/ Technology

Is the UK ready to switch off FM radio for good?

Last week, Norway became the first country in the world to start switching off FM radio signal, going digital only. Is the UK ready to follow suit?

On Wednesday 11 January, Norway began the process of switching off its FM radio signal for good to go digital only.

Proceedings started in Nordland (one of the least populated areas of Europe) and will expand to the rest of the country by the end of the year.

The decision for the switch-off appears to be largely economic.

It’s expensive to get FM signals to a population scattered all over a country riven with fjords and high mountains. It’s also cheaper for radio stations to transmit broadcasts in DAB, rather than FM and DAB.

However, the general population won’t see any of these savings and many will have to shell out to update their radios, as millions of models will soon be rendered obsolete.

Those against it (two-thirds of the population, according to the country’s Dagbladet newspaper) said the move was premature and being forced upon them.

Is the UK next?

Understandably, many in the UK are now concerned about a move to digital-only radio.

And the fact that a week after turning FM off in Nordland, Norway’s DAB system temporarily went down will do nothing to allay any fears.

The UK government has said it won’t start a wholesale radio switchover until 50% of us are listening digitally and DAB signal coverage is comparable to FM.

But with that number now at 45.5% and new cars with digital radio as standard at 86%, we’re not far away from meeting the first target, which means the switch could start as soon as the end of the year.

Are we ready?

But rather than rushing in, as appears to be the case in Norway, I think it’s important we’re given adequate time to prepare.

For starters, the government needs to continue its work to strengthen the DAB signal, especially in rural areas where it can be patchy.

You’ll also need to update your old FM radios.

For your home, a decent quality DAB radio will set you back at least £40. In your car, you’ll either have to buy an adaptor, which cost between £50 and £200, or pay at least £40 for a whole new model, costing from between £90 and £400, to be fitted.

It isn’t all bad news though, as digital transmitters need less energy than analogue transmitters so are cheaper to run than FM radios.

There are also many more stations available on the digital spectrum – almost double in some areas. Plus, if your reception is good, the sound quality on DAB radios is far superior to FM.

Do you prefer to listen to FM, DAB or internet radio? Are you worried that, like Norway, the UK will switch off FM before everyone’s ready?

Peter Wilgoss says:
27 September 2017

I am an avid radio enthusiast with a wide range of receivers mostly Roberts brand and FM/AM reception, they are perfectly adequate and pleasing to listen to. I also have two DAB radios which are hampered by incremental volume control and time delays in reception. My fairly modern car has analogue radio also. I, and I suspect, many of my contempories would prefer quality programmes rather than quantity.
A switch to digital only broadcasting will only be of benefit to those broadcasters who wish to cut their own costs and enjoy additional profit revenue from advertising.
There is no rational need to discontinue FM broadcasting for many years to come notwithstanding the previous comment.

bishbut says:
28 September 2017

The government does anything it wants when it wants even if the population does not want the changes at all .”Experts” advising the government again

The “experts ” advising them Bishbut are all big US conglomerates or those lobbying for them (money ) you cant expect anything else for those with interests -off-shore . By the way how is RM doing ? has he talked TM into getting 60 % of UK media? This country is run from abroad as far as the public is concerned -City interests are all foreign.

Sian says:
8 October 2017

We have a digital radio, but with its enormous battery consumption compared with the portable analogue, had to give up using it on batteries, and consequently lost out on the ‘portable’ aspect of radio, as it has to be plugged in. No good for shower time!

Sian I am sure I posted this in another convo relating to battery consumption in digital radios . Unlike analogue radios that switch off digital radios dont , they go into sleep mode , if the digital radio used -200ma at low volume ( 1.8 watts ) which only educed to 140 ma(1.3 watts ) when “sleeping ” . Compare that to an old 6 transistor radio that used 15 ma from a 9 volt small battery . The digital measurements were the actual DC input not the mains input which is deceptive as it is measured at 230 volts AC . What is using the power , well unless somebody is going to contradict me its the digital processing circuits , which analogue radios dont have , I should know I have repaired into the 1000,s of them over 50+ years . This presents a problem with the advertisers , as you know everybody is into saving the planet including the government but digital radios do the opposite yet HMG wants us all to use them. So out come the lies . See yesterdays – Dilbert.com — Dilbert to pointy haired boss -our product has fewer features and a higher price than our competitors – boss- we will fix that with a little thing called MARKETING -Dilbert -lying is unethical – boss – thats why we only mislead.. Solution fit nice big switch between the positive battery lead that says —OFF ! .

It would be helpful if manufacturers mention that DAB radios use power in standby mode.

Rechargeable batteries seem a sensible option. My DAB/FM radio charges the battery when connected to the mains.

Phil says:
9 October 2017

If you completely power down a digital radio you have to wait whilst it re-tunes itself next time it’s switched on. Never had that problem with FM.

Of course that is the case Phil but as the point is – saving battery use I might try it on mine I have a room full of electronic test gear you only need simple testers retuning doesn’t use up the same amount of energy than a constant set drain of current. Have you got the figures ? if not I could give it a try. manufacturers are coy about battery drainage in digital radios it takes electronic magazines to ferret out the truth by performing actual tests which a very easy to do you only need simple testers and a set /standard level of output .

Duncan – I have small DAB/FM portable radio (branded John Lewis, but I don’t know who makes it) that use mainly on holiday. In order to prevent the batteries being run down when the radio is not in use I leave the mains adapter plugged in. Following our recent discussion I decided to check how much power it did use when switched off I checked and was pleased to discover that it does not drain the battery.

