This page is a guide aimed at helping anyone set up a cheap radio scanner based on the RTL-SDR software defined radio as fast as possible on a Windows system. If you have any trouble during the installation, please see the troubleshooting guide further down the page. We also have brief instructions for getting started on Linux and OSX at the end of this page.
Please note that the RTL-SDR is not a plug and play device. You will need to have sufficient skills to perform basic PC operations such as unzipping files, installing software, moving and copying files and have the motivation to learn new software.
******* RTL-SDR Blog V3/V4 Users *******
New RTL-SDR Blog V4 USERS: Please remember that you need to install our custom drivers in order to make the V4 work. The quickstart guides below show how to install them on common software. For other software we have generic instructions here rtl-sdr.com/V4.
We suggest the following reading order:
- Quickstart Guide: rtl-sdr.com/QSG - Current page. Helps you install the software and set up your dongle.
- V3 Features Guide: rtl-sdr.com/V3 - Learn how to use special V3 features like the direct sampling HF mode and bias tee.
V4 Features Guide: rtl-sdr.com/V4 - Learn how to use special V4 features and how to install the required drivers for V4 models.
- SDR# Users Guide: rtl-sdr.com/SDRSHARP - Learn about the setting in SDR#.
- Dipole Antenna Guide: rtl-sdr.com/DIPOLE - Learn how to use your RTL-SDR Blog multipurpose dipole antenna (if purchased in set)
RTL-SDR BLOG V3/V4 BUYERS: PLEASE BE WARY OF COUNTERFEITERS. Opportunistic sellers are advertising all sorts of dongles under our brand "RTL-SDR Blog". The dongles with blue or green cases or square rectangular silver cases with four screws per panel (eight total), or those advertised as "Pro" are not ours. Those dongles use poorer quality components, are designed cheaply, and may not have all the V3 features. We cannot provide support for counterfeits and these do not help support the running of the blog and the design of new products. The best place to purchase RTL-SDR V3 dongles is directly from our store at www.rtl-sdr.com/store.
We recommend purchasing one of our RTL-SDR Blog V3 or V4 dongles. See the Buy RTL-SDR dongles page for more information on purchasing.
Generally at least a dual core processor will be required to run most SDR software smoothly. Some command line software and ADS-B decoders may work on less powerful hardware.
To get the most enjoyment out of RTL-SDR you will need a decent antenna. Our packages that come with the dipole antenna set are a great start. Be sure to get them up high and outside (during good weather only) for best results. Units not sold by us may come with a smaller fixed length whip antenna with a magnetic mount base that is okay for testing, but overall is not that great. The recommended outdoor antenna for general scanning is a discone due to their wide band receiving properties. You can also cheaply build a wideband planar disk antenna (pdf warning) out of some metal pizza pans.
SDR# (SDRSharp) Set Up Guide (Tested on Windows 11/10/8/7) (XP/Vista Incompatible) (Works with RTL-SDR Blog V4/V3)
SDR# is the most commonly used SDR program on Windows. We recommend it as one of the easiest to setup and use with the RTL-SDR.
- Purchase an RTL-SDR dongle. We recommend purchasing one of our RTL-SDR Blog V3 or V4 dongles. Information on purchasing one can be found here.
- You must have the Microsoft .NET 7.0 x86 Desktop Runtime installed to use SDRSharp. Most modern PCs will have automatically updated to this already, unless you have specifically blocked these updates on your PC.
- You will also need the Microsoft Visual C++ redistributable installed. Most PCs will have this already installed, but just in case download the x86 version from here.
- Go to www.airspy.com and find the downloads button on the top menu. Next to the "Software Defined Radio Package" heading click on the download button to download sdrsharp-x86.zip. Do not download the community managed edition, as this is often broken.
- Extract (unzip) sdrsharp-x86.zip to a folder on your PC. (Important! Many people who have issues forget this step! DO NOT run the files from within the zip file or the following steps will fail). (Also, do not extract into a folder within the Program Files directory, or installation may fail as these folders are often automatically made read only by Windows).
- Double click on install-rtlsdr.bat from within the extracted folder. On some versions of Windows you may get a SmartScreen warning. Click on More Info, then Run Anyway. This will start a command prompt that will download all the drivers required to make SDRSharp work with RTL-SDR. Once completed, press any key to close the command prompt.
