Best retro DAB radios
By Oliver Trebilcock
Are you looking to buy a retro-styled radio? Some have first-class sound quality and functionality that belie their nostalgic looks, but we’ve found others that sound as old as they look – they are dreaded Don’t Buys. Our expert lab tests make sure you don’t get caught out – we reveal which are really the best and which are style over substance.
Retro DAB (digital audio broadcast) radios are one of the most popular styles of radios. Whether you’re looking for a tabletop radio with the very best sound quality, a portable model or the perfect radio for the bedside, we’ve got you covered. But watch out – we’ve found plenty of retro radios with irritatingly fiddly buttons, poor sound and difficult-to-read displays. Our experts make sure you get the superb retro radio you deserve.
Deciding which radio is the best can be challenging, particularly when comparing on the internet where you can’t hear how they sound, or in a noisy store. Our expert listening panel and professional lab tests find out which radios really do deliver. We consider radios from all the top retro-radio brands, including Roberts, Pure, VQ, John Lewis, Bush, Revo and many more. And because our testing doesn’t factor in price, you can find a quality retro radio that matches your budget.
We also compare the scores of popular retro and vintage-radio brands to discover which brands perform the best and which you can’t trust.
Skip straight to what you’re interested in by clicking on the links below.
Best Buy radios – head straight to our top-scoring radio reviews.
Best DAB retro radios
Not sure whether to go for a Roberts radio or another radio brand such as Pure, Bush, VQ, Goodmans, Revo, John Lewis, Ruark Audio or Sandstrom? Just because a radio has retro looks doesn’t mean it can’t have bang up-to-date crystal-clear sound.
Our expert listening panel and lab professionals aren’t swayed by flashy retro or vintage looks – all they care about is sound quality, and whether the radio’s great to use. They slice through flashy marketing and pointless technical details to tell you what you actually want to know. All radios claim they sound amazing – our experts find out which ones actually perform the best.
All the latest tech and big brand power in the world doesn’t guarantee a radio will be a Best Buy. We’ve discovered scores of expensive retro radios with very unbalanced sound, such as overly aggressive bass that muddies the detail of the sound, or piercing high frequencies that will make listening a chore. Since retro radios often come at a premium price, purchasing one of these models would be an expensive mistake.
See which are the best retro radios and which you should go for below.
Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by joining Which?.
Best retro radios
In many ways this is the ultimate retro radio. You can access internet radio as well as FM and DAB, and the sound quality rivals a traditional hi-fi, with warmth, crispness and energy to the tone throughout. The build quality is exceptional, and Spotify music streaming is built-in (needs a subscription), or you can access Spotify for free using Bluetooth via your smartphone.
The retro radio is for those looking for a compact model with great sound. There’s also the flexibility of a rechargeable battery and there’s an alarm with sleep and snooze functions too so you could use it on a bedside table. Its smooth wood finish is stylish, and Bluetooth lets you stream music from a smartphone, tablet or TV just like you would with a Bluetooth speaker.
This could be considered the quintessential retro radio, with timeless looks and tried-and-tested functionality. And fans will be pleased to hear it doesn’t just look the part. It’s bang up-to-date under the hood, with clear speech and punchy pop, and has the latest modern features as well including Bluetooth, giving you access to internet features such as internet radio and podcasts via your smartphone.
If your idea of a retro radio is something more akin to a 1970s recording studio, this radio looks just the ticket, with its walnut finish and imposing speaker grill. You get all the modern features you’d expect including Bluetooth to play audio from your smartphone, and it has a natural, warm sound that does a great job at a wide variety of speech and music genres.
If you’re looking for a retro alarm-clock radio designed specifically for the bedside, you’ve come to the right place. The sound is superbly balanced and there are two independent alarms, flexible sleep and snooze functions, and the alarm volume rises slowly so you’re awoken gently. The premium build is a treat, and the telescopic aerial saves you from the fiddly wire ones found on most clock radios.
