Last updated on October 12th, 2018 at 02:33 am
Oscilloscopes are used in diverse industries from sciences, telecommunications, and medicine to automotive and engineering. While there are many types and models of oscilloscope, these can be divided into two major classifications. First, the general-purpose types, such as the best oscilloscope for audio, are commonly used in laboratory work and in the maintenance of electronic equipment (e.g., amplifiers). Second, the special-purpose oscilloscopes are designed for specific purposes, such as for displaying waveform in an electrocardiogram or for analyzing the ignition system in automobiles.
But what is an oscilloscope? Basically, it is an electronic test instrument that provides its user with the ability to observe variable signal voltages on a display (i.e., monitor). Depending on its features, it can also be used to display other types of signals, such as vibration or sound, which are converted to voltages. Its monitor usually displays the shape of an input wave, thus, the user can observe these waves and their patterns as well as test the electrical currents.
For example, an oscilloscope audio signal can show distortions that will aid in pinpointing blown fuses, signal distortions, and improper biasing in your audio amplifier. The shape of the input wave is also important in understanding the audio amplifier’s overall performance. The rule of thumb in this case: The smoother the wave, the better the sound quality produced.
Why use an oscilloscope when you can other types of testing instruments like a voltmeter? An oscilloscope provides more precise shapes and/or timing of the pulses emitted by the electronic equipment being tested. A voltmeter, in contrast, may display a completely unexpected voltage whereas an oscilloscope will display an oscillating circuit.
Oscilloscopes for audio can also be used in different devices like electronic motor drives. But their most common uses are for troubleshooting malfunctioning radios, audio amplifiers, and television receivers.
These can also be used for checking newly designed and constructed circuitry. More often than not, it will not work as expected because of poor voltage levels, design errors, and electrical noise, among other reasons. The use of an oscilloscope can aid in determining the faulty parts of the circuitry.
Top Best Oscilloscope For Audio 2018
We chose five of the best oscilloscopes for hobbyist based on personal testing and consumer reviews. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to buy two or more of these products to cover your bases, so to speak. Choose one that best fits your needs, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional repairman, or an educator, and make the best use from it.
#1 Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscopes – Bandwidth: 50 Mhz, Channels: 4
Rigol is a solid brand where testing instruments are concerned and the best Rigol DS1054Z digital oscilloscope gives good value for the money, too. It’s an affordable oscilloscope with plenty of useful features including USB, Ethernet, triggers, and storage options, as well as a practical software and good bandwidth for a serious hobbyist’s needs. It’s the best oscilloscope for audio for people who want the right balance between price and features.
This is a highly intuitive digital oscilloscope, too, thanks partly to the easy-to-learn layout and functionality of its buttons and functions. Many beginners say that the number of functions can be overwhelming but it isn’t something that watching a few instructional videos can’t resolve.
The screen is large and bright with a high resolution so the waves are easy to observe and analyze. It also has a signal intensity setting that users of analog scopes are familiar with. The oscilloscope’s overall dimensions – about 6 inches tall, 4 inches deep, and 12 inches wide – makes it relatively portable, as well as a huge improvement from old analog scopes of yesteryears.
It’s a great oscilloscope for simple uses but it can also be used for more complex problems albeit with limitations. It’s an excellent choice for home and school use, too.
The triggers work well for such an affordable scope although these can be a bit finicky occasionally. We suggest experimenting with the settings until the right one is achieved.
The firmware update also makes it more practical to use. Its memory mode gathers more data points and draws better FFT charts. Users can also use a free computer software for its improved performance.
#2 Hantek DSO5072P Digital Oscilloscope, 70 MHz Bandwidth, 1 GSa/s, 7.0″ Display
Yet another of the best oscilloscope for audio for hobbyists is the Hantek DSO5072P. Many agree that it’s a dream oscilloscope because it combines the benefits of a wide range of professional features and a hobbyist’s budget. Many of its features may not even be used by hobbyists while professionals will find plenty of uses for most of its features.
At first glance, it’s a well-designed, well-built oscilloscope that will definitely see several months, if not years, of use provided that it’s used properly. It’s also large enough not to appear fragile but also small enough to be portable, a feature that hobbyists and professionals appreciate in their testing instruments.
The package comes with a comprehensive manual that provides clearly written instructions for its setup, use and maintenance. The instructions are written in easy-to-understand English, too. If possible, read the manual first since there’s a slight learning curve in its use, which can be expected considering the number of features that come with it.
The large 7-inch color monitor displays extremely clear, crisp and bright images so the wave signals are easy to read.
This is a multi-purpose oscilloscope. It can be used in getting real-time readouts of a wide range of measurements including waveform, frequency, maximum and minimum volts, and mean volts, among others. It’s almost like getting a DMM and an oscilloscope in one product.