If the batch file ran successfully the files rtlsdr.dll and zadig.exe will be downloaded into the SDR# directory. If they were not downloaded then your PC or anti virus solution may be misconfigured and may have trouble running batch files (Check that the folder is not read only, and not located in the Program Files directory).
If install-rtlsdr.bat fails to download the dll or zadig, do a manual driver installation. If Zadig is smaller than 5000kB (5MB), the download has failed and you should download Zadig manually.
- Plug in your dongle. Do not install any of the software that it came with (if any), and ensure that you wait a few seconds for plug and play to finish attempting to install the dongle (it will either fail or install Windows DVB-T TV drivers). If you've already installed the DVB-T drivers that came on the CD bundled with some dongles, uninstall them first.
- In the folder where you extracted the sdrsharp files find the file called zadig.exe. Right click this file and select "Run as administrator".
- In Zadig, go to "Options->List All Devices" and make sure this option is checked. If you are using Windows 10 or 11, in some cases you may need to also uncheck "Ignore Hubs or Composite Parents".
- Select "Bulk-In, Interface (Interface 0)" from the drop down list. Make sure it is Interface 0 (ZERO), and not "1". Note on some PCs you may see something like RTL2832UHIDIR or RTL2832U or Blog V4 instead of the bulk in interface. This is also a valid selection. Double check that USB ID shows "0BDA 2838 00" as this indicates that the dongle is selected.
WARNING: DO NOT select anything else or you will overwrite that device's driver! DO NOT click around randomly in Zadig. If you do you are likely to overwrite your mouse, keyboard, printer, soundcard etc drivers. Many bad reviews we get are due to people clicking around randomly in Zadig, so PLEASE check what you are doing first.
- Make sure the box to the right of the arrow shows WinUSB. The box to the left of the green arrow is not important, and it may show (NONE) or (RTL...). This left hand box indicates the currently installed driver, and the box to the right the driver that will be installed after clicking Replace/Install Driver.
- Click Replace Driver. On some PC's you might get a warning that the publisher cannot be verified, but just accept it by clicking on "Install this driver software anyway". This will install the drivers necessary to run the dongle as a software defined radio.
- Open SDRSharp.exe and set the "Source" to 'RTL-SDR USB'. The source menu is in the top left Hamburger Menu (the three horizontal lines).
- Press the Play button (the right facing triangle in the top left of the program). Your RTL-SDR software radio should now be set up and ready to use! If everything has worked you should be able to start tuning to frequencies.
- Important! Don't forget to also adjust the RF gain settings by adjusting it in the Source window, in the lower left of SDR#. By default the RF gain is set at zero. A gain of zero will probably receive nothing but very strong broadcast FM - increase the gain until you start seeing other signals.
To receive HF signals below 24 MHz with an RTL-SDR Blog V3, please see our V3 users guide.
After getting your RTL-SDR set up with SDR# we recommend investigating the following:
- If you are using a RTL-SDR.com V3 dongle, view our V3 users guide to learn how to use the special features like HF direct sampling and the bias tee. If it is a newer V4 dongle, visit our V4 users guide.
- Read our SDR# Users Guide to learn what each setting in SDR# does. You may also want to check out the more up to date and comprehensive "SDR# Big Book" which is available on the Airspy downloads page.
- Check out all our featured articles on this blog for various RTL-SDR related projects and tutorials.
- Upgrade from the stock antenna. For optimal reception you should use an outdoor roof mounted antenna. The optimal antenna will depend on the frequency and project you are interested in, but for a general all purpose antenna we recommend a Discone or planar disk antenna (pdf).
- If you are using your RTL-SDR for HF with direct sampling mode or an upconverter then we recommended using SDR# with the special decimation drivers. This will allow you to zoom in on the small bandwidth signals used on HF without loosing resolution.
- Check out our store for various RF accessories such as filters, LNA's and antennas.
- Also check out the official list of SDRSharp plugins which can be found here and also our unofficial list of plugins which can be found here.
