DAB Radio Explained

Despite having been around since 1995, DAB radio remains a mystery for many people. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about DAB radio.

What is DAB radio?

DAB stands for “Digital Audio Broadcasting”.  It works by converting analogue audio is into a digital signal and compressing it using MPEG technology.

DAB and DAB+ (the newer version of DAB) are becoming favoured over FM in the UK and other European countries for several reasons, including the following:

  • Digital radio can transmit audio in better quality than FM
  • More radio stations can be transmitted via digital radio than would be possible on the FM band, so it offers listeners more choice
  • Transmitting DAB radio is more energy-efficient than transmitting FM

What’s the difference between DAB and DAB+?

DAB+ is an upgraded version of DAB that was first released in 2007. It uses MPEG-4 (AAC) encoding, which is superior to MPEG Audio Layer III (MP3) encoding, which is used for DAB/ In the UK, most digital radio stations still broadcast using regular DAB, though several use DAB+.

DAB is not forward-compatible with DAB+. This means that DAB+ radios can pick up DAB stations, but older DAB radios cannot pick up DAB+ stations. This means that you should try to buy a DAB/DAB+ radio rather than just a DAB radio.

Is DAB radio the same as digital radio?

Technically, DAB is a specific digital radio standard, though the two terms are used interchangeably in countries that use DAB. Some other digital radio standards include DRM and ISDB-T.

Is DAB available in my area?

Around 97% of the UK population are covered by DAB/DAB+ networks, so if you’re reading this in Britain, DAB radio is almost certainly available in your area. You can check the coverage in your area and find out which stations you’re likely to receive using this postcode checker.

Is DAB better than analogue?

The question of whether or not DAB radio is better than AM/FM is highly debated. The main complaint with DAB radio is that when you lose the signal, it cuts out completely rather than just crackling like in AM/FM. While in theory DAB offers better sound quality, the listening experience can be worse when the signal is poor. Another issue with DAB is that it uses more power, so if you have a battery-powered DAB radio it will eat through batteries quite quickly.

While DAB/DAB+ radio has its flaws, it offers several benefits when compared to AM and FM, including the following:

  • More choice of radio stations
  • Better sound quality (provided the signal is good)
  • Text information about the station and song is shown on the radio’s display

Can I get DAB radio in the car?

Yes, DAB radio is available in the car, though unless you have a new car, you will probably have to buy some extra equipment.

The easiest to way to get DAB radio in your car is usually via a plug-and-play adapter. You can also buy a DAB car stereo, but you will need a special DAB antenna.

Does DAB radio work abroad?

DAB radios work in any country with a DAB network, though they only pick up stations from that country. Most Western European countries have a DAB network, including France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Australia also has a DAB network, but the USA and Canada do not. See Wikipedia for a full list of countries using DAB.

If you want to be able to pick up stations from your home country abroad, you should consider buying an internet radio.

Does DAB radio need WiFi?

No, DAB radio uses a digital signal, but it does not require the internet or a computer. As long as you can pick up a DAB signal, all you need to do is switch the radio. This means that digital radio is free at the point of use, with no data charges.

Can DAB radios receive AM and FM stations?

The vast majority of DAB radios also have an FM receiver, though only a few such as the König Portable DAB+ Radio let you pick up AM.

If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please leave a comment below.

More info

For more useful information about digital radio and DAB/DAB+, check out these sites:

WorldDAB.org – WorldDAB is the global forum for digital radio, facilitating the adoption and implementation of digital broadcast radio based on DAB, DAB+.

UkDigitalRadio.com – This website is run by Digital One, the company that operates the UK’s only national commercial DAB digital radio network.

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