/ Motoring

DAB radio in cars – high time it was standard

Music equaliser

The switchover to digital radio is fast approaching, so it’s essential the government and carmakers act now to avoid DAB becoming an expensive headache for car owners in the future.

I was delighted to hear last week that the BBC no longer plans to axe its excellent 6 Music digital radio station. It’s a personal favourite in the Headland house – and is greatly missed in my analogue-only car.

It’s also frustrating tuning into the football on 5 Live when I’m driving, with its patchy, scratchy AM quality (when I’ve grown accustomed to the noise-free DAB signal at home). I’m sure I’m not alone. Which raises the question – why haven’t more carmakers embraced DAB already?

DAB in cars by 2013?

Culture minister Ed Vaizey announced last week that the new government is still fully committed to digital radio, stressing that the switchover’s 2015 target date is not set in stone.

But that doesn’t mean the government and carmakers can dawdle. The sooner DAB radios are fitted as standard in new cars, the smaller the problem of converting radios on used cars will be when (or if) switchover finally happens.

Apparently only 1% of UK cars can currently receive digital radio – a tiny proportion, mainly limited to more expensive models (like the Audi A8 and Range Rover). But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has indicated it would be ‘challenging but achievable’ for all new UK cars to have DAB radios by 2013.

It argues that designing new cars takes around four years (hence the ‘challenge’ of 2013). But fitting DAB isn’t about fundamental vehicle changes. It’s about getting a DAB receiver on board and fitting a suitable external aerial for the best reception.

Why DAB’s not a good option

When Pure can offer its ‘Highway’ DAB conversion kit for around £100, it suggests that DAB isn’t too costly for carmakers to build in. And there are plenty of new cars with a DAB tick-box option (usually for between £100 and £500) – so it’s achievable on current production lines.

But the problem is, most car buyers won’t tick the DAB box – it’s just a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have. Which is fair enough, but it’s storing up a massive problem for the used cars of tomorrow.

So I say the government and carmakers need to take this particular choice out of the hands of buyers and make DAB/DAB+ radios standard-fit as soon as possible. The prospect of converting all those old car radios (20-30m of them, the SMMT reckons) makes all of us twitchy, so it’s time for some decisive and swift action.

(And with any luck, we won’t have to put up with Sports Report on AM for too much longer…)

Comments
Member

Since most cars aren't manufactured in the UK, and the rest of Europe's targets for digital radio don't seem to be as forceful, including digital radios as standard in cars may be seen as an extra rather than inclusive.

Member

Marco – would you say right-hand drive is also an 'optional extra'? There are lots of country specific requirements, not least the radio systems themselves: FM frequencies vary according to territory, lighting regulations differ and so on.

Manufacturers have proved it's possible to manufacture cars for different territories, so including a DAB radio module and antenna shouldn't be difficult.

Member

Well yes, but they'd have to be forced into including it as standard. And with the government calling 2015 a soft target, it hardly feels essential. There needs to be pressure, other wise manufactures will just include it as a tick box option (as most things are in cars these days).

Member

They have also proved to offer fewer models because of the cost of special builds for the UK, RHD is a good example. Go buy a Mercedes GLK. Can't find one? Well not in the UK anyway. Or it just could be that no one is designing a decent digital unit for cars that includes an out of date standard like DAB.

Member

I have ten radios in my house. All but one are FM. The DAB radio I own is OK but not noticably better sound than FM. I did own two DABs but gave one away because the battery life was hopeless and I wanted to use it in the bathroom. FM seems to go on for ever. I also have a radio in my Hi Fi. That will be expensive to change, as will the car radio.

Member

But you know the radio that the government will count toward the 50% usage don't you. Those 9 FM sets will be considered "old stock", it's the DAB unit that will count an you will be considered a DAB listener. Tell your MP that you are not if you want to keep FM.

Member

I really don't see the point of DAB, except that I seem to remember the last government sold off the frequencies used by FM (& analogue TV too, presumably).
The quality of FM for BBC R3 and R4 is excellent and any improvement just wouldn't be heard in a vehicle anyway.
Yes, I do have one DAB radio (one that Which? said had very good battery life) but its power consumption is appauling compared to my FM radios, and I don't listen to any of the "extra" stations anyway, only R4 and R3. I'm certainly not looking forward to the switch-off.

Member

Isn't the point of DAB is that there can be loads more stations. The FM waves are limited more severely, meaning there couldn't possibly be the amount of stations as there are on DAB.

Member

You are a DAB listener by the government counting rules. Tell your MP that you are not and keep FM.

Member
SuperTrouper says:
15 July 2010

The whole idea behind DAB is to force people to buy new radios and give manufacturing a much needed boost. Although, I think it is a scam.