Troubleshooting (Click to Expand) If you continue to have issues please feel free to post in the troubleshooting section of our Forums. Below are various alternatives to SDR# that we also highly recommend. The first step to all installations is installing the drivers with Zadig. Follow the Zadig guide below when setting up a new dongle if you have not already done so during the SDR# installation. Before following the next steps, please make sure you have installed the Microsoft Visual C++ x64 redistributable. Most PCs will have this already installed, but on some fresh installs this may not be the case. WARNING: Do not select anything else or you will overwrite that device's driver! DO NOT click around randomly on Zadig. If you do you are likely to overwrite your mouse, keyboard, printer, soundcard etc drivers. If you experience problems with SDR#, SDR++ is our second choice software that we also highly recommend. Alternatively for HDSDR you can also use extio_rtl_tcp which will allow you to connect to an rtl_tcp server. See the Software Guide for a big list of other compatible RTL-SDR software. These are the instructions for installing our RTL-SDR Blog drivers. Type them into the Linux terminal one by one. First, if you already have some other drivers installed, please purge them from your system using the following commands: Next you can install the RTL-SDR Blog drivers using the following. After installing the libraries you will likely need to unload the DVB-T drivers, which Linux uses by default. To unload them temporarily type "sudo rmmod dvb_usb_rtl28xxu" into terminal. This solution is only temporary as when you replug the dongle or restart the PC, the DVB-T drivers will be reloaded. For a permanent solution, create a text file "rtlsdr.conf" in /etc/modprobe.d and add the line "blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu". You can use the one line command shown below to automatically write and create this file. Now you can restart your device. After it boots up again run "rtl_test" at the terminal with the RTL-SDR plugged in. It should start running. NOTE: Some devices like the Orange Pi zero have a bug in their current mainline OSes. Instead of blacklisting "dvb_usb_rtl28xxu", you will need to blacklist "dvb_usb_rtl2832u". If you installed rtl-sdr by "apt-get", you will need to update the black list file at /etc/modprobe.d/rtl-sdr-blacklist.conf manually too. After installing the libraries and black listing the DVB-T drivers we recommend starting off with SDR++ or GQRX. Instructions for installing SDR++ are on their GitHub, and for GQRX it can be downloaded via the package manager in your Linux distribution or from http://gqrx.dk/download. We can also recommend the multi-platform CubicSDR which can be downloaded from http://www.cubicsdr.com. SDR++ is highly recommended for us on OSX. Instruction on their GitHub. GQRX is also an excellent SDR program that works well on OSX. We can also recommend CubicSDR which can be downloaded from cubicsdr.com.
This will happen if you are not using our RTL-SDR Blog drivers. V4 units require our custom drivers to work. Please follow the instructions carefully.
In early 2023 we are transitioning from silver colored enclosures to black colored dongles. The reasons are to try and seperate our brand from the clones that are copying us, and also as we need to add clearer FCC regulation text on the product to be compliant with regulations. There are no functional differences between silver and black RTL-SDR Blog units, the changes are purely cosmetic.
Yes, the R860 is the new batch of tuners, identical to the R820T/2. You might find them on new dongles purchased from 2021 onwards. The name appears to have been changed by the manufacturer simply for accounting and tracking purposes, since the R820T2 line for TV dongle usage has been officially discontinued, and the R860 is only sold specifically for SDR usage now.
Make sure you have run the install-rtlsdr.bat file, and that it has successfully downloaded the rtlsdr.dll file into the SDR# folder. If it is not downloaded, check that your folder is not set to "read only" (this sometimes happens automatically if you install into Program Files, so do not install into that folder). Another source of problems is if you have accidentally installed the WinUSB drivers to Bulk Interface 1 instead of 0 with Zadig. If you have done this, then SDR# will not recognize your dongle. To fix it go into device manager or Devices and Printers and uninstall the driver for Bulk Interface 1.
This is most likely due to your USB port underpowering the RTL-SDR. This can easily happen with long USB cables, or unpowered hubs. Please try connecting the RTL-SDR directly to the PC to confirm.
Long low quality USB extension cables can sometimes cause this error. Some USB 3.0 ports are also incompatible with the dongle and cause this error. One user has had luck with this error by installing zadig from safe mode. Finally, there is a small chance that the dongle is actually faulty. If the dongle produces the same error on multiple computers the dongle is probably faulty and should be refunded or replaced.
