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back to article Ten digital radios to suit all budgets

After a slow start, digital radio might finally be getting somewhere. More people are buying DAB radios, coverage is increasing and, digital stations account for a growing share of the radio audience, according to the stats [PDF]. The BBC’s four main exclusively digital radio stations, for instance, reach a combined total of …

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Pint

this is radio

Worth nothing more than a £19.99 jobbie from asda. I suppose the idiots actually paying 249 are the same fools who think we need more radio than radio 4, test match special and world service.

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FAIL

"To suit all budgets?"

A quick trip to Amazon revealed a lot of sub-£100 digital radios (some as low as £24).

What happened to the reviews for these?

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Re: "To suit all budgets?"

That, surely, is a better investigation for a reviewer: out of all the sub £100 gadgets, which ones aren't going to fall apart in a week?

Honestly, El Reg, you keep doing this. No one has any bloody money, so we need to know how to squeeze every last penny.

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Windows

Shouting back at John Humphries - Re: this is radio

"Worth nothing more than a £19.99 jobbie from asda."

Or a tenner on Ebay for one of those wooden Roberts radios that take two PP9s (fiver off the market, they last a couple of years) and that goes loud. I use it when making the coffee and porridge in the morning, about an hour a day. It lives on the fridge. I'll get a dab headphone radio and plug it in when FM goes off.

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Re: this is radio

When I read the article "to suit all budgets" i thought to myself, I bet the cheapest one will be around £100 and I was spot on, the writers here are out of touch with reality when it comes to some peoples finances.

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Re: "To suit all budgets?"

"What happened to the reviews for these?"

That "Buy from Amazon" link should be your first clue.

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Meh

Re: "To suit all budgets?"

I bought a Tesco Value DAB about 4 years ago. It sits on my desk at work and works like a dream, albeit a slightly tinny sounding dream. Think it was a shaving under £20.

There must be loads of cheap ones. A review of the best of these would be far more useful. What sort of buffoon pays £200 for a radio?

A review of in-car DAB sets wouldn't go amiss, either.

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Devil

Re: bet the cheapest one will be around £100

I always see "...and here's another Reg guilty-feeling round-up of free shit we've been sent..."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: this is radio

"Worth nothing more than a £19.99 jobbie from asda."

The Asda DAb radio is very good, it picks up signal well and sounds sharp enough.

Definatly the best radio under 50 quid and should have made an appearance.

DAB quality is still abit shakey, high quality internet radio is where it's at - there's no point in paying decent money for a radio if it can't tune into a good quality stream.

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Anonymous Coward

Missed the best

Why no Roberts Stream 83i? One of the best on the market:

http://www.robertsradio.co.uk/Products/Internet_radios/STREAM83i/index.htm

I have two and they are excellent. It has the lot. DAB, FM, USB, Aux-In, WiFi, RJ45, DLNA. Can be had for £120.

I just wished they would make a larger more powerful version with a colour screen. Although the colourSTREAM wasn't quite what I had in mind.

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Re: Missed the best

Agreed, the 83i is great - the best radio I have used. UI is great, sound is great, the range of sources is great. Replaced a Pure Evoke 3 that crashed and corrupted its firmware too many times.

The only issue I have is how chuffing bright the blue display and power button are.

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The hideousness of them all

When will they stop making DAB radios so damned ugly? Some of the Roberts ones are nice but I don't own much other glossy vaneered furiture

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never ever

gonna buy nything over £50 its just a radio

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Re: never ever

...a radio that may or may not become a genuine standard. I'm still hoping DAB dies out ASAP.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: never ever

Agreed. FM radios are cheap, sound fairly good, batteries last for ages. DAB has a bigger selection of stations but battery life is a joke, the sets are too pricey, and the sound quality- even in areas of good reception- leaves me feeling I have blocked ears due to the compression used.

If only there was a station like Radio 6 Music on FM... commercial stations all seem to play the same Radio 2 -style MOR stuff. When at home, internet radio is straightforward, but it is when driving that I do much of my listening.

Sing-sing.org is a favourite for music, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/ a favourite for speech programs (especially their Science Show) with bog-standard MP3s available for download.

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Re: never ever

My parents are in the 80s live in rural Glocestershire and have been happy DAB users for well over 5 years. I don't think you're going to win this argument.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: never ever

Actually, there is nothing wrong with the standard per se- it is quite well engineered. The problem is that given the fact that it uses mpeg layer 2 audio (the best codec available at the time), sound quality is quite bitrate dependant. In the UK, we broadcast at a lower bitrate for DAB than most of Eastern Europe, even, so it can sound really horrid and crunchy; certainly worse than a strong FM signal.

