If you are an electronics hobbyist, an electrical engineer, or involved in electronics in any way, you will know that an oscilloscope is one of those devices that you cannot afford to be without.
If you are just starting out working or playing with electronics, then you will soon discover that an oscilloscope is an essential device in that field.
My choice for the best all-around scope is the Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscope. This is a feature-rich and easy-to-use device with more than adequate sampling rate, triggering, and bandwidth. It will be hard to find a much better 4-channel digital oscilloscope for the price.
However, you might be looking for slightly different features, such as portability or a higher sample rate, so let me show you my top 5 best oscilloscopes in separate categories.
|Best overall oscilloscope: Rigol DS1054Z||
|Best oscilloscope for hobbyists: Siglent Technologies SDS1202X-E||
|Best oscilloscope for beginners: Hantek DSO5072P||
|Most affordable portable mini oscilloscope: Signstek Nano ARM DS212 Portable||
|Best oscilloscope with high sampling rate: YEAPOOK ADS1013D||
|Best oscilloscope with FFT: Hantek DSO5102P|
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|Best oscilloscope with signal generator: Hantek 2D72|
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What is an oscilloscope?
An oscilloscope is an important tool used by electronic engineers that enables them to visualize waveform signals on the device for further observation and problem-solving.
An oscilloscope is needed in almost every electronic laboratory where electronic hardware is being tested.
It is useful in multiple fields of study including RF design, electronic circuit design, electronic manufacturing, servicing, and repairing of electronic devices.
The oscilloscope is often called an O-scope. It is used to monitor the oscillations of a circuit, hence the name.
It is not the same as a graphing multimeter, a vectorscope, or a logic analyzer.
The main purpose of an oscilloscope is to record an electrical signal as it varies over time.
Most oscilloscopes produce a two-dimensional graph with time on the x-axis and voltage on the y-axis.
The controls on the front of the device allow you to view the output and to adjust the screen and the scale both horizontally and vertically, zoom in on the display, focus and stabilize the signal.
This is how you read the screen of an oscilloscope.
The oldest type of oscilloscope, still used in some labs today, is known as the cathode-ray oscilloscope.
More modern oscilloscopes electronically replicate the action of the CRT using LCD (liquid crystal display).
The most sophisticated oscilloscopes use computers to process and display waveforms. These computers can use any type of display, including CRT, LCD, LED, OLED, and gas plasma.
Learn more on how an oscilloscope works:
Buyer’s guide: What features to look for in an oscilloscope
It’s important to consider the following factors when choosing your oscilloscope.
The bandwidth on an oscilloscope refers to the maximum level of frequency it can measure.
The low bandwidth oscilloscopes have a comparatively shorter frequency response range compared to those with high bandwidth.
According to the “rule of five”, the bandwidth of your oscilloscope should be at least five times the maximum frequency you work with.
One of the biggest cost drivers for oscilloscopes is the bandwidth.
An o-scope that has a narrow bandwidth of 200 MHz can go for a few hundred dollars, however, a top-of-the-line oscilloscope with a bandwidth of 1 GHz can go for almost $30,000.
Learn how to calculate the frequency from an oscilloscope here
Number of channels
The number of channels on an oscilloscope is important.
Traditionally, all-analog oscilloscopes operate with two channels. However, the newer digital models offer up to 4 channels.
Learn more about the differences between analog and digital oscilloscopes here.
The extra channels are useful when you need to compare two or more signals. Many scopes can read more than one signal at a time, displaying all of them simultaneously.
Two channels are more than enough if you are just starting out with electronics and any extra channels will simply add to the cost of the device.
Sampling is necessary to reconstruct the signal perfectly. The sampling rate of an oscilloscope refers to the number of observations recorded by the device per second.
Naturally, a device with a higher sampling rate will provide you with more accurate results.
All oscilloscopes have memory, used to store the samples. Once the memory is full, the device will empty itself which means you may lose data.
It is best to choose models with plenty of memory, or models which support memory extension. This feature is commonly known as memory depth.