One user has reported that this can happen when a Windows Update has failed, and is continuously running in the background without your knowledge. Another solution that people usually have success with is using an alternative Zadig tool available at visualgdb.com/UsbDriverTool. Use the tool to install the WinUSB driver.
Some users have reported this as an issue, but this is normal. The box on the left indicates the CURRENTLY installed driver. The box on the right indicates the driver THAT WILL BE installed after clicking on the install button.
This is due to some sort of problem with your PC's configuration, although exactly what is unknown. Users have found that downloading the file manually with Chrome also produces the error, but downloading it with Edge browser results in a file that works. So try downloading from the Zadig website in Edge, or using the alternative tool at visualgdb.com/UsbDriverTool.
99% of the time this is because Windows automatic driver updates has automatically removed the SDR drivers and installed DVB-T drivers in its place. Make sure Windows automatic driver updates are turned off, and rerun zadig to reinstall the WinUSB driver.
Windows updates sometimes overwrite the SDR drivers with broken Windows ones. Simply run zadig again and install the drivers again to fix it.
It is normal for the dongle to be hot or warm during operation. But there is a small number of RTL8232U chips that come from the factory faulty (we measure this at less than 0.3%). They draw very high current, cause excessive heat and eventually fail. Some units will work for a few minutes to hours before exhibiting issues, and others will fail instantly. If you have a USB current meter you can check and see if the current draw is above 0.3A. If higher then something is wrong with the RTL2832U. If you suspect a fault like this contact the manufacturer of your dongle and ask for a refund or replacement.
NOTE: This higher than normal current draw issue does not exist in batches of the RTL-SDR Blog V3 from 2019 onwards, but it may exist on other brands as we have not yet seen any copy our fixes for this problem.
First check that another program is not using the RTL-SDR. Also some USB 3.0 ports are buggy, switch to a USB 2.0 port. Some users have also had success with installing everything from Windows safe mode.
Make sure you are not selecting the "USB Receiver (Interface 0)" in zadig, and instead are selecting the Bulk in interface, or one that may say RTL2838UHIDIR or something else prefixed with RTL.
If you don't see the correct Bulk in Interface make sure that "Options->List All Devices" is checked and that "Ignore Hubs or Composite Parents" is unchecked. Then you might see an entry like "RTLSDR (Composite)" which is what you should select with Zadig. READ this forum post especially if you are on Windows 10.
Another thing to try may be to disable Windows automatic driver installation. Instructions for disabling this can be found here. This error also sometimes occurs after the computer has been suspended - to fix it simply disconnect and reconnect the dongle.
Usually installing the Visual C++ Runtime solves this problem. Most PCs have this installed already, but if you are on a freshly installed version of Windows it may not have been installed yet.
If you are using the x64 version try the x86 version. This can also indicate a corrupted .NET install on your PC. Attempt a .NET repair or reinstall.
This is normal and is a side effect of the design of most RTL-SDR dongles. It can be removed algorithmically in the SDR# software by checking the "Correct IQ" box. If you are using an E4000 dongle select offset tuning instead.
Ensure "Options->List All Devices" is checked. Sometimes you may also need to uncheck "Ignore Hubs or Composite Parents". Some people report seeing something else other than the bulk in interface. It may also show up as the brand of your dongle or something prefixed with "RTL", e.g. RTL2832U or RTL2832UHIDR. Any of those options should work too. In rare cases you may receive a faulty dongle that will not show up in Zadig no matter what USB port or computer you try it on. You should ask for a replacement in this case.
Unfortunately some cheap USB 3.0 controllers are buggy and don't work with some USB 2.0 devices. Generally, USB 3.0 works fine with the RTL-SDR, but there are some controllers that will just not recognize the dongle. In this case use a USB 2.0 port instead.
This is because you did not unzip the files and you are trying to run install-rtlsdr.bat from within the zip file. Remember to extract the files first, before running them.
There seems to be a bug or misconfiguration with some versions of Windows where batch files cannot be run. One way around this is to install the RTL-SDR drivers manually. We have instructions for this here: rtl-sdr.com/manual-installation-of-sdr. Some antivirus solutions are also overly restrictive and do not allow .bat files to be run. In this case either disable or install a better antivirus, or perform a manual driver install.