As for the power consumption, that is an implemetation issue. It's a bit chicken and egg, if the demand was there, then it's probably that chipset manufacturers would put a lot of more expensive R+D into it. As things are, things have come along reasonably, though not far enough. Mind, I saw one of the lab prototype recievers, and it was the size of a large crate.. now that was scary.

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Anonymous Coward

"power consumption .. is an implemetation issue"

Really? How does that work?

An FM radio, even a stereo one, isn't really a complex beast. Some might even call it nearly trivial, if it's just an analogue radio, no RDS, no iPod dock, whatever. Even after adding digitally controlled FM tuning you can still get pretty much the same battery life as an analogue FM radio. The biggest part of the power on one of these is consumed by the audio output to drive the speaker.

A DAB radio, in contrast, has lots of work to do, by design. You still need an RF receiver and an audio output stage, just as you do in the analgue version, but in between the two you need to get from DAB (or DAB+, where was that in this review?) digitally encoded audio to something to drive the audio output stage.

That chunk of digital electronics simply isn't needed in an ordinary FM radio, and unfortunately it seems to eat a disproportionate number of watts when in use. Maybe in theory it'll be possible to reduce that stage's power consumption somewhat, but many smartphone users already know that despite their advanced low power ARM processors and expensive Lithium Ion batteries they still don't get a day between recharges, especially if they actually use them.

I looked at a Roberts DAB radio a few weeks back (doesn't matter which one). It caught my eye because suddenly the battery life numbers appeared almost usable, and I wondered what technological miracle of silicon and software design had brought this on.

Turns out the technological miracle that brought this on was giving up on HP11 ("C") size batteries and making room for a ridiculous number of HP2 ("D") size batteries. I didn't even know they still existed.

That's progress, innit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "power consumption .. is an implemetation issue"

It works by the fact that the current DAB chipsets are.. a bit pants, really. Technical term. There's a lot of stuff that could be done more power efficiently if there was money in it- custom hardware decodes of MPEG 2 with the signal processing (all the transforms and such) done in ASICs built in the latest tiny die processes and things, rather than a combination of slightly custom bits, and badly adapted and slightly more general purpose hardware.

Right now, what you have is about as elegant as Intel's "Prescott" (fat bastard) CPUs in terms of fitness for purpose. There's a sort of graph you can draw for these situations with crossing lines for off the shelf and custom-fettled top of the range silicon. The axes would be cost of initial implementation and fitness for purpose. Where you decide the sweet spot is tends to be a matter of economics rather than engineering, sadly :(

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "a bit pants, really."

"a lot of stuff that could be done more power efficiently if there was money in it-"

I thought FPGAs were supposed to be sufficiently good/fast/cheap (pick two) these days that you could seed the market with an FPGA-based product and move to ASIC implementation to recoup the losses on the FPGA design by selling at the same end user price once the market had bought into the concept and the (cheaper per unit) ASIC implementations were ready to go?

There's plenty of FPGA/microcontroller combos to chose from, which one fits the needs here, how expensive is it?

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A curate's egg

Bought a DAB/PM radio as a replacement for the kitchen. Most of the time it seems ok - but there are days when the sound "burbles" for a while. Presumably it is a reaction to some interference - aircraft flutter? Switching to the same station on FM is perfectly clear. Now we just leave it on FM.

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UK DAB is U/S

Put quite simply we are behind the times, but no doubt will catch up.

Put quite simply don't buy a DAB radio that does not support WorldDMB Profile 1 which is needed for DAB+ when it becomes available in the UK.

I have over the years bought 3DAB radios, including ones from Pure & Roberts. They EAT batteries, when you turn them on they take quite a time to "fire up", sound quality is no better than FM, and often worse.

Please press you MP to get the UK to start catching up & adopt a better DAB standard.

In the interim internet radio is however quite good. If you haven't done so listen to Linn Radio broadcasting at 320 kbps MP3. That's better than what you pay for on iTunes and over twice the quality of DAB radio.

http://www.linn.co.uk/music

NJSS

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price

I'll echo the comments on price, for DAB to take off in any meaningful way the price needs to come down.

I've just bought a new DAB for the car so I can listen to 6 and sports extra but in the house I have a squeezebox which uses the Internet.

For a static radio the Internet wins you get almost endless choice in stations from across the world and you don't have to worry about signal strength.

My mum has two DAB radios in her house and she listens to both of them on FM because they sound better. Too many homes are on the limit of acceptable DAB reception and people don't want to have roof top or loft aerials for the radio.

