Oscilloscopes are an electronic measuring device that allows you to measure and record an electrical signal over time. They are an essential instrument in electrical and electronic engineering. An oscilloscope allows an engineer to analyze various details of a signal’s waveform, including, its shape, amplitude, and frequency. If you’re in the market for an shiny new oscilloscope, you’ve come to the right place! In this article we’ll be reviewing the best oscilloscopes under $500 available on Amazon.
Whether you are electronic hobbyist, student, or even a professional engineer, choosing the right oscilloscope to fit your needs can be quite difficult due to its varying costs and features. This is why, in this buying guide, we will discuss our top picks and cover all the important aspects of choosing the right oscilloscope for you.
Before we begin, let’s discuss some key factors to consider when choosing an oscilloscope.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Oscilloscope
Analog vs Digital
Most of the affordable oscilloscopes today and most of the best oscilloscopes under $500 are digital. Nowadays, however, digital oscilloscope today is pretty accurate in emulating the accuracy of analog scopes and can offer additional features like portability (analog scopes are generally bigger and heavier), colored digital display, single-shot ability, higher average bandwidth, and so on.
The bandwidth of an oscilloscope system dictates the maximum frequency that the instrument can accurately measure. The higher the bandwidth, the more expensive the oscilloscopes will be.
- If it’s an analog oscilloscope, get bandwidth at least 3 times higher than the highest frequency (sine wave) you want to measure
- If it’s a digital oscilloscope, choose a bandwidth at least 5 times the highest clock rate in the system
The sample rate of the oscilloscope determines how detailed the waveform can be displayed in a digital oscilloscope. Commonly measured in MS/sec or GS/sec, MS stands for mega (1 thousand) sample and GS stands for giga (1 million) sample. In general, you should aim for a sampling rate that is 2 times bigger than the max frequency we are willing to measure.
Memory depth is essentially calculated by multiplying the sample rate with time across the display. An oscilloscope capture sample points in its memory and the amount of memory will determine how long the oscilloscope can store the signal before it must dump or delete it.
Type of Probes
The oscilloscope can be divided into two parts: the scope and the probe. In most cases, we usually pay more attention to the scope but don’t really consider the probe. Different scopes might only be compatible with certain types of scopes, and here are some common types you can consider:
- Passive probes: included with most oscilloscopes, suitable for most ground-referenced measurements
- High-voltage differential probes: useful to take safe, accurate differential and floating measurements
- Logic probes: used to deliver digital signals to mixed-signal oscilloscopes.
- Current probes: used to measure current—as the name suggests—- and can also enable the oscilloscope to measure changes in power
Ease of Use
Here are some factors that might determine how intuitive and easy to use an oscilloscope is:
- The built-in help menu, so we don’t need to read a separate manual
- Larger display and the ability to zoom/amplify the waveform, so we can view waveforms and measurement data at the same time
- How easy it is to control the oscilloscope including features like larger knobs and voice control
Top 5 Best Oscilloscopes Under $500
In this section I’ve gone ahead and reviewed what I think are the top performing oscilloscopes for both functionality, features and price. I should mention that all the scopes I’m about to list are readily available on Amazon.com at a great price-point.
The Rigol DS1054Z is accompanied by a very decent set of features and innovative technologies, and all components featured in have been ensured to meet the latest leading specifications for most users beginners and veterans alike. This is why the Rigol is often considered one of the best oscilloscopes under $500.
With that being said, one of the key highlights of the Rigol DS1054Z is the ability to perform broader analysis, combined with very versatile and powerful functionalities. You get four different channels that utilize the 50 MHz frequency zone, and each channel is color-coded to prevent you from mistakenly using the wrong channel.