I am pleased that it doesntdrain the battery Wavechange but as you know the only sure way is to fit a quality digital /small current reading meter in the positive supply line -DC from the battery . I would be interested in the results a as the current figures I quoted were for an old radio there are now many more stations and they use more power some use 2 watts on low power output (to speakers . High wattage (audio output ) will of coarse drain them quicker . You must have good rechargeables Wavechange

The only other DAB portable I have is a Pure Evoke-3 which originally had a NiMH ChargePAK. That did not last long and the company introduced a lithium rechargeable as an alternative. That works fine, but I generally use the radio on mains power. I cannot easily check the standby current because of the way that the battery pack is connected. The radio records onto SD cards but won’t work with modern ones. 🙁

ruth shacklock says:
25 October 2017

Ive got several DAB radios but use none because the FM MW LW radios are by far better the batteries in DAB radios dont last very long either also i find when we go to norfolk the DAB dont work at all so im not looking forward to FM being switched off

a jerr says:
29 October 2017

I live in London and have a high quality FM/DAB tuner connected to my stereo amplifier. I have compared Radio 3 live concerts in both FM and DAB modes. The performance via FM is superb: vital and dynamic. By contrast, the DAB presentation is muffled and artificial. I would also add that personal DAB devices consume up to 5 times the amount of battery power that analogue devices do. Surely we should be encouraging energy efficiency. DAB only serves commercial interests. There will be no incentive to broadcast at high bit rates and the quality offered to the consumer will, as ever, be compromised.

You got every biyt of that right Ajerr . Its when you get into good hi-fi that the difference becomes very apparent. Its ironic that HMG cry of -save energy doesn’t seem to apply to digital radios which have processors that consume loads of current even when switched OFF.. Commercial interest first,morals third. Old transistor portables that had FM only consumed a very small number of milli-amps.

Justin G8YTZ says:
18 November 2017

This is quite an old news story, far from wanting to switch off FM and AM radio, OFCOM are now looking to offer a new tier of local community and restricted service licenses. Indeed if FM was turned off it would be party time for Pirate Radio stations and the government would not want that!

DAB is a disaster, the coverage is not focussed locally enough, the infrastructure costs are far too high for many of those specialist interest stations. Share Radio is now Internet only for example, the audio quality is also quite appalling. My car has Internet Radio (TuneIn) and with that I can listen to stations and PodCasts from all over the world with great audio quality and much more choice than with DAB. As more connected cars appear on the market DAB will die as people migrate to Internet Radio.

Hello Justin a Radio “Ham ” ? I didn’t have a licence from the RSGB but I did buy much ex-WW2 communications equipment from Practical Wireless etc , also many communications receivers . All valve , of course . I still have my RSGB ex WD marking equivalents for valve replacements Service Valve+Semiconductor Equivalents ( 6th edition ) and my old Avo VCM MK 4 . As regards internet radio which I am not well up on you say the quality is better than digital ? fully agree but is it equal to FM which is broadcast in analogue form and WAV type fidelity or is it some other transmission of audio formation ? Good FM using a top end receiver or a circuit from Wireless World by say- my hero John Lindsay Hood of whom I built many designs and followed his excellent discourses on “the capacitor sound ” criticised by his “enemy ” Doug Self in Electronics World . I did get a letter or two posted on it defending JLH to an angry retort from DS .

Stan Lynch says:
18 November 2017

We are in a bad place, a lot of the early DAB receivers aren’t DAB+ compatible and so we don’t want to upgrade to DAB+ as we would lose the owners of these sets and drift even further from the targets for switchover. The rest of the world is on DAB+ so our sets are more expensive as we are a minority consumer group and the sound quality isn’t very good.
As many people have pointed out, there are no benefits to the consumer for changing to DAB, you get worse reception and the sets cost a lot more and are less reliable.
The key point about FM is that the sets last for decades, are extremely reliable, are cheap to buy and you can get reception even in fairly remote areas. I have one in every room and even the shed. To replace all of them would cost nearly a thousand pounds. OK I don’t need them all and could move a portable unit around but this is much less convenient and I will simply listen to less radio, I now find that I can have music in every room more cheaply than I can have DAB radio so my listening habits are already moving from radio to my own playlists. Turning off FM will accelerate this to the point that I might not listen to radio at all.

The same thing applies to the car but fitting DAB to my car is out of the question as my radio is integrated with the sat nav so this will become a CD only system. Just because new cars have dab radios fitted doesn’t mean that the majority of cars do. If FM is switched off, a large number of older car owners will no longer be able to listen to radio but probably won’t want to invest in a DAB radio for an old car.

So my view is that if the gov turns off FM in 2020, they will lose a huge number of listener hours to recorded music and the likes of spotify. I don’t suppose they care as they get no revenue from this market and might make a few quid on a quick spectrum sell off. However the era of free quality radio is almost over. RIP

Nigel Orchard says:
21 November 2017

I have a good quality DAB radio and usually enjoy good reception. However, whenever there is a heavy rain or electrical storm, the signal is invariably totally lost. Radio, rather than TV, would be the means of communication in the event of a national emergency. This unreliability just isn’t acceptable.

Nigel – they don’t want you communicating in a national emergency . The government has its own internet and satellite communications plus its own underground networks . Radio amateurs have already got their instructions its to stop “terrorism “. If you mean a government communication with us they can allow one channel to work or one communication to you by email or internet . If the electricity goes down then it will be relayed to us by mouth. Read up on National Emergencies in this country . In the event of WW3, sorry no Queens speech just the sound of nukes landing. No time for declaration of war.

Patrick Taylor says:
21 November 2017

National emergencies may be more than the ones you appear to have in mind DL. Has it occurred to you that the rationing of electricity happened in recent memory and would require battery driven radios to receive message?

You may suggest that mobile phones will answer but AFAIR the overwhelming of local transmitters has occurred in ither emergencies.

FM radio is a failsafe which should not be lightly discarded.