There are several trigger modes and acquire modes, too. These include edge, pulse, width, and line as well as selectable video/slop/overtime. It can even be set to trigger on the width (i.e., time) of a pulse, such as larger pulses, smaller pulses, and pulses within 5%.
Other features include 200/100/70MHz bandwidths, 1GSa/s Real Time sample rate, and up to 40K of record length.
#3 Digilent Analog Discovery 2 100MSPS USB Oscilloscope, Logic Analyzer and Variable Power Supply – 410-321
Hobbyists, educators and students looking for an affordable and practical oscilloscope for audio repair will find the Digilent Analog Discovery 2 oscilloscope to be an excellent choice. It is, after all, both a multifunction instrument and a USB oscilloscope with features that can be used for all types of mixed signal circuits, specifically in visualizing, measuring, generating, recording, and controlling them.
This is a product of the collaboration between Analog Devices and Digilent as well as supported by Xilinx University Program, thus, its suitability for academic use even for high school students. It is, nonetheless, popular among serious hobbyists, engineering students, and electronics enthusiasts looking for an oscilloscope for use on both analog and digital circuits. Its relatively small size makes it portable for use in and out of the laboratory, yet it’s still packed with powerful features.
These features are aplenty, too. This is a two-channel USB digital oscilloscope with 30MHz+ bandwidth, a two-channel arbitrary function generator (i.e., an uncommon feature in oscilloscope for hobbyists), and a single channel voltmeter (AC, DC, ±25V). It’s also equipped with a 16-channel digital logic analyzer, 16-channel pattern generator, and 16-channel virtual digital I/O; the latter is well-equipped with LEDs, switches and buttons, which are suitable for use in logic training applications.
And the analyzers are aplenty, too, including the network analyzer with a range of 1Hz to MHz; the spectrum analyzer with spectral measurements and power spectrum; the digital bus analyzers; and impedance analyzer with inductive and capacitive elements. There are also two programmable power supplies. This is the best logic analyzer on the market.
#4 Tektronix TBS1052B-EDU 50 MHz, 2 Digital Channel Oscilloscope, 1 GS/s Sampling
Through the years, the Tektronix oscilloscope versions have remained popular among hobbyists, educators and students mainly because these are fairly easy to use yet still packed with practical features. The Tektronix TBS1052B-EDU is considered as the best oscilloscope for audio for schools and universities – in fact, it’s specifically designed for academic use!
The package actually comes with clear and concise courseware information for use by teachers. The courseware itself is directly loaded into the oscilloscope so the information can be displayed on the monitor; the information includes step-by-step instructions for its use, background theory, and tips for efficient work documentation. The monitor is relatively small at just 7 inches but it has high resolution so the images can easily be read.
This is equipped with dual Window FFT so you can see simultaneous displays of time and frequency domains. It has a zoom function, a two-channel frequency counter, and auto-set and auto-ranging functions. It even has a user interface with multiple languages, a great bonus for educators with multilingual students.
Plus, this oscilloscope can be connected to your personal computer through its USB 2.0 port on its rear panel. As for storage, it has a USB 2.0 host port on its front panel; the storage of data is a must for educators and students who want to analyze their work.
The package comes with the oscilloscope unit, as well as two passive probes, a power cord, a user’s manual, and two CDs for customer documentation and education, as well as a traceable certificate of calibration.
#5 Siglent Technologies SDS1102CML+ Digital Storage Oscilloscope, 100 MHz
The Siglent SDS1102CML oscilloscope is a great scope for the money, too. It’s a great tool in assembly lines, electrical engineering classes, and product design offices, among other situations. It’s also easy to install and use, as well as troubleshoot since it comes with its own feature-packed software and USB and LAN interfaces.
Its price may be in the affordable spectrum but it has the feel and look of a more expensive and sophisticated equipment. Its controls are intuitive and smooth to run while its automatic functions make it easy for beginners to master the oscilloscope. It even comes with two great 100 MHz probes, although we have to say that the plastic case isn’t as durable as the oscilloscope itself.
The calibration is good but keep in mind that it isn’t up to laboratory standards. But for the money involved, this Siglent oscilloscope is a great choice for hobbyists and the like. It’s an excellent choice for beginners, too, because it’s easy to use and its instruction manual is well-written with less of the jargon and more of the practical applications.
It has an excellent display, too, and it’s easy to download an image of the wave forms shown on the monitor. But the pictures are in the .bmp format, which can be a bit problematic for many users; perhaps the manufacturer can switch to a .png format.
Other features include automatic measurements, cursors, and built-in frequency counter, and a 1Mpts record length on a single channel.
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Things to Consider Before You Buy
For many hobbyists, beginners and even engineers, choosing the best oscilloscope for audio can be overwhelming, if not daunting, because of the sheer number of choices available. Add to it is the widely varying technical specifications and features, even the price range. But making your decision can be easier when you first consider two important factors – what you will use it for and where you will use it.
