Best Oscilloscopes 2018 – Reviews and Buying Guide
As you have visited this page, I'm very much sure that you're interested in oscilloscopes. in fact, you might even be planning to buy one. There are hundreds of choices in the market, due to which choosing the best one can be quite challenging. This is also the basic reason why many buyers get totally confused when they go to the store. But you needn't worry! I'm here to help you out in selecting the best Oscilloscope for you.
Here you’ll not only obtain honest reviews on several oscilloscopes but you’ll also get a lot of important information regarding the device. Along with providing you with the list of top selling Oscilloscopes, I hope this website will also prove to be a good source of information and you won't have to waste your time in unnecessary internet browsing.
No time For Research?
Don't worry if you have no time to go through each product review. There is a solution for this too. For those who are in hurry, I have created a Comparison Table, in which the best oscilloscopes are compared to each other based on their features, design, and prices. However, if you have some spare time, then please don't hesitate to go through each review individually
My Best Picks
Also, here is a list of top 7 best selling oscilloscopes that you can choose from:
Factors to Consider While Choosing an Oscilloscope
An oscilloscope is a type of electronic test equipment that allows an individual to observe the constantly changing signal voltages, usually like a two-dimensional plot of single or many signals over a time period.
Oscilloscopes are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes with several different features. Be it price or function, they come in many variations and options, which is why it becomes quite difficult to choose the best one, especially if you are a novice. if you need help you can go through the Ultimate Buying Guide that I have created to help you in choosing the best oscilloscope that suits your need. However, you can also go through the basic factors listed below, which you should consider while choosing an oscilloscope:
Oscilloscopes are used in the medicine, engineering, sciences, automotive and telecommunication industries. General-purpose oscilloscopes are used for maintenance of electronic devices and laboratory work. Whereas some advanced oscilloscopes may be used for purposes such as analyzing automotive ignition system or displaying the waveform of the heartbeat like an electrocardiogram.
Most professional and hobbyists, however, use it for analyzing waveforms and voltages of their electronic units. You must first be sure where you are going to use the device, for instance on your workbench or laboratory, at customers' site or under the hood of your car. Different models are designed for different purposes. You may not find a particular unit suitable for your application or area of use so choose based on your purpose.
Bandwidth determines the maximum frequency content of a signal that can be captured and measured accurately by the oscilloscope.
Most oscilloscope manufacturers define the bandwidth as the frequency at which the sine wave input signal of amplitude will be attenuated to -3 DB point or 70%, which implies there will be an error of 30%. For instance, an oscilloscope of 100MHz bandwidth will measure a 1Vpp sine wave of 100MHz at only approximately 0.7Vpp. For better accuracy in the selection, you can follow the thumb rule and try to choose an oscilloscope having a bandwidth five times greater than the maximum signal frequency you desire to measure. However, scopes with higher bandwidth are more expensive, so you may need to compromise here.
You must decide the number of channels you require. Most scopes come with 2 channels or 4 channels configuration. You must choose according to your application. There are also the advanced oscilloscopes that have 8 or 16 and even more additional channels.
Whatever you choose, all channels in the oscilloscope must have good range, accuracy, linearity, flatness, and resistance to static discharge. In general, the more the channels, the more versatile it's; but the price also gets higher with the increasing number of channels.
The sample rate is determined by the number of times the oscilloscope samples a signal. The higher the sample rate of your device, the more details of the signal you get. According to the Nyquist’s Theorem for sampling, the sample rate must be two times higher than the signal's frequency.
However, unlike the Theorem, because of the filter roll-off in an oscilloscope, the sampling rate is recommended to be at least 5 times greater than the frequency of the signal. To ensure the oscilloscope is fit for your purpose, you must always check the specifications provided by the manufacturer before purchasing a particular model.
Memory depth determines the amount of signal that the scope captures before the memory of the device is full. You must choose an oscilloscope with specific memory depth based on how much of the signal you want to view in a single shot acquisition. At 5Gsa/s, you'll have a 200ps sample each. An oscilloscope that has a memory of 10,000 sample points will store 2µs of the signal. A scope having 100M samples can store up to 20 seconds. Looking at the eye-diagrams or repetitive signals, memory depth is less important.
Accuracy and Resolution
Accuracy and resolution of the oscilloscope are two very important factors. In digital electronics accuracy difference of only 1% is not a big problem, but for sound electronic applications, 0.1% of noise or distortion can also be a disaster.
