Last updated: May 7, 2018
If it’s time to get a new radio, should you pay more for a digital radio or settle for a cheaper analogue radio?
If you do get a DAB radio, will it offer you better sound quality and fix problems with poor reception? Will it be harder to use than a regular analogue radio? If you stick with an AM/FM radio, will it become obsolete?
These are just a few of the questions buyers have when looking for a new radio. Let’s explore the pros and cons switching to DAB/DAB+ digital radio.
Will AM/FM become obsolete?
Radio in the UK is planned for a digital switchover, like the switchover to digital TV in 2012. An exact date or schedule hasn’t been set, however. In a 2015 interview with the Independent, former culture minister Ed Vaizey said it will happen when over 50% of radio listening is digital and DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage. This criteria had been met by 2018, but in March 2018 the BBC said that FM radio would be kept to offer more listeners more choice. AM and FM will probably be switched off at some point, but there’s no hurry to switch to DAB just yet.
What’s the difference between DAB radio and analogue radio?
Analogue radio is made up of waves, whereas digital radio is transmitted as a series of noughts and ones. DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting and is the technology radio stations use to broadcast digitally.
Digital signals allow digital radios to transmit more information, such as the song being played. The technology also allows more stations to be broadcast in the same area, as they take up less frequency space than on FM and AM.
An analogy with television is to think of DAB as like Freeview, while FM and AM are like the old analogue channels. For a more complete explanation of DAB, see this article.
DAB doesn’t suffer from the crackling or hissing you often get with AM and FM, but if your radio is in a weak signal area you might not pick the station you want to listen to, or the signal might cut out at frequent intervals. This is obviously very disappointing for those who buy a DAB radio expecting it to fix their signal issues.
Before deciding to buy a DAB radio, you should find out whether or not you will get a good signal in your area using the postcode checker here. There are also some things you can do to improve your digital radio signal.
On the plus side, digital radio isn’t affected by things like planes flying overhead that can affect FM signal, so provided you have a strong signal it should be consistent.
Even if you live in an area with relatively poor reception, it might be a better long-term bet to get a digital radio, since the signal should improve in the coming years and FM may eventually be turned off.
The sound quality offered by DAB+ radios is superior to regular DAB radios, so if you are concerned about sound quality you should choose a DAB+ radio. DAB+ uses a more advanced audio codec to provide higher quality sound and more stereo stations; it’s basically an upgrade to DAB.
Choice of radio stations
With an analogue radio, you’ll probably only have a choice of 10 or so stations on FM. With DAB radio, however, you will have a much bigger choice.
If you like rock music, DAB radio will usually let you listen to BBC 6 Music, Kerrang Radio, Arrow and XFM, among others.
If you like comedy or current affairs programmes you can pick up additional speech stations like Radio 4 Extra and LBC.
If you just want to listen to one of the regular stations an AM/FM radio might suit you fine, but you will be missing out!
On average, AM/FM radios are cheaper, but there are still lots of cheap DAB radios out there. If price is your only concern, you can pick up a basic AM/FM radio for £10 or so. However, there are lots of good budget DAB radios, so getting DAB doesn’t have to cost much more.
Many DAB radios offer additional features, such as pausing live radio, recording radio, and streaming music or online stations via your smartphone. If you’re a bit of a techy you will enjoy using these advanced features.
If you just want something simple to listen to the radio, there are plenty of straightforward DAB radios without confusing additional features.
Ease of use
Some people are worried that DAB radios might be harder to use than AM/FM radios, but in fact they tend to be easier. You no longer need to remember radio frequencies to find the stations you want; most DAB radios will automatically scan for stations and display them on an LCD screen, so you can just flick through to find the station you want.
Most digital radios also let you save your favourite stations so you can access them quickly. Best of all, you won’t have to fiddle with the frequency to get it just right, as the radio will scan and find the frequency for you.
What about internet radio?
If you’re thinking about upgrading your AM/FM radio to get better sound quality and more stations, you might want to consider bypassing DAB radio altogether and instead buying an internet radio. An internet radio looks like a regular radio, but instead of having an aerial it connects to the internet via WiFi or an ethernet cable.
Internet radios have a screen that lets you select radio stations, so they are easy to use and you don’t need to enter web addresses. As well as being able to pick up national and local UK stations, you’ll also be able to receive 20,000+ stations from around the world.
For more information, see this article: Is Internet Radio Better Than DAB?
Getting a digital radio definitely makes more sense than buying an analogue radio in 2018, for three main reasons:
- AM/FM are likely to be switched off eventually.
- Digital radio gives you a lot more choice of things to listen to.
- Digital radios are affordable and there’s a huge choice of models to suit all budgets, tastes and needs.
For some more suggestions and help with choosing a DAB radio, see our roundup of the best DAB radios under £100.