Digital radio reviews: FAQs

Before you buy a digital radio, there are some essential questions you should ask. As well as checking out the Which? digital radio reviews to see how different digital radios performed in our tests, you should also check out the advice below to help you choose the right digital radio for you.

Find out more about how we test digital radios. Plus, you can trial Which? today for £1 to find out which radios we rated as Best Buys.

Can I receive digital radio in my area?

Not everywhere in the UK can receive digital radio broadcasts, and some places have to put up with patchy quality. You can find out what the reception is like in your area by checking your postcode on the Digital Radio UK website.

Is there anything I can do if my area doesn't receive digital radio?

New digital transmitters are being set up all the time, so the coverage area for digital radio is increasing. Alternatively, listen to some of the digital-only broadcasts through a digital TV set-top box or the internet.

A digital stereo radio

Digital radios aren't always better than analogue

Does digital radio always sound better than analogue?

No. The best-sounding portable radios we've tested are digital, but some models actually have worse sound quality than the best analogue radios.

The main advantage DAB radio has over FM is that being digital, it doesn't suffer atmospheric or electrical interference. This means digital radio sounds crystal clear most of the time.

However, where FM radio is working well it can actually offer better sound quality than DAB. 

This is because in order for digital radio to fit in more channels, the data travelling to your radio is tightly compressed by removing parts of the signal the broadcaster feels you won't be able to hear. This can reduce the sound quality on your digital radio.

All stations are compressed on digital radio to some extent. It's less noticeable on spoken word channels such as Oneword and Radio Five Live because the sound they transmit is less demanding than music channels such as Radio One and therefore require less space.

Is there a time delay on digital radio?

Yes, DAB digital radio is behind analogue. If you have a DAB radio playing in one room and an analogue radio in another they won't be synchronised. There can also be time differences between digital radios, so if you have two different digital radios playing they may not be in time with each other. It depends very much on the radio.

Do I need a special aerial to listen to digital radio?

Most digital radios have built-in telescopic aerials. These are fine if you live in an area with good coverage. If you live on the fringes of one of these areas, or reception is patchy, you could try installing a rooftop DAB aerial (which cost from £15) to boost the signal.

Bear in mind, though, that it will involve a bit of cabling – not ideal if you want to move a portable digital radio around.

What is DAB+?

DAB+ is essentially a newer version of the DAB system. While we don't use it in the UK, it is the system adopted by many countries, including Italy, Australia and Germany. If you are planning on taking your radio abroad, there is a chance it might not work, as DAB is not compatible with DAB+.

The good news is that most newer radios come with DAB+ too.

What’s the greenest way to listen to digital radio?

Choose one of our Best Buy digital radios for the greenest way to listen to radio. Tabletop digital radios draw an average of 7 watts, but listening to radio via your TV can use 10 times this power.

When will digital switchover be announced?

You may have heard that the traditional analogue service will be switched off, and replaced with digital. It's the same principle that we saw with TV in 2012. 

While it's true that a switchover is planned, there is currently no firm date in place. The government won't commit to a switchover date until digital listening accounts for at least 50% of all radio listening. It currently stands at 36.1%, and we wouldn't expect a total analogue turn-off for national stations any time soon.

If the switch does happen, you'll need to have a digital radio if you want to listen to most of the stations that are currently broadcast on analogue FM (and MW). 

The switchover will also affect listening to the radio in your car. You'll need either a car digital radio or a converter that lets your existing car radio receive digital stations.

Will I still be able to listen to my favourite FM radio stations on digital?

One of the big plusses of digital radio is the broad range of stations available. However, not all of the smaller radio stations have made the transfer to digital yet, so you may find that your local station isn't available on digital. Thankfully, almost all digital radios still come with an analogue tuner, so you'll be able to listen to your local station the traditional way.

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