Opinion: DAB radios are BAD radios

Columns & Opinion

gary%20and%20sonic%20200.JPGGary Cutlack writes…

Today’s column is about DAB radios.

Specifically – what is the point of DAB radios? I know they’re supposed to be better in some way because they’re always in Stuff and T3 every month, but is it really necessary for radio to get any better?

Radio is for listening to in the background. Listening to while painting a wall, or plastering over a mouldy bit of wall, or doing the washing up you’ve been ignoring for a week as washing up’s one of the few things that doesn’t go away if you leave it long enough.

Who sits down, with the radio speakers perfectly aligned for that crisp, stereo listening experience, and concentrates on listening to the radio?

Not me, and probably not anyone outside of a few men in test laboratories and a few other men with blogs about DAB radio (who work in DAB test labs during the day).

Occasionally I’ll just leave my headphones plugged in and turn them up really loud and use them as speakers. That’s my idea of a high quality listening experience. That’s what radio’s all about.

Radio is gonzo music, free music, cheap music you can get on a battery-operated toy you’ve had in your family for 50 years. The idea of making radios expensive, power-hungry devices that cost £100 is madness. It’s a step backward for technology, like when they stopped doing Concorde.

Radio is romantic. You must remember trying to get a signal? Trying to tune into something remote, a bit of late-night forbidden music from France when the weather’s good and the signal carries, or some hardcore drum & bass station that only broadcasts on Wednesday? The thrill of getting a good signal is part of the challenge.

DAB’s killing that off. Making radio boring.

So DAB radios can display the name of the station you’re listening to? That’s hardly a problem, as whenever I turn on the radio all I ever hear is the DJ endlessly saying the name of the station every three minutes, followed by a jingle confirming the fact.

And for me, “digital” usually means “worse”.

My new digital TV tuner just stops working when the signal goes a bit weak. It literally gives up and half the channels break if there’s a cloud outside. Old telly didn’t do that, it managed to bravely soldier on, only maybe a bit fuzzier around the edges. Old telly TRIED! The picture may have been a but rubbish and it might’ve flickered, but it was watchable.

Does DAB radio do that? I bet it doesn’t. I obviously don’t have a DAB radio, so this is clearly only guesswork designed to anger DAB enthusiasts, but I bet DAB breaks all the time. I bet if you close the curtains the station switches off. You’ll all say it doesn’t, though, as this post will only be read by the small, shadowy community of DAB-supporting blogs and you’ll all pile in here to ramble on about sample rates and all that nonsense.

But you’ve just fallen into their trap. DAB radio is the people who make radio, the government who license out the airwaves, and battery/electricity makers deciding we need to buy something new so they can have more money from us.

Things are supposed to be getting smaller and cheaper. No way am I spending more than five quid on a radio. Resist the DAB conspiracy.

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Gary Cutlack
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  • “Who sits down, with the radio speakers perfectly aligned for that crisp, stereo listening experience, and concentrates on listening to the radio?”

    Answer: intelligent people! As opposed to the stupid ones who watch TV 😉

  • The biggest problem with DAB radios is that most of them are MONO!!

    Progress, anyone? What’s the point of high quality signals when you have to listen to a single channel of sound.

    You seem to have to pay 30-50 squid more for an extra speaker…..

  • Strangely enough, whilst I work in the area of DAB Radio, I agree that it’s changed the nature of radio listening. It’s certainly a more ordered and “digital” experience. You can try picking up long-distance multiplexes, but the density of frequency reuse is so high in Digital, it’s very unlikely to happen. Most people love their DAB radio for the extra stations like Chill and Planet Rock and XFM. It’s not about sound quality (as you say, the number of audiophiles is very very small, even if they are very noisy). Give it a go – spend £50 on a PURE One radio, and see what you reckon. You can always e-bay it if you don’t like it.

  • Hello Gary! I eventually bought a DAB radio so I could listen to 6Music in bed. Which is brilliant.

    Unfortunately, your suspicions about reception are correct: the signal varies wildly. And unlike traditional radio, if the signal is weak, it often cuts out entirely, instead of just getting a bit fuzzy.

    I spent nearly £100 on a digital radio. But I just realised that you can get Freeview boxes for about £30 which do the same thing. Buh?

  • Unfortunately, it’s hard to listen to 6Music or XFM (Manchester) in the kitchen cooking via an AM/FM radio.

    And that’s the reason most people buy DABs – more station choice for the average man in the street who might want something more specialist, but doesn’t want to sit in front of a PC to listen to it.

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