So, if you really want to dig deep into this section, you’ll stumble upon words you probably never heard of. However, our motive here is to provide you with a rather simple and straightforward perception of the basic types.
Choosing an analog oscilloscope today is nothing less than stepping onto a journey to the past. An analog oscilloscope has few, if any, features that a DSO cannot surpass. Unless you’re really tempted by their good old look and feel, they shouldn’t be on your preferred list.
Digital Storage Oscilloscopes (DSO)
Unlike analog, DSO stores and analyzes signals digitally. The main advantage you get over analog is that the stored traces are bright, sharply defined, and written very quickly. You can store traces indefinitely and later reload them from external storage devices as well. Not to mention how convenient they are to use, making them superior to the analog devices.
Depending on the form factor, you will find three basic types of DSOs in the market today.
These are usually bulkier and prefer staying on tables rather than roaming around. Benchtop digital scopes will perform the best in terms of performance, obviously coming at a higher cost. With features like FFT spectrum analysis, disk drives, PC interfaces, and printing options, you can’t really complain about the price.
As the name goes, these will fit in your arms and are easy to carry around like most smartphones. Handheld DSOs have obvious benefits if you are always on the move. However, the convenience comes at a cost, as they tend to have a poor display and short battery life. They’re also a bit pricey compared to benchtops.
Despite being the newcomer, PC-based oscilloscopes are already outperforming their benchtop equivalents in popularity. And it looks like they’re here to stay, as you can use them on the PC right on your desk. That means you get a high-resolution display, a lightning-fast processor, and disk drives. All these for free!
Getting a scope with a bandwidth five times higher than the maximum frequency you want to measure is the general rule of thumb. For example, aim for a device with a bandwidth of 100MHz if around 20MHz is your measurement zone. If you input a signal of the same bandwidth as your scope, it will display an attenuated and distorted image.
For DSOs, the sampling rate is specified in mega samples per second (MS/s) or Giga samples per second (GS/s). This rate should be at least twice the maximum frequency you want to measure. But as you require at least five samples to reconstruct a waveform accurately, make sure this number is as high as possible.
Besides, you’ll get two different sampling rates: real-time sampling (RTS) and equivalent-time sampling (ETS). Now, ETS only works if the signal is stable and repetitive and is unlikely to work if it is a transient one. Don’t get attracted by a high rate and do check whether it applies to all signals or repetitive ones only.
Most digital engineers prefer comparing the rise time over bandwidth. The quicker the rise time, the more precise are the critical details of fast transitions. If not stated by the manufacturer, you can count the rise time with the formula k/bandwidth, where k is between 0.35 (if bandwidth < 1GHz).
The memory depth of a scope controls how long it can store a signal before it has to be dumped. A DSO with a high sample rate but low memory can use its full sample rate on the top few time-bases only.
Let’s assume that an oscilloscope is capable of sampling at 100 MS/s. Now, if it has a 1k buffer memory, the sampling rate will be limited to 5 MS/s (1 k / 200 µs) only. That becomes even clearer when you zoom in on a particular signal.
Resolution and Accuracy
Most digital oscilloscopes nowadays come with an 8-bit resolution. In order to view analog signals for audio, automotive, or environmental monitoring, go for a scope with 12-bit or 16-bit resolution. While most 8-bit scopes offer an accuracy between 3 to 5 percent, you can achieve up to 1 percent with higher resolution.
Trigger controls come handy for stabilizing the repetitive waveforms and capturing the single-shot ones. Most DSOs offer pretty much the same basic trigger options. You can look for more advanced functions depending on the type of signals you measure. Such as pulse triggers are likely to prove useful for digital signals.
You will get selectable full-scale input ranges from ±50 mV to ±50 V in today’s scopes. However, make sure the scope has a small enough voltage range for the signals you want to measure. A scope with a resolution of 12 to 16 bits should do fairly well if you typically measure small signals (less than 50 mV).