This is a great compact retro radio. It’s even portable to easily take it out in the garden or on holiday. The sound quality is more than adequate, and the large rotary dials are a joy even for those with limited dexterity. Setup instructions are nice and clear – you’ll get going in no time. See our full review for key details like how long the batteries last and anything to watch out for.
Pricing and recommendations correct at February 2019.
Retro radios to avoid
Retro radios that look good on paper aren’t guaranteed to be intuitive to use, or have the precise, balanced sound quality that will make the most of your music whatever you want to listen to. Some retro and vintage radios will take you back for all the wrong reasons, with harsh, scratchy, buzzing or cracking audio and temperamental, awkward or tiny controls that’ll drive you round the bend.
We’ve even found models with displays so bad you’ll need to squint even with good eyesight, and radios to use by your bedside with volume so low they might not even wake you up. Over the years, our has exposed disappointing retro radios, even from top and premium brands.
Avoid an expensive mistake by staying clear of the worst offenders in the table below.
Worst retro radios
This big-brand retro radio may look like a nice throwback to the 1950s, but the sound will not evoke any nostalgia. It feels as if it belongs in the past, with variable sound quality that can suddenly turn thin and hissy. The screen is small, sunken and, awkwardly, can only be read from above. The alarm doesn’t have a snooze function. Times have simply moved on.
It may evoke glorious nostalgia, butthis radio ends up throwing you back for all the wrong reasons. The buttons are difficult to read in sunlight, and the buttons and dials are cumbersome to use with poor layout. Even worse, the sound is somewhat garbled with a lack of a sense of energy - this radio fails to make listening pleasurable.
This DAB/FM radio may have stylish retro looks, but it narrowly avoids getting a Don’t Buy. Available for around £50, it would be an expensive mistake to buy this radio for use as an alarm clock, with the low maximum volume making the two independent alarms and snooze function useless if you’re a heavy sleeper. Despite having stereo speakers, it sounds poor, with a rough and scratchy sound that lacks life and bass. On closer inspection the build quality is quite poor as well, and having the screen on top of the radio makes it hardly ideal for use as a radio alarm-clock. It’s not worth the money. Login to find out which radios we would recommend instead with vastly superior sound quality.
Retro radio brand test scores
Retro and vintage radios are in strong demand, and the top brands are in fierce competition with each other, all with their loyal fans. However, not all their models are equally good, and as the chart below exposes, there’s also huge variance in the quality of the radios across each brand.
Even more starkly, the chart shows the retro radio brand with the best-scoring radio and best average scores also makes the worst-rated radio of all the brands. Even the other leading brand – close behind – makes mediocre radios, including one very expensive radio that narrowly avoids getting a Don’t Buy. So it’s important not to rely on brand power or price alone when deciding which retro radio to buy.
Which? members can see which brand has the best-scoring, worst-scoring and best average radio scores in the graphic below.
Scores correct at February 2019.
Why you should avoid FM-only retro radios
At Which?, we now only test DAB radios, so you can be confident every radio we review is capable of receiving both DAB and FM radio broadcasts. The UK government plans to make DAB the main platform for national radio stations such as BBC Radio 4 in the coming years. While no date is currently set, when it is, all remaining national radio stations on FM will only be available on DAB. Local radio stations will continue to broadcast on FM, with AM stations =switching to either to FM or DAB.
FM-only radios, often with retro-style designs, are still on sale, typically at the budget end of the market. To make sure you will still be able to access your favourite national radio stations years into the future, we strongly recommend choosing a DAB radio. All DAB radios can also pick up FM stations, so you do not lose anything from choosing a DAB radio. Find out more about the transition away from FM radio in our guide to the digital radio switchover.
See our full range of retro radio reviews
Do you want to browse the full range of retro radios we have reviewed? Determining which radio designs look retro or vintage can be a matter of opinion, so we’ve taken a very broad approach to give you the most choice.
To see our full list of retro radios from all the top brands, see our expert retro radio reviews.