Make sure you have increased the RF gain slider which can be accessed by clicking on the configure button. Also, in poor reception areas using the stock antenna indoors may not be sufficient. First test with the antenna placed up high outside. In some cases with the stock antenna the connection to the antenna can become disconnected in the antenna base causing unexpectedly poor reception. In rare cases if you still cannot receive any strong signals and another radio can, then you may have received a broken dongle and should ask for a replacement.
This might mean that you do not have the correct .NET Framework installed.
This may mean that you do not have an audio driver properly installed on your PC, or that you do not have any output audio devices enabled. Enable them in the windows Sound Playback properties.
First test to make sure that it is not the fault of a bad USB extension cable by plugging the dongle directly into the PC. Try other USB cables if possible. If the USB connector is loose, gently pressing on the top of the USB connector on the RTL-SDR and making a small indentation can help tighten the connection. If it still disconnects often the dongle may be faulty and you should ask for a replacement.
This appears to be a bug with SDR# or Windows. The solution right now is to simply turn display sleep off.
The dongle is faulty and should be refunded or replaced.
For graphical GUI SDR software like SDR#, at least a dual core processor is recommended. If you have a borderline decent CPU and still experience high CPU usage, try reducing the sample rate to 1 MSPS or less, reducing the FFT display resolution (or turning it off), turning off Correct IQ and reducing the filter order.
This is because you would have clicked the install button in Zadig after selecting the wrong device in the drop down menu. Please don't randomly click things in Zadig and be sure to read step 9 very carefully. Make sure you select the correct RTL-SDR device, (Bulk-In Interface, Interface 0) first. Zadig overwrites previous drivers.
To get the old drivers back you should be able to do so in Windows device manager, right click device -> Properties -> Driver Tab -> Update Driver -> Browse my computer for driver software -> Let me pick from a list of available drivers on my computer -> Pick the old driver and then click next and follow the instructions.
The R860, R820T2 and R820T are identical electronically except for some minor changes in the maximum IF filter widths that occurred by accident from using higher quality silicon in the R820T2. The accidentally different filters and higher quality silicon may be the reason the R820T2 has generally better performance and less manufacturing variability. Thus a R820T2 will show up as an R820T on the PC, since there is no distinction between them in the digital part of the circuit. You can confirm that you have a R820T2 by checking the markings on the chip.
This is almost 100% a false positive. SDR# is updated often and thus a new .zip file is sometimes released almost daily. Poorly designed antivirus programs will sometimes assume that any file that is not downloaded often is a virus. With SDR# being updated so often it takes a while for many people to download the new version and build up trust with the antivirus company.
Some users have found that this bug is caused due to selection of a "custom scaling level" or "custom sizing options" in Windows. Reset this option back to default in Windows display settings to fix the bug.
This is usually because you have copied the SDR# files into a folder that is read only. In Windows folders located in "C:\Program Files" are usually automatically read only. To fix, install SDR# into a non read only folder that is not located in Program Files, for example "C:\SDR".
Some sellers opt to include the remote control that is used for changing TV channels. It is only useful for when the dongle is used for its original purpose - as a DVB-T HDTV receiver. The remote control has no purpose when the dongle is used as an SDR.
The original purpose of the dongle was for DVB-T TV, and it can still do this. But please note that the DVB-T drivers and the SDR drivers are different, and they cannot both be installed at the same time. You can download the DVB-T drivers here. We recommend using Prog-DVB as the TV software.
You must turn on the direct sampling mode for HF reception. Please see the V3 users guide for information on how to activate the direct sampling mode.
This usually means that there is some issue with the USB port on your PC not working correctly. Try other USB ports on your PC, and confirm that the dongle operates on another PC.
There appears to be a LibUSB bug/incompatibility with modern motherboards like this. We have published a version of our "rtl-sdr-blog" drivers that should have a fix for this here. Replace the rtlsdr.dll file in the SDR# folder with the librtlsdr.dll file from the zip, and rename it to rtlsdr.dll. Someone else has has also published a fixed DLL here which works for some people. Modern firmware updates to Ryzen should eliminate this problem.