Most good quality digital oscilloscopes are designed for fast digital signals and can offer only an 8-bit resolution, so at best they can detect up to 0.4% signal change. However, if you need the device for audio electronic applications, you can consider a scope with 12-bit or 16-bit resolution.
With the oscilloscope, you're also buying the display of your waveforms. In analog oscilloscopes, the quality of the image was determined by the design features of the device's CRT display. However, the display performance of a modern digital oscilloscope depends on the function of digital processing algorithms. It's not just based on the physical aspects of the display device of the scope itself.
Digitized oscilloscopes are classified into two broad categories; waveform viewer and waveform analyzer. Those oscilloscopes designed for viewing are generally used for test and troubleshooting purposes. In these applications, it provides the display of the waveform with all the important information. Whereas in waveform analysis applications, the machine combines with operating systems such as Microsoft window, and some advanced analysis functions to allow for additional abstraction levels to determine the performance of the system under a test.
The update rate must also be fast if you desire accurate waveform. The update rate is the rate at which the oscilloscope acquires and updates the display of a waveform. You might also want to consider the size of the display screen. The larger the size, the better view will be acquired.
Connectivity is another very important factor that you must consider. Both wired and wireless oscilloscopes are available in the market. You'll need an AC power outlet to connect the wired device, where as wireless oscilloscopes will run on battery. If you're going to use your scope in remote areas, then a wireless oscilloscope is an ideal choice.
Having a fixed budget in your mind is important. This way you can look for the best oscilloscopes within your affordability rather than wasting time on checking the models out of your budget limit. So always decide your budget before going for the buy and pick the best one available within your budget.
Top 7 Selling Oscilloscopes Reviews
Here are brief but honest review summaries of the 7 best-selling oscilloscopes available in the market.
Best for Overall-Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscope
This is the ultimate debugging device for your electronics. Be it affordability or high-quality function this oscilloscope is a perfect package. You will be able to literally look into the performances of your circuits to understand them better. Complicated issues will suddenly seem trivial. As compared to other beginner oscilloscopes this one has a perfect balance of function and price. It's an ideal tool for novices looking a stable oscilloscope to examine signals that are lower than 50MHz and require only 4 channels. At this cost, it's perfect as your first scope or as a resource to share. It can be used for many years with your projects getting more complicated.
Best PC Based Oscilloscope-Hantek HT6022BE
This external PC-based oscilloscope with USB connectivity is the best unit amongst its competition, offering up to 200 MHz bandwidth. it has an exceptional industrial design, similar to the anodized aluminum casing of an iPad, which not only looks beautiful and classy but also has the greatly enhanced hardness of an aluminum alloy surface, with good heat resistance and better durability than any standard PC-based oscilloscope. It's compact and portable and can be connected to your desktop computer and laptop as well. Not only it has all the basic functions that you would need in testing, but also has some of the most advanced math functions. One will never be disappointed with the Hantek HT6022BE USB oscilloscope.
Best Low-end Oscilloscope-Siglent Technologies SDS1052DL+
The Siglent SDS1052DL+ is an upgraded version of Siglent's one of the most popular models sds1052dl. This new and improved model comes with an enhanced, higher-resolution LCD screen and a LAN interface. Many more features have been added to this unit, making it more versatile and precise than the previous version. With 50 MHz bandwidth and dual input channels that can be used at the same time, it's a perfect tool for those looking for a cheap option but with quality and performance comparable to the high-end units. If you want a general purpose oscilloscope then Siglent is excellent.
Best for Hobbyists-Rigol DS1102E
The Rigol DS1102E is a very popular all-purpose digital oscilloscope among hobbyists looking for a versatile unit that can be scaled with their skill sets as they progress. This is a 2 channel digital oscilloscope with a 100 MHz bandwidth, which is more than sufficient for any hobby grade electronic.
The Rigol DS1102E digital oscilloscope is one of the most feature rich instruments at this price point as well as class. It boasts of a precise-quality signal intensity frame, which is comparable to that of the top grade analog scopes and has a wide variety of trigger modes. If you're interested in exploring and analyzing then this is just perfect for you.
Best for Automobile-Hantek 1008C
Occasionally you may need an oscilloscope that is designed with a particular purpose in mind. This one scope manufactured by Hantek, is just such a device. It has been designed for use on automobiles. It's very versatile and useful equipment in that specific area. It'll offer you a complete range of diagnostics, and so can help you with any problem on your vehicle. This is an 8 channel digital device capable of multiple tests. It has a compact built yet robust, making it perfect for the home garage enthusiasts or mobile mechanics. In its price, you won't find any automobile specialized oscilloscope comparable to this.
