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back to article I've seen the future of car radio - and DAB isn't in it

Last month BMW rolled out the first cars to come with a fully integrated on-demand music-streaming service built in. Just before Xmas I took it through its paces to see how it performed and after an hour I was forced to conclude that things look ominous for digital radio, which is likely to be squeezed harder as on-demand …

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Meh

Well....

..actually at £18.75 a month it does start to make DAB in the car look far more attractive.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well....

Indeed. I paid £60 for my DAB radio and now I get free radio until it breaks. Coverage is a lot better than 3G too.

TheRegister's anti-DAB bias is ridiculous. Next week there will be an article on how sitting in total silence is better than listening to DAB.

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Re: Well....

I've been using a DAB unit in my car (a Pure Highway > Aux in) and it is only on some routes that I can use it, such is DAB reception. For speech content, I tend to just stream from my phone (to Aux in). I tend to just fall back onto FM or an SD Card full of albums.

The price of this BMW system looks expensive now, but then so did all mobile data not so long ago.

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Re: Well....

>TheRegister's anti-DAB bias is ridiculous. Next week there will be an article on how sitting in total silence is better than listening to DAB.

If The Reg doesn't write that article, I will.

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Re: Well....

"TheRegister's anti-DAB bias is ridiculous. Next week there will be an article on how sitting in total silence is better than listening to DAB."

Its simply offering the alternative point of view to that of Ofcom & the BBC that DAB is the future of radio. It isn't. Reception is poor in a lot of areas and the appalling low bitrates put paid to any "near CD" quality BS we've heard from various vested interests over the years.

Lets get this straight - 64 Kbs MP2 (yes MP TWO , not three - TWO - AKA musicam , a 1980s codec) in *mono* which is what a lot of stations broadcast at, is NOT the future of radio in any sane persons eyes. If DAB was being marketed as a replacement for AM radio then sure, no problem, but FM? No damn chance.

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Gav

Re: Well....

That's only later, first you need to get past the £27 a month for a year. For a 48kbit/s stream. It was at this point in the article I laughed heartedly and stopped reading.

I suppose if you're driving a BMW that kind of monthly cost isn't going to choke you, but it assumes you're not only rich, but also stupid and deaf.

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Re: Well....

I actually hate the overcompressed sound that DAB produces (IMHO) when compared to FM, but I have a DAB/FM radio in the car, and in fairness, despite the appalling compressed/low bit rate sound, I haven't actually had many occasions when I get the DAB reception disappearing/bubbling mud. I suppose that depends where you live. I do much prefer the sound quality of FM though.

Again, in fairness to the technology, if only the broadcasters were not intent on making it sound as loud as possible (hint: I have a volume control to adjust that to personal taste, thank you) by compressing the stream to death, and reducing bandwidth to squeeze in more crap channels, it might be decent.

But then there is the power consumption and the varying delay vs FM to consider too I suppose.

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Re: Well....

The Pure Highway > Aux in solution is cack. The receiver is an old, insensitive design that has long been superseded (think of early '90s RDS!) and the antenna it comes with is useless. I had one and ditched it for a Kenwood DAB head unit and a roof mounted, properly grounded multi-frequency amplified antenna with DAB output (ie. to the same standard as most cars now provide for FM). The difference is phenomenal.

Most people's experience of DAB is as an afterthought....

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Re: Well....

It might interest you to know that a number of stations' DAB broadcasts are actually straight out the desk - no processing applied. Seems counterintuitive initially, but actually you realise it makes sense because most broadcast processing is done to overcome the limitations of FM (preemphasis to counter the high noise floor, 15 kHz frequency response, prevent overmodulation).

With DAB, as long as it fits into its mux bandwidth, anything goes. A/Bing DAB and FM signals on a good system (with a good bitrate station, sigh) will reveal the higher frequency response on DAB.

There's a separate argument about finding a decent quality station on DAB... Classic FM (if you can force yourself to listen to it) is essentially unprocessed on DAB. Compare it with FM and see what you think.

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Re: Well....

"Lets get this straight - 64 Kbs ... is NOT the future of radio in any sane persons eyes"

And yet a paid service which doesn't even offer this yet is being touted by the Reg as superior to DAB - not just analysed on its own merits but specifically positioned as a DAB-killer.

I would guess that's the sort of thing the previous poster meant when claiming a ridiculous degree of anti-DAB bias on this site.

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Re: Well....

