A spectrum analyzer is a test instrument that functions to measure and visualize the signal amplitude over a certain frequency range.
The screen visualizes them in a graphic of amplitude vs frequency. The signal amplitude is displayed on the Y-axis, while the frequency range is displayed on the X-axis.
The signal amplitude is commonly expressed in dB (logarithmic scale) because of the restriction of space. By using some math, you could measure the power of that signal. Some spectrum analyzers also allow you to read the signal amplitude in Watt.
On the other hand, the frequency range is linear and expressed in Hz. You could set specifically the frequency range you are going to inspect.
It’s able to analyze the signal level, signal frequency, spurious signals, phase noise, intermodulation distortion, spectral masks, harmonic distortion, etc. Hunting signal interference can be so convenient. In addition, you could use it for wireless connection testing, antenna matching, HAM radio testing, etc.
On this occasion, we are going to review some of the spectrum analyzer products on the market and trying to suggest you what is the best of them. We also cover the buying guide and other essential information you would like to read.
Top 10 Best Spectrum Analyzers
1. RF Explorer 6G Combo Pro Software for RF and Wi-Fi Analyzing on Windows and Mac [Best Overall]
RF Explorer 6G Combo lets you visualize the signals over frequencies in just a single simple handheld device. Despite the small size, it’s amazingly able to scan these two frequency ranges: 15 – 2700 MHz and 4850 – 6100 MHz. That said, this single device is useful for a greater number of applications for popular frequency bands such as HAM radio, FM radio, GPS, Wi-Fi, WiMax, LTE, GSM, Bluetooth, CATV, etc. In comparison with the other products of the RF Explorer spectrum analyzer, this is the broadest one in terms of its application coverages.
In case you are in the lab or indoor, you could integrate this device into your computer so that you could enjoy a wider screen. You could download the software both for Windows and macOS from the official site. There are the free and the paid version according to the features it provides.
One thing you must take a look at is the WiFi analyzer option that you could find on the menu. If you click on it on the handheld device, you’ll get a different view. In this display, you could view the local WiFi signals around you, and even follow up some observation.
Overall, RF Explorer 6G Combo is the best spectrum analyzer that we found. It covers great frequency measurement range and is useful both in outdoor and indoor, handheld and standalone as well. Aside from that, for the budget, this option can be the solution for finishing tasks without spending too much cost.
- Greater frequency measurement range
- Usable anywhere
- Very intuitive to use
- The handheld mode doesn’t support many functions
- Paid software to enjoy more features such as data logging
2. RF Explorer WSUB1G+ Handheld Spectrum Analyzer [Budget Option]
RF Explorer WSUB1G+ is a handheld spectrum analyzer. This one is designed to cover LF (low frequency), MF (medium frequency), HF (high frequency), VHF (very high frequency), and some of UHF (ultra-high frequency). Therefore, the entire frequencies it can sweep across is from 50 kHz up to 960 MHz.
In this range, it allows you to use for some applications such as for FM radio, TV and DTV, GSM, ISM, RFID, etc. Its size makes it easy to carry and store in the pocket. Though small, the spec is fairly good. The dynamic range is from -125 dBm to 10 dBm. The resolution bandwidth is quite good for this small device, it’s automatically set 2.6 kHz to 600 kHz.
The amazing thing about this RF explorer WSUB1G+ is the integrating software that you could install on your PC or laptop. Connect this device to your laptop through the USB cable. As a result, this lets you view the signal trace visually better and more details on the screen of your laptop.
Overall, if you are looking for a great spectrum analyzer that comes with a friendly price, then you have to consider this one. Considering the price and some basic functions it provides, it deserves your attention.
3. Rigol DSA815-TG Spectrum Analyzer plus Tracking Generator
Rigol DSA815-TG is a handy spectrum analyzer that will allow you to sweep the frequencies within the range of 9 kHz to 1.5 GHz. In this case, this instrument is great to use for analyzing the FM radio spectrum and other applications alike.
Sweeping and displaying all the frequencies between 9 kHz to 1.5 GHz is not a good idea because you’ll commonly see no amplitude. The span function allows you to specify the frequencies of interest that are displayed on the screen. Amazingly, the smallest span that you could apply with this instrument is 100 Hz. In this shortest span, you could see the signals clearly.
A certain signal may unite with another signal because of too broad resolution bandwidth. To separate them, a narrower resolution bandwidth is important to scan carefully the signals. In this case, the resolution bandwidth is adjustable from 10 Hz to 1 MHz. In case you want to smooth up the noise, the video bandwidth is selectable from 1 Hz to 3 MHz.
Narrowing the resolution bandwidth can be reduced the noise floor. However, it can be easily decided because the dynamic range of the amplitude is wide, ranging from -135 dBm to +20 dBm. You don’t need to worry what to adjust the reference level, the automatic setting is provided in this case for the amplitude settings.
