What equipment do I need?
To get started with RTL-SDR, you’ll need a compatible adapter, antenna, and Android device. There are tons of RTL-SDR-compatible adapters on eBay and Amazon, but it’s best to buy your RTL-SDR adapter from a trusted source to ensure you have ESD protection with your device. ESD protection (ElectroStatic Discharge) ensures you won’t damage your adapter if your antenna causes an electrical discharge. NooElec provides a RTL-SDR adapter that is designed for RTL-SDR and includes ESD protection, as well as a starter antenna. All the hardware you need is available in one package for about $20.
To receive satellite signals you’re going to need a better antenna.
If you’re looking to get a better signal, or try to receive satellite signals, then you’re going to need a better antenna. In a pinch, you buy an adapter to use your home’s aerial or TV antenna to pickup signals, though it won’t be ideal for satellite signals. To get the best signal for most SDR radio signals, you can read up on this website for guides on building your own antennas or buying the best antennas for this purpose. Any telescoping VHF or ham radio antenna bigger than the tiny one that comes with your RTL-SDR will perform better. Just remember that your RTL-SDR has an SMA connector, and that antennas may come in coaxial, MCX, or other size adapters. You’ll need to buy the right adapters to ensure you can connect them to your RTL-SDR
There are plenty of other tools and gadgets you can add onto your RTL-SDR to add functionality, but this is the most you’ll need to worry about to get started and follow this guide.
What software do I need?
To use RTL-SDR with an Android device, you’ll need software that you can download from the Play Store. The software is all free to get started with, but comes in trial versions you can buy for additional features. The three apps we’ll be using in this guide are:
- The RTL-SDR Android Driver – This enables us to use the RTL-SDR adapter on Androidpr
- SDRTouch – This is a powerful SDR app for Android that is compatible with RTL-SDR
- Avare ADSB – This is an app that receives airplane data and transposes it onto Google Maps
You can still use SDRTouch in trial mode, but buying the PRO version adds a ton of functionality that we’ll be talking about later in the guide. Avare ADSB will only work for a few minutes in trial mode, letting you get a taste of its functionality before deciding to buy. There are other apps on the Play Store, but these are the two we recommend and guarantee will work with this guide and are the easiest to get started with if you have no prior experience with RTL-SDR.
If you want to try even more things with your RTL-SDR adapter, such as receive weather alerts or download satellite imagery, we’ll be providing more information about the software you’ll need to do this at the end of this guide.
Click on a link to jump to a section, or click to the next page:
- What is SDR and is it legal?
- What equipment and software do I need?
- How to use RTL-SDR on Android
- What else can I do with RTL-SDR?