The Insider: The digital revolution that's music to your ears
Saturday 20 June 2009
Digital radio offers a wide choice of stations and now almost all of the population is covered by BBC or commercial transmitters. Music fans will be in their element with a digital radio, as you can tune in to a much wider range of stations than FM models and, in a good reception area, the sound is crystal clear because digital radios suffer less from atmospheric and electrical interference.
As regular radio listeners know, it's crucial to have good sound quality for happy listening. "The price difference between some digital radios may seem quite a lot, but when you hear the difference in sound quality with top of the range models, you'll be glad you made the investment," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which?
Although the best digital radios can be expensive, superior sound quality, smart design and extra features often justify the higher price tag. Most digital radios can pick up FM radio as well as digital stations, but some allow you to pause and rewind live radio, set reminders for future shows or record programmes to an internal –or external – memory.
Two of the leading brands are Pure and Roberts, both of which finished top in Which?'s latest test. The Pure Evoke-S (£165) was given a test score of 87 per cent and had superb sound quality, which testers described as clear and detailed. It looks smart and has plenty of features, including bass and treble controls. It also lets you pause and rewind live radio and program in 100 of your favourite stations. Its bold, bright LED display and intuitive controls make this radio suitable for most listeners.
The Logik LOGR118D may seem like a bargain at £40, but its sound quality is very poor. The first model Which? tested had a prominent buzz. Thinking it might be faulty, testers bought a second sample – it had the same problem. The Logik's minimum volume setting was too loud and the display was difficult to read unless the radio was tilted at an angle.
Where to buy
Ideally you should listen to a digital radio before you buy it. Try listening to the type of programmes you normally listen to – if you like Radio 4 at home then ask the shop to tune the digital radio to this station, but also try out some different speech stations to hear how the digital radio reproduces different types of voices.
Searching online will often find the cheapest prices, but you can also get good prices from independent retailers. You can check stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service www.whichcompare.co.uk.
What to ask...
Can I receive digital radio in my area?
Not everywhere in the country can receive digital radio broadcasts, and some places have to put up with patchy quality. Go to digitalradionow.com to do a postcode check, and if reception is patchy you could try installing a rooftop DAB aerial (from £15).
What is the sound quality like?
The sound of your radio should be clear and crisp, with no background noise – try listening before you buy. Some models allow you to control the treble and bass.
Mono or stereo?
Mono digital radios score well in Which?'s tests, but might not be suitable if you plan to position your radio in a large room. Check before you buy, as many mono digital radios can be connected to external speakers or added to a hi-fi system to convert the sound to stereo.
How clear is its display?
Ensure the display is clear and bright, and it uses large, easy-to-read letters. If you're partially-sighted, also check that the display is a good size.
What features does it have?
Some models let you pause live radio, record programmes or store preset stations, so you can easily flick between your favourites. Clock displays with alarms and timers are also useful.
How heavy is it?
You'll want a light model if you're someone who likes to move around the house with your radio, or if you want to listen in the garden. For outside listeners, it's also worth checking whether the radio can run on batteries too.
The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/digitalradio. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.
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