- This product has 4 channels and suitable for car analysis
- Waveform capture rate is 30,000 wfms/sec
- It has 50MHz bandwidth
- It has an FFT (Fast-Fourier transform) math function
- Sample rate in real-time is1 GSa/sec
- Memory depth is 12 Mpts memory upgrade to 24 Mpts through the software key
- 800 x 480 pixels resolution displays
- Rich set of features, versatile functionalities
- Relatively affordable price
- Highly portable and compact
- Very reliable
- High noise floor
- Low count of FFT (Fast-Fourier transform)
The Rigol DS1054Z is simply one of the best oscilloscopes under $500 for many different reasons, one of the best in its class. The Rigol can display waves clearly with great, solid interface, so users can easily and comfortably read the analysis of an object.
Also, it offers various features from the ability to perform various FFT math functions, decent waveform capture rate, relatively large memory pool, wide dynamic range, pass or fail test, and so on.
The minor downsides—which is expected from a low-end scope—, are the relatively high noise and low count of FFT. However, the great features like clear and solid display and various triggering functions offset these minor issues. A great choice and one of the best oscilloscopes under $500.
Tektronix is one of the most prominent names in the world of test and measurement equipment and the TBS1052B is our recommendation as one of the best oscilloscopes under $500 for several reasons: it features a very decent 7” TFT color screen, is a 2-channel oscilloscope with 50MHz bandwidth, and it produces very clear display resolution at 800 by 480.
The Tektronix TBS1052 doesn’t feature any cooling fan to keep the noise level down, but you get a 5-year warranty to offset the potential overheating issues.
- 50 MHz bandwidth (other variants are available featuring 30 to 200 MHz bandwidth)
- Sample rate in real-time up to 2GSa/2ec
- 2 channels
- Courseware features
- Can automatically measure 24 parameters
- 7-inch WVGA color display with 800 x 480 resolution
- Very reliable and accurate, can trigger with difficult signals
- Advanced scope features like delay triggering and the ability to magnify a portion of the display
- Very intuitive interface with real analog knobs
- Durable built as expected from Tektronix
- Doesn’t display min/max voltage range
- Memory per channel is only 2.5K
One of our favorite recommendations for the best oscilloscopes under $500, very easy to use with its intuitive interface, making it very easy to use for students and beginners. Relatively shallow learning curve even with its pretty rich set of features. Also, very safe to use for children and students.
The Tektronix TBS1052B offers some great advanced features like the ability to magnify small areas on the display, delay triggering, and many more. A minor downside is that it only offers 2.5K memory per channel (it has 2 channels), which is quite small for today’s standards.
Nevertheless, one of the best oscilloscopes under $500.
The 1000 X-Series is a digital oscilloscope from Keysight that is geared towards professional and high-end use while maintaining affordability, making it one of the best oscilloscopes under $500.
One of the key highlights of this 1000 X-Series oscilloscope is the excellent waveform update rate of 50,000 wfms/sec, allowing more details of the displayed waveforms for analysis purposes. It also comes with built-in language support for more than 10 different languages—a pretty rare feature for oscilloscopes under $500—. This can be a great factor to consider if English is not your first language.
There are also various advanced features and capabilities offered by the Keysight 1000 X-Series, including FFT, math functions, analog bus, and protocol decoding/triggering. Also, it comes with a built-in frequency response analysis.
- 50 to 100 MHz bandwidth
- 50,000 wfms/sec update rate allowing very detailed waveform signals
- Keysight-custom technology that leverages more than 60 years of oscilloscope expertise, very accurate
- Intuitive user interface with built-in tutorial and training signals, very easy to use.
- industry-leading software analysis and 6-in-1 instrument integration, high-end professional-level analysis
- Various advanced features like FTT and math functions
- Multi-language support of over a dozen languages
- Built-in 20MHz wavegen and frequency response analysis
- Impressive waveform update rate for detailed data (50,000 wfms/sec)
- Professional-rate oscillator, one of the best oscilloscopes under $500 for professional use
- Relatively small display
- No zoom function
One of the most advanced, professional-rate options in this price range, making it one of the best oscilloscopes under $500. All in all, the Keysight 1000 X-Series offers really advanced set of features like built-in wave-generator and frequency response analysis, among others.
