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Best hobbyist oscilloscope

An oscilloscope is fantastically useful when it comes to testing electronics as it enables you to see the signals that are happening in an electronic circuit. After I had first used an oscilloscope I wanted one myself. So what is the best hobbyist oscilloscope?

I started using oscilloscopes about thirty years ago. They were nearly all analogue and all expensive, oh and I forgot, all extremely heavy!

Now though, things have significantly changed. There are some amazing oscilloscopes around at very affordable prices. There are even some really good oscilloscopes around at really cheap prices and for the hobbyist you can now get a decent oscilloscope for a bargain price.

If you’ve got no money at all you can build an oscilloscope using an old laptop and a few cheap components. You can read how to make an oscilloscope here, if it’s something that interests you.

Why would you want an oscilloscope?

There are things that you can’t do with any other piece of test equipment, if you want an example look at my how to use an oscilloscope where I use it to set variable resistor on an oscillator to correctly produce a ramp wave. I don’t know how else you would do this without an oscilloscope. There are other things that you can do with a scope that just makes things a lot easier. Why make things difficult for yourself?

So now you know why you need one, which one should you get. It’s like most things when it comes to buying, it depends on what you want it to do and how much money you have available.

The budget choice is the first oscilloscope that I bought and incidentally still use.

My budget buy is the SainSmart DSO201 ARM DSO Digital Nano Oscilloscope if you only have £50 to spend then this is the one I would buy.

For the applications I use a scope for, there’s not a lot that it won’t do if you want a more in depth view you can read my review of the DSO201 here. I own one of these and have used it for a couple of years now. I always think that’s a very healthy plus when a reviewer owns and uses the device.

  • It’s amazingly portable, small and light, my mobile phone is bigger!
  • ​It’s cheap costing around £50.
  • ​It’s rechargeable through a USB socket and holds its charge for ages.
  • ​It has a built in frequency meter.
  • Its light weight can sometimes be a problem as the probe lead can drag it around in use.

In fact if I had more money to buy a mid or top range machine, I would still buy DSO201 because of its functionality and portability. You can put it in your pocket. It still does enough for me to consider it a real scope and it’s great to take out if I think I might need one so I can leave my main bench scope at home. Talking of which, my main oscilloscope and clear choice of best hobbyist oscilloscope is the Siglent SDS1102CNL USB Digital Storage Oscilloscope, 2 Channel, TFT LCD Display, 1 GS/s, 100 MHz, 7".

Siglent SDS1102CNL

My main oscilloscope now and the second one I bought after lots of reading and advice is the Siglent SDS1102CNL. On the whole it is a very well put together unit. It’s really useful to have buttons for things rather than going through menus and I think I’ll always be more at home with a device like this as my main scope having been brought up on traditional analogue oscilloscopes at work.

This is a two channel device. Then there’s the extra bandwidth of 100 MHz and accuracy of the larger screen. Its 7 inch TFT LCD, the grid on it is 8 by 18 and its colour with each channels trace having a different colour. This makes it a lot easier when you’re using both channels and something we never had on the old analogue scopes. Its mains powered and having it plug in means it’s not going to need charging while it’s on your work bench. For a work bench device I always like it to plug into the mains. Batteries are great for on the move but I just prefer the extra reliability of mains gear.

You can use it on signals of up to 400 volts so you can fault find all the way back to the mains. That’s something you can’t do with the budget DSO201 which you can only use up to about 100 volts.

It’s apparently also got very good digital storage functions but that’s not something that I’ve used at all but it’s nice to know its there if you need it.

Like the DSO201, it also has a frequency counter but this one is much more accurate. As I build analogue synthesisers this is something really useful for me. Its size is 38.8 x 27.8 x 23.4 cm and it only weighs 3 Kg. This is something I can never get over when I think about carrying my first analogue oscilloscope at work. While we’re on the subject of carrying it, there’s a handle on top that drops down and nicely recesses into the top of the scope.

While researching which was the best hobbyist oscilloscope, I did consider a few models. If I didn’t have to worry too much about money I would have gone for the Owon SDS8202 digital storage oscilloscope. Don’t get me wrong there are much more expensive oscilloscopes available but coming from my background I’m always going to have to see something be worth the money, so I can’t really consider ridiculously priced items. This is about paying more but still getting some value for your money. This is also a really nice and fully functioning oscilloscope. With a larger 8 inch display and more bandwidth to play with (dependent on channel usage) I was very tempted to go for this machine but I considered that for what you get for your money the Siglent SDS1102CNL was a better buy.

All three of these oscilloscopes are digital. This gives them many advantages over the old analogue oscilloscopes. They are much lighter not having to have cathode ray tubes and large, high voltage power supplies. The displays are a lot clearer and you don’t keep having to mess around with intensity and focusing controls. If like me, you were brought up on analogue scopes and your looking to buy an oscilloscope, I think you will be amazed at what these mentioned oscilloscopes can do, particularly the Siglent SDS1102CNL and after many hours of reading and use, I can completely recommend it.