You are attributing the wrong motives and interpretation to my post Patrick where do I say anything about mobile phones ?? that’s the post above mine ? Don’t you understand I was BACKING FM -re-read my post not the other posters post. I distinctly put the technical reasons for KEEPING FM and please point out ANY word I posted that mentions mobile phones ???

Er…to be strictly accurate I’m not sure you would hear “the sound of nukes landing”, Duncan. At least, not if you were within around a 50 mile radius of their detonation.

You might….just for a split second. 🙄

Up to a couple of years ago I strongly argued for FM to remain. But now I find that I use my TV Freesat/Freeview radio channels. The TV switches off the video circuits when you select a radio channel. I listen using either a Bluetooth headset (when listening on my own) or the soundbar when there’s more listening.
I haven’t tried Internet radio or music streaming as I suspect it will be lower quality. For serious music I use a lossless FLAC source plugged into the soundbar.
I don’t believe I’d miss FM.

Patrick Taylor says:
21 November 2017

People who rely on battery driven radios for the kitchen/workshop/garage may feel you are ignoring the wider picture. Even mains driven DAB radio may not be that effective as FM given FM’s greater robustness to the signls being transmitted.

Yes Patrick FM broadcasts on a much lower frequency of 88-108Mhz and as a result does not require the same “line of sight ” as a transmitting frequency much higher . Add into that it is analogue and when affected by a weak signal the transmission grows fainter but stays in one piece. A digital signal requires the bits to be near perfect much interruption of the signal strength means that the reception is unable to be understood . Digital correction in CD,s or other digital hardware relies on the fact the signal itself is strong being an integral part of the mechanism but a transmitted signal from a distance that is weak cannot be corrected by normal public digital radio means . We are riot talking military here.

Also, the Radio 4 time pips on the hour will be useless – DAB is often over 1 minute behind the actual time rather than within 1 second on FM or LW.

For years I have had a Pure Evoke 3 radio that allows programmes to be paused to answer the phone, rewound to listen again to an interesting bit of news, and recordings can be made on an SD card. These features are very handy even now that many radio programmes are available on iPlayer.

I don’t know if others have found pause/rewind/record features to be useful but they seem to have largely disappeared from DAB radios. 🙁

Brian Hutchings says:
8 January 2018

Has anyone considered the number of radios that some of us would need to replace. There is one in our car,one in my van, one by our bed, I have a beautiful stacking hi-fi, a portable to take around the house and while we are working, as decorators, we both have personal radios. I know that personal digital radios do not find a signal in our area, so they would be out, even without them what would be the cost to replace them all? I hate to think, too much for us. While driving and while at work, even in our garden we will have no radio, is this the way forward? I believe that we are going backwards.

We are going backwards Brian because big business wants to make a profit on our listening to adverts and also to narrow down our scope of receiving external data and news from foreign countries . Old analogue tech allowed you to travel the world just by changing frequency , the bigger the aerial the longer distance the reception. Now its all controlled locally unless you use d satellite and even there the US /EU is blocking many transmissions on popular satellites meaning you have to get multi dish/multi LNB etc to pick up foreign countries . Hitler did this with his “Peoples Radio ” which was designed to only pick up channels inside Germany. I still have my old valve communications receivers and many valve radios.

I thought the justification for switching off FM signals was so the government could sell the frequencies, not so the trade could make a killing.

A lot of people use the radio quite heavily, switching between stations. A larger number use just one or two stations and are happy with preset channel changers. I suspect that the greatest proportion hardly ever change channel or use their radio just for playing CD’s. And an unknown quantity have two or three radios but never use them. There are also people who use their TV for receiving radio broadcasts because they might have a superior sound system attached. Then there are those who want to scan the globe and pick up foreign stations, although the enthusiasts will probably prefer to use satellite technology. These requirements all have to be catered for in any FM switch-off and this certainly seems to be on the back-burner right now. Increasing numbers of radio owners are already exclusively using DAB, and these numbers will continue to grow, so presumably they will not be affected or concerned. I guess the government, if it has any sense, will leave it to the market to resolve.

Till it reaches the level of the general US public Tibet is that somewhere in Africa ? , they know about Africa as the US has 62 bases there. America,s international knowledge among the general US public is low as they are naturally insular . Have you watched Americans being asked where foreign countries are ? Do you want us dumbed down to that level ?

Why does the USA have to figure in this Convo as well. Perhaps a separate Convo for anything genuinely US related would be good to provide an outlet for these comments?

Why not just ignore comments about the US, Malcolm? I do, simply because I don’t pay much attention to what happens in the States, other than where it relates to scientific and research matters that interest me. I appreciate that the UK follows the US in many technological developments, but in general can relate better to what is going on in Europe.

Why malcolm ? take one of the biggest convos about VW when posters found out about the US getting v compensation and the UK not it vaused an avalanche of posts . You can dismiss America from Which most buys are from Amazon etc and all the US companies operating here but with head offices in Dublin and elsewhere and you have Whirlpool America has a massive influence here – look at Which.s server etc . I am only accepting reality . This country runs on war time suppression of information , most of mine comes from America which is still more open even though its the capital of Capitalism , its-need to know here . I can get more info from Russia/China on what goes on here behind the scenes than I can from any UK website – censored/blocked , need to know etc . I have given up trying for UK information in the UK.

Back on topic, I agree with Brian that the number of old radios that would become scrap is a major problem.

I don’t own a single DAB radio.

I can receive the R4’s Today programme (and other shows) perfectly fine on my bedside radio alarm, the radio in my kitchen and the one in my car.

In other rooms, I also have two other FM radios that I mostly use when listening to local stations.

I bought my first DAB radio fifteen years ago, having established that I lived in an area with a good DAB signal. I still use this radio in the kitchen, to listen to Radio 4.