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Re: price

+1 for the Squeezebox - brilliant piece of kit as a kitchen radio (especially as we have very poor DAB coverage).

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Re: price

According to wikilies Logitech have dumped the squeezebox range, all bar some token thing with limited functions.

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Re: price

And your Mum is counted as a DAB user in the race to kill off FM. Tell your MP that you either want DAB+ or FM but preferably both, if not both then FM is fine. The receivers are cheaper, use less energy (by design, not an implementation issue as discussed earlier) and sound better than DAB. Ask yourself, who benefits from a switch to DAB? If you or your family are not on the list, then don't support it.

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Thing is ..... radio stations broadcasting on DAB are still using compression to cut the bass/treble which kinds defeats the purpose of pure digital sound.

I have a Roberts Ecologic4 DAB radio and it distorts like hell if the volume is increased or the bass turned up. Very poor indeed!

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Boffin

Compression - audio processing for beginners

DJStardust is just suffering from the limitations of a poor audio amplifier and a cheap loudspeaker in his Roberts radio - it's nothing to do with DAB or audio processing!

Compression does not affect the frequency response - as a professional broadcaster, I can tell you that compression is used to reduce the dynamic range of the programme material. It amplifies the quiet bits, and attenuates the loud bits, giving a more "average" range of levels.

The other thing that's done with compression is to increase the average level of the material, to make it sound "louder" without overmodulating the transmitter. This is common on "pop" stations - there was a "loudness war" in the USA 20 years ago, and the only result was to push listeners away from FM radio. Heavily compressed audio is fatiguing to listen to - just a few minutes can give you a nasty headache!

The original theory of DAB suggested that compression would be much less necessary. This was initially true on "quality" services like Radio 3, but ultimately found to be impractical partly because everyday ambient noise would drown out the quietest bits, and because the bit rates were progressively reduced to allow more stations into the same digital space. Quality was seriously compromised - so much so that the analogue 15 kHz rolled-off, compressed Radio 3 on FM sounds significantly better than their DAB service.

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Re: Compression - audio processing for beginners

Your on about the wrong type of compression when talking about DAB. DAB is MP2 and will sound like crap even with the best amp and speakers (digital audio has come a long way since 1995). It's only really useful on a radio with small cheap speakers where you can't tell if it's crap.But it works fine for NEWS/Talk radio, or in a noisy car.

DAB+ is AAC and much better quality given the same bandwidth (iPod level) but the only way they would ever be able to switch over is to require all DAB radios sold also support DAB+ so people don't have to buy new radios... Again.

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Unhappy

Re: Compression - audio processing for beginners

"Your on about the wrong type of compression "

No, he was specifically replying to a post about audio (dynamic range) compression. The problem with DAB specifically is the excessive lossy digital compression which is used to squash as many channels as possible into the bandwidth. This knocks the stuffing out of music and in particular destroys the stereo image because it loses phase information, not that you'd notice with two speakers 10cm apart.

It's very sad that the BBC has lost any desire for technical excellence, a few old school engineers excepted. It just wants to be a ratings whore and pump out stuff to the uncritical masses.

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FAIL

Re: Compression - audio processing for beginners

>> It's very sad that the BBC has lost any desire for technical excellence, a few old school engineers excepted. It just wants to be a ratings whore and pump out stuff to the uncritical masses.

I was in the very meeting when the BBC Head of Engineering got on his hind legs in front of a room full of engineers and engineering project managers (I've been both) and announced with a completely straight face: "Engineering is not a core activity of the BBC".

This in a company which has led pretty much every technical innovation in broadcasting for both TV and radio for ninety years; a company which designed, developed, and defined the standards not just in the electronics but also the very grammar of TV and radio.

Bah.

Still, what did they expect when the appointed the head of Channel 4 to take over as DG? He did his best to turn the BBC into a playout centre, not a broadcaster.

Neil - an old school engineer (excepted).

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FAIL

Useless - all of them

They may work OK if you're on the top of a hill in the city but anywhere else - they're door stops.

Wait until the DAB coverage equals FM and then think about it...

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Boffin

Re: Useless - all of them

DAB coverage in many areas is better than FM! The receivers that are around are mostly using up the first generation receiver chipsets, and their performance is rather less than stellar! Pure and Roberts are particularly bad about this - they both wildly overestimated the number of receivers they were going to make and ordered a lot more components than they could use up. They are still building first generation radios with heavy power consumption and poor sensitivity.

