Digital radio buying guide

We explain how to find the best digital radio to suit your needs
The Pure EVOKE Flow digital radio

The Pure EVOKE Flow digital radio

Digital radio is the next evolution of radio broadcasting in Australia. While AM and FM radio frequencies are familiar to us all, digital radio is still a very new concept. So what makes digital radio different? It uses a compression format called DAB+ that allows a digital radio device to receive audio that is very detailed and much clearer than the AM or FM station signals received on an analog radio.

In Australia, digital radio broadcasts can only be received by a device with a DAB+ decoding chip built in. These devices, commonly called 'digital radios', can be identified by a blue sticker with a white cross on the product or its box – this is the Australian digital radio broadcasting logo.

Digital radio broadcasts take up much less 'space' on the radio spectrum than analog AM and FM radio – meaning there is room for twice the number of stations that are currently broadcasting on the AM and FM bands. Many of the commercial FM radio stations are also broadcasting on the digital service, with ABC AM and FM stations including Radio National and Triple J also available. To find out exactly which stations are available in your area, there are online services that can tell you, such as the Digital Radio Plus Web site.

digital_radio_Plus_home

If your favourite local or community station is yet to switch over to the digital service, the good news is that some digital radios have analog FM radio tuners (and some even have AM radio support).

As seen with the new digital television services, digital radio also offers significant improvements over its analog counterpart in terms of sound clarity and quality. When you compare a digital radio signal to an FM signal, for example, you can easily hear the improved quality of both music and voices on a digital radio.

In addition to the improved audio quality, another reason to upgrade to digital radio is the ease of use when tuning in to a station. Tuning a digital radio is as simple as scrolling through a list of radio stations on-screen and selecting one – the radio will do the rest, connecting to the strongest signal. Because there's no analog tuning necessary, you'll always have crystal clear reception and no static or interference.

As well as better sound quality and clearer reception, digital radio boasts additional user-friendly features. These additional features vary on each model of radio on the market, so make sure the radio you buy has the features you need.

All the digital radios on the market have an LCD screen that displays information such as the station you're currently listening to, as well as the volume level, time and other text. One feature we like is the ability of radio stations to transmit text along with audio to your digital radio display – for example, when a song is being played the radio station can also transmit the song title and artist. Additional uses include the ability to transmit information about upcoming programs, breaking news or even weather reports. This feature is available on every digital radio.

All the traditional features found on AM and FM tabletop radios can be found on digital radio. Everything from station presets to alarm clocks can be found on digital radio sets. Digital radios may include an audio equaliser, similar to the one found in many stereos. The audio equaliser lets you adjust the bass, for example, so you can boost the audio frequencies from a radio station to make the sound clearer or richer.

Some digital radio models also have a 'review' feature, similar to a digital television recorder's 'time-shift'. It allows users to rewind and replay up to 15 minutes of digital radio broadcasts. This is a nifty feature if you've left the room and just missed the news bulletin or weather forecast.

Digital radios have the potential to evolve into far more than just a simple listening device, as more functionality is implemented into products such as the iRiver B30 MP3 player with intergrated digital radio.

digital_radio_iRiver_B30 The iRiver B30

The DAB+ digital radio standard allows for the next generation of digital radios to receive music downloads, information and picture slideshows alongside digital radio broadcasts, and some may let you record and save audio clips from digital radio broadcasts to the device. There are a few portable digital radio players available that allow you to listen to digital radio when you’re out of the house. These portable digital radio players range in size from large, table-top radios that are battery powered, to small, MP3 player-sized devices that use rechargeable batteries.

Digital radio is the future for radio broadcasting in Australia due to the improved audio quality and the potential to grow the number of radio stations available.

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Jargon Busters: Digital Radio

DAB+: DAB+ is the compression standard used in Australia for digital radio broadcasts. It differs from the DAB standard used in the UK and other European countries, so a digital radio from overseas will not receive digital radio signals in Australia.

Equaliser: Some digital radios feature an 'equaliser' – this is a system that allows adjustment of bass and treble sound quality.

Internet radio: Some Kogan digital radio review have the ability to stream thousands of international radio stations from the Internet using your existing Internet connection.

LCD screen: Digital radios have a Liquid Crystal Display that shows the radio station, a clock and other information such as the song name and artist of the current music track, for example.

Line Out: a 3.5mm 'line out' plug on the digital radio will allow you to connect it to a larger stereo for more powerful sound and amplification through your home entertainment setup.

Line In: A 3.5mm 'line in' plug can be connected to a compatible MP3 player -- such as an iPod – so you can play your music through the digital radio's speaker.

Podcast: A podcast is a downloadable radio segment that an Internet-enabled digital radio can play using your existing Internet connection.