64kbps MP2 is fine for Radio 4. And there are no other radio stations in this country worth listening to. Therefore DAB is great.

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In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Are you stone cold barking mad? That must sound like sticking your head in a goldfish bowl. Even with the latest in psycho-acoustic magic there's not enough data there.

For a site that like to bash DAB as often as possible for it's "quantity over quality" approach (and coverage, and cost and anything else...); praising something that poor seems odd.

Plus at least with DAB (and analogue) it's "pay once" and you're done. With this you're forking out hundreds of pounds a year for the privilege of appalling quality sound.

Just connect your MP3 player full of high-quality rips\purchases and be done with it all.

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

48KHz is fine, that's the sample frequency. It's the 64Kbps that is the concern

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Holmes

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Can YOU even hear sounds above 48kHz ?

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

"Tracks stream in at 48kbit/s with 64kbit/s Dolby Pulse due later this year"

Not sure why 48 KHz is being mentioned (which as a sampling frequency would be quite acceptable) - the article is talking about 48kbit/s bit rate, which I imagine sounds appalling...

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

48KHz is fine, that's the sample frequency.

No, it's the bit rate, and it is 48kb/s, not 48Khz. In terms of quality, that takes us back to the pre-FM days of the 1940s. Unbelievable. Please let it be a misprint.

...you can spell out requests letter-by-letter...

While driving ? Seriously ?

...£27 a month...

I give up. Many new cars already have USB integrated with music and VDU/satnav functions. All your music on a £15 thumb drive at 320 kb/s, available all the time, everywhere, for free, along with high quality FM stations offering curated music, sports, speech, jokes, whatever you fancy...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

CD is 44.1Khz.

Using the Nyquist theorem that means 22.05Khz top end.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Can you see the dots on a 1080 mobile phone screen?

That hasn't stopped them being widespread.

Recording at 96Khz or 192Khz is done for a good reason, to capture harmonics that exist in instruments such as guitars. The theory is that losing inaudible harmonics degrades the sound.

Of course these are often rendered down to 44.1Khz for CD, but the rendering and mastering process can aim to maximise the sound quality. The end result being better than if you'd recorded at 44.1Khz. Much like capturing a 12MP picture and scaling down to VGA still produces a better end result than capturing at VGA resolution.

With 24-bit or 32-bit recording the aim is to have some headroom, to accept a louder signal than 16-bit recording. Once the recording is downscaled to 16-bit the noise floor is downscaled too, so the end result is a cleaner recording.

Of course all of these quality factors are completely destroyed with modern over-compression processes to inflate the volume of music on the radio and TV.

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Sorry; as others have pointed out I made a typo - I meant 48kb/s, not 48Khz

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Interesting you'd mention that. My old G4 came with Apple's standard digital sampling/recording application bundled with the OS, and its "CD quality" setting was 48Khz, with the sampling rate at something like 256kbps. I tried a few tests at that setting, and I honestly couldn't tell the difference between the stereo digital samples and my original source material, a metal-oxide analog cassette, in good condition, with Dolby C.

I can't remember where I read the article or the research it cited -- it's been some years -- but, yeah, as you mentioned, there's supposed to be a threshold for "average" human hearing at around the 48Khz neighborhood.

As far as samplng rates, my own personal ears start hearing those "swishy noise" artifacts in the quiet spaces and what I call "audio pixellation" at anything under 128kbps, but I won't speak for anybody else's ears here.

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Bub

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

But I think the point is there's no point in distributing audio at much above 16/48 (even though as you say there's a benefit in recording/mixing in 24 bits)

This is a great article for those interested why http://xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

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Pint

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Blah blah blah.

You're in a car, and (NEWSFLASH!) it's not a Rolls Royce. Therefore the ambient noise level is probably somewhere between 65 and 75 dBA. So blathering on about the various bit rates is a bit barking.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Actually, I drive 5 series (in addition to my own car) and I'm impressed with how quiet they are, for a combustion engine.

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

You drive your wife's 5 series into the garage in addition to parking your own car (Austin Princess) at the end of the street? Douche.

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Not necessarily. If it's AAC-HEv2 then 48 kbps is a good compromise and more than sufficient for FM-quality audio. AAC-HEv2 at 48 kbps is subjectively identical to MP3 at 128 kbps; it's also far more efficient and quick to buffer and play.)

When you're sat in a resonant metal box with a two litre combustion engine up front and road noise from all around you, are you really going to hear those subtle transients on that piece of Brahms you just put on?