Another great feature of Rigol DSA815-TG is the maximum hold function which allows you to capture the signal that has disappeared. If you are running this instrument for a long period of hours, this feature will allow you to automatically capture the unusual temporary active channel for you. Whenever that unusual signal appears, you could catch it without merely staring at the screen all the time. You could then save the monitoring file and use for later.
Since the measurement range is only up to 1.5 GHz, the Rigol DSA815-TG spectrum analyzer cannot be used to inspect Wi-Fi or related spectrum. However, to measure radio signals and similar signals in the range below 1.5 GHz, this measuring test is so much handy and feature-rich product for you.
4. Siglent Technologies SSA3021X Spectrum Analyzers
Siglent SSA3021X is the great option for you that requires an easy to use, portable, full feature yet friendly priced spectrum analyzer, allows you to use it for some applications. Nicely, it also comes with a tracking generator.
By look, Siglent SSA3021X has a larger display than Rigol DSA815-TG. The 10.1 inch TFT LCD lets you enjoy monitoring the trace. It’s able to scan any frequency between 9 kHz all the way up to 2.1 GHz, better than Siglent SSA3021X once again. The smallest span it can display is 100 Hz, the same with Rigol DSA815-TG.
Another great thing about this instrument is the resolution bandwidth that is able to reach 10 Hz. This allows you to accurately and carefully find two signal details which are closely separated. Even, you could display 4 traces with a different resolution bandwidth (RBW) at the same time on the screen. If you are guessing two signals separated about 20 Hz, then you have to get the RBW smaller than that range (20 Hz). Therefore, this is one thing that Siglent SSA3021X worth the price.
At the Y-axis, the logarithmic scale can be displayed in dBm, dBmV, dBµV, Volts, and Watts. The range is from -100 dBm to +30 dBm. In some cases when the targeted signal power may reach a higher degree, the amplitude range can cover that. The reference level can be set even at +30 dBm.
For storage, the internal flash memory provides space for 356 Mb. You could also plug in the USB media to export the data. If you are looking for this instrument for research, education, and lab, this is a great option you have. It’s also a nice upgrade for HAM experimentation and other hobbyist home projects.
5. Rigol DSA832E-TG Spectrum Analyzer
This is another Rigol Product that comes with a great measurement frequency range from 9 kHz to 3.2 GHz. As the range mentioned, this one can cover for some Wifi signal monitoring.
In terms of resolution bandwidth, it comes with a minimum of 10 Hz resolution bandwidth (RBW). As we know, the narrower the resolution bandwidth means the greater capability to display signal details. If the sweep time increases because of the resolution bandwidth, you could reduce the span down to 100 Hz to reduce that impact.
The reference level can be adjusted anywhere between -100 dBm to +20 dBm. In the Y-axis, the unit of the logarithmic scale is adjustable. You can select one of these: dBm, dBmV, dBµV, nV, µV, mV, V, nW, µW, mW, W.
6. OSCIUM WiPry 2500x Spectrum Analyzer for Wi-Fi, Baby Monitor, Bluetooth, etc
If you are looking for a spectrum analyzer designed specifically for Wi-Fi, then Oscium WiPry 2500x is what you have to take a look at. Since Wifi operates at the frequency of 2.4 GHz or/and 5 GHz, this instrument is designed for those frequencies.
This test instrument can be also applied to analyze the signals from the baby monitor, Zigbee, and Bluetooth connection. If you are running all of these devices and interferences may be happening, this tool can help troubleshoot.
The Oscium WiPry 2500x is actually simple hardware. Its size is smaller than the palm of your hand. It works along with the app. After the app installed in your device, you could start to analyze your Wifi. Amazingly, it works with both Android and iOS devices.
Therefore, it can be connected to several types of devices. Therefore, it comes with 3 main important cables: USB Type-C (for newer Android devices), USB Type-B (for traditional Android devices), and USB Type-B mini (for iOS devices). Overall, this should be a great pick because you don’t have to carry a bulky benchtop spectrum analyzer anywhere you need.
7. TTi PSA3605USC Handheld Spectrum Analyzer with Option U02
This instrument is ideal for those with fast mobility and a high degree of portability but demands a high-quality spectrum analyzer with great functionalities. TTi PSA3605USC is a handheld spectrum analyzer that won’t upset you. Anywhere the location you want to check the signals, this one reliably accompanies your job.
Though this is a handheld type, the measurement range is great, from 10 MHz to 3.6 GHz. This range can cover some HF, VHF, UHF, and a little piece of SHF. In other words, this range can cover various applications (TV broadcast, FM radio, Wifi, mobile, etc). To get a better visual experience and clear signal details, you could specify the frequency span down to 27 kHz on the display.