This can happen if you have set the sampling rate to the maximum stable rate at 2.56 MSPS. Adjusting the PPM value actually slightly modifies the sampling rate, so you may be pushing it over the stable limit. To solve this you will need to go down to a sampling rate of 2.4 MSPS.
Installing Zadig drivers
SDR++ Setup Guide (Tested on Windows 7, 10, 11) (Works with RTL-SDR Blog V4/V3)
HDSDR Setup Guide (Tested on Win XP and above) (Works with RTL-SDR Blog V4/V3)
CubicSDR Set Up Guide (Tested on XP and above) (Works with RTL-SDR Blog V4/V3)
Other SDR Windows Software Compatible with RTL-SDR
Getting Started on Linux
sudo apt purge ^librtlsdr
sudo rm -rvf /usr/lib/librtlsdr* /usr/include/rtl-sdr* /usr/local/lib/librtlsdr* /usr/local/include/rtl-sdr* /usr/local/include/rtl_* /usr/local/bin/rtl_*
sudo apt-get install libusb-1.0-0-dev git cmake
git clone https://github.com/rtlsdrblog/rtl-sdr-blog
cmake ../ -DINSTALL_UDEV_RULES=ON
sudo make install
sudo cp ../rtl-sdr.rules /etc/udev/rules.d/
echo 'blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu' | sudo tee --append /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-dvb_usb_rtl28xxu.conf
Getting Started on OSX
For a comprehensive book about the RTL-SDR you may be interested in our book available on Amazon. Available in physical and eBook formats.
If you continue to have issues please feel free to post in the troubleshooting section of our Forums.
Below are various alternatives to SDR# that we also highly recommend. The first step to all installations is installing the drivers with Zadig. Follow the Zadig guide below when setting up a new dongle if you have not already done so during the SDR# installation.
Before following the next steps, please make sure you have installed the Microsoft Visual C++ x64 redistributable. Most PCs will have this already installed, but on some fresh installs this may not be the case.
WARNING: Do not select anything else or you will overwrite that device's driver! DO NOT click around randomly on Zadig. If you do you are likely to overwrite your mouse, keyboard, printer, soundcard etc drivers.
If you experience problems with SDR#, SDR++ is our second choice software that we also highly recommend.
Alternatively for HDSDR you can also use extio_rtl_tcp which will allow you to connect to an rtl_tcp server.
See the Software Guide for a big list of other compatible RTL-SDR software.
These are the instructions for installing our RTL-SDR Blog drivers. Type them into the Linux terminal one by one.
First, if you already have some other drivers installed, please purge them from your system using the following commands:
Next you can install the RTL-SDR Blog drivers using the following.
After installing the libraries you will likely need to unload the DVB-T drivers, which Linux uses by default. To unload them temporarily type "sudo rmmod dvb_usb_rtl28xxu" into terminal. This solution is only temporary as when you replug the dongle or restart the PC, the DVB-T drivers will be reloaded. For a permanent solution, create a text file "rtlsdr.conf" in /etc/modprobe.d and add the line "blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu". You can use the one line command shown below to automatically write and create this file.
Now you can restart your device. After it boots up again run "rtl_test" at the terminal with the RTL-SDR plugged in. It should start running.
NOTE: Some devices like the Orange Pi zero have a bug in their current mainline OSes. Instead of blacklisting "dvb_usb_rtl28xxu", you will need to blacklist "dvb_usb_rtl2832u". If you installed rtl-sdr by "apt-get", you will need to update the black list file at /etc/modprobe.d/rtl-sdr-blacklist.conf manually too.
After installing the libraries and black listing the DVB-T drivers we recommend starting off with SDR++ or GQRX. Instructions for installing SDR++ are on their GitHub, and for GQRX it can be downloaded via the package manager in your Linux distribution or from http://gqrx.dk/download. We can also recommend the multi-platform CubicSDR which can be downloaded from http://www.cubicsdr.com.
SDR++ is highly recommended for us on OSX. Instruction on their GitHub.
GQRX is also an excellent SDR program that works well on OSX.
We can also recommend CubicSDR which can be downloaded from cubicsdr.com.