideband signals.
  • Receive Only: It can only receive signals, not transmit them, limiting its applications to passive listening.

HackRF One


  • Transmit Capability: Unlike the RTL-SDR, the HackRF can both receive and transmit, opening up a broader range of experiments and applications.
  • Wide Frequency Range: Covers from 1 MHz to 6 GHz, offering the ability to work with more frequencies, including GSM, WiFi, and more.
  • Larger Bandwidth: Supports up to 20 MHz of bandwidth, allowing for the capture and analysis of broader signal bandwidths.
  • Integrations: HackRF integrations into a portable form factor make it useful for outdoor field applications

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  • Price: The HackRF One is significantly more expensive than the RTL-SDR, making it a higher investment.
  • Complexity: With the added features and capabilities, it might have a steeper learning curve for beginners.


Both the HackRF and RTL-SDR are on our list for the best SDRs.

  • For Beginners and Budget-Conscious Users: The RTL-SDR is an excellent choice. It offers a cost-effective way to dive into the world of SDR without a significant investment.
  • For Advanced Users Seeking More Capabilities: The HackRF One presents a more versatile but pricier option. Its ability to transmit and receive over a wide range of frequencies makes it suitable for more serious hobbyists, researchers, and developers.

Ultimately, the choice between RTL-SDR and HackRF depends on your specific needs, budget, and level of expertise in SDR.

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