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7 May 2020

How to make the most of DAB radio during lockdown

Listening to the radio is a great way to help you pass the time at home, so read on for our top tips

DAB radio can be a wonderful companion when spending more time at home during the lockdown. It's a superb remedy for spending less time with other people, having a sense of community and keeping yourself informed.

Which? members have been telling us digital radio has played a key role in helping them through the lockdown - as well as getting out their CDs and record player vinyl collections.

One said that they were 'playing my favourite station Yorkshire Coast Radio right through the house'.

Another recommended using the Radio Garden website or app, where you can zoom in on any part of globe to find a whole range of different radio stations from all around the world.

Radio isn't all about what you're listening to. Choose one of our best DAB radios for sound and features.

Taking full advantage of your listening

As we listen to the radio more during lockdown, many of us are discovering different DAB radio stations - remember that if your radio has DAB+, you have an enormous number to choose from. And take advantage of the presets function on your radio to save stations you find for easy future listening.

Also remember that if your DAB radio has Bluetooth, you can also stream audio from your smartphone. This can allow you to stream internet radio to your DAB radio, even without a dedicated internet radio, from apps such as TuneIn.

This means Bluetooth can also give you access to podcasts, audiobooks and music streaming services through apps such as Audible, BBC Soundsand Spotify (may require subscriptions).

Many of us have also had to adjust our morning routines for lockdown, so be sure to take advantage of the alarm clock functions on your radio - many have dual independent alarms, as well as snooze functions and sleep timers to automatically turn off for late-night listening.

DAB radios to consider

If your DAB radio is starting to play up, there are some excellent DAB radios that have been released in recent years. Our lab has noted a significant improvement in sound quality in some radios over the past few years - check our reviews to find out which these are.

Home DAB radio: John Lewis Aria, £89

The John Lewis Aria is one of the cheaper premium-looking DAB radios on the market, and John Lewis claims it's the 'ideal bedside radio'. In fact, it seems suitable for any room in the house, with both dual independent alarms, a good-size LCD screen and Bluetooth, so you can stream audio from apps such as TuneIn on your smartphone.

This all sounds brilliant, but are you getting better sound quality than rival models, and is it easy to use? Find out in the John Lewis Aria review.

Internet radio: VQ Susie-Q, £277

If you're looking for an upgrade to really make the most of your radio listening, the stylish VQ Susie-Q looks like a serious contender. It's a hefty investment, but it certainly looks like the real deal.

Radios often compare poorly with the sound of traditional hi-fi stereos, and the VQ aims to solve this with stereo sound that it says has 'the warmth and richness of tone that you would experience from vinyl'. You can optimise the sound for particular genres using its range of presets, and adjust the bass and treble.

It's an internet radio, too, so if you'd like a bit more variety from your traditional favourite stations, you can choose from thousands of stations from all around the world. The build quality reflects the price too, with a full colour OLED screen - a technology more often seen on high-end TVs - with a wood build (oak and walnut).

So does the VQ pull it off, or would buying it be a big mistake? Our listening panel see whether the all-important sound quality matches the high expectations in our VQ Susie-Q review.

Portable radio: Sony XDR-S61D, £99

It's great to be able to take your DAB radio with you round the house during lockdown, and the Sony XDR-S61D, with its classic portable design, can conveniently run off rechargeable AA batteries you may have at home, rather than needing to buy a radio battery pack.

It has an LCD display showing radio station and programme details, there are five dedicated preset buttons and you get the typical solid build quality as you'd expect from Sony.

However, portable radios aren't typically known for good sound quality. Could this be an exception, and is there anything to watch out for? Our expects give their verdict in the full Sony XDR-S61D review.

For more options to consider, see our full list of DAB radio reviews.

Do you need a DAB radio? Alternative ways to listen to the radio

DAB radios from well-known brands aren't cheap, so if yours is due an upgrade it's also worth considering what other options are available. Almost all DAB radio stations are also available through the internet, so you can access them on your smartphone or through smart speakers using voice controls. You just need to remember that if you don't go for a dedicated DAB radio, you'll need to either be in range of wi-fi or use the data plan on your smartphone.

Smart speakers also often have larger maximum volumes than DAB radios and have more functions, so can be a more all-inclusive music and radio device.

Smart speaker: LG WK7 ThinQ Smart Speaker, £129

Smart speakers can cost not much more than big-brand internet radios, and you get a lot more functionality. They're easily controlled through voice commands and with basic controls on the speaker itself, such as to change the volume.

By simply saying, for example, 'Hey, Google, play BBC Radio 4, you can easily access radio stations via the internet on the LG WK7 ThinQ Smart Speaker. As well as this, you can listen to music with music streaming services Spotify or Tidal (may require subscriptions). The speaker even supports playing Hi-Res audio, which is better than CD quality.

But is it easy to use? Our experts put it to the test in the fullLG WK7 ThinQ Smart Speaker review.

Smart speaker: Ultimate Ears Megablast, £211

Portable wireless speakers can be an excellent option if you like to listen outside in the garden. Many models, such as the Ultimate Ears Megablast, are travel friendly and fully waterproof. To listen to the radio with it, you'll either need to be in range of your wi-fi or you can stream internet radio from your smartphone over Bluetooth using apps such as BBC Sounds or TuneIn.

The Ultimate Ears Megablast has a built-in rechargeable battery and, as its name suggests, has a high maximum volume. You control it with voice commands using the Alexa voice assistant.

It's quite the investment, though. So does the sound quality make it worth the high price? Our experts and listening panel give their verdict in our Ultimate Ears Megablast review.

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, also consider Pure's portable speaker designed for radio listeners, the Pure StreamR Splash.

Bluetooth speaker: Sony SRS-XB01, £20 (with your smartphone)

If you're not a regular radio listener, but would like to listen more during lockdown, the Sony SRS-XB01 Bluetooth speaker looks like it could be great cost-efficient option. If you install a radio app such as BBC Suonds or TuneIn on your smartphone, you can then stream the audio to this tiny portable speaker over Bluetooth - it can go surprisingly loud for its size.

It comes with a carry cord and built-in rechargeable battery, so you can easily carry it around with you.

But is the sound quality good enough, or do you need to spend a bit more? Our listening panel give their verdict in the full Sony SRS-XB01 review.

Mini hi-fi: Denon CEOL N10 (separate speakers included), £445

Mini hi-fi systems (also known as micro hi-fis) usually allow you to listen to the radio as well, so if you've always wanted a stereo, or your existing one is getting on its last legs, they're worth considering. With a good model, you should expect much more refined sound quality, plus stereo sound and a louder maximum volume, than is possible even with the best DAB radios.

The Denon CEOL N10 even supports many of the latest features coming to smart speakers, including internet radio, plus music streaming services. If you have a separate Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker, you can even link this mini hi-fi to it to control the stereo using your voice.

So is this a worthy investment? Our experts see whether the sound quality is up to scratch, and if it's easy to set up to use in our Denon CEOL N10 review.

For more to consider, see our full list of mini hi-fi and wireless and Bluetooth speaker reviews.

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.