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back to article Station to station: Ten DAB-Bluetooth combo radios

When Apple changed its longstanding 30-pin iPod connector to the Lightning interface, an industry died. The ubiquitous iPod dock – that for years had appeared on just about any piece of consumer audio gear – was no longer a necessity and with more Android users out there than ever before, only a few manufacturers would offer a …

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I could buy several TVs...

... for the price of some of these radios.

And they'd have better quality sound.

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Seems a tad odd

To review DAB radios on a site that's normally famous for its disdain of this battery sucking, poor sound quality form of media.

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Re: Seems a tad odd

I'm normally at the forefront of expressing disdain for DAB... or at rather championing the importance of a reliable, low tech, battery efficient and widely received standard such as FM. I still stand by that.

That said, I've been using a second hand Pure Highway (a neat DAB to FM transmitter, or in my case Aux-out to my car stereo) these last few weeks. It is nice when it works, but in too many places it just does't. A run down to London was fine, but the M4 and M5 near Bristol was a gurgly mess, let alone amongst the hills and valleys near me. Still, for £6 I don't mind, and I can fall back on a loaded SD card or stream from my phone.

I almost took it to France last weekend, but it won't receive DAB+ without a software upgrade, which requires a serial number that is strangely missing, and the use of an Australian proxy server (since otherwise Pure ask you to pay the license fees for the AAC codec)

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Re: Seems a tad odd

I'd say that DAB has the potential to produce pretty high quality sound - in fact better than is necessary for the human ear. Its just no one makes one with any real knowledge or care about the actual sound - or appearance as far as I can tell.

I doubt if a single one of the boxes shown produces anything below 150hz without a bucket of distortion.

Except over the bluetooth perhaps and I can do that over the net much better thanks.

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Re: Seems a tad odd

Well spotted - this review seems to have sneaked under the Orlowski radar.

Yes DAB radios are still a very long way off being low power which is why Pure only support their own rechargeable packs - expensive but they do the job. The 2xAAA batteries in my 1995 Sony pocket AM/FM radio last longer than the average iPhone screen.

As for in-car radios, the Pure Highway is OK but is DAB only. If your car comes with a factory-fitted DAB radio, and if the DAB signal drops it will switch over to FM if it can find a matching station.

But the radios reviewed here are neither pocket nor car radios. If you want big sound then batteries will never last long. My kitchen does not do 70MPH along the M62. They have Bluetooth so you're not screwed if you don't have an iThing. So they are probably good at what they are supposed to do.

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Devil

Re: Seems a tad odd

Not really.

Always good to get some extra 'click baiting' revenue in before the year end.

You'll see we'll have at least a few "Gartners say PC market is doomed" and "Windows 8 UI debacle" articles on the site before they break up for Xmas.

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Re: Seems a tad odd

Reproduction in the receiver is one thing, but your limiting factor is the fact DAB (not DAB+) is using a low quality, old codec, hurt more by the fact more stations have been squeezed in the same place, lowering the quality of each of them.

MPEG-1 Layer II, not even at the quality of MP3 (MPEG-2 Layer III). DAB+ uses the far superior AAC+ codec.

So although DAB+ arguably has the potential to solve quality issues, however, I still can't support it outright as it is a complex piece of kit that uses a lot of power, that could end in perfectly good, simple receivers that are widespread being thrown into landfill.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seems a tad odd

One goes *up* to London, surely?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seems a tad odd

Depends on whether you live below sea level. Is one a fish?

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Re: Seems a tad odd

Once you get up the first steep hill, it's (on average) a gentle downhill to London all the way. : D

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Retro, Meh

Maybe it's just me, but I'm getting a bit tired of this retro fad. Why put cutting edge electronics in a case that looks like something my granny used to have on her mantle piece. It's a bit like making an iPhone and then sticking it into a trim phone case.

Are there no new design ideas out there which take better advantage of the available technology?

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Re: Retro, Meh

DAB is not cutting edge :/...

They make them look like old AM sets because the quality is on par with old AM sets.

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Re: Retro, Meh

Re: Retro, Meh

Retro is good because it looks nice. If you don't like retro looks, don't buy it.

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Re: Retro, Meh

Nice is the word you use about a design when you don't want to hurt someones feelings by giving a true opinion. I want something a bit more than 'nice' for my £200.

I have nothing against retro, but it seems to me when a company goes down that path they have either run out of ideas or out of courage. Technology does not move forward by constantly pillaging from the past otherwise we would still be living in thatched cottages and driving in cars that still look like stae coaches.

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Re: Retro, Meh

Retro is fine, but this has been going on for more than a decade now. I suspect they're simply not able to fit a DAB decoder inside a cabinet smaller than a shoe box.. hence the perpetual retro look.

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Re: Retro, Meh

Funny how "Retro is fine" when it comes to DAB radio's, but admit to liking the 'retro' look and feel of Windows XP and you get a load of negative comments from people...