Best Portable Oscilloscope-Tektronix 1052B
The Tektronix 1052B is a 2 channel digital oscilloscope offering a bandwidth of 50MHz. The instrument has numerous features, including automatic measurements, and convenience programs such as data logging, limit testing, frequency counter, lowest passive probe loading in its category, with a very small probe head to obtain the signals in hard to reach locations. It comes with an industrial grade WVGA active TFT color display screen, offering a remarkable waveform viewing and high reliability, acquisition rate without any compromise. The Tektronix 1052B has a small footprint and is lightweight. It has a large handle that allows you to carry it around with very less effort. This makes it the most portable oscilloscope in the competition.
Best Handheld Oscilloscopes-SainSmart Mini DS0203
If you’re looking for a good handheld oscilloscope, then the SainSmart Mini DS203 is the ultimate option for you. The 4-channel pocket size digital storage oscilloscope is best for common electronic engineering applications. It also offers four different application areas. As compared to other scopes in the competition, it's more convenient for users to load and upgrade at the four different application firmware. This is a perfect option if you're a professional and have to often work at customer's choice of location. It has all the features to make it a professional-quality oscilloscope.
Oscilloscope Buying Guide
I have created this ultimate buying guide to help you choose the device which is best and most suitable for your applications. You must decide what type of unit will be best for your requirement and what features you would want your machine to have.
There are two types of oscilloscopes; Analog and Digital. Both Digital and analog scopes have their own sets of advantages and drawbacks. Recent advancements in the technology have made digital oscilloscopes more responsive, powerful and inexpensive. With these improvements, it has become difficult for an analog oscilloscope to compete with the remarkable advantages offered by the digital units.
- Instantaneous display and update for real-time adjustments.
- Direct and dedicated controls for basic adjustments such as time-base speed, vertical sensitivity, trace position and trigger level.
- Accuracy is low.
- The display will flicker or may be dim.
- Doesn't offer pre-trigger viewing.
- Bandwidth is limited.
- Ownership cost is higher.
- Offers display storage.
- Highly accurate measurements.
- Bright and well-focused display virtually at any sweep speed.
- Offers pre-trigger viewing.
- Ability to detect peak and glitch.
- Automatic measurements.
- Computer and printer connectivity.
- Capability to process waveform including waveform analysis and other math functions.
- Display modes such as infinite persistence and averaging.
- Self-calibration capability.
- Digital units can be more costly than analog.
- Comparatively less intuitive to operate as they have generally more features.
If you are planning to purchase a digital oscilloscope, you should know that these oscilloscopes are available in three categories; bench-top, handheld and PC-based.
- Bench-top oscilloscope
A purpose built table-top digital scope typically offers the highest performance, and it's reflected in its cost. Advanced functions such as FFT spectrum analysis, PC interface, disk drives and printers, all tend to be optional expensive extras.
- Hand–held oscilloscope
This has obvious benefits for a user on the move, but some low-end models may have poor displays; for instance, difficult to view in sunlight and extremely short battery life. Handheld oscilloscope also tends to be a highly expensive option for the performance level it offers.
- PC-based oscilloscope
This type of oscilloscope is growing in popularity as they are more inexpensive as compared to the bench-top ones. With the PC-based feature, you'll be using the PC that already sits on your desk, so you end up with a larger color screen, disk drives, fast processor, and keyboard for free. it also enables you to export data to spreadsheets and word processors with just a couple of clicks, which is also a huge advantage.
Again, the PC-based oscilloscope is available in two types; internal and external. You can choose according to your preference. External PC-based scopes are much better as there won't be any noise issue and they are also more portable.
The measurements of your oscilloscope can be only as good as what is delivered to the BNC inputs of the scope by your probe. When any type of measurement system is connected to your circuit, the probe and instrument become part of the device being tested. This means it can change your signals' behavior to some degree. Good probes should not cause any disturbance to the input signal and must ideally deliver an accurate copy of the signal that existed at the probe point prior to attachment of the probe.
When you purchase a new oscilloscope, it generally comes with standard passive probes with one probe for each input channels. The passive probes are commonly used and enable you to measure a wide range of signals, they do haves some limitations. For higher-frequency measurements, an active probe should be used.
However, apart from high-frequency active probes, there are many other considerations for other special applications. For instance, if it's a high-speed differential serial bus, then you may want to use a high-frequency differential active probe; for very high voltage signals, you can use a high-voltage probe and if you have to conduct current measurements, you would need a current probe.