Member

I just bought a DAB radio with my new car for £300+, because I thought I would be keeping it for more than 7 years and the switchover would have happened by then. Recently however the Government has removed the target date for switchover, though I still believe the decision to get a DAB may be a good one. I have had two minor niggles – the signal occasionally drops out (even in the city where I live), and the manufacturer's instruction book for the radio is poor in its DAB instructions (the radio is much more complicated in than an FM one, and also it reads as if it is a translation from the German!!!). Of course it offers zillions of channels we never use.

Member

The major problem with DAB is that it was the first attempt to produce a standard for digital radio; the process has been very slow (it started in the 80's) our Government naively thought that the rest of the World would adopt it and an unstoppable momentum would be created – it hasn't happened. Other countries ran DAB tests or pilots then decided to look at the growing number of more sophisticated forms of digital radio. Twenty countries have now adopted the DAB+ system (which is not backward compatible) Its no wonder people are not falling over themselves to move to an obsolete, over compressed, low bit rate, patchy service that cannot even match FM performance over most of the country.

Member
keith Thompstone says:
15 July 2010

DAB radio is a scam! I have one DAB radio and several FM radios at home and I can't tell a difference in sound quality. what I can tell is a lag of about 10 seconds in the DAB reception. How are you able to get an acurate time check? The much vaunted "hundreds more channels" on DAB is of no interest to me. BBC 2 and 4 plus various local stations are more than adequate for my needs. With reference to car reception I find FM more than adequate and the stations I use are certainly not "scratchy". If you want scratchy try AM which was all we had until FM came along. An upgrade to FM was very much needed then. DAB is not needed.

Member

DAB is a feeble attempt by a previous government to obtain revenue from the sale of FM spectrum. As a standard it has long since passed it's sell by date. It is not in use in any other European country (so that DAB radio in your car is really useful in say France when you are on holiday). The UK transmission network is thin, the quality worse than FM. The hypocrisy of a report listing DAB as greener than FM since it uses less power at transmission without noting that it also uses x6 more power for reception in the millions of receivers shows the depths to which supporters will go. The loading of the usage statistics by counting all DAB sets as in use, even if what is in use is the FM receiver in the set (try buying a clock radio in John Lewis without DAB) is another example of the weasels at work. Tell your MP that you do not want it and do not need it. If the BBC want to spend our tax (licence) money on something let it be content not technology.

Member

Being an OAP lots of modern technology is beyond me and seems irrelevant to my lifestyle.
My car radio works well in most parts of the country – why change it?
The proposed DAB for this country isn't the best available – according to the newspapers !
So why are we proposing to change a system that works for a system that isn't better ?
Why not….. just leave things as they are ?

Member
Allan says:
17 July 2010

I'm all for progress and the move to new and better technology but I wish the transition was better managed. I have both DAB and FM radios. We often have sets on in different rooms so we can listen to a programme as we move about the house. The problem is that the sound from each type is out of sync. Why can't the FM analogue signal be transmitted with a slight delay so the FM and DAB sounds come out at the same time?
My other problem is that I'm about to change my car. The uncertainty over the future of analogue radio means I don't know whether to spend significant extra money on a DAB car radio or not.

Member
Christopher Wood says:
22 July 2010

Never heard of 6 Music until the recent discussion about it's continuation,probably because we don't have a DAB radio.Tried to buy one for my late Mother 5 or 6 years ago as she thought the advertised improved sound quality would cancel out her increased deafness,but discovered that where she lived on the W.Sussex coast no signal was available.Whilst AM cover can be a problem in certain areas,think this is largely due to the siting of the aerial,in my wife's MX5 the tip of the aerial is only about 4' 2" from the ground so we do experience some interference,whereas in my Lorry the tip is probably about 12' 0" from the ground so only experience problems in remote hilly areas.FM seems to work well everywhere so can't see us buying a DAB radio unless incentivised.

Member
R Putt says:
23 July 2010

The whole world has gone raving mad , Firstly it was the TV that was changed to a new system that was to give us better viewing , WHAT!!! the rubbish that we are meant to watch now is disgusting after it cost the country millions to throw away good working sets or purchase new equipment that cost money we need not have spent , as an old age pensioner it was money we had been asked to save for our retirement by the government , then they want us to throw it away on items that we really did not need as the old system worked perfectly well . Now it is the radios they want to muck up as I find that the FM system works very well at home as well as in the car without costing us a lot of money , Lets all think what is going on with our lives as the next thing will be a high charge for a licence for DAB Systems , just think about it , It will come mark my words , then it will cost everyone many pounds to get every radio in the home changed , even down to the alarm clocks , then your car radios will have to be thrown away & all those vehicles who have had SAT Navs fitted with the radio in them will be obsolete & they did not come cheap when fitted in the first place , I expected it to come sooner or later when I purchased my first new vehicle upon retirement so declined the offer to have that system fitted at another great cost of which will soon be OBSOLETE . The fault is to my mind the younger generation who are not satisfied with just a few channels but want more that they have any chance of tuning into listen while driving & there thoughts should be on the road not playing with the hundreds of radio channels they can get . This is something the government has concocted up to get more into there coffers not what the country wants , they should ask the general public before it is changed as many thousands will vote against it I am sure .