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Dock prices

Speaker docks have always seemed expensive compared to, for example, a Cambridge Audio amp and a pair of Wharfedale Diamond speakers. On an even smaller budget, good speakers from a charity shop (£5-£20) paired to a Tripath amp (£20-£40 new) will produce a very solid sound.

Some clever so-and-so has created a little rechargeable Class-D amp with Bluetooth, designed to give a new lease of life to older loudspeakers:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1238747394/the-vamp-bring-back-the-sound

Hopefully the MKII will bring stereo, but I don't know how easy that is to keep in phase over Bluetooth, if each channel is received by a different unit.

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Re: Dock prices

Just a note that if you want to convert an existing audio system to Bluetooth you can do it for not much more than £3 with a USB-powered adaptor from China via eBay.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dock prices

You can also get Bluetooth converters for iPod docks if you have a perfectly serviceable device with an out-of-date connector.

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Len
Headmaster

Who needs presets on a DAB radio?

Maybe it's me but since I moved from FM to DAB I never use presets anymore. In the FM era they made sense as it's a hassle to remember frequencies and some stations would come through on one strong and one or two weaker frequencies from transmitters further away.

Since moving to DAB, despite having a staggering 100 presets (!), I have never used them because scrolling through the alphabetical list is just as easy.

Are presets on a digital radio a remnant from the analogue age that is still inexplicably hanging on or do people really use them?

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Re: Who needs presets on a DAB radio?

I use them, albeit in a car where scrolling through a list of stations isn't a good idea - being able to switch between a few favourite stations without taking your eyes from the road is an essential feature.

A good number of televisions allow you to either edit the channel list, or to create a list of favourite channels - why would you want to scroll between all the QVC shopping-type channels just to get from the entertainment channels to the news channels? DAB is much the same - you may find yourself mostly listening to just a handful of the available channels, in accordance with the Pareto '80/20' principle.

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Re: Who needs presets on a DAB radio?

90% of my extensive listening (far more than TV) is on five channels - presets work in and out of the car.

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Re: Who needs presets on a DAB radio?

I've got two Pure Evoke 3 - quite expensive - and a now-broken Revo Pico or something, each of which can or could record to SD card. But (1) not SDHC and (2) oddly, the larger the card capacity, the longer the set spends twiddling its thumbs before it starts recording. Default file names are DAB001.MP2, DAB002.MP2, etc. I don't see proper recording on any of the current sets, which I don't quite understand. Maybe Microsoft's terms or rules for licensing FAT. Pure has a "Listen Later" function on some radios but you can't take it out apparently. Or record more than one thing.

I also have a little Technika - Tesco - DAB set that runs on two AA batteries and plays through headphones. Off-the-shelf rechargeable batteries last for several hours.

Oh yes - presets: on the Technika I think I can only include or disinclude DAB stations on a Favourites list, and set FM presets which I can only navigate in order; on the Evoke, I have a remote control, and in order to select favourite stations quickly, I set stations in presets 11, 22, 33, 44, up to 99 - a single number means that the radio waits a while for a second number to be pressed, a doubled number obviously is quick.

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Anonymous Coward

Goodmans GCR1888DABBT

Picked up one of these, quite impressed actually. 90% of DAB products on the market are automatically excluded from my purchasing list due to their crap styling (I don't buy into the fake bakeolite look).

I just wish they had a setting that made the flashing display in the alarm mode optional, and added a auto-off setting (alarm turns off after an hour, but if you turn it back on, it stays on indefinately, which isn't that smart).

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Meh

Bookmarked...

...to read some time in the 22nd century when Australian DAB covers more than 1% of the nation with better than 80kb/s.

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And next on the Register - a review of chocolate teapots.

I won't bother repeating my view on how hopeless I find the DAB radio in general, as you are all probably tired of hearing it.

I will instead ask a question about the display on these units.

On an old analog radio alarm clock, the display only lights up parts of the seven segment LEDs it needs to display the time. Such as:

http://argos.scene7.com/is/image/Argos/9238495_R_Z001A_UC731843?$TMB$&wid=312&hei=312

On a DAB radio, such as the Sandstrom S7BTD12, it is often found that the whole display is backlit with an LCD mask showing the letters/numbers in black.

Think about such a device on your bedside. One bright enough to read the time and the other bright enough to read a book by.

This brightness was another reason for moving my DAB alarm clock to the kitchen.

Can reviews of these devices mention such illumination?

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Happy

Re: And next on the Register - a review of chocolate teapots.

Chocolate teapots would make a tasty addition to the Christmas stocking. Much more useful than a DAB radio. Yes, please can we have a review of them.

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Re: And next on the Register - a review of chocolate teapots.

Or volume control granularity... I have a Pure Chronos II clock radio that is either inaudible or loud enough to keep you awake.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And next on the Register - a review of chocolate teapots.

> I won't bother repeating my view on how hopeless I find the DAB radio in general, as you are all probably tired of hearing it.

These ones seem to be especially tits-on-a-fish; the blue tooth connection lets you hook up your phone and play internet radio, including all the DAB stations...

Also, don't diss the chocolate teapot.

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B_K

Re: And next on the Register - a review of chocolate teapots.