Preset: Many digital radios include quick access to 'preset' stations. Using a button on the digital radio or its remote control, you can set a favourite station to be easily recalled.

Streaming: A digital radio with 'streaming' capabilities such as the Pure Sensia will be able to play music via a network connection (for example any MP3 files you have saved on your PC).

Wi-Fi: A selection of high-end digital radios can play music files from your home wireless network if they are Wi-Fi enabled.

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Shopping Checklist: Digital Radio

Digital radio reception: Make sure you're in the right reception area to receive DAB+ digital radio broadcasts (visit Digital Radio Plus at http://digitalradioplus.com.au for more coverage details).

Advanced features: Make sure your digital radio suits your needs and has the features that you will use now or down the track. For example, can it record from the radio so you can listen to it later? Does it have an alarm clock?

Alarm clock: The majority of digital radios feature an internal clock and alarm function, so you can set the radio to turn on and play music or radio when you want to wake up.

Line In port (or Auxiliary audio port): A 3.5mm audio jack will allow you to connect your MP3 player to play music through the digital radio speakers.

iPod dock: If you want to listen to more than just digital radio broadcasts and you have an iPod MP3 player, then a digital radio like the Revo iBlik RadioStation with an iPod dock will let you play your other music through its speakers. If you have another MP3 player then a line in port (see above) is what to look for.

Headphone port: If you'll be listening to the radio in an open space (for example the office) you may consider using a pair of headphones so you can listen without disturbing anyone near you. Most digital radios have 3.5mm headphone jacks built in.

Portable digital radio: Do you plan to use your radio on the go or have it in a fixed location in the home or office? If you are looking for a portable device be sure to make sure it has a sturdy build while remaining relatively lightweight and easy to carry. Check how many batteries it requires for operation as well.

Carry case: If you have a portable digital radio, check to see whether it includes a carry case to easily transport it and protect it from dust and scratches.

External aerial: If you're buying a digital radio with an external antenna connection, a larger antenna will give you better reception of DAB+ radio broadcasts (and improve the FM reception too).

CD drive: If you're buying a digital radio and plan to listen to your personal music collection on it, consider purchasing a digital radio that includes a CD drive so you can play audio CDs.

Wi-Fi networking: Some digital radios like the Kogan digital radio review can connect to your wireless home network and play music files. If this is a useful feature for you then consider a model that offers this, although you will tend to pay more for a radio with this feature.

Rechargeable batteries: If you are buying a portable digital radio, check whether it has an internal rechargeable battery or whether it requires AA or C-cell alkaline batteries.

DAB+ logo: All digital radios on sale in Australia will display the DAB+ logo – a white cross with a blue background. Make sure you check for this symbol on the product or box to ensure the digital radio you're buying is suitable for receiving Australian broadcasts.

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FAQs: Digital Radio

How can I tell I'm buying a digital radio? All digital radios on sale in Australia will display the DAB+ logo – a white cross with a blue background. If you see this symbol on the product or box, you're buying a digital radio that’s suitable for Australian broadcasts.

Are there any hidden costs with moving to digital radio? No, you simply need to buy a DAB+ radio. There are no subscription fees to access digital radio. Just like AM or FM radio, digital radio is free to listen to as long as you have purchased a digital radio receiver.

Can I receive digital radio on my digital television? No, digital televisions use different signals and compression methods.

Does digital radio still have static or interference? No, a digital radio locks onto the strongest radio signal in the area and blocks all other signals. Because of this, digital radio is consistently clear and free of distortion.

Can I listen to digital radio in my car? Yes, there are digital radios on the market that can be plugged into your car's auxiliary audio port. No cars currently offer digital radio built-in but you should expect these to be available in the near future.

Can I receive FM radio on my digital radio unit? Digital radios also have integrated FM tuners for listening to conventional radio, so if your favourite radio station has yet to make the move to digital you can still listen to it.

Can I receive AM radio on my digital radio unit? There are only a few digital radios on the market – generally the larger 'tabletop' units – that include an AM radio reception. Most portable units do not have this capability.

Will FM and AM stations go off the air? No. AM and FM radio stations will continue to broadcast as normal and there is no cut-off date for switching to digital radio. So it’s up to you when you make the move to digital radio.

Does digital radio replace FM radio? Many stations from among FM radio's commercial broadcasters are being rebroadcast on digital radio. However, digital radio does not broadcast any community FM radio stations although the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia says there will be a staged commencement of community digital radio services across the 5 capital cities starting in July through to September 2010.

Does digital radio replace AM radio? Some stations from AM radio are being rebroadcast on digital radio. Digital radio reception is currently limited to metropolitan areas, and AM radio can currently be received in more places.