Typical probes allow switching between 1:1 and 10:1 attenuation. Always use the 10:1 setting for overload protection. Passive probes are a laugh when used for fast signals above 200 MHz. Active FET probes perform better with signals like these. For high and 3 phase voltages, a differential isolating probe is an optimal solution.
Conventional oscilloscopes with four or fewer channels may not be enough to view all the signals. Hence, you may look for a mixed-signal oscilloscope (MSO). These provide 2 to 4 analog channels with up to 16 digital channels for logic timing. With these, you can forget about any combined logic analyzers or special software.
Today’s oscilloscopes will allow you to select the record length for optimizing the detail level. You can expect a basic oscilloscope to store over 2000 points, where a stable sine-wave signal needs around 500. To search for infrequent transients like jitter, select at least a mid-end scope with a long record length.
Make sure the scope provides math stuff like mean and RMS calculations and duty cycles for instant results. You can also find more advanced math functions such as FFT, integrate, differentiate, square root, scalars, and even user-defined variables in some models. If you’re willing to spend, these are definitely worth it.
Navigation and Analysis
Try to confirm highly effective tools for quick navigation and analysis of recorded traces. These tools include zooming in on an event, panning the areas, play-pause, search and mark, and more. Other than that, it will be easy for you to define various criteria that are similar to trigger conditions.
Check if the scope supports advanced applications. For example, apps that give you insights into signal integrity, related problems, causes, and effects. Other applications like RF will allow you to view signals in the frequency domain and analyze using spectrograms. There’s a ton of other applications available as well.
Connectivity and Expansion
Consider a scope that allows you to access network printing and file-sharing resources. Look for universal USB ports or type C ports for easy data transferring or charging purposes. For handheld or portable devices, make sure battery backup is adequate and can be charged from anywhere.
For the best coordination of features, the device must offer a convenient and responsive interface. Dedicated knobs for frequently used adjustments, default buttons for instant setup, and language support are some requirements for that purpose.
Best oscilloscopes reviewed
Let’s dive into the reviews of the best oscilloscopes available to see which one might suit your needs.
Best overall oscilloscope: Rigol DS1054Z
The Rigol DS1054Z is my top choice of o-scope to look at.
It is a solid low-end digital scope and its numerous features and affordability make it ideal for home use and scholars.
The mathematical functions that it offers are invaluable to students.
With a total bandwidth capacity of 50 MHz, it allows a total waveform capture rate of up to 3000 efms/s which is high for a device in this price range.
The bandwidth can be upgraded to 100 MHz if needed.
It comes with four channels and the 7-inch display, with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, is big enough to show all four channels together.
This makes it ideal for analyzing and comparing multiple signals at the same time.
It has a USB connector, LAN(LXI) (you can connect an Ethernet cable), and AUX Output.
It also offers real-time waveform record, replay, FFT function standard, and a variety of mathematical functions which make it one of the best oscilloscopes for students and hobbyists.
The screen is large and bright and features a signal intensity setting similar to analog scopes. The sample rate and memory are good for the price, and the bandwidth can be upgraded.
The size is rather bulky compared to some other units and it can be tiring to carry for around for long periods.
The case is made of heavy-duty, scratch-resistant plastic, and all buttons and connections are solid. The overall build quality of this oscilloscope as good as that of an expensive top-brand. Comes with a calibration certificate.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly Oscilloscope, DS1054Z deserves your attention for sure. The specifications it offers for the money are too good to be true. Innovative technologies, powerful trigger functions, broad analysis capabilities, the list goes on and on.
Rigol DS1054Z is a benchtop body style digital oscilloscope that weighs no more than 6.6 pounds. However, it’s not the well-constructed body that brings in all of the convenience. You’ll also receive two of the RP2200 double passive probes with it for a more convenient user interface.
Compared to the price tag it has, a bandwidth of 50 MHz across four channels is indeed quite impressive. This economic device also offers a waveform capture rate of up to 30,000 waveforms per second. Pretty swift, eh? On top of that, it features a real-time sample rate of 1G Sa/s as well.