Even with all the professional-rated features, the Keysight 1000 X-Series is very easy to use with its great, intuitive interface, so it’s still a suitable choice for beginners.
It’s hard to find any downside from the Keysight 1000 X-Series, to be honest, and it has built a really good reputation. Perhaps, a minor downside is its relatively small display. Paired with the fact that the machine doesn’t offer the feature to zoom/amplify the waveforms, it can be quite difficult to observe the signals.
The next two oscilloscopes on the list are here based on portability and price. They are on the list primarily for these two features. If you’re looking for a solid desktop oscilloscope and have a little bit of money to spend, then I recommend the top 3 oscilloscopes listed above.
#4. Hantek DS05102P
If you are looking for a fairly competent oscilloscope in its class that is also quite affordable, the Hantek DS05102P is one of our recommendations for the best oscilloscopes under $500.
With that being said, the Hantek oscilloscope offers a fairly large 7-inch display, providing a convenient way for its users to view and analyze the display. The Hantek DS05102P works in the 100 MHz range, and although it only features 2 different channels, it’s still quite versatile with a USB port that provides more options.
- 2 channels
- 100MHz bandwidth range
- Features 4 different math functions
- 800 x 480 pixels display resolutions
- It has various automatic measurements
- Sample rate in real-time up to 1GSa/s
- Multiple trigger modes
- Great display, Record range up to 40K
- Relatively affordable price, one of the best oscilloscopes under $500
- Well-built, relatively compact and durable
- A decent set of features, very versatile
- Large 7 inch color display
- Up to 40K record range
- Ships with 220V cord
- Firmware a bit confusing
One of our recommendations for the best oscilloscopes under $500 in 2020, a great pick for those who are on a tight budget but are looking for a digital oscillator with a decent set of functionalities.
The key highlight of the Hantek DS05102P is the very big and clear display that offers up to 40K record length, and although it only offers 2 different channels, it still provides fairly decent and versatile performances. Intuitive vertical and horizontal controls so users can easily use them to control and transfer the waveforms and analyze the produced data.
An ideal device for the field! The key highlight of the Saint Smart Mini DSO213 is its very compact size, being a handheld oscilloscope, making it easy to bring it everywhere according to your needs. Also, even with its very small size, it is still very affordable, making the Saint Smart Mini one of the best oscilloscopes under $500 especially when compactness is your primary criterion.
The compact size, however, doesn’t mean a sacrifice in functionality: the Saint Smart Mini has a 4-channel functionality and features a very decent color display that can clearly display sine, square, triangle and saw-tooth waveforms.
- 400 x 240 pixels resolution displays
- Sample rate in real-time up to 100 MSa/s
- 15 MHz analog bandwidth
- Multiple trigger modes and math functions are included
- It has a TFT-LCD color display
- Compact 100 x 56.5 x 10.7 mm dimension, fully handheld and highly portable
- A decent set of features, very versatile
- Various connectivity with USB and SD card
- USB charging for its rechargeable battery
- Reliable and well-built for its size
- Only features one probe
- Sometimes it produces inaccurate measurement between 500-600 Hz
- Small buttons
The key highlight of the Saint Smart Mini DSO213 is obviously its very compact size, making it one of the best oscilloscopes under $500 if you are looking for a handheld scope.
Even with its small size, however, it features a decent-sized display of 400×240 with 8MB flash storage. The small size made this oscilloscope fairly easy and convenient to use.
The minor downsides are that it only includes one probe, and the interface can be quite difficult to use with its small buttons.
The 5 best oscilloscopes under $500 we have shared above are our top picks that can suit electronics hobbyists, students, and even professionals. Our number one pick here goes to the Rigol DS1054Z, but all models presented are great oscilloscopes with their own advantages and disadvantages.
We hope you’ve gathered enough information from this buying guide, and can make a better purchase decision with what we’ve shared.
If you were interested in this article, perhaps you’d be equally interested in some of these other great product review articles:
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