Functions and Special Features
You may want to particularly consider some of the functions:
- Maximum Input Voltage
Like every piece of electronics, scopes also have their limits when it comes to high voltage. If your signal exceeds the voltage limit, the oscilloscope may be damaged. So check the maximum input limit of the particular unit before purchasing it, and choose according to your applications.
These days, many oscilloscopes with a color display are available in the market. the color display makes everything more interesting. Also, you may want the readings to be bold and clear.
- Built-in Help
Turning the device on and using the advanced features shouldn’t require an advanced operating level. But many users don't like to read manuals or user’s guides, even if manufacturers provide those with their products. However, some advanced oscilloscopes have built-in help that is displayed on the screens, which provide brief setup tips about some specific features.
- Mathematical Functions
You can find scopes that offer math functions for better calculation and analysis. Most include subtraction, addition, division, multiplication, integration, and differentiation. Measurement statistics like min, max, and average can generally quantify measurement uncertainty, which is a valuable aspect when characterizing timing margins and noise.
You can also look for some advanced mathematical functions like FFT, Logarithm, Exponent, Square root and much more.
Many buy oscilloscopes for use in automotive applications. If you need a scope for the same, make sure the model you choose is designed for the purpose.
- Interface Options
Many digital oscilloscopes now have the connectivity feature that personal computers have, including RS-232, LAN, GPIB and USB 2.0 interfaces. This makes much easier to transfer images to a printer or data to a personal computer than it was in the past. So if you are often going to need this connectivity feature then you must pick an oscilloscope with such function.
Shared access through a LAN connection can be useful as it enables several users to access a single oscilloscope via the internet or a company intranet. This allows the oscilloscope to remain at a centralized location and large teams can work together on their specific prototypes.
Some of today's advanced digital oscilloscopes are even featured with built-in Web browsers. This makes it easy for users around the world to share and access live oscilloscope measurements even from another part of the world.
- Ease of use
Evaluate each oscilloscope’s ease of use. Check if there are dedicated knobs for often-used settings like time base speed, vertical sensitivity, trace position, and trigger level. Also, check the number of buttons you need to push to pass from one operation to the other, or if you can operate the scope conveniently while concentrating on the circuit under test.
Size and Weight
Weight only matters if you have to move around the oscilloscope. Especially if you are working on your clients' site, you would want a compact and portable unit. Usually, oscilloscopes don't come in very large sizes but you would want to consider this if you have a limited storage space at your work area. So first measure the area that you can accommodate before buying a unit of specific size.
Price and warranty
Price is an important factor. If you know how much a good oscilloscope is going to cost, you can plan your budget according to that. Some oscilloscope without screen can cost as low as $60. These scopes can be connected to the circuit under test and PC, enabling you to monitor the test on your PC screen. If you want an oscilloscope with a display, the best ones will cost you around $250 to $1000 or even more if you are looking for the most advanced models.
When purchasing any oscilloscope, remember to ask about the upgrades and check what else is included in that price. If you are buying a PC–based scope make sure it includes the software and enquire if in future you'll have to pay for the software upgrades. Again, if you are choosing a bench-top scope, check the cost of software and cables to connect to your PC or Printers as it can add up to 50% more to the total cost. If available, look for a model that includes all the necessary accessories.
Like any other electronic instrument, oscilloscopes also come with some warranty period so that your investment will be secured. From 3 years to 5 years, the policy and time depend on the brand and model. So I would recommend you to choose a unit with a reasonable warranty policy.
Using an Oscilloscope
Using an oscilloscope becomes easy once you have used it and can easily become familiar with the controls. The first stage comes after turning on the oscilloscope and this is where learning a few steps about how to operate an oscilloscope can be quite useful.
Before learning how to use an oscilloscope it's important that you get familiar to some of the most used and basic controls of the device.
- Grid Overlay: The grid is useful when you need to make measurements using the oscilloscope.
- Time/div: This control allows you change the amount of time represented by each individual horizontal increment of grid overlay on your screen. It enables you to zoom in and out through the x axis.
- Volts/div: This control enables you to change the number of volts that are represented by every vertical increment of the grid overlay on your display. Basically, it lets you zoom in and out through the y axis.
- Vertical position: It allows you move up and down in the y axis direction.
- Horizontal position: With this control, you can move left and right.
- Trigger level: This is the control that lets you stabilize your waveform on the display.
Turn Power On
Turn on the oscilloscope. If you haven't plugged anything into the oscilloscope you should be able to see a flat line on the screen. this indicates that the input voltage is stable and not changing over time. If the line visible to you is not flat, try disconnecting the existing probe from the oscilloscope.