Philips have recently released their new generation of DAB receiver components, and their performance is like the difference between MW and FM - these provide a perfectly listenable signal under even the most adverse conditions. The cheapest of the Philips radios outperforms almost anything else on the market, except in the amplifier and speaker department. If you use the radio as a tuner for your hi-fi, you'll be astonished by the results.

Unfortunately, OFCOM and Radio Authority politics and policy have turned DAB into a radio ghetto - we're now assailed with innumerable "ethnic" and "religious" stations, all crammed in at the expense of things that we really would want to listen to! DAB will die out as a medium if this nonsense goes on.

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I bought a Denon mini hifi system (currently £180) a while back purely so I can listen to 6music. It's connected to the roof aerial, but works fine with the small lead supplied with it. Sound quality is flawless, at least for Radios 4 & 6 which are all I listen to.

Then again, I do live in London. Not sure how good it would be in a deep valley somewhere remote. But then again, FM's not so good in those places either.

Why anyone would pay £250 for some of these though is beyond me. They won't sound good enough for anything other than talk radio, which for me is available on FM.

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Denon

I also have a Denon mini hifi and I live in a small country town in West Oxfordshire, reception is fine on DAB and FM. Also have a Pure Sensia 2 which works well as a kitchen radio

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Anecdotal, I know, but for a while I had a car that had a DAB radio in it. I got slightly better coverage (in rural Warwickshire), and what sounded to me like much better quality, by plugging in my '3' Android and using TuneIn radio (or Jango, or iPlayer).

I just can't see how the poor quality and apparently poor coverage of DAB can continue to be justified, especially given the continued complaints about portable DAB equipment is consuming batteries at a huge rate. I'm certainly never going to buy one.

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Anonymous Coward

DAB radio sales may be on the up...

... but given the poor protocol and the resulting poor performance, they then end up dialed to FM instead. That's quite a few quid wasted on a battery-eating feature that then doesn't get used.

Methinks this is quite a clear case of new technology that cannot stand on its own merits (and lo and behold, its uptake is twisted such that it doesn't need to), and so I wonder about repeat sales. Why pay the premium again, for something that didn't get used after all?

The basic problem with going digital on radio is both that FM works so splendidly, and that digital in contrast will need a few rounds of upgrades before it'll be really usable. And that means shelling out a hundred quid several times for each round and each radio you own. As a punter, I wouldn't be prepared to do that.

Then again I haven't seriously listened to the radio in ages as its compression and programming both never cease to annoy me. But even so, the digital radio set market isn't exactly driven by informed punters demanding it, and won't be for a while. I'd sooner expect to see the reverse: Punters demanding their low-power FM back, petitioning their MPs to keep the FM service because that at least works well.

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It's a conspiracy...

I think the plan is that they'll persist with this strategy of high price functionally deficient DAB for long enough for the rest of us to have got used to streaming radio over the internet, and at that point they'll close DAB broadcasting and sell off the frequencies...

Or am I just being cynical?

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Megaphone

Android?

Anyone able to make a recommendation for a good DAB radio which I can connect to my Samsung Galaxy S3? Bluetooth or USB audio.

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Facepalm

Bah humbug!

Oh well. When they finally decide to turn off FM (which they probably will so they can sell even more spectrum to mobile operators to fill the government coffers) I will just listen to prerecorded music.

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Re: Bah humbug!

Oh and just been listening to that Linn radio station and on the third track it got stuck in a digital (CD?) loop. Kinda amusing for a site promoting Linn products.

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Happy

WiFi is best for home; FM cheapo for outdoors

I bought a terrific Tevion WiFi Internet Radio from Aldi in 2008 which I use all the time, even when sat in front of my desktop PC. It cost a mere £65 but fell to half that the following year I think, but I am not bothered as it works brilliantly and even has FM radio for when WiFi is not available. The sound quality is amazing for the size of the unit and its speakers; full, rounded non-case vibrating bass with clear but not tinny or shrill treble. It also supports the BBC On Demand service, so you can catch up on programmes you have missed.

The downside is that it does not run on batteries but then that is understandable, considering it has a WiFi receiver which on any battery powered product is a real energy sapper. If I really needed to take it out and about, I could just take a car booster battery with a mains inverter, however I doubt I would do this and instead would buy a cheap radio or ghetto blaster for this purpose.

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Utterly absurd !!

It seems remarkable that all of these items are so over priced. Clearly this is a list of the worst DAB's as they're all such a rip-off. The message seems to be don't buy anything from these manufacturers as they clearly over charge on all their products. Thanks for the heads up. Now I'll go look for the sub £50 DABS as none of these are worth a penny more. No wonder DAB is doing so poorly when a bunch of dodgy companies are incolved.