As for storage memory, you get a 12 Mpt memory pre-equipped with this one. However, it also offers a USB connectivity and an optional 24Mpts memory depth in case you need additional storage.
Apart from that, Rigol has implemented innovative ultra-vision technology for the screen. Thanks to this enhancement, the display can show multiple intensity levels of waveforms. Only because of that, the slightly lower resolution becomes justifiable.
- Bandwidth: Offers 50 MHz bandwidth range, which can be upgraded to 100 MHz
- Channels: Operates over four channels
- Sampling rate: Waveform capture rate of up to 3000 efms/s
- Memory: It comes with a memory of 12Mpts and is upgradeable to 24 Mpts (with purchase of MEM-DS1000Z).
- USB connector
- Variety of mathematical functions, perfect for students
- Calibration certificate
Best oscilloscope for hobbyists: Siglent Technologies SDS1202X-E
This is a feature-rich product offered at a very competitive price, making it a great option for hobbyists.
The SDS1202X-E digital oscilloscope comes with a range of useful features that are often classed as optional extras by other manufacturers.
And these usually come at quite a cost!
One of the outstanding features of the Siglent oscilloscope is its history waveform recording and sequential triggering function.
This feature allows the user to store already triggered waveforms for review and analysis at another time.
The SDS1202X-E employs a new generation of Spo technology that provides excellent signal fidelity and performance.
This slick software means that you are never waiting for the interface to catch up. The system noise is also lower than many similar products.
This digital oscilloscope offers 200 MHz measurement bandwidth, real-time sampling at a rate of 1 GSa/sec and can store 14 million measurement points.
It includes all the standard interfaces you would expect: Standard serial bus Triggering and Decode, supports IIC, SPI, UART, RS232, CAN, and LIN.
The SDS-1202X-E also has an intuitive interface, making it extremely user-friendly. The measurements that are performed most often are easy to access through their touchscreen interface.
For an entry-level scope, this is an outstanding product offered at an excellent price.
There’s been some real buzz about the 200MHz SDS1202X-E, as it’s an ideal combo of cool features and affordability. Due to its Gate and Zoom measurement, you can specify an arbitrary interval of the waveform data analysis. Hence, you’ll notice a significant decrease in the error rate caused by any extraneous data.
Moreover, it features a hardware-based function for taking up to 40,000 pass-fail decisions per second. And it can quickly generate test templates defined by you and provide trace mask comparison. Therefore, you’ll find it suitable for long-term signal monitoring or testing an automated production line.
It has this new math co-processor that allows FFT analysis of incoming signals with up to 1M samples per waveform! So, you’ll get a high-frequency resolution with a much faster refresh rate. While this will take care of speed, accuracy will be ensured by a 14M point measurement of all data points.
Guess what? You can now playback the latest triggered events as well. Because there’s a history function that uses segmented memory to store the trigger events. Besides, you can get an intuitive display of the bus protocol information in a tabular format.
You can also control the USB AWG module or scan the amplitude and phase-frequency of an independent SIGLENT device. Its embedded web server will help you troubleshoot remotely by controlling the USB WIFI from a simple web page.
- Bandwidth: Available in 100 MHz-200 MHz options. Uses Spo technology that provides excellent signal fidelity and performance
- Channels: Available in 2 and 4 channel options.
- Sample rate: Sample rate of 1GSa/sec
- Memory: Features a history waveform recording and sequential triggering function
- Very user friendly
- Low system noise
Best oscilloscope for beginners: Hantek DSO5072P
Offering only two channels, the Hantek DSO5072P is the ideal o-scope for beginners who are learning to use the device.
If you are just starting with electronics, two channels are more than enough for your needs and any extra channels will simply add to the cost.
This oscilloscope is a really good choice for a beginner because it offers an excellent user interface and menus that are intuitive. It is also very affordable.