I have a DAB radio in the car and when driving in Scotland over Christmas and it frequently switched to FM because of the lack of an FM signal. We might reach the magic figure of 50% of radio listeners using DAB radios, DAB radio on TV and internet radio, but half the population would still be listening on FM and some areas are still not covered by DAB. If anyone doubts the fact that government is manipulated by business, they might see the evidence if the switchover goes ahead.

Why not just ignore comments about the US, Malcolm?” I would read them with interest if they were contributing information to the topic, but often they seem to (me) to be just a down on the US. I worry that this may well put people off contributing, particularly those new to Convos.

duncan, I clearly only post my views on Convos and believe that information relevant to the Convo – even off topic – can be interesting, entertaining and valuable. However, when comments about the US do not contribute usefully, have no validation, and often appear to be aimed at denigrating them, I feel they may detract from the aim of Convos and deter some from joining in. I’m sorry but that is my personal view. Please do keep contributing though, you add so much 🙂

There is a fair amount of potentially misleading information about DAB radio online. Here is an example from the Pure website:

Isn’t the sound quality of digital radio worse than FM?

Although a small minority prefer the sound of FM, every poll of digital radio listeners has indicated that the vast majority of listeners are more than happy with digital radio sound quality. Our engineers work hard to make the audio within Pure radios the best possible to boost the overall sound quality. Don’t just take our word for it, many of our radios have received five star awards from the authoritative audio magazine What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and others. https://www.pure.com/uk/dab-radio/digital-radio-switchover The small minority that prefer the sound of FM include a fair number of Radio 3 users, and it’s not necessary to use top quality equipment to appreciate the difference in sound quality between FM and DAB.

The link provided focuses on the benefits of DAB radio without saying much about the problems. I do hope that our government will not be swayed by biased information.

And (small) minorities matter – why should they be disadvantaged when choice is available? However, it seems to me we accept different qualities of sound depending upon our circumstance; I don’t need super quality sound in the car when it is paired up with road and engine noise, do I? And I’m quite happy in the garden with my tinny solar-powered radio when I’m occupied with horticultural duties.We were also happy with shellac records on wind up gramophones in my formative years.

Perhaps listening to your collection of chosen performances is best done on recorded media at home? Vinyl was regarded as the best, wasn’t it, as it was analogue – but high maintenance (care in equipment and handling). CDs can seem too clinical to some, and streaming lacks quality I believe – but I’ve never tried it. Perhaps then a continued vinyl revival and attendance at live concerts might be an outcome?

Not all (not even much) of broadcast radio requires the quality of FM. I’d suggest it is largely restricted to serious music. Other suggestions? So why not reduce the number of FM users, and therefore the frequencies used, to those transmitting appropriate material that requires particularly high quality? That would free up much of the frequency spectrum for other uses.

I agree regarding sound quality, which is not necessarily important, especially when listening to speech. I bought my first DAB radio when the cost fell below £100, it was made by a British company and it still serves me well. I estimate that 95% of my listening is on DAB and I make use of the advantages. However, I would like to keep at least the BBC stations available on FM and those who live in areas with poor DAB coverage don’t deserve to lose access to radio, though some have moved to internet radio, which depends on having a decent broadband connection.

I trust that before the government takes any action to terminate FM radio transmission there is a proper consultation open to all members of the public.

I am the odd one out here , a part of a minority of people who need perfection in music , I have spent a good part of my life building , designing top end audio equipment .No compromise , al component hand picked and built only electronic parts of circuits producing pure audio signals through them used . I unfortunately even now in deafness am able yto tell if music ids not perfectly produced , its just like intuition I can feel it . I am not alone many others are like me but society is downgrading due to commercial companies heavily advertising less than perfect audio. Add to that the downgrading of engineering in the public’s eyes to accept that less than perfect is perfect. I agree with malcolm that analogue LP record players ( top end only ) iyts because the human ear finds imperfections more realist or “natural “. Smoothed out sound is acceptable but perfection sounds in less than perfect reproducers , cold and not “organic ” thats why many CD players are connected to valve amplification which smooths out any sign of hardness . This is an example of the human being developed over 100,000,s of years interacting with modern day digital electronics . This is now well known to American researchers who are now working ion organic matter that takes the place of digital circuit’s . I wont go into what goes on in US research labs as it can be sickening but its progress to a n end that is both very profitable and of great use for commercial enterprises and the arms industry. making solid-state sound really natural is not easy , is VERY expensive requiring loads of money put into design and components.

St John says:
10 February 2018

With the exception of Fun kids, Magic Chilled, Union Jack and Jazz FM which are in DAB+ all other programs are in DAB. Many of the DAB programs are in mono which is a step back from FM stereo. DAB was upgraded to DAB+ in 2009. This is when Australia started permanent high powered broadcasting using DAB+. All but the speech programs are in stereo. There is more than 20 programs per transmitter. The usual commercial bit rate is 48 kbit/s with the government owned ABC broadcasting all music streams including classical at 80 kbit/s.

There are two advantages of DAB+
1. much more efficient audio compression allowing all programs to be stereo
2. more efficient error correction so the coverage areas are larger for the same transmitted power and when the signal degrades over the digital cliff you get silence.

Does anyone actually know what proportion of digital receivers cannot receive DAB+ signals in the UK population? Has there been a statistical survey to find this out?

All new receivers should have the tick indicating it will receive DAB+ signals. Try the programs above.

The Government must follow the Norway example and convert all broadcasts to DAB+ including stereo to all programs containing music. Then the analog switch off should commence.

