Digital radios: How we test DAB digital radios

testing dab

Which? tests every aspect of DAB and Internet radios - from the obvious things, like sound quality and aerial sensitivity, to the more overlooked details, like how easy the radio is to operate, and how effective the alarm functions are. Our in-depth radio lab tests mean you can trust our Best Buy and Don't Buy verdicts and choose with confidence.

Our tests are independent and impartial, which means that if a digital radio doesn't make the grade, we'll let you know. It also means that you can rely on our Best Buys being the best products on the market, without our verdict being compromised by outside influence.

Our testing answers those all important questions, like:

  • What's the sound quality like?
  • How easy is it to use?
  • Is it a good bedside alarm clock?
  • How sensitive is the aerial?
  • What's the energy consumption like?

Take a look at our Best Buy DAB radios to see which models come through our tests on top.

Read all our expert DAB radio reviews with a trial to Which? for just £1.


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Video transcript

There are a number of digital radios out there, but it's quite difficult to know how the audio is on one when you're browsing in the shop and it's not just audio playback that's important when choosing the right digital radio for you. And that's where Witch[sp?] comes in [xx][sp?] you'll find reviews of all the latest digital radios, from a number of manufactures; we list specifications and features alongside our easy to read Star rating system, that helps you identify the best and the worst performers.

The best performing digital radios are awarded a coveted Best Buy award. and unlike other reviewers, we also give out don't buys to the models that you should avoid. And to further ensure our independence, which doesn't have any the advertising on it's website or in it's magazines. That means that we don't have to please the manufacturers and we can say what we want.

We have an expert listening panel who listens to different types of tracks, because you might listen to speech on Radio 4, but you might also listen to like rock or planet rock, or things like that. So we'll play a range of tracks and get separate ratings for those tracks. If it's an internet radio they'll also listen to internet tracks, streamed tracks.

So, we can get a rating for how good it sounds streamed, to how good it sounds with DAB. Well the fact that we've got an expert panel is great. We've got a few people giving their ideas. And ranging in age, you've got to take into account that younger people can hear higher sounds much easier so we kind of get a really good mix of people in and giving their impressions on how kind of how well the radios are playing the different frequencies so higher sounds must be easier for the younger people to hear anyway, but you can find the a poor quality radio.

It will trail off of the top end and the bottom end and kind of gets a little bit sort of dirty and mushy. On the classical tracks you want to be able to pick out the instruments and hear that kind of cloudy in things and also when people are speaking, you kind of notice so there is a piece that they listen to from verbal spoken female broadcast they are talking about how to get listening to a giraffe or something, it's very odd.

But it's a really good way to hear the difference between a good and a bad radio when their hissing from when the speech you hear is perfectly clear, which is what you want you're listening to speech radio. We have member reviews for personal takes on each radio. Each review is links to a live pricing page, helping you find the cheapest online retailers, when you come to buying your digital radio.

Our product's comparison tool makes it easy to directly compare radios and find the model with the features you need. Buying a digital radio isn't going to be the biggest decision you're ever going to make. But reading at Witch just a radio review will at least ensure that you're getting the best value for your money.

So make sure you log on at Witch

What's the sound quality like?

The most important aspect of testing radios, sound quality accounts for 45% of the total test score we award each radio. Testing each radios audio capabilities are a team of five experts, each with a background in audio or music, who listen to a number of different samples and rate each model accordingly. The samples include classical, jazz, spoken word, rock and pop. As well as a rating, the panel also give us their comments on the radio, so if it sounds like a 'wasp in a jam jar', we'll let you know.

Our listening panel are placed in different positions to the radio, to test how it sounds from all angles. When you listen to the radio at home you're unlikely to sit directly in front of it. Our reviews tell you if a radio still sounds good when you're moving around the room.

The best radios provide a natural sound, without any sign of sibiliance (a hissing on 's' sounds), and an ability to provide good (but not overwhelming) bass.

How easy is it to use?

A radio might sound great, but if it's difficult to use on a daily basis, you'll want to know. This is why ease of use accounts for 30% of our total test score.

We set up every radio out of the box, and comment on the process. Was connecting the aerial straight forward? Are the menu's clear and easy to navigate? Can you save your favourite stations? Are alarms easy to set?

If we come across any issues. they will impact on the radios final score, and we can tell you exactly why this is.

Is it a good bedside alarm clock?

In our experience, a lot of people looking for a radio want it to double up as a great alarm clock too. This is why we pay great attention to the alarm features in testing, commenting on the number of independent alarms each radio has, if they can be set to wake you with a different station to the last one you listened to, and at a different volume.

We'll also tell you how easy it is to locate the snooze button in the dark, and how bright the display is at night.

How sensitive is the aerial?

When testing each radio, we broadcast our own DAB signal within the lab. In doing so, we are able to control the strength of the signal, gradually weakening it until the radio is unable to pick up the signal. 

The radios with more sensitive aerials that can receive weaker signals stand a better chance of getting DAB reception.

What's the energy consumption like?

We measure the energy consumption of radios make sure that they do not cost you, and the earth, once they are plugged in.

If you plan to use your portable digital radio away from the mains, you need one with a good battery life. 

Our comprehensive power tests check battery life for portable radios and power consumption when listening to DAB, in standby and any energy saving modes.

Check out the Which? digital radio Best Buys for the best digital radios in our tests.

Digital radio total test scores

Once we have all our test results in, we evaluate the data to determine the total test score for each radio. The score is made up of the following components:

• Sound quality 45%
• Ease of use 30%
• Features 15%
• Power use 10%

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