Digital radio - not all it's cracked up to be?

Wed, 6 Jun 2007, 5:54pm

DAB Radio
So, the BBC reckons some parts of the country will never get DAB radio as it's too expensive. Given my own experience of the format, I wouldn't worry too much, says Andy Clough. DAB is supposed to give crystal-clear sound without the interference experienced on analogue – well, not in my house, it doesn't.

Getting a decent signal on the DAB micro system in my kitchen is a nightmare. Reception frequently suffers from what we call 'babbling brook' syndrome, a sort of burbling sound that makes listening impossible.

Getting tuned into any station involves hanging the aerial precariously off the top of one of the kitchen cupboard doors and then carefully opening the door until it's in exactly the right position.

Things improve if you use a proper rooftop aerial, for sure, which we'd certainly recommend if you're using a dedicated hi-fi tuner. But it seems a bit excessive if you just want to listen to the radio in the kitchen or bedroom on a portable or micro system.

Still, there's no shortage of DAB stations to choose from. A second DAB national commercial multiplex is due to be awarded by Ofcom in July, which will allow up to 12 new digital national stations.

But Mark Friend, who is responsible for digital radio development at the BBC, says the cost of building new DAB transmitters is "prohibitively expensive" and is unlikely to achieve universal coverage across the UK.

The BBC is experimenting with other means of transmission such as Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) that can be broadcast from existing medium wave transmitters. It's broadcasting Radio Devon on DRM in Plymouth, and is also looking at wi-fi and satellite radio.

Can you get digital radio in your area? And is it any good? Let us know what you think: comment here, or head over to the forums.

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Yeah, I've just had a dab radio fitted in my car and get the same thing. Driving up to Leeds on the M1 the other day I kept getting this really irritating burbling sound. So much for digital clarity!

Reception in my corner of Surrey is OK, but I've never seen DAB as a quality issue - to me, it's just an easier way to move between stations, and get more of them.

I'm with markyp1 - sound is OK - bit of ordinary aerial fiddling rather than kitchen gymnastics, but I do deeply appreciate the greater number of stations and the ease of switching between them. Mind you, my reference point for this is that my previous kitchen radio was my dear dead Grandmothers old Roberts - cool as **** but perhaps 40 years old and somewhat limited...

And clearly just as affected by atmospherics or something as FM: sometimes our bedroom clock radio out in the wilds beyond the M25 will get BBC Radio London on DAB, sometimes it won't. Strange, and annoying if you consider not waking up with JoAnne Good beside you any great hardship.

Mind you, having a 'hi-fi' DAB/FM tuner in the main system does reveal just how pants so much DAB radio sounds. 'Listenable', just - but not exactly pleasurable.

I bought a hitachi dab tuner a few months ago , i live in a rural village about 20 miles from nearest city, and i get 32 stations on my dab radio , all of them get 100% signal, all i did was put a coupler onto my tv antenna socket and plug  it in there, it works just fine Smile , i love dab it's really good quality sound, and cos of our location FM signals are very poor , you can never get a stereo lock, sumtimes you can't even get anything but a crackling noise, and we've tried several fm tuners


DAB is certainly a complete wind up for some people, there seems to be no knowing if you will get a signal in your house until you actually try it out. When it is dodgey it is just as much of an annoyance as FM - or slightly less.

With FM, poor reception means constant hiss - with DAB you rarely get the gurgling sound, it is generally either clear of not there.

As a decorator it has made a HUGE difference to my LIFE! Walking around rooms generally at some point makes the portable hiss at you - very aggravating and impossible to ignore. If you can get good reception from a DAB this does not seem to happen.

The real bonus for me is rapid fire switching to another channel and Radio 7 - not available on FM - which is a great listen.

Sure if you have a seperates unit FM MAY be better in sound quality - but as a general rule DAB sounds much better.