Another great feature is the resolution bandwidth. That small screen can present a visually reading spectrum that is passed a resolution bandwidth down to 300 Hz. This helps you see signal details better and highly possible to separate two closed signals.
In terms of the amplitude range, the scale unit is selectable between dBm or dBuV, mV, and uW. The reference level can be positioned at up to +20 dBm and down to 0 dBm, -20 dBm, and -40 dBm. On the screen, you could notice the amplitude range is 84 dB in total from the reference level. To mark point out the peaks, you could put up to 2 markers on the screen.
Hard to decide on picking the handheld spectrum analyzer because of the restricted functionalities? No worry anymore. It’s powered by a Li-ion 3.7V 3000mA-hr rechargeable battery. The full-powered battery can be used for 3 hours of continuous work. In case the monitoring file is required to view later, it provides a 1.8 GB of internal memory.
- Great specifications
8. Oscium WiPry 790x Smart Meter Spectrum Analyzer
This is another Oscium product that is worth sharing with you. It is Oscium WiPry 790x spectrum analyzer. Unlike the 2500X model, this one is designed to comply with the smart meters. The frequency measurement range that it covers is from 755 – 928 MHz.
This hardware lets you employ your smart devices as the screen through the app you could install free. As a result, it becomes highly portable and easy to set up. You could carry it anywhere and save some money as well. For better convenience, you could also integrate the hardware into either PC or Mac to enjoy the wider screen clearly. To support this advantage, the hardware is connectable to any based on Android, iOS, PC, and Mac devices.
This Oscium hardware is useful to scan smart meter, Z-wave, smart utilities, and even industrial IoT as long as they run in the frequency range that matches with this hardware.
- Small, pocket-size product
9. Tektronix RSA306B Real-time Spectrum Analyzer Up to 6.2 GHz
Recommended to work in 6 cores CPU for better performance and at least 2.2 GHz core speed, Tektronix RSA306B is a bargain spectrum analyzer that makes use of your computer through its Tektronix SignalVu-PC™ software to display a real-time spectrum analysis.
This is not just an ordinary spectrum analyzer. You could do many things using the paid software. However, it’s also available to enjoy some basics on the free version.
The frequency measurement range covers a great capability from 9 kHz to 6.2 GHz, lets you scan through a high number of various frequencies in just this single acquisition hardware. In terms of sweep time, it just requires 2 seconds to scan the maximum 6.2 GHz span. This gives you the advantage to easily pick up strong signals you may not expect. The amplitude range is extensive from -160 dBm to +20 dBm and you could display up to 3 traces on the screen.
For AM, FM, PM analysis, this is a great tool to use for the key measurement of AM, FM, PM parameters. It also allows you to demodulate the AM and FM signals in order to either listen to or save into.
Though the price is expensive, if we compare the capability to price, this one is really a bargain especially if you purchase the paid software to get the full features. This analyzer should be considered a money-saving option for professionals. The applications can be for education, signals interference hunting, wireless connection testing, antenna matching, EMI pre-compliance, etc.
10. MUW Test Equipment PC Based 3 in 1 Digital Oscilloscope + Spectrum Analyzer + Data Logger
Not only does it function as a spectrum analyzer, but also acts as a digital oscilloscope. It allows you to do all the tasks on a single device. Even better, it’s equipped with a data logger to access the saved data for later on.
Like RF Explorer, Tektronix and Oscium, this is acquisition hardware that requires you to integrate with your computer via the software that you could find and install from the come up driver.
The software runs on Windows 8 and 10. However, there is a little trick you need to do. Since the driver is not digitally signed, you need to turn off the driver enforcement.
Overall, MUW Instru Star 3 in 1 hardware is a great worth try because of its affordable price. It’s also computer powered based hardware in which the stronger your computer performance should impact the result.
- 3 functions in 1 device, versatile (oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, and data logger)
How to Choose Spectrum Analyzer
During the selection of spectrum analyzer, it’s highly recommended to spend sufficient time to consider some of these factors below. If you are a beginner, this subheading is hopefully able to help you.
1. Frequency Measurement Range
The frequency measurement range is the frequencies that the spectrum analyzer is able to sweep across. This is the most important factor to determine at the first step of buying a spectrum analyzer.
If you are going to test a Wi-Fi signal, then the spectrum analyzer must cover a frequency range that includes at least 2.4 GHz. In other words, what you are going to face will determine the frequency range of the analyzer you have to afford. When you’re using a spectrum analyzer with 9 kHz to 1.5 GHz of the frequency range, it means you are not able to inspect the Wifi signals because it operates at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency.
The higher the frequency range, the more expensive it generally charges. A great spectrum analyzer has to cover a greater frequency range to support as many applications as possible.
It’s possible to let your analyzer sweep across the frequency range it provides. However, it’s not a good idea because the result doesn’t satisfy you. You’ll generally find like-noise results.
