Like with analogue TV, there are plans to render conventional analogue radio obsolete. As it stands, there are no current deadlines in place, but once analogue radio is gone for good, you’ll still want to be able to enjoy the number one form of entertainment for motorists.
If your current car radio isn’t DAB and DAB+ compatible, you may want to look into upgrading. In this article, we’ll be running through the best ways to convert car radio to DAB.
When is the Switchover Coming?
Originally, the plan had been to begin switching from FM to DAB back in 2015. This plan never went through as too many people were still using FM radio. Currently, there is no set date for the switchover. Instead, the Government in the UK is waiting for a set of criteria to be met before the switchover can begin. These criteria are as follows:
- Digital radio must account for 50% of all radio listening
- DAB coverage is similar to FM coverage
Given the criteria, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the switchover take place much before 2020. So, there’s no need to rush to get your radio upgraded, but if you’d like to reap the rewards of the new DAB standard, there are a wealth of products on the market that you can use.
What Are the Advantages of Digital Radio?
As with most analogue to digital comparisons, the simple advantage of digital is that it’s far more efficient. Digital radio negates the negative impact of noise interference, normally heard as hissing and crackling on a conventional analogue radio.
In addition to reduced interference, digital radio allows for more data to be transmitted across the spectrum. What this means for you is more stations in better quality. In fact, many implementations of DAB radio allow for quality comparable to that of music direct from a CD.
See this article for a full overview of the pros and cons of DAB radio.
What to Look For
Across all the options available to you, it’s important to look for the digital radio tick mark. This little icon indicates that the product adheres to the same technological standard. Put simply, any radio adapter with the digital radio tick mark is capable of receiving FM, DAB, and DAB+.
If you opt not to get a product with the digital radio tick mark, you should make sure that it supports DAB, DAB+ and FM radio. The three standards are not compatible, so it’s important to get a digital radio that supports all three. If your new radio does not support DAB+, you won’t be able to listen to DAB+ only stations or DAB+ audio quality.
How to Convert a Car Radio to DAB
Whilst there are a vast range of conversion solutions on the market in the UK, they can mostly be broken down into three types: fully integrated, semi integrated, and plug-and-play. The former two are integrated into the dashboard and need to be installed by a trained professional, the latter is more portable and doesn’t require any complex installation.
It’s worth noting that many conversion kits will simply take DAB radio as an input and then output it to a part of the FM radio spectrum that isn’t being used so that your existing radio can pick it up. There is a loss of quality in this step, but the loss is far lower than simple FM transmission is alone.
You may also have to purchase a new aerial for your car (a good choice is the Hama Roof Antenna), as DAB is a new standard that uses different connectors than your existing aerial will. Depending on your car, you may not be able to use your existing aerial at all, so you might need to purchase a new one.
In addition to dedicated DAB radio conversion kits, there’s also the option of using a mobile phone plugged into the aux port in your existing radio. This will use up your data very quickly, but if you’re not interested in committing to a dedicated option, this is a great way to try out digital radio.
As the name suggests, these systems are completely integrated into your car. Once installed, you will be able to use your existing radio display, though many kits will require steering wheel controls to allow you to change the volume and channel.
Whilst the functionality of these integrated systems is impressive, they are pricey and very difficult to install on your own. The cost of the converter alone may cost upwards of £100, not including installation. If money is no object, a fully-integrated kit is the best way to get DAB in your car, short of a total conversion. One popular kit that is sold with installation included in the price is the JustDRIVE Add-on car DAB Digital Radio kit.
- Highly discreet
- Should work with your existing dash-mounted display
- Difficult to install
Semi-integrated conversions are very similar to their fully-integrated counterparts. The primary difference is that the kit opts to cut on costs by removing the ability to integrated with the existing dashboard controls. Instead, they’ll typically come with a wireless remote. This cuts the costs by a little bit, making it a good option for people who aren’t as concerned about aesthetics.
- Quite discreet
- Less expensive
- Requires an additional remote
- Still quite pricey
As the name suggests, plug-and-play adapters are extraordinarily simple to set up. Simply plug in power and an aerial and you’re good to go. The primary advantage is simply portability. You can easily switch the converter between cars if you own multiple, or simply pack it away when you’re parked so you don’t have to worry about it getting stolen. If you’re looking to convert car radio to DAB, this is probably the cheapest way to get DAB in your car.
Plug-and-play devices exist in a range of forms. For instance, there are converters that stick to the windshield, some that just sit on the dash, and others that plug directly into the lighter socket.
See our roundup of the best plug-and-play DAB radio adapters here.
- Highly cost-effective
- Easily portable
- Usually requires visible wires for power or signal
- More fiddly to work with when driving
With digital radio steadily working towards replacing analogue radio, it’s a pretty safe bet that the switchover is coming. Though it probably won’t be until at least 2020, you may want to switch now so that you can enjoy the better sound quality and greater range of stations available on digital radio.
If you’re looking to convert an older car to the new standard, there are a range of options available. Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive option like a plug-and-play adapter, or a fully-integrated solution that keeps your dashboard looking sleek, there are products for you.
Perhaps you’re unconvinced by digital radio and don’t see what all the fuss is about. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, there’s always the option of listening to digital radio via the internet. This will allow you to enjoy all your old favourite stations and many new ones in a greater quality than FM radio.