You should ask yourself these questions and then some so that you can narrow down your choices:
- What type of applications will you use the oscilloscope for? You have to determine the number of signals that should be measured at once, the maximum and minimum amplitudes of the signals to be measured, and the highest frequency of the signal that must be measured. You must also decide whether you want to view the signals in either the frequency domain or time domain or in both.
- Where will you be using the oscilloscope more frequently? You have to consider the overall size of the equipment since it should fit into the intended space. For example, an oscilloscope for use in testing amplifiers will fit on a workbench but perhaps not when it’s used for testing vehicles.
When you have answered these two all-important questions, you can make the first decision in choosing the right audio oscilloscope – analog or digital. Emphasis must be made that most oscilloscopes in the market today are digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs) but many electronics engineers still use analog oscilloscopes. The former are more popular, nonetheless, because the latter has few, if any, features that can’t be topped by their digital counterparts.
DSOs are portable, as well as offer users a wide range of features including intuitive user interfaces, storage and printing options, and high-resolution color displays. These also have the highest bandwidths and single shot ability, as well as provide precise on-screen measurements than their analog counterparts.
There’s also the fact that DSOs can be fully integrated into ATE systems, thanks to their personal computer connectivity including USB ports and software. It’s relatively easy connect audio to oscilloscope because of these integration and connection options.
The bottom line: Between an analog and a digital oscilloscope, the latter is the better choice in terms of economy, features and applications. But if you’re familiar with the analog layout and it’s something you’re comfortable using, then go for it. In the end, it’s the knowledge and skills of the user that matters more.
With that being said, there are several features that must be considered when choosing an oscilloscope for audio testing purposes.
This refers to the maximum signal frequency that can pass through the front-end amplifiers. Most manufacturers design their oscilloscopes to reach a specific Maximally Flat Envelope Delay (MFED), a type of frequency response that provides excellent pulse fidelity with as little undershoot, overshoot and ringing as possible. But keep in mind, too, that the MFED as a goal can only be approached but it cannot be completely met.
As a general rule, choose an oscilloscope with a bandwidth at least five times higher than the maximum signal frequency to be measured. You may have to compromise, however, because high bandwidth oscilloscopes are more expensive.
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For an oscilloscope, at least five samples may be required to make an accurate reconstruction of a waveform. Check that the unit you’re considering will be up to your needs especially as memory depth and sampling rate are important in its use.
Most modern oscilloscopes have two sampling modes or rates depending on the signal being measured – repetitive sampling (i.e., more commonly known as equivalent time sampling) and real-time sampling. Take note that the first type (ETS) only works when the signal being measure is repetitive and stable.
Tip: Carefully look at the specs to determine whether the quoted sampling rate will apply to all types of signals or just for repetitive signals.
The sampling rate’s relationship with memory depth is crucial in choosing the best one for your needs. A high sampling rate combined with a small memory means the unit can only utilize its full sampling rate on only a few time bases. For example, a 1K buffer memory can limit the unit’s sampling rate to just 5MS even when it’s able to sample at 100 MS/s.
The technical specifications will obviously affect your purchasing decision the most. You have to ensure that, indeed, the oscilloscope you purchased is “fit for the purpose” – your purpose, to be exact. You are making a relatively substantial investment in a precision equipment for your laboratory, workshop, or classroom so you may as well get your money’s worth.
And speaking of money, you have to balance the need for useful features with the need for a reasonable price. You must then compare the features in relation to the price of whatever oscilloscope has caught your attention. You may have to make compromises but don’t make too many since an oscilloscope should be a thing of useful applications, not a dust gatherer.
Q: What can oscilloscopes actually measure?
A: Many oscilloscopes have measurement tools as well. These tools are useful in quickly and accurately quantifying amplitude and frequency, among other characteristics of waveform. These can also measure both voltage-based and time-based characteristics. For voltage characteristics, these can measure amplitude (e.g., peak-to-peak and peak amplitude); maximum and minimum voltages; and mean and average voltages. For time-based characteristics, these can measure frequency (i.e., the number of times per second a waveform is repeated); duty cycle (i.e., the percentage of a period when a wave is positive or negative); and rise and fall time.
Q: When can oscilloscopes be used?
These testing tools can be used in a wide range of research and troubleshooting situations. These include troubleshooting possible flaws in consumer electronics, such as audio amplifiers and radios, as well as for identifying the amount of noise in a circuit, determining the shape of a wave (e.g., square, sine, or complex), and quantifying the phase differences between separate signals.
The best oscilloscope for audio should always be fit for the purpose, as we previously mentioned, because only then will it be actually useful in your life. But don’t stop with choosing the best either! You must also ensure that you continually develop your knowledge and skills about the proper use of an oscilloscope, especially when it’s an advanced unit packed full with professional features.