Digital radio reviews: Features explained
Digital radios come with more features than a traditional FM/AM radio - from simple additions to being able to view additional information about the program on the display, to recording your favourite shows and accessing certain internet features. While some of us just want a basic digital radio for listening to music in the kitchen, others prefer the versatility that some of the more feature-packed digital radios can offer.
Here we give jargon-free explanations to help you decide which features are worth paying extra for when choosing a digital radio.
Tabletop digital radios
FM on digital radios
Most digital radios can also tune in to FM radio, but not all do – something to consider if you take your digital radio to a remote holiday spot where there's no digital signal.
If you already have an FM radio, and you're buying a digital radio for a different room, be aware there's a small time difference between analogue and digital broadcasts – a minor irritation if you have both radios on at the same time in different rooms.
This is a feature of digital radios, so you'll find that most DAB radios give you access to scrolling text. This is information that runs across the radios screen. The broadcaster of the station you're listening to decides what the text says. Many music stations list the artist and song name as scrolling text when a song is playing.
Some Pure radios have textSCAN. This allows you to pause the scrolling text so that you can manually scroll backwards or forwards to read it.
This isn't a feature you're likely to use often and it isn't common on digital radios.
Intellitext is additional text information that is broadcast in the UK by BBC Radio 5 live - it's mostly sport headlines or football scores.
You don't have to be listening to BBC radio 5 Live to be able to read the Intellitext headlines. Radios that have an Intellitext function allow you to display this text information in place of the normal scrolling text information related to the station you're listening to.
You would normally have to select to display Intellitext in the radios menu. When the Intellitext function is on we sometimes find that if you change the station you are listening to or the volume level Intellitext stops being displayed. If you want to see it again you have to go back into the menu and select which may be a bit annoying if you want it displayed all of the time.
Some radios can be set up to collect Intellitext information even when the radio is in standby, so that when you turn the radio on the information is up to date. However, collecting data in standby uses energy so the default setting is usually that Intellitext isn't collected in standby mode.
Electronic programme guide
An electronic programme guide (EPG) allows you to select a digital radio station and scroll through to see future programmes.
You can get it to set reminders – for example, to set your digital radio to switch to Woman's Hour at 10am, or even record an upcoming show. It works in a similar way to the EPG you get on your Sky or Freeview set-top box.
The technology is still in its earliest stages and only the BBC provides the data needed to update the EPG – so you can only look up BBC programmes. We expect EPGs to improve as digital radio manufacturers get to grips with this new technology.
Pausing and rewinding live broadcasts on digital radio
Many of the latest tabletop digital radios let you 'pause and rewind' live broadcasts. This is a great feature if you want to restart a song, say, or the doorbell rings during a crucial scene in The Archers.
Be aware that digital radios with this ability tend to run the batteries down faster, as radio data is continually stored in the internal buffer.
Compare digital radios with our interactive product finder to find models with this feature.
Recording digital radio
Some tabletop digital radios can record to the radio's internal memory or a memory card. It's worth checking how many programmes can be saved. Some digital radios can preserve more than one, but others wipe over any previously recorded material.
Internet radios are an alterative to DAB models, offering all the same stations, but without having to worry about your signal strength. As long as you have a good internet connection, you will be able to receive all the DAB stations, as well as many others.
Internet radios bring with them additional features you won't be able to find on standard DAB models. The ability to listen to podcasts and access the BBC's 'Listen Again' feature can be a real boon for the devout radio fan, and some even let you purchase music through your radio, such as Pure's 'Lounge' service.
If the radio has built-in Wi-Fi, you will also be able to stream your own music from your PC or phone directly to the radio.
When recording DAB programmes to a memory card or to internal memory a good rule of thumb is that 1MB can store one minute of DAB radio for stations broadcasting at 128kbps, which most do.
Digital radios with stereo sound
If you want stereo sound, choose a tabletop digital radio with two speakers. Obviously, the stereo effect on portable digital radios is limited because the speakers are close together.
Some mono models will allow you to connect your digital radio to your hi-fi to listen in full stereo glory.
Digital radios tune in automatically to all the available stations when you first turn them on. You can then scroll through the names of the stations and store favourite stations as presets.
Clock radio functions on digital radios
Lots of digital radios have the same functions a clock radio: a clock and alarm, as well as 'snooze' and 'sleep' functions. But most are not a perfect substitute for a proper clock radio because the clock digits are usually small, and not necessarily illuminated.
Pocket digital radios
All pocket digital radios are supplied with a set of headphones, but even the best offer only average sound quality.
To find a good pair of headphones which can improve the sound quality, check our headphones reviews.
FM on pocket digital radios
Most pocket digital radios can receive FM signals as well as DAB. None of our currently tested pocket digital radios can receive AM, though.
Pocket digital radios with MP3
Several pocket digital radios can also double as an MP3 player. Some record to their internal memory, others to a memory card.
Some pocket digital radios have a maximum volume exceeding 100 dB, which is above the level which can damage hearing, so take care when listening on a loud setting.