Roberts Classic DAB March 2011
Roberts Classic DAB first look
The cost of swapping an FM radio for a DAB one may put you off of upgrading, but getting the extra stations DAB has to offer doesn’t have to be expensive. We've taken a first look at the £40 Roberts Classic DAB radio.
The Roberts Classic DAB is Roberts’ affordable offering to the DAB market. It costs just £40 and, with Roberts’ strong radio heritage, we were eager to get a listen to this low-priced DAB FM radio.
Getting started with this Roberts radio is simple. The moment you switch on the radio for the first time it begins scanning for stations. This takes around 30 seconds, after which the radio tunes in to the first station in the alphabet. From here on in, when you switch on the radio, it will tune into the last station you were listening to.
It has a telescopic aerial – much easier to position to get good reception than a bendy wire aerial.
Classic DAB sound
When we test DAB radios in our lab, we often find that radios costing less than £100 aren’t great for sound quality, but that doesn’t mean they’re all bad.
This is a small radio with a single speaker, so you can’t expect the sort of sound quality you’d get through your hi-fi speakers. That said, for a small radio this model sounds pretty good – we’ll have to wait until we get it into our lab to see how it compares against other models.
Roberts has been quite clever with the design of the radio’s casing in order to maximise the sound – there are openings to allow bassier sound to come out of the back of the radio. To get the most out of this Classic DAB, don’t back the radio right up against a wall.
It sounds a little unrefined, as you’d expect for the size – but it’s perfectly listenable and would easily suit a kitchen. You can turn the volume up reasonably high before it starts to become noticeably distorted – you can certainly get it loud enough to comfortably listen to if you’re in the same room as the radio.
The volume is controlled using the dial on top of the radio. The volume isn’t continuously adjustable, it increases and decreases in steps, but you’re sure to find a volume level you’re happy with. The dial has a rubbery texture and is extremely easy to operate – you barely need to grip it at all to turn it and it’s easy to turn even with wet hands.
Large text on screen
The LCD screen has space for eight characters – you can use the screen to display information like the station name, scrolling text information about what you’re listening to, or to display the time.
The characters are quite big, making the screen easier to read if you have issues with vision, or simply if you’re not standing close to the radio – you may be able to read the scrolling text to see the name of the track you’re listening to from a bit of a distance.
However, because only eight characters are displayed at a time, there’s no space to display much information on screen at once – scrolling text isn’t quick to read and because the LCD only has a limited number of sections it can light up, symbols like ‘&’ display a little oddly.
The ease of reading the screen is dependant on where you put the radio. Because the screen is on top of the radio, the higher your eye line is above the screen, the easier is it to read. To best read the screen, keep the radio on lower shelves. The angle of the screen means it can still be just about readable when you’re standing a few metres away and when the DAB radio is positioned only a little below eye level if your eyesight is good.
The screen uses white characters on a blue backlit display and the brightness can be set to a low or high level depending on your preference.
Before you buy a new DAB radio, check our guide on How to buy the best digital radio.
Tuning to a radio station
Navigating between stations is a bit long-winded because you have to scroll through a list of all available stations – it’s wise to save your favourite stations as presets to access them quicker. You can store up to 10 DAB and 10 FM radio stations as presets – 20 in total.
Presets are simple to save and the user manual in the box gives good, clear, step-by-step instructions as to how to save presets and indeed as to how to undertake any function on the radio.
Selecting a station to listen to is quickest to do two-handed - you have to press the menu button on the left and then turn and press the dial on the right to make selections. However, once you get the hang of the menu structure, you'll find it relatively to operate with one hand too.
Portable DAB radio
The radio includes a headphone jack, there’s also a carry strap and compartment for 6 AA batteries if you want to use the radio away from the mains - we will have to wait until we get the radio into our lab before we can comment on battery life.
The radio is extremely light when there aren’t any batteries in it. The base of the radio is a little smaller than the top and if you knock the radio it might wobble a bit, but it’s fairly stable when operating the controls.
This is a simple radio and as such it doesn’t include any extra features such as alarms, snooze or sleep functions and doesn’t display any information on the screen when you switch it off – so you can’t use it as a clock unless the radio is on.
There’s no input for an MP3 player - understandable for the price - and it doesn’t have an output connection, so you can’t hook it up to your hi-fi. In some ways that’s a bit of a shame as there are very few DAB radio adaptors on the market – the prospect of being able to buy a cheap DAB radio and play it through high quality hi-fi speakers without having to buy a dedicated DAB hi-fi separate may appeal to some people.
For more on Roberts and other manufacturers, read our best digital radio brands guide.
This Roberts radio is affordable, but doesn’t look cheap. You can see the attention to detail in the finish of the product – it’s not a black plastic box and the colour, elliptical top and subtle curves lend it an air of class not often seen in sub-£50 models. The plastic has a soft feel, the buttons and controls are solid and easy to operate and there aren’t any sharp edges that might make it feel cheap and unfinished.
One aspect of the screen takes a little getting use to. Information flashes on the screen when you’re navigating through the menus or scrolling through station names. The benefit of this is that the flashing is a clear indication that you are moving through a menu; however, we were conscious that we had to think a little about what we were doing while programming presets and scrolling through station choices as we found the flashing a little distracting.
We were pleasantly impressed with the build quality of what is a cheap radio where DAB is concerned, and we can see the Roberts Classic DAB fitting in nicely in a kitchen or shed, where you might want a small, standalone radio. The sound is good enough for general purposes as long as you don’t expect too much, which for £40, you shouldn’t.
Pros: Low price, large, bright display with good viewing angle, aesthetically well finished, sounds reasonable for its size, clear instruction manual, presets
Cons: Short on features, sound distorts if you turn it up super-loud, a little wobbly if you knock it
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