For those who work or dabble in electronic repairs or engineering, investing in an oscilloscope is a wise choice. Oscilloscopes, also known as O-scopes, are tools used to monitor voltages. It measures not only the signal voltage, however, but also frequencies, rises, and other changes that may occur.
Before you invest in an oscilloscope, it is important to first figure out your requirements. First, you should figure out where you will use the oscilloscope. This will determine the overall size, as well as the portability and durability. Measure different aspects of a signal is also a vital part of the oscilloscope. When it comes to signal, you need to consider amplitude, frequency, quantity, time, and viewing. For example, do you know what the minimum, maximum, or general range of signal amplitudes you will be measuring are? When it comes to frequency, you should know how high the potential signal you intend to measure will go. In addition to that, it is important to determine how many signals you want to measure at the same time. You should also think about whether you intend to measure a single shot signal or repetitive ones over a specific amount of time. Most oscilloscopes offer viewing in a frequency domain only. However, some users may prefer to have a time domain as well. That is a personal preference, but it is something worth considering as well.
Once you understand your requirements, you should consider a few additional things. Analog oscilloscopes were once the only option available. Not anymore. Technological advances have given us the digital oscilloscope. While some users still claim analog is just as good, the truth is that they have become more and more obsolescent over the years. They are just not wise investments at this point. Digital oscilloscopes are not only more modern, but they offer several advantages. For example, digital oscilloscopes tend to have higher bandwidths. This is important because experts recommend you purchase a model that can go five times higher than your expected maximum frequency. The sample rate is linked to the time requirement you determined above. For example, if you intend to measure a single shot signal, you should look for a oscilloscope that measures real-time sampling (RTS). If you are intending to measure a burst of signals, an equivalent time sampling rate (ETS) is better. Most experts recommend you select a device that measures five times higher than your expected maximum frequency for this as well. However, some say that only twice the maximum frequency is acceptable for this as well. Memory depth is also important, but often overlooked. With enough memory depth, your oscilloscope will be able to last longer in taking signal-sampling rates before becoming full. Resolution is directly proportional to the accuracy of your oscilloscope. For digital oscilloscopes, an 8-bit resolution is generally acceptable. (If you really want an analog, by comparison, you will need a 12- to16-bit device.) Oscilloscopes come in several forms. Handheld oscilloscopes, which are typically batter powered, are great for on the go. However, that same battery can limit them. Oscilloscopes can be capable of connecting to your computer as well, which is often considered a better investment. Keep in mind, oscilloscopes are intended to enhance your work. Finding a unit with a great user manual or wealth of tutorials online can help make sure this complicated device does just that.
Best Products on the Market
Now that you understand your requirements, as well as the considerations you should make when shopping for an oscilloscope, let us look at some of the best entry-level devices available today.
Hantek Digital Oscilloscope (DSO5072P)
The DSO5072P is an impressive dual channel oscilloscope for users of all levels. As 7.7 pounds, this lightweight device is portable, compact and durable. In fact, the device comes with a built-in handle for easy portability. The DSO5072P supports 70-, 100-, and 200 MHz bandwidths. It has a one Giga-sample per second (GSa/s) RTS rate. The DSO5072P comes with an 110V power cord, but it can also be hooked into a computer.
The large, WVGA color display on the DSO5072P is high resolution and easy to read. Controls, as well as the user interface, are easy to use as well. It also has a 40K memory, which is considered decent in the oscilloscope world.
The power cord that comes with the DSO5072P is not compatible with North American outlets. While it is easy to replace, it is important to note. Amazon, and other sites, does not notify users of this, so please be aware that a converter or different power cord will be required.
Rigol 4-Channel Digital Oscilloscope (DS1054Z)
Rigol is a well-known oscilloscope brand. In fact, the DS1054Z was the top selling oscilloscope of 2015 and is still going strong today. It is lightweight, weighing in at only 6.6 pounds, while still packing in a ton of desirable features. The DS1054Z is the only four-channel oscilloscope on this list. The large display is colored and easy to read. The DS1054Z has a 50 MHz bandwidth and a RTS of one GSa/s. It also has a waveform capture rate up to 30,000 waveforms per second (wfms/s).
The expandable memory on this model is one of the best standout features. The DS1054Z comes with a 12 Mpts memory, which can be expanded up to 24 Mpts with an additional license key. It also comes with a USB port that you can connect to a flash drive or computer for easy file transfer of your data.
Because of the large file sizes, transfers can take up to three minutes. This may be inconvenient for those pressed for time. In addition to this, the DS1054Z is complicated to use if you are new to oscilloscopes. While there are plenty of user tutorials available online that can help you, new users should be prepared for a bit of confusion. Resetting the controls to default can also take time.