There's a lot of hysteria and much of it is unfounded. I've been waiting for cars to have SIM slots / integrated 3G for almost ten years now, BMW can't bring this to market soon enough (plus Omnifone have an impressive catalogue of major and indie labels' repertoire, meaning this is officially A Good Start). What they need to do is get enough rich early adopters onboard so they can recoup on their capex on the data packages, then they can drop the subscription price...

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Re: average human hearing at around the 48Khz neighborhood.

No. The accepted average is 20Hz to 20kHz for an adult (wider for younger folks). which makes 40kHz (double of 20kHz) a starting point for sampling. But the whole "48kHz" discussion starts from a typo as there is no mention of kHz in the article. I made a joke but got down voted.

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WTF?

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

"If it's AAC-HEv2 then 48 kbps is a good compromise and more than sufficient for FM-quality audio."

Really? All the subjective and objective studies - note 'studies', not 'claims' - of HE-AACv2 I've ever seen consistently rank the sound quality @ 64kbps as worse than marginal FM reception, and well below the quality of average FM reception.

On top of that, coming from a country where HE-AACv2 at 48~64kbps is common on DAB+, I can tell you that it sounds like shit for music, and is distinctively noticeable even on speech.

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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

Perhaps you need to learn the principles of digitisation and read up on Mr Nyquist. A 48kHz sample rate won't quite handle a CD bandwidth.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

This in relation to a previous AC comment?

> You drive your wife's 5 series into the garage in addition to parking your own car (Austin Princess) at the end of the street? Douche.

No, the BMWs are business cars. However, I do not understand why you bothered to post so unconstructively? Care to explain, Luke?

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Vic
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Re: In 2014?! A new service "offering" 48Khz?!?!?

> there's supposed to be a threshold for "average" human hearing at around the 48Khz neighborhood.

Much, much lower than that.

TV flyback frequency is 15.6KHz, and most adults can't hear that. The cutoff frequency - even for young ears - is a little over 20KHz, which is why CDs sample at 44.1KHz - it gives a response up to 22.05KHz.

Vic.

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Thumb Down

The service isn't cheap at a shade over £27 a month

So, that makes DAB about £27 a month cheaper?

You get what you pay for, frankly for £27/month I'd prefer to have a decent 3G data plan and be able to stream anything I wanted from any internet station over my bluetooth-equipped phone, along with email and browsing when required. If I'm only going to get "curated" channels and on-demand music it would seem better, and cheaper, just to have my own MP3 collection with me. As you say, the accoustic environment of a car means that decent VBR MP3s are plenty good enough.

This system does sound like a new, improved, version of the Sirius XM satellite stuff in the US, and my experience of that in rental cars is that it's akin to having an erratic MP3 player loaded with someone else's playlists.

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Anonymous Coward

So, assuming this takes off and becomes "ubiquious" ... what happens when everyone on a 4-lane nose-to-tail queue on the M25 needs a simultaneouns 64kb/s 3G connection?

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JDX
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By then motorways will offer wifi

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It simple what will happen: no one will get any bandwidth and the base stations will turn into torches

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I don't know about you but whenever I'm in the car there's always at least my 3G phone, my passenger's 3G phone, and probably in a lot of cars things like TomTom's with Live Traffic (also a 33G connection) already.

If you haven't already noticed a problem, I doubt you'll notice one now.

And, yes, my phone does 3G for traffic with CoPilot Premium and checks every five minutes, not to mention the background tasks like my GMail checking, and I've never noticed an outage more significant than a tunnel or poor reception (i.e. where even GPS gets poor reception anyway).

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Coffee/keyboard

I don't know, what?

Just don't try to make a phone call.

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I've noticed 3G signal drop-outs on near stationary motorway traffic jams.... it might have just been my phone playing up, or it might have been the large number of nearby handsets saying hello to the base station / sending Google GPS data etc.

Did I read on The Reg that 4G will in time become more efficient at sending / receiving small packets of data than 3G is today?

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>. what happens when everyone on a 4-lane nose-to-tail queue on the M25 needs a simultaneouns 64kb/s 3G connection?

The BMW system has a special feature so that it's data packets travel down the hard shoulder and force their way back into the lane at the last moment without indicating.

