Can you give me some tips on buying a DAB radio?
With DAB, digital radio is transmitted using an old MP2 codec. The UK uses MP2 with such low bit-rates that the sound quality is inferior to FM radio. MP2 is less efficient than MP3, used by Napster, which is much less efficient than AAC, used by Apple’s iTunes.
Sadly, the UK DAB industry clung to its antique technology instead of upgrading to DAB+, which allows AAC. It wasn’t until 2013 that DAB+ was added to the government’s Digital Radio Action Plan. Even then, the spec only mandated a maximum of 96kbps for DAB+. That should have been the minimum.
The result of all this lethargy/incompetence/denialism is that when the first DAB+ stations started broadcasting in the UK, on February 29, roughly two thirds of DAB radios couldn’t receive them.
DAB was launched in the UK in 1995 but it still makes up only 28% of listening hours. Indeed, if you look atAmazon, many DAB radios still don’t support DAB+, and the best-selling radios are FM only! Analogue radios still outsell digital versions by a wide margin (2.8m v 1.6m per year).
I still think buyers ought to go for future-proof DAB+ radios, some of which may sport the digital radio tick-mark. But I don’t have much confidence in the future.
Radio manufacturers haven’t always helped. To pick one example, the Pure Evoke D2 is a good-looking mono radio at a not-so-cheap £89.99. The spec still says the UK version supports only DAB and FM but “non-UK products receive DAB/DAB+/DMB-Radio/FM depending on region”. I assume disabling DAB+ saves on license fees, but this kind of thing has not helped the already-backward UK market.
Having said all that, the three new DAB+ stations – Magic Chilled, JazzFM Stereo and Fun Kids – are broadcasting at 32kbps. It’s entirely typical of UK radio to introduce a new technology such as HE-AACv2 at the worst-possible audio quality, and to provide the least possible incentive to upgrade your old radio. Try comparing JazzFM with the HQ version of Smooth Jazz Florida streamed at256kbps.
Internet streaming is the obvious way to get decent-sounding radio from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the BBC through the UK and ex-pat markets into despair when it launched its Audio Factory about a year ago. (See my earlier answer: Do I need to buy a new internet radio to listen to BBC Radio?)
At the time, the BBC said its long-term aim was to move streaming radio to the MPEG’s industry standard DASH format. Again, I think you should buy a radio that supports DASH, or one that can be upgraded to DASH, if you can find one.
In the meantime, the BBC is providing 128kbps MP3 streams via Shoutcast. TheiPlayer help page says this was chosen “following advice from a number of Internet Radio device manufacturers regarding the codec and streaming protocols supported by the largest possible number of their legacy devices. Newer Internet Radio devices should be able to make use of the HLS and/or MPEG-DASH protocols using the higher quality AAC+ codec.”
Pure says its newer radios support the HLS format, which is a proprietary Apple system aimed at Apple products. This may suit you, as an iMac and iPad user.
Adverts for actual radios seem strangely quiet on such matters, but people sometimes ask questions in comments on Amazon.
DAB radios don’t usually support “listen again” – it’s usually provided by an app or by running a radio player in a web browser. It should be a feature of internet radios, which generally support DAB, FM and internet streaming. However, many internet radio users lost access to the BBC’s listen again services with the switch mentioned above.
One possible answer would be to connect your iPad to your radio and use an iPad app to listen again. Some radios have iPhone docks or lightning connectors. If not, you could use a cable with a 30-pin Apple dock connector at one end and a dual 3.5mm jack or two RCA connectors at the other end, depending on the radio inputs available. Alternatively, you could use a Bluetooth connection if your radio has Bluetooth.
Another way to listen again is to buy a DAB radio with a recording feature, so you can record programs you’d otherwise miss. Examples include the Pure Evoke 3, the Roberts Gemini 55, and the Roberts Sound models 23, 41 and 53. Prices range from around £100 to £275.
I spent more than £300 on my FM radio tuner, but the results are outstanding and it was worth every penny. Today, I couldn’t honestly recommend spending anything like that on what amounts to a kitchen radio.
Under normal circumstances, I’d suggest the Roberts Radio Stream93i as being good value at £135.95, but it still seems to be awaiting an update for full radio iPlayer compatibility and DASH support, though the spec says it supports AAC.
Otherwise, the main DAB radio brands include Pure, Roberts and Goodmans, so perhaps you can find a model that suits your needs via the DAB industry’s Get Digital Radio product finder.
In the cheap and cheerful category, you could try the August MB400 clock radio for £37.75. It can handle DAB, DAB+ and FM. It can also play MP3s and podcasts from SD/MMC cards, and it has a both a USB input, a 35mm AUX jack, and Bluetooth with NFC. Of course, at this price, it has small loudspeakers and you shouldn’t expect hi-fi sound quality. (I’ve not seen or heard one.)