Span is the frequency range that is displayed on the screen. It is the frequency start to the frequency stop displayed on the screen. This frequency range is shorter than the frequency measurement range of your analyzer can actually provide.
In other words, for example, if your analyzer has a frequency measurement range of 9 kHz – 1.5 GHz, by using the span, you could specifically display a smaller frequency range on the screen from 1 GHz to 1.5 GHz. But you could not display from 1.5 GHz to 2 GHz because it is out of your measurement range.
If the frequency starts from 1 GHz and stops at 1.5 Gz, it means you are setting the span to be 0.5 GHz (500 MHz). The Span unit is in Hz.
In addition to another example, you are going to inspect the HD radio (FM) signals, then you have to start the frequency from 87.7 MHz and stops at 107.9 MHz because this is the range where they run. In this case, you have to set the span to be 20.2 MHz. The smaller the span you are using, the better the result as you could clearly observe the signals or amplitudes.
When selecting the best spectrum analyzer, take a look at the shortest span it can provide. Span also impacts the sweep time. Shorter span means quicker sweep time.
3. Amplitude Range
When displaying the signals and noises on the screen, we require a scale to easily notice either the gain or attenuation. The gain can be 10.000.000 times (107) or factor 10. Since the screen is limited in space, therefore, a logarithmic scale is required. Unlike the oscilloscope that utilizes a linear scale in both its X and Y axis, the spectrum analyzer uses a logarithmic scale in its Y-axis only, the X-axis is linearly in Hz. This Y scale is expressed in dB or Watt.
We believe that you have understood the dB. When the analyzer provides the Y-axis reading in dBm, it means that the decibel is referenced to 1 mW. If the peak signal reaches 0 dBm, it means the power is 1 mW.
If you are measuring a high power signal, you have to get the analyzer with certain maximum amplitude. For example, you are going to measure radio signals, then the maximum amplitude of 20 dBm should be more than enough for that kind of task.
In addition to getting an excellent spectrum analyzer, you can’t go wrong to afford the one with the broadest amplitude range. However, try to be reasonable with your project to save the cost. The radio signal may not as strong as Wi-Fi signals, if your purpose is to monitor radio signals, then it’s enough having the amplitude range from -140 dBm up to +20 dBm.
4. Resolution Bandwidth
The resolution bandwidth is a selective frequency range that sweeps across the input signal. This selective frequency is surely shorter than the span. It functions to carefully detect the signals and display them clearly. However, the more careful it is to sweep, the more time needed. Therefore, narrow bandwidth charges more sweep time.
Actually, it’s not the resolution bandwidth that sweeps across the input signal, but the input signal that passes through the resolution bandwidth. The resolution bandwidth is like a filter.
By reducing (narrowing) the resolution bandwidth, expressed in Hz unit, two closely spaced signals can be easily separated and further clearly easy to observe. In addition to the impact of the resolution bandwidth, it reduces the noise floor. If you are looking for the sideband signal, the key is at this resolution bandwidth and the span as well.
When it comes to picking the right spectrum analyzer, getting the one with a good resolution bandwidth can help you find the hidden signals which have close frequencies.
5. Video Bandwidth
To smooth up the noise that shows on the screen, you could reduce the video bandwidth. When the analyzer displays a certain range of frequencies, the noise may be too large. This can cause small signals not easy to observe. Smoothing the noise can help you observe the signals clearly.
Reducing the video bandwidth does nothing with the resolution or other measurement readings, but it impacts sweep time. And reducing the video bandwidth causes the sweep time to increase.
6. Type of Analyzers
The most expensive model is the benchtop models. This model is great to use for labs or stationary locations. If you tend to carry the analyzers anywhere you want, then choose from the portable options. The handheld one is more affordable and portable but the functions are limited. This factor may not critical but determines the convenience of your work.
Conclusion: Last Thoughts
Buying a spectrum analyzer can be highly challenging, even for the experts. There are actually a lot of things to consider. Since the price is fairly expensive, spending a great amount of time may be required to get the best one.
In addition, currently, the options to buy the best spectrum analyzer on the market is limited. There are only several products available. You might end up having no great options to choose from.
On this page, we are collecting and reviewing 10 products of the spectrum analyzer test instrument. There are several models that we review. Some of them are directly displaying the trace on the device’s screen, while the others require a separate device to display the reading. Amazingly, some of them can show the reading directly on the device but it’s also able to display the reading on the second device such as computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Picking the best one must consider the condition and needs you are handling. There is no one product that matches all needs especially because each product comes with a different frequency measurement range capability. However, if you are asking us for a suggestion, we recommend RF Explorer 6G Combo. It comes affordable and covers a greater frequency range.
Our selection of the top 10 spectrum analyzers above is hopefully getting into your consideration. Reading them carefully can benefit you to get the ideas of the product capability.