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So something else is trying to encourage people into a cloud services based world, doubtless in the hope that they can charge subscriptions for it all once we're tied to it with no alternatives. Personally I've taken a different route, albeit one that requires a bit of manual effort. My desktop machine at home is my equivalent of a cloud server, with all my music, videos, documents and pictures on it. I then rsync all or a subset of this between my laptop, tablet and phone. The tablet or phone can be connected to the line in socket of my car stereo. The manual part of this is that I have to deal with data that's been modified more recently on the mobile devices and sync it back to the desktop machine by hand. It worth pointing out that I can do this since the desktop and laptop run Linux, while the tablet and phone run Android - not sure how feasible this would be using a mix of MS or Apple operating systems.

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Anonymous Coward

The long winter evenings must just fly by.

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Linux

spot on...

I concur and have done much the same.

I will propose another convenience to all this. My car in the US is a toyota which has handsfree bluetooth and plenty of spare 12V plugs.

I bought some cheap($20!) Blackberry bluetooth stereo audio modules and connected itto the 3.5mm car line input, and it only comes on when the ignition is on. Multiple devices can connect and they all get patched through the car audio and so get muted when a phone call comes in.

I love it when tech just works....

P.

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Optional

"So something else is trying to encourage people into a cloud services based world, doubtless in the hope that they can charge subscriptions for it all once we're tied to it with no alternatives. Personally I've taken a different route, albeit one that requires a bit of manual effort. My desktop machine at home is my equivalent of a cloud server, with all my music, videos, documents and pictures on it..."

Sounds pretty much like what I do.

My old G4 iBook is now my studio "media server", with iTunes and a couple of different video players running on it, connected to a big-assed FireWire drive with all my albums and "mixtapes" (even though they aren't really on tape anymore) and movies and favorite old TV episodes on it, and I use either iTunes or VLC Player to cue up a working day's worth of music and video that plays while I work... and the whole mess is backed up to DVD ROMs. But, yeah, like you said... private cloud.

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Pint

Re: spot on...

"...cheap ($20!) Blackberry bluetooth stereo audio modules..."

About $5 eBay (sometimes) or DX.com (sometimes). Free shipping.

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Re: spot on...

"...bluetooth...I love it when tech just works...."

Exactly! Even my almost bottom of the range Kia has bluetooth audio, Aux in, USB port and the CD player plays MP3s from disc too, A plethora of options included by default.

I see this thing as another Beemer status thing rather than anything truly revolutionary.

What would really be truly revolutionary would be for the car manufactures to agree a standard for car "entrainment" systems with an open API so tablet/phones can link in seamlessly and be controlled from the steering wheel/stalk controls whether you have Andriod, iOS, Win8m or even Blackberry via an installed app. This would allow the app devs to do everything BMW have just announced and so much more with new features and upgrades just a download away. Oh yes, and the convenience of it working in any car such as partners, friends, hires, etc., not just the beemer penis substitute.

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Thumb Up

" My desktop machine at home is my equivalent of a cloud server, with all my music, videos, documents and pictures on it. I then rsync all or a subset of this between my laptop, tablet and phone."

I do similar, but also use a cheapo pay-as-you-go phone with 15 quid for 30 days unlimited data (which I already have for other purposes) so I can stream my personalstuff over the internet, therefore not needing to store/sync much on the phone itself.

A *true* 'private cloud' !

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Re: spot on...

"What would really be truly revolutionary would be for the car manufactures to agree a standard for car "entrainment" systems with an open API so tablet/phones can link in seamlessly and be controlled from the steering wheel/stalk controls whether you have Andriod, iOS, Win8m or even Blackberry via an installed app"

It already exists and guess what it is called bluetooth. Your car stereo and phone need to support the correct bluetooth profiles for it all to work, but I can assure you that when they do it does indeed work.

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*How* much?

£325 a year will buy you a good collection of USB sticks so you can take your existing music/audiobooks/language-courses with you everywhere rather than have such stuff tied to the car.

And how well does that £325-a-year service integrate with my existing Bloomberg subscription?

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JDX
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Re: *How* much?

That's rather an inelegant solution though, and presumably the people buying these models of car value elegance over plain old bang for buck functionality.

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Very clever but...

They seem to have created a very expensive, over-engineered Spotify that doesn't play Planetrock or Test Match Special and needs a telephony signal that is far from ubiquitous.

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Re: Very clever but...

The article says the car has DAB, so you still listen to Planet Rock or Test Match Special.

It does strike me that if many hours of Spotify can be cached to the car before the journey, one wouldn't really need the 3G- as I believe one can do with some mobile devices. The problem is, one would then be in DRM territory (and need to extend WiFi to wherever you park your car)

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