Member

Let’s get clear. The vote (at the moment) is 8 to 3 for having DAB in cars. But most contributors are saying DAB is a poor option which should be scrapped ! Then read these motoring comments along with the ones on DAB generally as the future of broadcasting. Maybe DAB in cars isn’t such a good idea.

Member
Jenny Howard says:
28 July 2010

The switchover to digital radio is NOT fast approaching. It will only happen if 50% of people convert to DAB. Of course, the people who want it to happen would like us to think it is inevitable, so that we will go out and buy DAB radios and move the percentage closer to 50. But if we stick with our old, perfectly good FM radios they will have to think again.

Member
rmgalley says:
8 March 2011

If only this were true! The threshold for the start of FM switch-off is NOT when 50% of listening is via DAB. It has been skewed to favour those interested parties wanting DAB. In fact DAB radio sales have begun to decline but it wouldn’t matter if no-one was listening to DAB, FM could still be switched off. The criterion for the switch-off sequence beginning is that 50% of listening is done digitally. That means if you say you listen to radio services via Freeview, Freesat or on-line you are contributing to the body of ‘evidence’ that will permit the demise of FM.

The Consumer Expert Group recommended to government –
“The take-up criterion should compare like-for-like listening platforms and measure
DAB listening only. A digital switchover date should only be announced when no more than 30% of listening remains on analogue”
The government have stated they do not agree with this and have stated “We believe the correct measure is how many people have chosen to no longer consume radio on analogue, rather than which platform individuals are using to listen to digital radio.”

If ‘they’ are going to play ‘dirty’ I suggest no-one wishing to retain FM acknowledges they may, even if only occasionally, listen to radio via DAB (or any of the other digital platforms despite them all being superior to DAB). If you do you will be bringing forward the date when reception of excellent quality radio, via an aerial, will cease.

Member

Hmmm.

I have a DAB radio but find it will not pick up all stations – some being very poor – My TV/DAB radio doesn’t offer very many stations. The FM reception in the car annoys me by fading over distance.and in tunnels

So I use an earphone MP3 player – 10hr battery life – output steady as a rock and will never annoy other people as far too many overloud car drivers do – everyone of the 200 tunes EXACTLY what I want to hear as a first choice. I can program a set series of records – or random generate a selection. It even has a radio.

And CHEAP – When I change my car I will be still using it.

Member
Liz Clegg says:
6 August 2010

Having DAB in a car presupposes that it will be available everywhere. I live on the West Coast of Cumbria and, according to the BBC Website, do not get FM, let alone DAB!! This is not quite true, I can get FM, but only in the right place in the house, in the right weather and with particular radio models. When I drive alone the A595, I am quite dangerous in places as I have to keep re-tuning my car radio to keep track of my favourite Radio 4 programmes. The best Radio 4 signal here is medium wave, but it keeps being hi-jacked by Test Match Special. I think that the analogue transmitters should not be allowed to be turned off, until there is a very high percentage of GEOGRAPHICAL coverage. The percentage figures that are required at the moment are population numbers and this will allow the radio transmitter providers to remove a service from a remote, rural area again. So much for equality!! It will also mean always patchy coverage for car owners driving through the more sparsely populated areas of England.

Member
Viv Nicholas says:
11 August 2010

I bought a new car at the start of this year and expect to keep it for 10 years. I have not been able to find Test Match Special so I have made enquiries to both the car manufacturer and BBC over the past few days as to where was the problem. I was shocked to learn that I did not have a DAB radio as I had made it clear that I was aiming for a 10 year use and no reference was made to the radio during the ‘sales spiel’. However – if the transition is to be at least five years away – then I reckon that it is not really such a big issue. However – I really do want to listen to TMS and the BBC do not seem to be too interested which is poor!!

Member

DAB will probably never be satisfactory for rural roads in UK. While FM radio degrades gradually when the signal is poor, DAB stutters and drops out completely. If FM is dropped then I shall probably give up listening to radio in my car.

Maybe I am a little odd, though I listen to the radio when I am driving I have not listened to more than 5 radio stations while in my car. I don’t need, or want, any more than are available just now on FM.

To be honest, I don’t even want DAB at home as I can get better quality radio via satellite (Freesat) and the internet.

