Tracking down a good, budget-priced, entry-level oscilloscope
If you’re an amateur or hobby-level electronics tinkerer, there are a few quintessential tools you can’t live without.
Of course, you’ll try to live without them, but to tackle most projects, a hobbyist needs several things. Namely: a soldering iron, a multimeter, and a digital storage oscilloscope.
That last one is particularly useful for testing and troubleshooting. Frankly, it’s a device that no hobbyist should try to live without.
That said, a proper scope can run you thousands of dollars, which isn’t practical for newbies.
We’ve identified what we consider the top digital oscilloscope for electronics hobbyists and beginners, and a couple of runner-ups.
To do this, we reviewed the many options, and tried to find the perfect balance between affordable price, useful features, and ease of use.
Before we reveal our top pick, let’s break down how we selected it. If you’re brand spanking new to the world of scopes, here are the critical factors.
-Hardware: Dig into the stats
The key things to look at are sample rate, bandwidth, and inputs.
Sampling Rate: This refers to the number of samples your oscilloscope can acquire per second. Think of it like a zoetrope. The higher the sample rate, the clearer the picture.
Bandwidth: The other half of the puzzle, bandwidth represents the frequency range of your oscilloscope. Your bandwidth should ideally have several multiples of your highest frequency signal. This is a really good breakdown of bandwidth.
Inputs & Outputs: This represents how your data will be collected and transferred. Primarily, this refers to the number of probes and channels.
-Software: Beginner / hobby oscilloscopes need good UI
Hardware is obviously the most critical factor in an oscilloscope, but software is huge too. Bandwidth and sample rate mean very little if the user interface is unusable. We weighed this factor almost as highly as raw capability.
Additionally, 3rd-party software compatibility is a key factor; you want a scope that plays nice with your apps and drivers.
Our Pick: Hantek DSO5072p, A Great, Affordable Oscilloscope for Hobbyists
- Pros: Large bandwidth & sample rate, feature rich, intuitive interface
- Cons: Not portable
Hantek’s 70 MHz scope doesn’t exactly have a catchy name, but it does come with impressive, powerful features.
This oscilloscope has an impressive 70 MHz bandwidth, a 1 GSa/s sample rate, and 8-bit resolution, along with a bright and readable 7-inch LCD display with a 800 x 480 resolution.
Why did we pick it?
The Hantek is a great compromise between capability, usability, and price. It carries more than enough features to keep most amateur electronics tinkerers and hobbyists happy, yet it is neither simplistic nor limiting.
One reviewer said it was “professional grade but consumer priced”, which is accurate. It’s suitable for a wide range of utilities, and it offers the best bang for your buck.
It’s not pocket-sized, but it’s manageable, especially with the carrying handle. The GUI (graphical user interface) is highly intuitive, and it will feel familiar to anyone coming from an analog scope background.
It’s a well-built scope with solid, smooth controls, overall a very proficient device. And surprisingly, it carries an extremely affordable, budget-friendly price tag of around $240. That’s staggeringly cheap, especially compared to several years ago.
It’s awesome to find such a powerful a digital storage oscilloscope in the mid-$200s, but we recognize that exceeds the budget of some hobbyists.
That’s tough; below that price point, utility and range really drops off.
That being said, here are a few more affordably-priced scopes that are also worth checking out.
Hantek 2D72: Affordable, powerful, handheld oscilloscope for electronics hobbyists
- Pros: Beautiful screen & housing, impressive bandwidth & sampling rate, small form factor
- Cons: Interface takes some getting used to, very limited storage
Recognizing that portability is a big factor for some users, Hantek has developed a pint-sized digital oscilloscope. Don’t let the small size fool you, it’s powerful.
Bandwidth is 70 MHz, sample rate is 250 MSa/s, and it has a small but bright screen with high contrast.
For under $200, it’s rare to find a 70 MHz oscilloscope, let alone a portable one with dual channels. It’s a slick device, with a high-quality housing and built-in stand.
You’ll need to spend some time getting used to the interface, which isn’t as intuitive, and storage is highly limited. Still, it’s an inexpensive digital oscilloscope that electronics hobbyists will get a lot of mileage out of. And with its small size and extra features, it’ll probably put your dedicated multimeter out of business.
SainSmart Note II: A cheap, basic, portable oscilloscope for beginners
- Pros: Incredibly small size, bright touch screen
- Cons: Limited bandwidth and sample rate
While the Hantek is somewhat easy to carry around, SainSmart’s Note II will quite literally fit in your pocket. The tiny oscilloscope is roughly the size of a deck of cards, with touch screen controls and two-channel functionality.
Bandwidth is 2 MHz, sampling rate is 10 MSa/s, and the screen has a 320×240 resolution.
As you can easily tell, this is a basic device when compared to the versatile Hantek, with a fraction of the bandwidth and sample rate.
Still, it will probably meet the needs of many hobbyists, and the awesome, bright touch screen display boosts it above competitors.
Note: I do recommend upgrading the probes, as the included ones are not very well made.
What’s Your Top Oscilloscope for the Money?
Everyone’s requirements are different, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
What do you think is the bare minimum? What did we miss that should’ve made this list?