SDR4Everyone: Review of the HackRF

Over on his ‘SDR4Everyone’ blog author Akos has recently uploaded a new post that reviews the HackRF One, and also compares it against the SDRplay RSP and RTL-SDR. In his review he discusses his first impressions of the HackRF, his concerns about it being labelled as a transceiver, and some of its various features. He also does a screenshot comparison of the HackRF, RSP and RTL-SDR on shortwave reception and image rejection performance. Akos also notes that there are not many applications in the high gigahertz range that cannot be done with cheaper or more specialized equipment. Finally he concludes that the HackRF is not very sensitive or good at RX in general, but still has enough features to make it a worthwhile purchase for some people.

If you are interested in the HackRF, we also have our own review that compares the HackRF, SDRplay RSP and Airspy.

The SDRplay and HackRF One.
The SDRplay and HackRF One.

9 comments

  1. Akos Czermann

    Hi Spongella and other commenters,

    Thanks for your input, as noted, a 20-foot wire yielded unacceptable performance for SWLing, which happens to be one of my favourite pastimes as well.
    I always include a discone in comparative reviews, as that’s the antenna most readers will likely use. I enjoy one on a daily basis, and receive what I want most of the time below 30MHz.
    When not, the maximum I have space for is a 20-foot, which gave me lots of pleasure over the years. Due to front and back garden dimensions it’s also kinda the length suburban readers might be limited when erecting a SW antenna.
    I’ve also tried the HackRF with a 100-foot T2FD in a country location, and performance was about equal to a dongle with upconverter. Hence the text advising that combo, it’s a lot cheaper in the end.
    What I really loved about the HackRF, and I hope it’s clear from the post, is the overall sense of joy when using it.
    As for the other comments: I appreciate your input, thanks. We probably don’t share the same vision, which for me, is bringing radio to everyone. I work tirelessly for that outcome, and run a blog under my real name. I don’t comment under false aliases, and got a spine to stand up and say whatever I think is right.
    The “radio for everyone” dream will be only realised when manufacturers make a case as good as the HackRF, at SDRPlay performance, at RTL-SDR dongle prices. To get there, we need honest reviews, dissing the bad and praising the good.
    Fortunately, makers of affordable radio equipment, such as rtl-sdr.com, Nooelec and SDRPlay see it the same way, because they are passionate about radio and intelligent at the same time. They know that every opinion, however minuscule, provides customer insight and an improvement possibility: I’m 100% sure the next SDRPlay will feature an improved metal case, not because I think the case feels like a toilet brush handle, or because my mom loves it, but because all of these small opinions will nudge them toward making a better product to us, customers.
    So please share your opinions, tell the world what you think, and if it makes you feel better, attack my person – I love negative comments as that signals that someone out there doesn’t agree with me, and if you give reasons or suggestions for improvement, I will seriously look into them.
    Feedback is always welcome, like the advice in connection with the HackRF review that more images would be better.
    Thanks,

    Akos

  2. spongella

    Thanks for your take on the HackRF One, I found that it works well on shortwave using a 43 foot vertical, same antenna I use for hamming. In my opinion it works as well on SW as the dongle + down converter. You might want to try listening to SW using an antenna other than the discone; if yours is like my discone (Radio Shack version) it covers from 25 MHz and up, and reception is sub-optimal when you venture down below 25 megs.

    Even listening to the AM BCB with the HackRF One is possible; I saw no difference between the Hack and the dongle/down converter duo. I can’t back this up with any laboratory measurements, strictly an opinion from an SWL whose ear has been surgically attached to a shortwave radio for half a century.

    As for transmitting, one of the reasons I purchased the HackRF One, getting to that step is a heavier lift, at least for me; you have to use software like GNU Radio, and there is somewhat of a culture shock when entering the world of DSP and downloading software to your computer that has to be booted off of a thumb drive. In the end though I am pleased with my HackRF One as it allows me to listen to the SW and Ham bands and has been a stimulus to get my feet wet with DSP. There is a series of instructional videos on YouTube on the HackRF One that are very helpful.

    Thanks again for your experiences, good to see how others feel about this broadband rcvr.

    • taco

      I’ve used my hackrf with a LPF + BCB filter an antenna tuner an a GR5V Jr. and it works wonders. Not on par with a SDRPlay or an Airspy but, definitely better than a dongle. I am in a strong BCB area and unfortunately it gets easily overloaded though, hence the BCB filter being a necessity for the enjoyment of other non BCB SWL.

  3. khel

    just got a sdrplay, at the first test it looks like a generator of birdies
    and images and FM-Band mirrors – never seen this with the dongle…

    • Marty

      It does have a bunch of front end filters for a reason.

      I don’t have a sdrplay, but my guess is that because of the dynamic range of a RTL-SDR (~48dB) what you are seeing is normally burred under its noise floor. The sdrplay at a guess has a dynamic range of about 72dB.

      Although I could be totally wrong post two screen shots looking at the same frequency with both, and the same frequency span. The more a window is open the more $#!+ flies in. So the wider the bandwidth you look at the more noise you will have.

  4. Akos

    Many thanks for your feedback – elaborating a bit more on what you wish to see in future reviews might help.
    Surely the SDRPlay crowd is a protective bunch 🙂

  5. Fluffy

    This guy’s reviews are all made up of mostly non technical data. They are As Seen on TV review quality. His views on the hackrf are from someone that does not understand the purpose of such hardware to the point where he would not qualify it as a transceiver? Of course this to be expected from someone that reviewed the sdrplay and included his mothers thoughts on how great the little black plastic box looked… All to promote a self published amazon book? Oh boy. This site should be embarrassed for including these so called reviews on their page.

      • Fluffy

        Simple. Point me to the technical data of the review… He is comparing two things that are completely different and aimed at completely groups. One is a transceiver one is a receiver only. In the review you see things as the “The 20 MSPS Hype”, reviewers computer can’t handle the 20 Msps therefore is Hype… Oh yeah don’t forget that the Hackrf does not come with an installation CD… user manual or information on how to use it? WTF? Yep… don’t forget that “coolness factor” that is very important to the SDR aficionado.

        Heh. It is not a transceiver… Its a transmit capable device? Oh boy.

        Honestly buddy sorry if you were trying to white knight the guy its just not going to work.

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