How to buy the best radio
By Jack Turner
DAB or Internet? wi-fi or bluetooth? Kitchen or bedroom? This expert guide will help find the best digital radio for you.
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Digital radios range in price from a surprisingly cheap £15, all the way to a slightly less modest £500. We’ve found Best Buys models available for as little as £35, and Don’t Buy models that will cost you hundreds. Don’t be influenced by price alone when looking to buy.
DAB radios are the most common type of digital radio, and give you access to a variety of digital stations, including all the big national stations. They can be picked up for around £20 and upwards.
- Access to all the major national radio stations
- Clear audio quality
- No ability to download podcasts or stream music
- Dependent on good coverage in your area
Internet radios access your home Wi-Fi network, and give you the option to listen to radio stations from all over the world. The choice of what to listen to is vast. They also are able to download podcasts and stream music from your home network. Most will also include a DAB tuner.
- Plenty of listening choice
- Lots of flexibility
- Acts as a wireless speaker for your music collection
- More expensive than a traditional DAB
- More complicated to set up
Battery powered radios can be a great boon if you want to take it out and about with you, whether it’s to listen to the Archers in the garden or catch up with the news on a camping holiday. Some use dedicated rechargeable batteries, which will recharge when the radio is plugged in. Our reviews tell you how long a radio will last on one charge.
- Great for portability
- Some models charge as you listen
- Usefulness depends on how long the battery lasts
- Replacing batteries can be expensive
Personal radios are small, Walkman-like devices, that mean you can listen to DAB radio while out walking the dog or down the allotment. They can be a useful alternative to a larger, tabletop model if you want to listen to the radio in isolation.
- Small and portable
- Reception can become affected as you move about
- Only useful for one person
Key features to look for
To help you get the most out of your digital radio, look out for the following features:
If you’re looking for a radio that can get you out of bed in the mornings, a model with good alarm options is essential. The best will let you select which days to set the alarm for, so you can have a lie in at the weekend, and how the alarm will sound, be it a buzzer, radio station or external source like an iPod. If you and your partner need to get up at different times, look for a model with multiple independent alarms.
A useful feature if you want to stream music from your mobile or tablet, Bluetooth compatible radios will easily sync with, and play audio from, your mobile device. It’s a good alternative to a dock , if you have a non-compatible phone or mp3 player.
Some radios come with a dock to slot your smartphone or mp3 player into, and play music from your device. They are easy to use, and will also recharge the device at the same time.
Some radios come with touchscreens instead of more traditional knobs and buttons. They’re not for everyone - those with dexterity issues may struggle with the controls, and they’re not best suited to kitchen radios, where listeners who are washing up or knuckle deep in dough could have problems getting a response with messy hands.
If you’re after a dedicated bedroom alarm clock, look for one with a prominent snooze button. This way you can have easily buy yourself 10 more minutes in bed, without having to furiously scrabble with the radio and put your specs on to find the right button.
Not an essential accessory for everyone, but if you’re picking a radio for a living room, as opposed to the bedroom, it can be handy to have a remote, instead of getting up and adjusting the volume or station every time. Look for one with prominent, well labelled buttons.
You’ll find that most models come with DAB+. It’s not a system that we use in the UK, but it has been adopted by several other countries, so this means you’ll be able to use it abroad.
A USB port can be a handy addition to a digital radio, as it allows you to plug other devices in, such as a phone or tablet. This can then charge your devices, or play music back from them.
Not common, but some radios actually allow you to record your favourite show, just like the PVR under your TV.