St John-The difference between dab and dab+ isn’t too great . Dab+ is encoded in accPlus(HE-v2) an iPod uses acc it also has better error correction but to say it has the fidelity of a good FM signal as far as real hi is concerned is taking a bit of a liberty . The main reason for dab+ is that you can get more channels on the multiplex , the UK (so far ) has no plans to move to dab+ although some in London -Portsmouth and Manchester have it . An excuse is that people dont change their radios as much as their TV,s . While some have argued with me as regards the fidelity it has not changed the audio engineering fact – FM outputs higher quality audio signals . This country (as usual ) is based on the profit factor and commercial profit comes first – more stations outputting advertising and low grade programmes . Listen to FM on 70,s /80,s top end audio receivers and hear the difference . Denmark is switching (or has switched ) in 2017 . This country has gone from a cutting edge country in engineering to a service industry country which outputs low grade programming for public consumption . I have many Freesat channels grouped in types of entertainment , as I flick through them 70 % are outputting advertising not programmes thats why I call it advertising with a small programme length in between . Old rubbish that the USA would not entertain because it costs very little made up to sound good by sales propaganda . Do you know I can watch German programmes that have up to date versions of most of those American imports because the German government subsidies the media there . Add to that Germany has taken over the mantle of high quality programming that this country has dropped in favour of dumbed down US trash -ie-lowest common denominator while you are crunching your US style popcorn and eating your Big Mac+fries +coke. I have spent decades on top end hi-fi building it /designing it and would still prefer FM over the current practice of cramming more programmes in and lowering the bit rate as they are charged on bitrate . So no this country isnt filled with dab+ stations .

I can see the benefit of switching from DAB to DAB+ and many newer radios are compatible with the new system. Although some new stations are now broadcast in DAB+ I am not aware of government plans to switch the many existing ones.

I would have a problem, since neither my two portables can receive DAB+. Although they are ‘old’ by normal standards – at least 10 and 15 years old – they still work fine and are used regularly. One had cost £100 and the other £200. The more expensive one would still receive FM radio, but I would probably have to install a roof or loft aerial because the reception is weak here.

I expect that there will be a switch to DAB+ broadcasting at some stage, but my priority is to ensure that FM broadcasting is retained in the UK.

St John says:
11 February 2018

I have made no comparison between DAB or DAB+ with FM.
You have missed my point. The UK should dump DAB and go to DAB+.. As I said the conversion to DAB is a backward step.
The more efficient HE-AAC compression allows much better sound quality from the existing data rates allocated to DAB now.

Sound quality should be compared to original sound.

FM has its own problems such as the reduction of loud treble sounds which occurs when sound processors reduce the level of loud high pitched sounds to prevent over-modulation.
There is on increase in distortion and a reduction of stereo separation when reflected signals are received.
The decreasing received signal strength causes the receiver to revert to mono and the hiss level also rises.

None of the above occurs with DAB+ radio.

St John says:
11 February 2018

How long do you expect to keep your car before you replace it?
How old is your computer? Is it older than your radio?

An Australian chain store sells a DAB+ radio for the equivalent of 16 pound 39 pence, including 10 % version of VAT.

Australian started DAB+ nearly 10 years ago using upgraded UK receiver brands. Most had firmware upgrades. Are they still available?

UK’s Jazz FM is not on FM, but has been allocated a very low data rate of 32 kbit/s. Australian Jazz broadcasts are at 80 kbit/s both are DAB+.

Unfortunately the only current UK DAB+ transmissions are not simulcast on FM to make a direct comparison.

Having experienced FM and DAB+, Which should advocate for their members and pressure OFCOM to require a change to DAB+ prior to switching off AM/FM. Who wants to be stuck with poor quality mono sound when nearly all new radios are DAB+ capable.
In addition Which should identify new DAB only radios to prevent their sale.

St John-Overmodulation > 100% depth should not occur under ideal conditions as the audio frequency response up to 15Khz should stay within the envelop . Are we talking digital processors here or analogue ? Anybody who is serious about FM reception and that includes classical music lovers would have an external aerial tuned into the strongest signal and a quality tuning indicator , these used to be built into some top end receivers in their day including oscilloscope display of the transmitted signal . John Lindsay Hood ( now no longer with us ) designed some very high quality FM receiver circuits that got the most out of the received signal. I still have his WW magazines on the subject as I am a follower of his in the testing of audio quality components . High IF gain eliminates changes in amplitude /RF noise doesn’t interfere unless its right at the zero crossing or is nearly as strong as the signal ( hence an external aerial ) .

Hi St John – I’m planning to keep the car until it’s at least 10 years old, which is another four and a half years away. That’s what I did with the last car. My present car has an excellent DAB radio but the FM performance is not as good as on the previous cars. As a radio enthusiast I have noticed that many DAB/FM sets are not as good as they should be on FM. My most recent computer is between 3 and 4 years old, but I’m using one that is nearly 7 years old at present. I used to replace computers when they were about three years old but for most of us that’s not necessary if they are still working well.

I accept the benefits of switching from DAB to DAB+ and suggest that Which? should point out that the older DAB radios should be avoided. I was bemoaning the fact that my radios won’t work when this change arrives.

I’m hoping that Which? will support retention of FM broadcasting, at least for the BBC stations. Radio 3 listeners feel very strongly about keeping FM. I’m open minded and would like to hear what it would sound like on DAB+. I’m not against progress if it it really is progress.

I wonder how long a radio costing £16.39 would last and how well would it perform.

St John – On the basis that the old DAB radios are still on sale and few have had the opportunity to hear the benefits of DAB+, and the majority of stations still use DAB, perhaps we should wait a little longer before making the switch. Offering some good programmes that are exclusively available on DAB+ would be a good incentive to switch.

I wonder if it would be practical to produce adaptors to convert DAB radios such as my Pure Evoke-3 to make use of DAB+ broadcasts, much in the same way as many of us used set top boxes to enable our analogue TVs to receive digital TV programmes.

