/ Technology

Are DAB radio sets still needed?

Digital listening continues to grow, but DAB radios are not following the same trend. With the rise of smart speakers, do we still need a separate radio set?

The UK radio industry reached a milestone in 2018 after data from radio research body RAJAR showed that digital radio listening surpassed AM and FM listening for the first time.

Despite the growth we’ve seen in digital listening, the market for dedicated DAB radios has not followed the same trend, showing signs of stagnation and, more recently, even decline.

Listening habits

With so few DAB radio launches, we tested just four new sets in 2019 – fewer than in any year since we began testing them in 2004. It’s not doom and gloom for radio stations, though.

See all our DAB radio reviews

There are many different ways of accessing digital radio, including through your TV, listening online via an app on your smartphone or tablet, and, more recently, through voice activated smart speakers.

UK popularity of the latter has surged since the Amazon Echo with its Alexa voice assistant first went on sale in 2016. These versatile devices are changing how people consume audio services at home.

The rise of smart speakers

As they continue to become more commonplace, could smart speakers begin to challenge more traditional DAB radios for pride of place in the kitchen or living area?

See all our smart speaker reviews

Major DAB manufacturer Pure’s recent launch of its DiscovR and StreamR speakers could indicate that this is where the market is increasingly moving.

But smart speakers definitely aren’t for everyone, and for some they could never replace the familiarity and convenience of a dedicated DAB radio.

Have you tried switching your radio listening to a smart speaker? If so, was it an improvement and were there any challenges to overcome? Or, did you prefer the experience of having a dedicated DAB radio?

Let me know in the comments.

What device do you mainly use to listen to digital radio?
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Comments

Hardly ever listen to the radio at home, but do so constantly in the car and I guess that’s a form of DAB radio. There again it could be a form of smart speaker if I chose to use my mobile phone to access a radio station and play it through the car’s speakers. It’s a weird crossover world these days,

I use a Pure Tempus as an alarm clock. No need to leave the WiFi switched on all the time.

I have one of these too. The only problem is the radio alarm doesn’t always come on so it’s mainly just a radio now.

I have been a keen radio listener since I was a child and often used to record programmes on tape to listen to later. Around 15 years ago I bought a Pure Evoke-3 DAB/FM radio that would allow (on DAB programmes) recording onto SD card, and for programmes to be paused (e.g. to answer the phone) or rewound (e.g. to listen again to a news item). The SD card can be plugged into a computer and since the display on the radio is so limited, this is the best way to manage recorded programmes.

In 2020 there seem to be few DAB radios that offer the facilities I have mentioned, but now we have BBC Sounds (effectively iPlayer for radio) that allows playback to be paused and restarted. As well as being used on a computer, this can be used via an app to allow programmes to be selected on a phone or tablet and played on a smart speaker.

John says:
3 August 2020

Of course DAB has been a huge failure in the UK. However whatever good stations exist (e.g.radio 3)an be accessed on internet radio. The Robert’s Stream radios have superlative stereo speakers built in. More important for me I have 20-30 classical music internet stations on the Robert’s presets.
Right now in my garden I’m listening to a Greek station streaming non stop 24/7 at 329 kbps & no talk with full info on screen what’s playing. I can do the same on my stereo system. Streaming or downloading FLAC music from Qobuz on my stereo system makes the irrelevance of DAB complete.

John says:
3 August 2020

Of course DAB has been a huge failure in the UK. However whatever good stations exist (e.g.radio 3)an be accessed on internet radio. The Robert’s Stream radios have superlative stereo speakers built in. More important for me I have 20-30 classical music internet stations on the Robert’s presets.
Right now in my garden I’m listening to a Greek station streaming non stop 24/7 at 329 kbps & no talk with full info on screen what’s playing. I can do the same on my stereo system. Streaming or downloading FLAC music from Qobuz on my stereo system makes the irrelevance of DAB complete.

The sound quality of radios has always depended to some extent on size.

The current Which? Best Buy with the highest score has dimensions of just 19 x 12 x 10 cm and the review is effusive about the sound quality, for example: “It is a cut above the rest, with sensational sound, and is suitable as both a bedside alarm clock radio or for use in the kitchen or anywhere else. Not only is it a Best Buy, but it’s one of the strongest performing radios we have tested, with standout sound.”

Well it’s probably very good as a bedside radio, and much better than listening on the phone. I have a similar-sized radio that Which? was effusive about and while it’s very good for its size, it is not in the same league as my older and larger DAB radios.

John says:
4 August 2020

Who needs DAB? Actually very few UK listeners. There are literally hundreds thousands of high quality internet stations for every taste, many at bit rates superior to DAB.

Crazy John says:
8 August 2020

I have a separate dab tuner attached to my stereo system and an external aerial as signals here, for anything are abysmal!

Russell Cole says:
8 August 2020

Our DAB radio is in the car, which is always on (SatNav and other features only work if the radio is on!). I sometimes use the TV but not often.

Stanley Parker says:
8 August 2020

I sometimes use my television to listen to radio. I have cancelled my TV licence D/D in protest of the BBC. I no longer watch TV on any device. During Lockdown I read books mostly and I can read by listening to music whereas I cannot whilst watching TV.

Harriet says:
8 August 2020

I mainly listen to BBC sounds on my iPad miniature

I think in many ways DAB has been replaced by Internet streaming services. I have a Pure Tempus in the bedroom, but for listening to the “radio” downstairs I have a Rotel RT-12 DAB/FM/AM/Internet radio unit connected to my Hi-fi and stream instead. Bitrates are usually higher streaming than via DAB and the choice from around the world is endless

I have recently purchased a Yamaha WXC-50 which not only gives me radio streaming, it also allows me to use my streaming service of choice as well.

The DAB radio is a useful backup if the internet goes down, but that is a rare event these days.