Digital Radio

How to choose a digital radio

The 2016 range of digital radios is one of the most varied we’ve seen with a wide range of colours, designs, features and prices.

Digital radio offers several features which make finding and listening to music, news, sport and more easier than ever. But how do you choose the right radio for you?

We’ve covered some of the considerations below. But whichever digital radio you choose it’s worth checking that it displays the digital radio tick mark, or that DAB+ is specified in addition to DAB and FM. This means you’ll be able to receive new DAB+ stations. Find out more about DAB+.

Sound

The first thing to consider is where you’ll be listening to your new radio. Just like analogue radios there are models designed for bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms. There are also small models for travelling and personal radios for in-ear listening on the move or on match day.

Many small DAB radios with a single mono speaker come with an audio power output of 1W or 2W RMS. This is perfectly fine for waking up to the Today programme or listening to music in a kitchen or bathroom, but is unlikely to start any parties!

Boombox models with DAB and an output power around 5W RMS are better suited to living rooms, workshops and workplaces. Stylish stereo models with premium finishes offer more control over the sound, such as bass, treble and even presets for the type of music. Models from Roberts come with an output power of 12W or 15W RMS at this level.

Small hi-fi systems with DAB are also available. Smaller and less expensive models from brands like Sony and Philips work well in small lounges and dining rooms. The long-running Denon and Onkyo ‘personal audio systems’ take this size a step further with 20W or 30W per channel. Speakers can be purchased separately.

This is a great option for dedicated music listening or open-plan living spaces.

Design

When we see digital radios in magazines and newspapers the design often harks back to the 1950’s. Roberts have produced ‘revival’ DAB radios for some time and other brands have also taken inspiration from their older designs.

In truth each manufacturer offers a range of different designs – whether you’re looking for something simple and restrained, or would like a radio to look at home in a kitchen with other carefully selected appliances and furnishings.

When choosing a digital radio it’s worth sparing a second to think about where and how you’ll use it. A design which features many buttons on the front of the radio could be fiddly to use when you want to change the station or adjust the volume.

Radios which feature rotary knobs for at least the volume could be slightly easier to live with when you want to quickly turn up the news or a favourite song.

Features

All digital radios come with some essential features, like the station list and a display for the station name and scrolling text. Some models go a step further with colour screens for slideshows, an electronic programme guide and pause and rewind functions.

There are two types of displays predominantly found on digital radios: larger characters (text) on a single line, or smaller characters over two lines. The models with a single line of text are easier to read at a glance. However, the scrolling text with information about a programme or station may have to be enabled with the press of a button.

Displays with two lines of text normally show the station name, with the scrolling text below by default. Some radios also feature a backlit display. This makes the display easier to read at night – useful for darker living spaces.

Presets make it easier to recall favourite stations. As the list of stations on digital radio grows the act of scrolling from Magic to Absolute 80s can become a bit of a chore. Almost all digital radios offer several presets. Some models have dedicated buttons whilst others provide access through a menu.

In a nod to the popularity of smartphones, tablets and MP3 players many larger digital radios offer an ‘aux-in’ port. When you want to listen to Spotify, a podcast or your own music you can play it through the speaker of your radio. This is especially useful in kitchens when cooking or a washing machine can drown out the small speaker in a phone.

Many radios offer even more features, such as internet radio, recording functions, USB charging ports and Bluetooth.

Price

You can buy a digital radio from around £20. Many larger retailers frequently have radios on sale, dropping to £15 or even lower.

The cheapest digital radios tend to be available from supermarkets under own brands or licensed brands. Many of these come with the basic features, but sometimes at the expense of sound quality and ease-of-use.

The most affordable digital radios from brands like Sony, Pure and Roberts tend to start at around £30. Customer support and warranties tend to be better too, as well as clearer instruction manuals.

Models with more features and improved materials often start at around £80. Wood casing is said by some manufacturers to improve the sound from the radio and software updates are sometimes available throughout the life of the radio.

Conclusion

There are many different designs and features in today’s digital radios, with the cheapest models more affordable than ever.

Before purchasing it’s worth thinking about where you will use the radio and what you’ll use it for. Many digital radios purchased in the early 2000’s are still going strong today and choosing the right DAB radio for you should mean you can enjoy it well into the next decade.