Digital radio explained

Digital radios: DAB+ explained

  • What DAB+ is and how it will affect DAB
  • Digital radio with better sound quality than the DAB standard used in the UK
  • Should I wait before buying a digital radio?
  • The pros and cons of DAB+

Will UK digital radios soon be obsolete?

A picture of a man tuning a radio

DAB+ offers better sound quality

In 2007, the World DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) organisation (formerly WorldDAB) announced a new broadcast standard - DAB+, which offers better sound quality than the DAB standard used in the UK.

Although minister for culture Ed Vaizey's digital radio action plan - released in July 2010 - made no commitment to the UK adopting the new DAB+ standard, that's not to say that this won't change in future.

What will happen if DAB+ replaces DAB?

If DAB was dropped in favour of DAB+, radios that can’t be upgraded to receive the DAB+ signal would become obsolete. However, many newer DAB radios contain a multi-standard chip, so they are DAB+ compatible. Other models with a USB port or wi-fi connectivity may be upgradable in the future.

If DAB+ was adopted in the UK, it’s likely that there'd be a period when the two digital systems would run alongside one another. This would allow some stations to be broadcast in the new format and some in the old, giving listeners time to switch to the new standard. We look for DAB+ compatibility in our digital radio reviews.

Is it worth buying a new digital radio?

A picture of a silver DAB radio

Don't be put off buying a DAB radio

If you're planning to buy a new digital radio, don't let the news about DAB+ put you off. UK government seems committed to a DAB, rather than DAB+ future and as a national digital radio switchover from FM to DAB is unlikely before 2015 at the earliest, any potential change to DAB+ looks to be even further off. 

A multi-standard chip that's DAB and DAB+ compatible was introduced in 2009. Models fitted with this chip are future proofed for compatibility with DAB+ as well as being compatible with DAB. So DAB+ compatible models, or those that can be upgraded, are already available from many big players in the UK digital radio market, including Pure and Roberts.

Sound quality

Despite its popularity, there are concerns about the sound quality of DAB radio. Broadcasters use compression techniques to reduce the size of the DAB signal, which inevitably leads to some loss of sound quality, however, buying a digital radio gives you a much wider choice of radio stations than FM, depending on where you live.

Being able to enjoy these extra stations depends on radio reception, which can vary from room to room and be affected by the quality of the radio’s aerial. Some people can happily live with FM reception that isn’t perfect – the sound just isn’t quite as clear as it could be – but patchy reception on DAB can result in actual gaps in sound.

If you have concerns about sound quality, we advise you to buy a Best Buy digital radio that can receive an FM and a DAB signal. To find out about other features to look for, see our guide on buying a digital radio.

Internet radio

You could go a step further and opt for a DAB internet radio, which opens up a whole host of additional radio stations - and an increasing number of models allow you to choose between FM, DAB and internet radio.

Find out more about DAB in the digital radio reviews, our review of the best digital radio brands, and our guide to buying the best digital radio

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