Actually the brightness issue drives me mad. Other half got a snazzy little unit with SD card slot, temperature display etc to replace an a very old red LED lit fm radio. It was great until it got dark, then it was like ET landing with a pulsing blue glow until it got tipped on its front and buried under a t-shirt.

Next day I was in Halfords buying window tinting film to cover the damn display. It has definitely got worse with manufacturers using backlighting and blue LEDs all over the place.

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Devil

Question time

Why do these portable DAB radios consume so much power?

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Re: Question time

Because the circuitry has to do loads of things, things that have long names. From Wikipedia:

"the technologies used on DAB inhabit the following layers: the audio codec inhabits the presentation layer. Below that is the data link layer, in charge of packet mode statistical multiplexing and frame synchronization. Finally, the physical layer contains the error-correction coding, OFDM modulation, and dealing with the over-the-air transmission and reception of data. "

Basically, there is just much more going on than in an FM receiver.

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...and I've just heard on Radio 4 (12:32 on Monday 16th Dec.) that there will be no switchover to DAB in 2015.

Nevertheless they (the completely unqualified government ministers) still say that it's "the future" of radio.

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Anonymous Coward

Good! I don't fancy spending two to three hundred quid just so I can listen to Radio 4 at home when my 1980s FM radios have done the trick for the last two or three decades.

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Why spend a fortune on BT DAB dock

When you can use TuneIn + any type of dock or amplifier/speaker unit?

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Re: Why spend a fortune on BT DAB dock

Probably because it assums that you've got an internet connection for your device. I suspect that the use case for these is for those occations where you don't.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why spend a fortune on BT DAB dock

"When you can use TuneIn + any type of dock or amplifier/speaker unit?"

Can you?

TuneIn on every Android I've seen does the usual BBC stuff.

TuneIn on my little Roku or my little Samsung TV doesn't do any useful BBC stuff. Fortunately the Samsung, being a TV, gets BBC 6 Records anyway. But occasionally there is more to life than BBC 6 Records.

All TuneIns are not created equal.

Who knows why?

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We have a Wharfedale DAB and frankly it's a bit rubbish. The menu and search is too fiddly, we get drop-out of the signal so it goes silent for 10 seconds - usually at the most inappropriate times like when the news comes on.

I don't see the point of paying over 100 quid for a radio. At home we listen to an Italian station over the net (trying to boost our Italian language skills), at work I use LastFM or similar streaming radio. In the car it's Radio 2 on FM with no dropout or other problems. I bought a cheap Bluetooth audio adapter to test for home. It's ok. Sound quality isn't amazing, but it works. I can run my phone through the surround sound so that's ok, but the convenience is nice. But for us it''s more for background music than the main event. I'd have a look at that Vamp if they had some on sale.

Seems to me to be 'progress' for the sake of it like so many things these days. It it ain't broke why fix it? Just leave the damn thing alone!

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Anonymous Coward

'Wharfedale' DAB sets, like 'Wharefedale' televisions, have nothing in common in the very decent Wharfedale loudspeakers, other than a licensing deal for the name. It is just 'badge engineering'. They are no better than Tesco's own 'Technica' brand or whatever. Just see it as the new 'Alba' or 'Bush'.

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Coffee/keyboard

Priceless...

DAB?!

HAHAHAHA!

How much?!

HEHEHEHEHEHE!

One speaker?!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!

<Wipes eyes> Thank you - you've just greatly improved a very wet and soggy Monday lunchtime...

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Re: Priceless...

I must admit "£200 for mono!?!" was my first reaction.

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1) All those "radios" look crap.

2) DAB, at what is probably going to be the standard transmission rate(*) is quite horrible when compared to FM. (both quality wise and uptime wise). (*) not the rate they are using now on the limited number of channels - which is the best they can do to promote the standard before the "switch over" - but what they will use when they down grade it after the switch over.

3) Digital receivers process at different rates, (i.e. have two pieces of different equipment tuned to the same channel and they will be out of sync)

4) Power suckage is horrible

5) etc...

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They're all hideous.

They all look awful. They seem to be trying to make us not buy DAB.

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Re: They're all hideous.

"They seem to be trying to make us not buy DAB."

They succeeded in that, long ago.

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I took my pick

... about 30 years ago. It's a nice little FM radio - still working fine.

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No one has mentioned that all the DAB classic rock stations - yes ALL of them - use MONO ONLY!!

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price?

These are radios ffs anything over 19.99 is overpriced.

I have a little black cube usn rechargeable 7.99 from tesco....it works and I wasn't charged 50 times the cost of the bits.

Anyone buying any of the reviewed items should be sectioned

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Where are the Apps?

Looking at the rubbish UI on all these devices, you would of thought that if the manufacturer has gone so far as to include bluetooth connectivity, they would also have written an app, so that a user could have a superior UI complete with internet extensions...

Perhaps there is a need for a standard DAB API to permit the development of app's or the extension to existing media players...

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I just don't get it.

What is the obsession with making everything look Retro? Have we run out of design ideas?

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