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Re: "Utterly absurd !!" I agree and furthermore.......

...........I do not understand why the Editor's Choice includes a major facility that you can only use if you own one particular brand of smartphone. That would be fair enough if we were doing a round-up of dedicated smartphone peripherals/partner equipment but we aren't. The moment you are not an owner of that particular brand the Editor's choice goes from (very) mediocre value for money to truly appalling.

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dab sales are on the up....

because its virtually impossible to find a good quality, fm only radio for a reasonable price that doesn't look like a fisher price toy. also it must not be tiny so the noise is tinny. and no to dab for eating battery.

i have a radio i bought at lidl about 12 years ago. digital tuning, world coverage, 20 squid. nice sound. i just have to buy a new aeriel for it every couple of years or so when i knock the old one off.

other than that i use my ipad and wifi.

DAB can go piss in a bin.

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FAIL

The fundamental problem with DAB

Which is never ever mentioned... is that the whole transmission system is designed for use in a moving receiver. Whereas an FM network is carefully arranged so that adjacent transmitters are not on the same frequency, DAB networks require that each transmitter uses the same frequency.

From memory - it's a long time since I worked with DAB services - each data packet lasts 1ms but has an expected overlap in the time domain of 0.2ms - giving a bit rate per multiplex of something like 1500kb/s. The coding for the transmission - not the audio being transmitted - is arranged with at least two and I think three levels of error correction but the forward correction nature of this requires that you get at least fractions of a packet on subsequent packets. That's intended to happen by the vehicle moving between cells; if you're on a marginal reception location and you're only seeing one signal you're stuck with whatever error correction you can get from a single signal.

So many of the complaints about DAB are simply because it's being used in a stationary location. Admittedly, the reduction in bit rate for channels stuffing more and more crap in doesn't help the audio quality, but the burbles are purely and simply because the thing's not being used as it was designed.

The reference design - Blaupunkt was the BBC's partner, I believe - will silently switch to another channel or technology if the s/n ratio gets too high (and back, if it's clever). This behaviour is dependent on the implementation though; I don't believe that there are requirements. Blaupunkt (who no longer make DAB receivers, I think) fall from e.g. Radio 4 DAB to Radio 4 FM to 'speech' DAB/FM by default; other makers somewhat irritatingly don't drop back to FM but instead will switch from R4 to R2 - they don't seem to understand the concept of listening by preference to a station rather than a subject or broadcaster. Others will switch from one 'speech' or 'music' channel to another 'speech' or 'music' channel without regard for the broadcaster...

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: The fundamental problem with DAB

"Which is never ever mentioned... is that the whole transmission system is designed for use in a moving receiver."

Ah, at last I see what I'm doing wrong. I should be waltzing around the kitchen carrying the DAB radio to keep it on the move while I'm frying the black pudding. I'm glad you pointed that out.

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Out here in the sticks, the few DAB radios i have come across were all tuned to FM as DAB sounded so awful.

FM degrades gracefully as signal strength goes down, DAB just degenerates into a cacophany of burbling,popping unlistenable sonic mush.

The retailers are cunts as well, they have low powered DAB transmitters in the shops, so DAB sounds much better in-store than it actually is anywhere 20ft from the store.

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Boffin

they have low powered DAB transmitters in the shops

No they don't. Do you have the slightest notion of how much even a basic DAB transmitter costs? As a broadcaster, I can tell you. Shops are not going to install >£50k of DAB transmitting gear just to fool mugs like you into buying DAB radios.

FM degrades gracefully as signal strength goes down

No it certainly doesn't - at least not on this planet. FM becomes progressively noisier until it starts to "chop" as the receiving aerial passes through nodes and anti-nodes. Most commercial receivers switch to mono as the signal becomes weak, only to switch back to stereo as the field strength increases. This switching is seldom inaudible....

A failing DAB signal just mutes. If your receiver allows you to hear the burbles, it's either wrongly calibrated or you've deliberately turned off the muting to give yourself something to moan about.

DAB coverage is reasonably good these days. There are still a few areas of towns and cities that are poorly served, but this improves every day. It's analogous to the early days of mobile telephony, with areas of good coverage, and other areas with little service.

Out here in the sticks,

.... There's your problem. 90% of the population of this country live in towns and cities. You're just part of a small vocal yokel minority. Move house! You probably also whine about poor internet connection.....

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Facepalm

Erm.....

....you don't happen to work for the 'DAB at all costs lobby' do you?

You sound like the Pope defending his stance on contraception.

DAB in the UK was wrong from the start 20+ years ago. Why bother defending a service that's been dogged by incompetence from day one?

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