I’ve had a love-hate relationship with DAB ever since I discovered it.
I loved the added choice in radio stations, but hated that I needed a second aerial in the car, and that having it required a different radio, with severely limited choice of models. Even now in 2014, there’s not much choice if you want an in-car DAB radio with bluetooth.
Look for a radio with cd, usb input, bluetooth, etc. and there’s plentiful choice. But add those three letters of D-A-B, and it becomes all the more awkward.
Still, it was always good at home, right?
Well, yes and no.
That aforementioned choice has been an annoyance of mine for years. The first few stations I decided were my “favourite” either stopped broadcasting on DAB or closed down altogether.
Then my later favourites like XFM and Nation Radio disappeared when all the regional multiplexes closed down. ( http://radiotoday.co.uk/2013/07/regional-dab-signals-commence-shut-down )
The sound quality of it is actually pretty rubbish too.
I was quite enjoying Absolute Radio 90s for a while, until it went mono. And not just 90s. 80s, too. In fact every national non-BBC DAB station is in mono now, bar about 3.
(See wikipedia – at time of writing this, of the 14 stations on the national commercial DAB multiplex, only 3 are in stereo – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_One )
I know there’s a lot of people who listen to DAB at home, in the kitchen, on a radio that only has one speaker. The vast majority of adverts for it show this. Some of the best selling DAB radios only have one speaker anyway.
So what difference does being in mono make really? Well in the car, where you’re surrounded by speakers, mono sounds shit. Especially when the alternatives of FM, CD, an mp3 player, are all (normally) in stereo.
But the final nail in the coffin is partly caused by me.
Recently, I moved house. Two DAB radios moved with me.
But can I get a DAB signal indoors? Can I bollocks.
I’m now living in a building made from steel and concrete, so I’d guessed it might be affected, but figured I’d give it a go anyway.
To start with I could get Absolute Radio (and all other national commercial and BBC stations) in the kitchen, and sort-of get it in select rooms upstairs. That seems like an OK start, doesn’t it? Just a bit of tweaking needed.
Then I tried it again another day, and I couldn’t get any, reliably.
Every website that gives advice and information about DAB will tell you – that if you’re in a weak signal aerial, you can always buy an external aerial.
But can you?
I’ve done a lot of searching, and from what I can see, there’s not a single DAB radio currently for sale, under £100, that has the option to plug in an external aerial.
Pure used to have them, but they seem to all either be discontinued, or this kind of madness:
Regardless, I bought an external aerial, and thought I’d cobble it together somehow, by taking my DAB radio apart, and soldering it in, if need be.
A bit of unscrewing things and twisting wires in a very bodged manner, I did a quick test and picked up all the local stations, and some far away ones. Great!
The next day, I installed the aerial properly, in the loft. I couldn’t get the far away stations that day – but never mind. I tested the aerial on/off over the next few days and sometimes I had signal, sometimes not.
Finally got around to using a postcode checker to check my new address. It thinks it unlikely I’ll get any local stations without an external aerial, but I DO have one. So surely that shouldn’t be a problem? National ones it thinks no problem.
Just as I was pondering ways to resolve this including amplifiers of various kinds and alternate aerials, the power supply on my DAB radio decided to kill itself.
Fuck it. There goes my testing facilities. The other DAB radio is my girlfriend’s so I’m not sure about taking it apart, and anyway – it has a signal meter that only stays on screen for a few seconds (unlike mine, which can stay on all the time). How am I meant to do further tests now?
And then – while searching for replacement DAB radio power supplies on eBay – after many, many years of faffing about with DAB, I finally came to my senses.
As I sat there scrolling through the results, I discovered second-hand Internet-radios for sale. For under £50.
Why am I bothering with DAB at all?
All this hassle of aerials and cables and only being able to use it in select places in certain rooms, and all for what? A select few radio stations, and most in shit sound quality.
What the hell have I been thinking?
I’ve got unlimited fibre broadband at home, and every station I listen to is available online.
Even with the lesser speeds available in the kitchen thanks to the concrete+steel combo screwing with my wifi, I did a test on my phone in the kitchen, using the radioplayer app – and it actually switches stations as fast as (if not faster than) either DAB radio did anyway.
And it’ll probably sound better, too.
Internet radios shouldn’t be as badly affected by interference from LED lights either, like apparently DAB radios are. (See: http://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/led-bulb-radio-interference-dab-test/ )
What a fool I’ve been. Goodbye DAB. (Well, until I get in the car….)
Update 02 April 2015
I stated above that “at time of writing this, of the 14 stations on the national commercial DAB multiplex, only 3 are in stereo”. They are now down to 2. Absolute Radio is no longer in stereo, as of 5 January (http://radiotoday.co.uk/2015/01/bauer-puts-magic-on-d1-puts-absolute-in-mono/ ). I must admit that since I don’t listen to DAB at home anymore at all, and had been listening to a lot of podcasts and FM in the car (as well as not doing that much driving on my own – I tend to talk to passengers instead, if they’re in the car), I hadn’t noticed until a few days ago, when I switched to Absolute in the car, and thought it sounded like crap.
This means the only 2 national commercial stations in stereo are Capital Xtra (apparently urban, hip-hop, etc., so not really my sort of thing), and Classic FM. Classic FM has a national FM frequency anyway, so you don’t even need DAB to listen to it. What a joke.
Of the remaining other stations, most of the BBC ones (1, 2, 3, and 4) are available on FM and the speech ones like 5live are available on MW.
The Local Bristol DAB multiplex (which doesn’t have a great signal in my car anywhere around here really) has 6 stations on it. While the details have been tricky to find, it seems like 4 of them are in stereo (Heart Bristol, Smooth Bristol, Capital, and BBC Radio Bristol), and 2 in mono (Jack FM and Pop Up Radio). But 2 of those in stereo (BBC Radio Bristol and Heart Bristol) are on FM in stereo anyway. Sam FM (formerly Jack) is on FM in stereo, so there’s an improvement over its DAB version. Other stations on FM but not on DAB include BCFM, The Breeze and Ujima.
I’ve been considering the benefits of a new car radio for a while now. I don’t think I’ll bother keeping DAB when I upgrade it, because it’s not really worth it, just for 6music.