Oscilloscopes have many different names: digital storage oscilloscopes or DSOs, cathode-ray oscilloscopes or CROs, o-scopes, and oscillographs. Regardless of which name you prefer, these devices measure signal voltages. These voltages are then shown on a screen as wavelengths.
Preferred in industries like healthcare, automotive, electronics technology, engineering, physics, and science, hobbyists may use oscilloscopes for studying signals as well as propagation delay, pulse-width-modulated signal duty cycles, and even clock frequencies.
Which is the best oscilloscope for hobbyists? Whether you’re looking for a portable USB oscilloscope, a digital oscilloscope, or an automotive oscilloscope, we’ll review six scopes that hobbyists prefer, comparing the pros and cons of each.
Best Oscilloscope for Hobbyists Reviewed Currently On The Market
The Rigol digital oscilloscope has four digital channels and a 50-megahertz (Mhz) bandwidth. With its benchtop body style, there’s room for a seven-inch display screen. You’ll always be able to read wavelengths on this oscilloscope with its impressive 800×480-pixel display. You can even bring up every channel on the same screen. Additionally, its memory can be upgraded from 12 Mpts to up to 24 Mpts of memory, allowing you to take longer readings.
Designs and Features
As one of the most renowned digital oscilloscopes out there, the Rigol DS1054Z comes packed with awesome features, such as:
- A capture rate of 30,000 waveforms per second.
- Included UltraVision memory of 12 Mpts that can be doubled to 24 Mpts if necessary via the MEM-DS1000Z download.
- A bandwidth of 50 Mhz and up to four digital channels.
- Speedy sampling at a rate of 1 GSA per second.
- Can connect via USB thumb-drive to load all your data onto your computer.
- With four Passive HighZ low-noise probes that run at 150 Mhz each, you can collect data at various speeds and frequencies.
- Add more memory to this oscilloscope with the MEM-DS1000Z
- Four sets of probes for easier readings
- Four digital channels for better accuracy
- Great waveform capture rate
- The MEM-DS1000Z is a download that may not be supported a few years from now
Hantek’s digital oscilloscope is a lightweight 4.50 pounds and boasts an LCD display. It’s easy to take this device almost anywhere to get the readings you need. The included trigger mode lets you toggle between several options so you can always ensure you get an accurate reading. You can adjust between three different bandwidths—70Mhz, 100 Mhz, or 200 Mhz—as necessary when taking wavelength readings. There’s included software for connecting your oscilloscope to your computer so you can check your readings on a bigger screen anywhere.
Although it doesn’t have all the popularity of Rigol’s digital oscilloscope, the Hantek DSO5072P still holds its own with features like:
- A trigger mode that can switch between video/slop/overtime, width/line selectable, edge/pulse, and more.
- Can record 40K wavelengths on a seven-inch color display screen.
- Includes FFTs standard as well as four other math functions and even automatic measurements.
- Choose from the wavelength average, from such ranges as four, eight, 16, 32, 64, and 128.
- The vertical resolution of this oscilloscope is eight-bit when every channel is sampled at once.
- The DSO5072P can run at temperatures between 32 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops to -40 degrees or 159.8 degrees, it will no longer work.
- The trigger mode, bandwidth adjusting, and wavelength average option impress
- Many math functions, make the DSO5072P easy to use
- Additional temperature differential is something not found on many scopes
- Color LCD display shows results clearly and beautifully
- Not the best beginner oscilloscope fans, as it has a steep learning curve
This Siglent scope boasts upgraded Super Phosphor Oscilloscope technology, which reduces signal noise, improves performance, and boosts signal fidelity. An included digital trigger system will control the device better for less jitter and even more sensitivity. The SDS1202X-E has intelligent triggers such as Pattern, Timeout (Dropout), Interval, Runt, Window, Pulse Width, Slope, and Edge.
Additionally, you can choose from various means of decoding wavelengths, such as the LIN, CAN, UART, SPI, and IIC configurations. And preps for your task with ease with one-button shortcuts for zoom and print, clear sweep, display/persist, history, roll, measure, cursors, default, and auto setup.
- Included online help as well as multi-language displays.
- USB connectivity for linking your readings to your computer for further analysis.
- A TFT-LCD display screen that’s seven inches wide.
- A max bandwidth capacity of 200 Mhz.
- Max 14 Mpts memory and 1 GSA/use sampling for capturing more.
- An included Security Erase mode for deleting files that you’d rather store somewhere else.
- An array of math functions, including square roots, differentials, integration, division, multiplication, subtraction, and addition.
- The history wavelength record function, which lets you take wavelengths further, achieving 80,000 frames.
- In sequence mode, the max waveform capture rate is between 100,000 and 400,000 waveforms per second.
- A variety of customizable shortcuts and presets to save time
- The color display modes and 256-level intensity grading, show wavelengths in rich detail
- The TFT-LCD screen also improves viewing
- Includes 1 million points FFT math function to improve signal spectra reviews
- According to Amazon reviewers, this scope has no spectrum analyzer
An included 8M USB disc allows you to easily transport data on the Signstek DSO203 ARM portable oscilloscope to your computer and back again. Adjust the triggering as you like with several presets, including Auto Measurement and Signal Generator, two of the most popular options for hobbyists and professionals alike. Switch analog channel wavelengths with the dual A/D converter. You can convert 36 MS/s wavelengths and other data to 72 MS/s for higher-quality readings. Since the DSO203 ARM has a rechargeable battery, you can charge the battery ahead of time so you’re always ready to go out with your oscilloscope.