The bandwidth of 70 MHz and the memory depth of 12 Mpts up to 24 Mpts is adequate for most applications.
The large 7-inch color display offers high visibility and is easy to read even in bright sunlight. At 4.19 pounds it is incredibly light and easy to carry, and it has a coating that protects it from scratches and damage.
While it doesn’t support Ethernet or Wi-Fi network connections, it does support USB connections for external operations using a Windows 10 PC.
The advanced trigger mode features include edge, slop, overtime, line selectable, and pulse width which makes the device suitable for all kinds of simulations.
- Bandwidth: 200/100/70MHz bandwidths
- Channels: Two channels
- Sampling rate: Real-time sample up to 1GSa/s
- Memory: 12Mpts up to 24 Mpts
- Excellent user interface
- Display offers high visibility in all light conditions
- Very lightweight
Most affordable mini oscilloscope: Signstek Nano ARM DS212 Portable
This small hand-held oscilloscope is ideal for on-the-go electronic testing. It is so compact that it can easily fit in your electrician’s toolbelt.
The Signstek Nano is easy to operate and uses two thumbwheels for all settings and almost all actions.
The USB flash is built into the unit. There is an 8 MB storage area.
Data can be stored as data points or displayed as a .bmp file. The USB port on the unit is for charging the battery or connecting to the computer.
The unit’s directory will show up and the data or images may be transferred to the computer.
This is a 2-channel digital scope. It is equipped with a 320*240 color display, 8M Memory Card (U Disk), and chargeable lithium batteries.
The built-in signal generator does basic waveforms and adjustments for frequency and PPV, measurements are accurate.
And though it is powered by lithium-ion batteries, they last for a maximum period of two hours.
- Bandwidth: 1MHz bandwidth
- Channels: Two channels
- Sampling rate: 10MSa/s Max. sample rate
- Memory: Sample memory depth: 8K
- Hand-held, easy to operate. Uses two thumbwheels for all settings.
- USB flash is built into the unit
- A detailed manual is offered on the website
- Batteries last a maximum of two hours
Best oscilloscope with high sampling rate: YEAPOOK ADS1013D
The YEAPOOK ADS1013D handheld digital oscilloscope offers a range of advanced features, including a high sampling rate, at a very reasonable price.
The built-in 6000mAh lithium battery is a particularly useful feature for anyone who needs to use an oscilloscope for long time periods.
It enables you to use the device for up to 4 hours on a single full charge.
It has trigger modes – auto, normal, and single – to capture instantaneous waveforms. The oscilloscope is also equipped with a high voltage protection module that allows you to operate the unit up to 400V.
Yeapook’s oscilloscope operates over 2 channels and has an analog bandwidth level of 100 MHz with a real-time sampling of 1 GSa/s.
When it comes to the display interface, it features a 7-inch LCD touch screen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, for clear and convenient viewing.
This oscilloscope is extremely light and portable. It has a slim body, measuring 7.08 x 4.72 x 1.57 inches for easy handling.
The storage capacity is 1 GB which means that you store up to 1000 screenshots and 1000 sets of waveform data.
- Bandwidth: 100 MHz bandwidth
- Channels: 2 channels
- Sampling rate: 1 GSa/s sampling rate
- Memory: 1 GB memory
- 6000mAh lithium battery – offers continuous use for 4 hours on a single full charge
- Ultra-thin design and lightweight
- Voltage protection module for safety
Best oscilloscope with FFT: Hantek DSO5102P
For an entry-level oscilloscope, Hantek DSO5102P is a fairly good deal thanks to a number of high-end specs it offers. A bandwidth of 100MHz, a sample rate of 1GSa/s, and a recording length of up to 40K are only a few of its several mind-blowing features.
Each function you can possibly think of is packed within this scope. To start with, it has a front panel consisting of several useful buttons. You can use these for both vertical and horizontal alignment, or even scale adjustment.
Despite the long list of functions, setting up this device is quite a child’s play. Not to mention how intuitive the menu options are. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’re bound to fall for its almost effortless user interface.