St John says:
12 February 2018

The FM standards require a 50 microsecond pre-emphasis to the signal prior to transmission. This boosts 15 kHz by 15 dB. The receiver has a 50 microsecond de-emphasis to reduce noise by 15 dB and to restore a flat frequency response. The reason why this works is because above the highest musical note, all other musical sounds are harmonics which reduce in power. This amount of boost was set a very long time ago in the days of valves.

To prevent overmodulation of the FM transmitter automatic gain control is used to prevent overmodulation. In modern broadcasting the automatic gain control is split into octave range or even 1/3 octave range compressors. The higher the octave the higher the boost prior to measurement, consistent with the 50 microsecond pre-emphasis curve is given. So as the loudness of say a symbol crash occurs there is much more gain reduction than on a piccolo which has less frequencies above 5 kHz. This is all happening before transmission so the receiver will have no effect on it.

None of the digital radio transmission systems use pre-emphasis so none of the above processing should be used, if it is the result is poorer digital sound. For digital radio just a broadband processor is required. In addition DAB+ has a signal path which tells the receiver how much compression has been used prior to encoding. So if listener selects uncompressed on the receiver, the sound is expanded back to the dynamic range which left the studio desk. You cannot do this with FM.

I am aware of Lindsay Hoods designs, I would have liked to see his design of a DAB+/DRM receiver.

What is required is a double blind test between an original live or CD recording of a concert, compared to FM, DAB+ at different bit rates. This has been done in Germany in around 2008 for the development of HE AAC audio compression.

You should try it having someone else selecting the audio source so that you don’t know what it is and you have to identify the source and describe what is wrong with the sound. This should be repeated a number of times for different instruments and performances.

St John says:
12 February 2018

Firstly the selling of DAB only radio should be banned.
I have listed the programs on the new national network which are in DAB+. Lots of new cars have DAB+/DAB receivers as standard equipment, go to a car dealer and have a listen or as a poorer alternative go to a store and look for a radio with the digital tick and have a listen, particularly if you can get one in stereo

Contact Pure with your model details and see if they will send you a firmware update. Try http://support-uk.pure.com/en/downloads/software-20 It doesn’t say if it is a DAB+ upgrade, but this model range is available in DAB+ for Australia.

St John are you saying that DAB radios can be upgraded to DAB + with a firmware upgrade and NOT a new hardware module ? Not according to Cambridge Audio a company of longstanding UK audio fame .

St John – Thanks for this. I have contacted Pure before and have been told that my radio cannot be upgraded, and it is too old to make use of the software download you have provided a link to.

One of the advice guides on the Which? website says:
You’ll find that most models are also compatible with DAB+. It’s not a system we use in the UK, but it has been adopted by several other countries, so this means you’ll be able to use your radio abroad.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/radios/article/how-to-buy-the-best-radio – Which?”

This obviously deserves updating but at present there is nothing I would want to listen to broadcast on DAB+

I’m not sure what mechanism exists to ban the sale of DAB radios (now that DAB+ is available), but there is little doubt that people will be disappointed sooner or later if the buy one of the older models. I would like to have seen a ban on sale of light fixtures using halogen lamps that were due to be phased out.

If you register as a user on the Which? Convo website your comments will appear in ‘Latest comments’. At the moment I’m seeing them thanks to Duncan’s replies. It’s nice to have input from someone interested in DAB radio instead of people (including me) wanting to keep FM.

Thanks, Wavechange. I’ve highlighted this to the researcher who deals with radios for him to look into further.

St John says:
12 February 2018

I said a firmware change because the error correction is a mathematical process and the HE AAC compression and MP3 compression systems are all driven by computer programs. I did not mention hardware changes.

St John says:
12 February 2018

I am not in the UK so I don’t know if there is a ban on DAB only radios. You should contact Which directly to get them to update their guide to buying radios.
Australia banned incandescent light bulbs quite a while ago. So we had the compact fluorescents which are now being superseded voluntarily by LEDs.

I have had a battle on an Australia forum about the quality of DAB+ sound against FM. I challenged the prolific author to name the network, the time and date and the problem with the sound. He could only name one. This was where the radio station was playing MP3 files which are compressed. Broadcasters should only compress an audio signal once and that is in the encoder going to the transmitter. The interaction produces a phasing effect like the old analog short wave.

Going off-topic let me welcome you to Which? Convo, St John. One of our regular contributors often mentions the Australian consumer’s association Choice.

I will ask for the information on the Which? website to be updated. The product reviews do indicate which radios are compatible with DAB+ and it’s certainly the majority.

I have discovered that my car radio, a cheap portable that I take on holiday and a micro-hifi all receive DAB+, judging from the fact that they receive the stations you mentioned above. I will investigate but they are not the sort of programmes I have any interest in listening to.

St John says:
13 February 2018

I am a Choice subscriber.
You need to tabulate the bit rates used by each program stream and whether the program has stereo sound transmitted.
Many digital radios have either a menu or info button to show the tuned frequency and the bit rates.

It is a pity that UK’s Jazz FM which is not on FM, only has a 32 kbit/s rate. Where I am there is only one music program at that data rate and it is heavy rock. The low bit rate shows what is possible but sound quality is better at a higher bit rate.

What is really required is for a BBC or high profile commercial station which is listened to a lot in cars to go DAB+ at their present data rate in stereo. I say cars because a least there is two speakers and they are widely spaced.

It should be noted that all receivers with a headphone socket produce stereo sound from it when stereo is transmitted.

In the UK, some of the bitrates have changed over the years. DAB Radio 3 is currently 192 kbps, and the highest currently available. It used to be higher but the reduction in bitrate was mitigated by other changes. The other music station I listen to is Classic FM, which is broadcast at 128 kbps. The latter obviously has dynamic range compression, making it better for listening to in a car or other noisy environment. At present I’m listening to Radio 4 (mainly speech) in 80 kbps mono. 🙁 It’s the content that matters to me there.