Signstek’s DSO203 ARM oscilloscope is both portable and connects to a laptop or desktop computer via USB. What else does this tiny oscilloscope come with? Here’s an overview of some of its features:
- The DSO203 ARM is small, as it’s intended to fit in your pocket, hence its name.
- Despite its diminutive size, it boasts a TFT LCD screen that’s three inches wide. The 240×400 widescreen pixel display is surprisingly clear.
- The sampling depth can be expanded to 8,192 points, as it now consists of multi-channel work cases. Each channel is 4,096 points.
- There are two digital channels and two analog channels (72 MSa/s). The sampling frequency for the analog channels is a single-channel ADC AD9288-40 chip while the sampling frequency for either of the two digital channels is 36MSa/s each.
- The DSO203 ARM runs on rechargeable batteries, letting you charge the batteries in advance
- The simple design is appealing to beginner hobbyists
- The screen readouts display in various colors for better accuracy
- Over time, rechargeable batteries can’t always achieve a full charge, limiting use of the scope
Those who loved the DSO201, also from Makerfocus, will find the DSO211 is a familiar yet improved upgrade. It has a lightweight design and a stunning color screen that measures 2.8 inches and displays in 320×240 pixels. With few buttons and most of these to the side of the screen, the display really shines. The rechargeable battery in the DSO201 can last for more than two hours at a clip so you can devote some significant time to your hobby. The included Portable Digital Oscilloscope DIY Kit allows you to see waveforms in better clarity and quality, adjusting these as you prefer. The DSO201’s flash disk can store several waveform images at once.
If you thought the Signstek DSO203 ARM was tiny, you haven’t seen anything yet. Makerfocus’ DSO211 ARM Nano oscilloscope is jam-packed with features, such as:
- Various waveform image formats are available for storing these images on the flash disk, including CSV, BUF, DAT, and BMPs.
- The synchronous mode lets you decide how you want to scan wavelengths, such as single, normal, or auto.
- The buttons off to the side of the DSO211 ARM oscilloscope are easy for beginner hobbyists to learn, as M stands for menu, the arrows let you adjust down, up, left, or right, and the button on top stops readings.
- Various math waveforms are included, such as -Inp, Inp-D, Inp+D, -DATA, and DATA.
- Choose from several auto measurements, such as /Vmin, /Vmax, DC RMS voltage/Vpp, and frequency/duty cycle.
- A simple button layout that’s great for beginner hobbyists
- Included portable cloth bag, micro USB cable, and probe means no need to buy accessories
- A significantly short battery life of only two hours
With a benchtop body, its own built-in stand, and a retractable plastic handle at the top of the device, the 1052B is designed for being taken on-the-go and used almost anywhere. The 1052B lacks a cooling fan, which is beneficial in a few different ways. First, it reduces the weight of the oscilloscope. It also improves the functioning of the device as it makes less noise. The seven-inch screen includes an Active TFT color display for crisp, amazing clarity when you take readings. The screen has a black background and shows wavelengths and other data in various colors.
- The 1052B has two analog channels, a sample rate of 1 GS/s, and an analog bandwidth of 50 Mhz.
- This oscilloscope has a great safety rating of CAT II 300 V and passes Electrical Equipment for Measurement, Control, and Laboratory Use standards.
- It can build waveforms with more detail thanks to each channel reaching 2.5kpts length, which Textronix calls a “record length.”
- There’s no interleaving on channels, which again leads to better accuracy. The sample rate max is 2 GS/s.
- A power cord and two probes are included with the 1052B.
- Detailed wavelengths and a good sampling rate for better reliability
- No cooling fan, which reduces noise
- Compared to other similar Tektronix models, the 1052B has the smallest analog bandwidth
What You Should Know Before Buying an Oscilloscope
If you’re thinking of buying an oscilloscope to start your hobby, here are several tips to keep in mind:
- Selecting your oscilloscope: With rechargeable batteries and vivid display screens, handheld oscilloscopes have their place. That said, others prefer PC-based oscilloscopes, which connect via a computer after collecting signals.
- Your oscilloscope requires a probe: The best oscilloscopes come with probes equipped with a long bandwidth. Isolated probes are good for high voltages, while FET-amplifier probes are recommended for signal acceleration.
- Choose your channels: Many scopes have up to 16 digital channels, especially mixed-signal oscilloscopes. These also have about four analog channels. You shouldn’t buy a scope with just two channels, as you’ll often need more.
- Get more memory depth: The time across the display and the sample rate comprise the oscilloscope’s memory. The scope can only hold so much memory at once. You may not get correct readouts if your oscilloscope has a small memory.
- Watch your bandwidth: The higher the bandwidth, the more waveforms the oscilloscope can handle. Make sure the bandwidth surpasses the maximum frequency by five times for better readings.