Wait for the Display to Appear
Although many oscilloscopes have semiconductor based displays these days, many older models still use cathode ray tubes, and these type of displays take a few seconds to warm up before the display completely appears. Even the electronics of modern semiconductor based scopes often need time for boot up. It may, therefore, be necessary to wait a minute or so prior to using the oscilloscope.
Once your oscilloscope is ready you should find the trace. it will often be visible, but before you can see any other waveforms, this is the first stage. Typically you can set the trigger to the center and turn the hold-off completely counter-clockwise. Also if not already there, set the vertical and horizontal position controls to the center. Generally, the trace will then become visible. If not, press the beam-finder button and it will finally locate the trace.
Set Gain Control
The next step is to adjust the horizontal gain control. It must be done so that the expected trace can almost fully fill the vertical screen. For instance, If your expected waveform is 8 volts peak to peak, and the calibrated part of the screen is around 10 centimeters high, then set the horizontal gain in such a way so it becomes 1 volt per centimeter. This way 8 centimeters of the screen will be occupied by the waveform, almost filling it fully.
Set Timebase Speed
Timebase speed on your oscilloscope should also be set correctly. The actual setting usually depends on what is desired to be seen. For example, if the waveform is supposed to have a period of 10 ms and your screen is 12 centimeters wide, then you can choose a Timebase speed of 1ms per division or centimeter.
Apply the Signal
With all the controls adjusted approximately correctly, the next thing you need to do is apply the signal. Once the signal is applied, an image should be seen.
Adjust the Trigger
It's important to adjust the trigger level and direct whether it triggers on the negative or positive going edge. The trigger level control will control where on your waveform the Timebase is being triggered and hence enabling the trace to start on the waveform. The choice of whether to let it trigger on the negative or positive going edge might also be important. These must be adjusted to obtain the required image.
Adjust the Controls or Scale
In order to obtain the best possible image, with a consistent waveform in place, the Timebase control, voltage control and vertical gain can be re-adjusted.
Here are some of the precautions that you must follow while operating an oscilloscope, in order to avoid fire and shock hazard and personal injury:
- Connect and Disconnect Carefully
Never connect or disconnect the probes or test leads when they are still connected to any voltage source.
- Use Genuine Power Cord.
Make sure that the power cord you use is specified for your device and certified for the country you reside.
- Ground the Device
Most products are grounded through the power cord's grounding conductor. To prevent electric shock, keep the grounding conductor connected to earth ground. Prior to making connections to the output or input terminals of the oscilloscope, make sure that the scope is properly grounded.
- Probe must be Connected Properly
The probe ground point of the oscilloscope is always at ground potential. the ground point of the probe should never be exposed to an elevated voltage.
- Observe Terminal Ratings
To prevent fire or shock hazard, always observe all ratings and markings on the device properly. Prior to making any connections, go through the manual guide provided with the scope for further rating information. Too much input voltage applied to the device can also cause damage to the scope.
- Never Operate Without the Case
Don't operate your instrument with the covers or panels removed until you are a certified technician. You'll be exposed to an extremely high voltage that could be fatal.
- Use Proper Fuse
You must use only the rating and fuse type specified for your oscilloscope.
- Stay away from Exposed Circuitry
Never touch any exposed connection or component when power is on.
- Don't operate With Suspected Damages
If you suspect of any damage to your device, have it immediately inspected by a certified service personnel.
- Proper Ventilation is a Must
Make sure that your work area is properly ventilated to avoid overheating of the instrument.
Also, never obstruct the ventilating holes provided in the case of your oscilloscope. Blocking the holes will only increase the internal temperature of the device, which can cause permanent damage to the scope.
- Proper Work area
Don't operate in wet or damp conditions. Never operate in an area with an explosive atmosphere. And always keep the product surfaces dry and clean.
Apart from the safety tips mentioned above, you must always consider going through the user manual of your scope and follow the safety measures suggested for the particular device.
The reason why I chose to make this website is that I have seen many people making wrong decisions in choosing their device after investing so much in it, only to end up with disappointment and regret. I know how it feels because I have been through the same situation. As I tried to learn more about oscilloscopes, I felt I could do more. Finally, I decided to share my knowledge with you so that you don't come across the same situation.
After going through this page, I'm sure you'll be able to think about all these issues and evaluate the scopes. Now you should have a better idea of which model will truly meet your requirements. I really hope you find the perfect match for your applications.