All the DAB radios I have used will display the bitrate and occasionally have a dynamic range control for use in noisy environments.

In order to promote the advantages of DAB+ over DAB it would make sense to have several programmes broadcast on both systems, so that it’s easy for users to make comparisons for themselves. Not everyone trusts marketing round here.

It’s a pity that sample copies of Choice and Which? magazines are not available online, so we could compare the subjects covered, depth of product tests, and so on.

St Johns says:
15 February 2018

With DAB+ receivers the portables and clock radios do not give the dynamic range option because the power of the audio amplifier is insufficient to make it work. On those who do have the option the default is usually fully compressed.

I hope to hear your DAB classic in April. I suppose Radio 3 is the equivalent of ABC Classic “FM” which is purely classical music. The comparison must be stark if all the ABC music programs are at 80 kbit/s including classical, and you are using 80 kbit/s for speech. ABC newsradio is all speech is 48 kbit/s mono, however commercials play popular music on 48 kbit/s stereo and it sounds fine.

I doubt you have the spare data capacity to transmit a simulcast on DAB classic and DAB+ with DAB+ being of sufficient data rate to make it sound as good as ours. For example Jazz FM is on DAB+ in the UK, but 32 kbit/s doesn’t do DAB+ justice, it needs 80 kbit/s. This would also apply to Radio 3.

For Choice and Which may test digital radios to compare against each other on one standard because that is what their members can buy.

When Which tests radios they need to compare the sound from classic DAB programs of the same bit rate to the DAB+ programs on the same transmitter site. They also need to listen on good headphones, to hear the stereo and also the frequencies that small portable speakers cannot reproduce.
http://dtgtesting.com/content/dab-testing-1 do engineering tests to prove conformance to the digital radio tick.
RED requires DAB+
Radio Equipment Directive (RED) Testing
RED compliance is mandatory for products sold in the EU from June 13th 2017. This requires DAB+ compliance I don’t know what effect BREXIT has on this!

You have certainly rekindled my interest in radio broadcasting, St John, to the extent that I’ve been listening to the sort of music I generally avoid. I knew that DAB+ broadcasting was on the horizon but had not appreciated that it had arrived. The quality does seem significantly better to my untrained ears. I do look forward to hearing classical music on DAB+.

Radio 3 is very different from Classic FM (FM and DAB with obvious dynamic compression). On Radio 3 there are no adverts, no or jabbering presenters, full pieces of music rather than one movement are the norm, and Radio 3 broadcasts some music and other content that are not aimed to appeal to the masses. My guess is that most Radio 3 listeners listen on FM rather than DAB.

It would be interesting to know if radios that do not receive DAB+ are still on the UK market. I’m surprised that this is the first I have heard about the legislation, but it’s not a subject I have followed.

I take your point about the practicalities of broadcasting both on both DAB and DAB+ but there are many people, including me, who would be disappointed if their DAB radios to become redundant. If you look at this and the other Conversations about DAB radio, there are plenty of people keen on keeping FM. This page will find the Convos: https://conversation.which.co.uk/?s=dab+radio&cat=0 I certainly would not want to see FM broadcasting turned off until audio enthusiasts are happy with the quality of DAB+.

It would be good if Choice and Which? would work together on comparative testing.

St John says:
16 February 2018

The ABC’s local radio which is their most popular program stream uses 64 kbit/s for speech and music in stereo.

I should say that if the trigger point of 50 % of listening is digital, that will mean that the switch off of AM and FM the other 50 % will have to buy DAB+ radios meaning that more than 50 % of the audience can listen to DAB+!

There is also a case for the high powered AM stations to convert to Digital Radio Mondiale which will reduce their electricity consumption by more than 67 % and would be in stereo and clear sound in remote UK and in parts of Europe.

DAB+ and DRM are technically similar and new dual standard radios are becoming available. DRM is also on the high frequency (Short Wave) still in stereo with crystal clear sound. DRM+ would be a much better option than low powered DAB+ experiments currently being conducted.

At a time when DAB+ is just starting to appear in the UK and it is not used by any of the more popular stations it’s simply not on to consider turning off FM transmissions. When driving in Scotland I my car radio switches from DAB to FM in some places, because there is no usable DAB signal. I don’t know if DAB+ will help there.

Some people, albeit a minority, have expensive FM tuners and these would be rendered useless if FM was turned off. Maybe a compromise would be to continue to broadcast the BBC programmes on FM.

Whatever the future of radio broadcasting in the UK it must – in my view – serve the needs of listeners. An early memory of mine was when my parents bought a their first TV in 1957. It incorporated a VHF (i.e. FM) radio and compared with our MW/LW radio the sound was amazing, helped by the fact that it used the TV aerial to provide a decent signal. I don’t know why it took decades for many users to switch to FM but it did. We can be rather resistant to change here.

I have to visit a large electrical retailer soon to collect a repaired Freesat box and I will have a look to see if there are any radios that don’t receive DAB+ and to see if there is advertising of our new DAB+ stations.

I’m genuinely interested in developments and would be interested to see unbiased comparisons of FM and DAB+ and to experience DRM broadcasts.

St John says:
16 February 2018

Norway has switched off all analog radio. They did it because their FM transmitters were at the end of their life. Each national network site had 4 FM transmitters, one per program. They have been replaced by one transmitter per site which not only carry the 4 additional programs but they have been able to add new ones which are proving popular.
There has been the usual campaign about poor quality sound and throwing out FM receivers. Now read https://radio.no/2018/02/record-dab-sales-last-year/

With Scotland you cannot produce program if the radiated signal is too weak, what DAB+’s error correction will do is to make marginal signals useable. DAB would produce bubbling mud sound at this point. When the signal becomes weaker the digital signal will be muted. To overcome this either more power from existing transmitters or a (or a number) of on- channel repeaters to fill in the black spots.

