Choosing a radio these days can be confusing. DAB, DAB+ and internet radio are all relatively new technologies, and not many people fully understand the differences between them and the pros and cons of each. In this article we’ll look at DAB and internet radio in detail to help you decide which is right for you.
DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting. The technology originated in the 1980s and was first introduced in the UK in 1995. The purpose of DAB was to offer higher fidelity, less interference and a greater choice of radio stations than was available on FM.
While in theory DAB offers better sound quality than FM, the unreliability of the reception in the UK means that many people still prefer FM. DAB has slowly grown in popularity, and now makes up about 35.9% of listening hours in the UK. The majority of radios sold in the UK at the moment offer both FM and DAB.
DAB+ is a newer standard of DAB that uses a better audio codec (HE-AAC). Only a few stations broadcast on DAB+ in the UK, so the majority of digital radio listening in the UK is still on DAB, and there are no plans to switch the country’s network over to DAB+.
Older DAB radios cannot receive DAB+ stations, while most new DAB radios can receive both DAB and DAB+. Compatibility with DAB+ is indicated by the Digital Radio Certification Mark.
Pros of DAB/DAB+ radio
- More choice of radios
- Usually cheaper
Cons of DAB/DAB+ radio
- Signal can be inconsistent
- Less choice of stations
- Only works in countries with a DAB or DAB+ network
If you just want to listen to a handful of popular stations such as BBC Radio 4 that have a strong signal on DAB, a DAB radio should be fine. DAB radios are usually cheaper and easier to use than internet radios, so it makes sense to stick with DAB if your listening needs are limited.
If you think DAB is for you, see these recommended DAB radios under £100.
When people hear the phrase “digital radio” they sometimes assume that DAB radio works via the internet, but this is not the case. Internet radio and DAB radio are two different things.
An internet radio connects to the internet via WiFi or an Ethernet connection, allowing you to listen to the 20,000+ radio stations that broadcast via the internet. These stations include popular national stations such as BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 live, as well as more obscure internet-only stations and stations from other countries.
Rather than having to type in an internet address or use a browser, internet radios let you find stations by searching or scrolling through their names or selecting them by country, genre and so on. This makes a standalone internet radio more convenient than listening to the radio on your laptop.
- More choice (including international stations)
- More future-proof – the internet is likely to survive longer than DAB/DAB+ radio
- No signal interruptions (as long as internet connection is stable) – good if you live in an area with poor DAB reception
- Works anywhere in the world with an internet connection
- More convenient than listening to the radio using a laptop
- Relies on internet connection. If the internet is down the radio won’t work either. It also uses up bandwidth.
- More complicated to use
- Usually more expensive
The big advantage with an internet radio is choice. You can discover a whole world of radio, which is great if you like exploring different styles of music or learning foreign languages.
The other good reason to choose an internet radio is that it won’t suffer from a dodgy signal as long as you have a good internet connection. This makes internet radio ideal for people who live in areas with poor radio reception but decent broadband speeds.
If you think internet radio is for you, see these recommended internet radios.
The answer to the question “is internet radio better than DAB?” depends on who is asking the question, as different people want different things from their radio.
If you’re still not sure, see which of these common situations you can relate to most:
- “I just want something straightforward for listening to BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4” – Choose a DAB radio
- “I can’t find a DAB radio that has a good enough signal where I live” – Choose an Internet radio
- “I get bored easily and want more choice” – Choose an Internet radio
- “I want a radio that looks cool” – Choose a DAB radio (there’s a greater choice of designs)
- “I want to listen to my radio abroad” – Choose an Internet radio
- “I want to buy the cheapest radio possible” – Choose a DAB radio (see the cheapest DAB radios in the UK here)
A final point to consider is that you don’t necessarily have to choose between internet radio and DAB. Many internet radios such as the Roberts Stream93i also offer DAB, so you will have the option of listening to either. Many DAB radios also have Bluetooth so you can stream online radio via a laptop that’s connected to the internet and has Bluetooth.