Andrew

Member

Whilst speaking to Bose help desk at Sittingbourne I touched on this subject. The very helpful young lady informed me that we are the only country in the world having to change to DAB and this at the whim of the last government. The need to change is minimal, the reason for change is to free up band width for sale to commercial outlets, as bandwidth is becoming scarcer. The other reason is to create employment and gain soon to be 20% for each upgrade. Dont be fooled it aint being done for your benefit.or mine!! Answers on a post card to “Terry Wogan” BBC etc………..

Member

I put in a DAB radio in my car and found it similar to FM reception – often poor and not conducive to “easy listening” – the extra facilities meant it was more distracting – and more of a hazard to driving.

So I returned back to my superb MP3 player – far better – far cheaper. 200 tunes I really like – no interruptions for news. Set to “random” means I don’t know what song is coming up next – except I will always like it. Never fades or drops out in any conditions unlike radio.

Far superior.

Member

I had been looking forward to DAB car radios reaching an affordable price, but when I bought my VW Golf in 2002 I suddenly became much happier with FM car radio. It’s not much use in the highlands of Scotland but elsewhere it works better than I had believed possible for an FM car radio.

I would like a DAB/FM radio in my next car so that I can have the best of both worlds.

Member
Bill Shepherd says:
22 March 2011

the author of this article should stick to motoring comments an area where he may have some expertise

Member
Richard says:
31 March 2011

I’m like FM, but am quite happy with DAB for speech. But how do I get acceptable reception in my car for 5Live? and worse still, my favourite World Service has now disappeared from AM. The reviews for Pure’s Highway as an intermediate fix are very mixed and although Which? promised a review when it came out, I can’t find one.

Member
Dave says:
27 April 2011

I am led to believe that DAB is not the latest technology nor is it the favoured European standard. Can you confirm this? Is this why they are so expensive. Why are TV set top convertors so cheap?
The average portable am/fm radio can use as few as only about 9 transistors (ok I know there are lots of other passive components) and is most efficient compared with DAB and batteries last much longer I believe.
Also I have at least 14 am/fm radios around my home, cars, workshop and garage. All are tuned to Radio 4. I cannot imagine ever wanting to listen to the rubbish churned out on all the new digital channels. The day that Radio 4 dissapears from the bands that it now occupies on my current equipment, is the day that I no longer will be able to listen to the radio as I will not be replacing any of these receivers. Perhaps you can tell me where I can send them for others to enjoy. Alternatively, may I suggest that we take them all down to The Radiocommunications Agency and dump them in front of their office!
You must know that powerful forces have been at work in the industry lobbying for the commercial organisations who care little about all the people that are quite satisfied with existing radio and I am so dissapointed that WHICH? is not discouraging change to satisfy them. Lets face it all this technology will come from abroad and do little for our own people.

Member
Roger says:
30 December 2011

Oh, what a lot of luddites emerge when this subject is raised. I have had DAB in my Vectra for 6 years and it’s wonderful. Clarity of signal all around the country ( I have travelled extensively in the past 3 years) listening to R2/3/4/4Extra/5/6 plus a host of other stations makes the long tedious journeys on our motorways far more enjoyable.
Yes – FM can be as good as DAB but its unacceptable that a major station such as R5Live is on AM with reception not much improved from Radio Luxembourg’s heyday in the ’50’s.
What is poor is the attitude of car manufacturers who have stymied consumer’s adoption of DAB by restricting the availability of cars with the necessary kit.
DAB is here to stay.

Member

The anti-DAB contingent have probably never used a DAB car radio.

Don’t forget that many ignored FM for 30 years.

Member
Dabhand says:
8 January 2012

Governments never take any notice of what the public want so DAB will be foisted upon us anyway, I have no objection to DAB personally but I feel that when it comes to getting a conversion done, the manufacturers will rip us off big time.

Member
Steve Allen says:
9 May 2016

I think it is about time WHICH? did a market test on add-on DAB in-car units, clearly lots available out there but no telling which ones are the good ones, please help!

Member

Hi Steve, thanks for your suggestion, I’ve passed this on to the Cars team. At the moment, there are no plans to test these. Are you looking for information on reception or sound quality?

Member

It would be great if we could offer suggestions about which products should be tested in the near future. Having a Convo devoted to product testing would allow us to discuss which features are the most useful and common problems that the test labs should look out for during product testing. Steve’s comment prompted me to post this in the ‘Ideas’ section.

I have had a car with a DAB radio for nearly four years and it has surpassed my expectations. I did not know that DAB add-ons are available.

Member
John H says:
3 May 2017

Call me superficial but I am in the market to buy a secondhand car and this feature does influence me way beyond the way it should perhaps.. I am a big listener. Maybe because the alternative bolt on remedies seem very… bolt on!