The other option is to use your high power AM transmitters converted to DRM to cover the whole UK. A DRM transmitter can carry 1 music quality program or a pair of speech quality. Another option is to use DRM+ which can carry 3 music quality programs from 47 MHz – 230 MHz some of which is used by the FM and DAB(+) channels. A DRM+ channel is half the width of an FM channel.

The consortia are;
DRM: drm.org
DAB+: worlddab.org

Norway has switched off analogue radio but looking at this another way, a large number of countries have not! Common sense would suggest that before even considering turning off FM radio in Scotland and other places dependent on it because of the terrain, an alternative should be in place. I’m ignorant of DRM or DRM+ and its potential in difficult reception areas.

What I would like to see is independent comparison of FM and DAB+ and that’s not going to be provided by a manufacturers’ trade association or organisations involved in the development of new technology.

I wonder what advice would be given to those with expensive FM tuners if our government announced a deadline for turning off FM transmitters.

I will pay a visit to Currys-PC World, also known as Dixons Carphone and look for DAB+ ticks.

St John says:
17 February 2018

In the remote areas of Scotland, is there any Medium Wave or Long Wave reception where DAB disappears? Does a mobile phone work when the DAB does not?
Another option is the High Frequency (Short Wave) broadcasts which are reflected from the ionosphere (upper atmosphere) which makes terrain irrelevant. DRM works in this band as well, and retains excellent audio and automatic switching of frequency for daytime to nighttime,. The programs are selected by name not frequency.
The BBC HF transmitter site in Woofferton, Shropshire is capable of high powered DRM.

There is a new consumer receiver (Titus II) capable of DAB/DAB+/DRM/DRM+/AM/FM should be released soon.

It’s not something I have studied, though it is an issue for those living in parts of Scotland and not just those in remote areas. When driving in the highlands of Scotland I have noticed my DAB car radio switching over to FM when the signal is lost and I don’t pay attention to phone reception when driving. Thanks mainly to your comments, I realise that there are new opportunities that I am not aware of.

I assume that new DAB stations in the UK will be broadcast on DAB+ and it does seem that the sale of radios that will receive DAB but not DAB+ has been phased out, presumably because of the legislation you mentioned.

That leaves the fact that most radio listeners in the UK are using FM and many radios currently in use are not compatible with DAB+ or even DAB. In the UK, the sound quality of DAB+ is largely unknown and many of us have not been very impressed by DAB. I’m saying this as an early adopter and regular user of DAB radio, but one who turns to FM for listening to music. We need to experience DAB+ for ourselves and to see independent reviews. I believe that we need a transition period when some programmes are available both on DAB+ and FM.

Thanks Alex.

St John – Which? has published a review of portable radios in the March 2018 issue of the Which? magazine. It covers 20 models, all of which are DAB+ compatible. We are told that Norway was the first country to complete the digital radio switchover and that the UK could be next. Then we are informed: “But there is no need to panic over losing FM and AM radio transmissions just yet.” Rather conflicting statements, and not up to the usual standard for Which? reports, in my view.

UK listeners who are interested in DAB radio might find this site interesting: http://www.ukdigitalradio.com/coverage/postcodesearch/

It offers a postcode search that shows DAB and DAB+ coverage. A map on this site shows that much of Scotland and parts of Wales are not well catered for at present:

It would be interesting to know about FM coverage, and AM too in view of the possibility of introducing DRM.

What an appalling website! And the map is almost indecipherable where it matters.

The postcode search reveals that we can receive the programmes we might be interested in if we had a DAB receiver. I shall stick with FM for as long as possible. My previous experience with DAB about thirteen years ago was disappointing and I gave the radio away.

It’s not good, but if you go to the website (link above) you can enlarge it and zoom in. The intention is presumably that we use the postcode search, but the map illustrates areas of poor coverage.

DAB coverage has undoubtedly improved and from what I have heard, DAB+ seems to offer a worthwhile improvement. I expect many of us will want to continue to use our FM radios. I’m very glad to have DAB in the car and as the map indicates coverage in England is good.

Yes, I did that Wavechange but the zoom was not detailed enough in areas near us with patchy coverage.

Dawn Trespass says:
20 February 2018

Dab+ is the way forward not Dab which we are stuck with like a qwerty keyboard. The original Fm rollout was an expensive process with masts like the one near me at Belmont being the highest in Europe meant we had a great infrastructure but the dab rollout is anything but, the government this time has tried to get the private sector to foot the bill themselves which leads to a few players with expensive subletting and a skewed bouquet list. Also the second premise isn’t there and never will be that the quality will be as comparible as Fm. Fortunately as tech increases innovative ways of beating the problems come around and three way switching between Fm dab Internet seamlessly will come into play. Yes I was happy at the 2nd national mux coming in but more needs to be done about channel variety too.

St John says:
16 March 2018

I will be coming to the UK next month and will travel around Wales and Southern England. I will bring my hand held Bush DAB+/DAB radio with me so I can hear what you complain about.!
St John
Dawn Trespass
Fortunately all the towers used for FM are ideal for DAB+/DAB. You need all music broadcasters in stereo at 48 kbit//s or greater using DAB+. This is what happens in Australia.

St John

Welcome back St John. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time you arrive.

With a portable radio you will be able to investigate coverage, but to appreciate the extent of the problem you really need to visit Scotland, outside the cities and main towns. The map above gives an indication of the problem. It would be interesting to see a comparable map for FM radio coverage.

Sound quality if what some of us appreciate and as far as I know we still have no stations broadcasting classical music on DAB+.