R820T, RTL2832U SDR USB stick: gain accuracy tests

The R820T has the nice feature of a build in pre-amplifier, 0 dB to 49.6 dB nominal gain. Now, the question is, with all the nominal values, what is the acutal gain, and how does this change with frequency?

With the established setup, the frequency-stabilized SDR USB stick (28.8 MHz supplied by a HPAK 8662A, at 500 mV level), and the 8642B source, the gain of the R820T was set to the various values, step by step, and the RF input level varied to keep the SDRSharp FFT peak level at exactly -25 dB. The -25 dB reading can be taken to about +-0.2 dB, when looking at the FFT display.
The test was carried out at two frequencies, namely, 141 MHz and 1000 MHz. Don’t do such evaluation anywhere close to multiples of 28.8 MHz – there are some reference-related spurs that can affect the accuracy.

First, the RF input power needed to get a -25 dB reading:
r820t rf input power at -25 dB vs nominal gain
Interestingly, at 0 dB gain, a bit more power is needed at 141 MHz to get -25 dB, which means, the R820T is a little bit less sensitive at 141 MHz than it is at 1000 MHz, but only at the 0 dB gain setting. At higher gains, the data are more or less superimposed.

Note also that the 43.9 dB and 44.5 dB gain settings have actually identical gain! No idea why.

r820t acutal gain vs nominal gain
These are the acutal gains, calculated from above data, vs. the nominal gain. Pretty linear, but clearly some positive deviation at the low gains.

The full dataset:
r820t rtl2832u sdr usb gain check

This is even more clearly visible in the deviation plot:
r820t gain error vs nominal gain

Accordingly, the preamp provides a bit more gain at lower frequencies, say, 141 MHz, especially when set to high gain, above 35 dB nominal. Below 35 dB, gains for 141 and 1000 MHz are virtually identical.

If you have a SDR USB stick of a different type, and want to have some gains-levels etc measured, just let me know! I might be interested.

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