Rigol 2-Channel Digital Oscilloscope (DS1102E)
The DS1102E is an 8-bit, 100 MHz dual channel oscilloscope and the second Rigol model on the list. It offers a one GSa/s RTS rate per channel; it runs at 500 GSa/s when using dual channels. It has one external sample trigger and a memory depth of one Mpts. When using automatic mode, the DS1102E gives users twenty different types of wave parameters. These contain ten of both voltage and time parameters. When in cursor mode, users are given three options for measurements: manual, track and automatic. The DS1102E also comes with its own software, UltraScope, which makes it easy to capture, save and print waveforms from your computer. The DS1102E also comes with two probes and two hook tips. The digital screen provides users with a clear and colorful display.
The DS1102E is lightweight and portable at only 6.6 pounds. It is not a handheld device, however, and is powered by an AC current. This extends your use time tremendously. For small projects, the dual channel DS1102E works very well. The simple and easy to understand menu makes it easy for users operate as well.
The fan on this model is extremely loud. Additionally, if you are expecting to take on larger projects, the two channels will not be nearly enough for you. Some users have also noted that, while the DS1102E works very well up to 70 MHz, it tends to drop when pushed to 100 MHz. While this not a deal breaker, it is important to note if you need a reliable 100 MHz device.
Siglent Technologies Digital Storage Oscilloscope (SDS1052DL+)
Siglent Technologies is well known in the oscilloscope world, with some of the top professional models on the market today. The SDS1052DL+ is a dual channel oscilloscope, others on this list. It comes with a 50 MHz bandwidth, as well as a frequency counter for values that range between 10- and 50 MHz. The SDS1052DL+ has a RTS rate of 500 mega-samples per second (MSa/s). It comes with two probes, power cord, and USB cable for hooking into your computer. It also comes with a certificate of calibration, so users can rest assured that the SDS1052DL+ comes to them ready to go.
The impressive quality of the materials and construction of the SDS1052DL+ is part of what makes it such a popular oscilloscope today. The frequency counter and very large, color LCD screen are also highly praised by users.
Unfortunately, the included user manual for this device leaves something to be desired and your best bet is to look up tutorials online. The automatic set up mode can also be problematic.
Signstek UNI-T Handheld Digital Multimeter (UT81B)
This list would not be complete if we did not provide a review of a handheld oscillator. The Signstek is a device that provides scopemeter, oscilloscope and
Multimeter all in one convenient product. While we state that several of the other oscilloscopes are portable, this one is downright handy! The compact, handheld device has a refresh rate of two to three times per second and an overload protection feature. For a multimeter, the LCD display is considered top quality and large. The oscilloscope function offers an 8 MHz bandwidth with a RTS of up to 40 MSa/s. It also has free run, normal and single shot trigger options. Furthermore, the UT81B includes an automatic range function, as well as auto-off and auto-sleep modes that will help to preserve the battery’s life. The memory allows for ten entries and can be replaced as needed. The UT81B comes with two test leads, three probes, adapter, a CD with product software, and USB cable that allows you to transfer files to your computer for analysis and printing.
While this device does not offer the bandwidth many others do, it is a great addition to any entry-level tool kit based on its multifunctional nature. The automatic features, as well as the overload protection, are also ideal.
As with the Rigol DS1054Z, the UT81B can be complicated. Because it offers so many features, you would be wise to look up user videos and tutorials when considering purchasing this device to ensure you understand the intricacies of a multimeter. Users have also noted that updates can take longer than expected.
Tektronix Digital Oscilloscope (TBS1052B)
The TBS1052B has a wide-ranging bandwidth, measuring from 30- to 200 MHz. This dual-channel oscilloscope has RTS at a rate of 2GSa/s. The large, color LCD display makes reading the measures easy and clear. For automatic tests, the TBS1052B offers the ability to detect and record signals that deviate from a pre-determined template. It also includes a data logging feature that allows for automatic saving when triggered waveforms are detected. The included TrendPlot feature can assist users with crating a plot of trends based on a duration, which can be set between 30 minutes to infinity.
The built-in analysis tools makes readouts much easier on the user. Most users who are new to oscilloscopes find this extremely helpful, as many devices are confusing at best. While the TBS1052B is consider suitable for a range of users, most beginners welcome these kind of guided, automatic functions. Additionally, the TBS1052B does not have a cooling fan, which makes it much quieter than several other units do on the list.
If you need a sampling that goes higher, this is not the device for you.
Adding a digital oscilloscope to your arsenal of tools is a great investment. As stated above, understanding your requirements is the first step to selecting the best entry-level oscilloscope capable of meeting your needs. As with all of our reviews, we encourage you to thoroughly research any device you are looking to invest in. As oscilloscopes can be pricy, this is a very important step. There are certainly more professional oscilloscopes available on the market. However, the devices listed above are more than capable of supporting the needs of users from entry level to semi-professional. Look for an oscilloscope that meets your expectations, while providing as much value for the