RTL-SDR vs Nooelec NESDR – which one should I buy?

In this post we take a closer look at two popular SDR dongles – the RTL-SDR and NESDR Smart v5 from Nooelec. We will explain the differences between the two and make recommendations on which one to buy.

The RTL-SDR is one of the most popular SDRs on the market today. In fact it is our top SDR pick for those looking to get started with SDR on a tight budget.

The NESDR Smart is based on the same chipset, namely the RTL2832U. As a result, internally they feature the same radio receiver technology. These two SDRs are able to receive signals up to 1750 MHz.

As we will explain – their performance over the entire frequency range is not identical – with the RTL having an advantage.

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What’s the difference between the RTL-SDR and the NESDR?

There are a few main differences. Without further ado, let’s get right into the details:


The NESDR is narrower than the RTL-SDR.

This means that you can insert NESDR’s into the USB ports of the Raspberry Pi side-by-side. You can’t do that with the RTL-SDR.

Nooelec RTL-SDR v5 SDR - NESDR Smart HF/VHF/UHF (100kHz-1.75GHz) Software Defined Radio. Premium RTLSDR w/ 0.5PPM TCXO, SMA Input & Aluminum Enclosure. RTL2832U & R820T2 (R860)-Based Radio

So is that an issue?

Not really. In fact we recommend not to plug the SDRs into the USB ports directly. There are a couple of reasons for that.

Firstly, any RF noise from the laptop or Raspberry Pi will get picked up by the antenna and show up in the output of the SDR. This is something that is very undesirable. Our recommendation is to use a USB cable to physically separate the USB dongle from the laptop. And in that case, the wider RTL-SDR is not an issue.

RTL-SDR Blog V4 R828D RTL2832U 1PPM TCXO HF Bias Tee SMA Software Defined Radio with Dipole Antenna Kit

Secondly, if you drop your laptop with a USB dongle attached, it will stress the USB port and potentially damage it.


The NESDR has a TCXO (Temperature controlled crystal oscillator) has an accuracy of 0.5 ppm (parts per million), while the RTL-SDR has an accuracy of 1 ppm.

What does this mean and what’s the impact?

Let’s say you tune to a frequency of 1 GHz with both SDRs. With the NESDR, there will be a frequency error of up to 500 Hz. In the case of the RTL-SDR, the frequency error can be as high as 1000 Hz or 1 kHz. This means that the signal you’re monitoring can be offset from where you’re tuned to. If you’re trying to detect and/or demodulate the signal, this will result in errors.


The frequency range of the tuners used in NESDR is 25 MHz to 1750 MHz.

NESDR implements a direct sampling mode whereby signals at the RF input can be fed directly to the analog-to-digital converter (ADC). This means that you can view signals in the range of 100 kHz to 28 MHz.

⭐ The RTL-SDR v4 implements an HF upconverter and therefore provides better performance over the NESDR.

RTL-SDR v4 has improvements over V3 including use of the R828D tuner, built in HF upconverter circuit, improved filtering, improved component tolerances.

Here is a video that shows High Frequency or Medium Wave AM broadcast radio being received with an earlier version of the RTL SDR.

The RTL-SDR processing HF and MW signals

It’s important to point out here that the performance of earlier revisions of the RTL-SDR (v3 and prior) in this direct sampling mode and frequency range below 28 MHz is not as good as performance in the range 25 MHz to 1750 MHz. In fact for the older products, the team at Nooelec recommends the use of the Ham It Up RF Upconverter for viewing signals below 28 MHz.


The RTL-SDR has a built-in bias tee that can be enabled by software. It provides 4.5 volt and up to 180 mA of current. We have covered Bias Tees in this post previously. A bias tee allows you to power a remote low noise amplifier – for instance, one that is mounted close to the antenna on the top of a tower.

To get the Bias Tee capability you would have to purchase this version of the NESDR.


In this post we have looked at both the RTL-SDR and the NESDR from Nooelec. The main differences between the two are captured in the table below.

Dimensions3.54 x 0.39 x 0.39 inches5.12 x 2.56 x 0.43 inches
TCXO accuracy0.5 ppm1 ppm
Direct SamplingYesNo
Bias TeeNoYes

If you are looking for a low budget SDR that goes down to 500 kHz for HF monitoring the RTL-SDR is the one you should buy. The improvements in v4 make it even more worth the money. The additional bias tee feature is very useful.

If you’re looking for better frequency accuracy although with a limited frequency range, buy the NESDR. If you want to monitor the entire frequency range down to 300 Hz we recommend buying the Ham It Up upconverter as well.

RTL-SDR Blog V4 R828D RTL2832U 1PPM TCXO HF Bias Tee SMA Software Defined Radio with Dipole Antenna Kit