Other than that, the tiniest of issues regarding signal property measurements will stay out of your sight. For instance, you can check things like frequency, period, mean, and peak to peak voltage with a single click of a button. Besides that, you’ll find cursors to measure voltage intervals and specific time.
Apart from that, it comes with a 1KHz square wave probe for quicker testing and calibration. You can not only read two different channels at the same time but also perform math calculations with the signals. All these, what’s more, you can even apply the fast Fourier transform (FFT) algorithm.
- Only two channels available.
Best oscilloscope with signal generator: Hantek 2D72
As days pass, the typical benchtop style devices are losing the charm due to their lack of portability. Keeping that in mind, Hantek brings us a rather portable option, the 2D72. One we’re talking about is more of a multipurpose device, consisting of functions from three universal test instruments.
With that said, you can use this one as a 70MHz oscilloscope with a speed of 250Msa/s. For a three-in-one device, these figures are way more than expected. On top of that, you get a waveform generator function to output waves of pretty much every shape you need.
Furthermore, the device can work pretty well as a multimeter. It will automatically measure frequency as well as amplitude for you with quite the accuracy. There’s a self-calibration function as well that makes it look even more effortless.
Since you’ll be carrying it along, Hantek has made the charging system quite intelligent. You can charge the lithium battery by either a high current of 5V/2A or even a conventional USB interface. Besides, a type C interface makes it even more convenient for both charging and data transferring.
- Only two channels available.
- Screen is a bit too small.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Which mode should I use for extremely slow signals?
You may use the Roll mode to view a slow signal. It will help the waveform data to show up immediately. Therefore, you won’t have to wait for the full waveform records. For instance, you will have to wait ten seconds in case a sweep is ten divisions long, with a rate of one second per division.
Is ground connection to an oscilloscope a must?
Yes, you do need to ground the oscilloscope for safety purposes. Your oscilloscope needs to share the same ground with any circuit that you are testing through it. However, you might find some oscilloscopes out there, in which a separate connection to the ground is unnecessary.
Can I measure AC current with an oscilloscope?
Theoretically, you can. However, most oscilloscopes can only measure voltage instead of current. But you can measure the voltage dropped across a shunt resistor to calculate the amps. It’s actually a lot easier if you grab a device with a built-in ammeter or multimeter.
Can oscilloscopes measure currents?
Most oscilloscopes can only directly measure voltage, not currents. One way to measure AC current with an oscilloscope is to measure the voltage dropped across a shunt resistor.
Can oscilloscope measure the dc voltage?
Yes, it can. Most oscilloscopes can measure both ac and dc voltages.
Can an oscilloscope measure RMS voltage?
No, it can’t. It can only trace the peak of the voltage. But once you measure the peak of the voltage, you can calculate the RMS value using the proper multiplication.
Can an oscilloscope display sound waves?
It can’t show raw sound signals unless you connect the sound source directly to the scope.
Because the sound signals aren’t electrical, you must convert the sound signal to electrical using a microphone first.
Are oscilloscope probes interchangeable?
Most likely yes. However, you should check the specifications and make sure the probes are compatible and electrically the same between both scopes. They are occasionally different.
What is the difference between frequency and bandwidth in oscilloscopes?
Frequency is a measurement of oscillations in a circuit. Bandwidth is the amount of data transferred.
What is a trigger when talking about oscilloscopes?
Sometimes there is a one-shot event that happens in a circuit you are testing.
The trigger function allows you to stabilize repetitive waveforms or one-shot waveforms by repeatedly displaying a similar portion of the signal.
This makes repetitive waveforms appear to be static (even though they are not).
Now that you are aware of the different oscilloscopes available, and their various features and applications, you are in a better position to select the one best suited to your purposes.
Do you need a pocket-sized oscilloscope? Or something with a high sampling rate? There are ideal options to suit your needs and your pocket.
Read next: What Types of Flux are Used in Electronics Soldering?
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.