How to buy the best DAB radio
Video: How to buy the best DAB radio
Watch our video to help you decide which DAB radio is right for you.
Types of DAB radio
Best for: Use in the kitchen, living room or study
Tabletop radios tend to be larger and heavier than other types, meaning they can often sound better.
Pros: Better sound quality on average
Cons: Often take up more space, awkward to carry
Alarm clock radios
Best for: Bedside use
Alarm clock radios are optimised for use on a bedside table. They usually have easy-to-read screens and large buttons on the top, which are easy to hit when you’re lying in bed.
Pros: The easiest design to use when you’re sleepy, often have large screens which are ideal if you have poorer eyesight
Cons: Usually have worse sound quality than tabletop radios
Best for: Moving from place to place, such as in the garden or on holiday
Portable radios can run off batteries, making it easier to move them around and away from power sockets.
Pros: Easier to carry around and place anywhere, usually take up less space
Cons: Usually have worse sound quality than tabletop radios
Best for: Listening when walking around or in the office
Personal radios are small, pocket-sized, Walkman-like radios that you typically listen to with wired headphones. They allow you to tune in to DAB radio while out walking the dog or down at the allotment.
Pros: Ideal for personal use without disturbing others, often include a built-in rechargeable battery.
Cons: Solo use only, reception can vary as you move about, headphones they come with are usually poor quality
You can greatly improve the sound of a personal radio by switching out the headphones they come with for a pair of our best wired headphones such as the , or . Just note that if the replacement pair has button controls for making volume and other adjustments, these controls are unlikely to work with the personal radio, so you’ll need to use the controls on the personal radio itself.
How much do DAB radios cost?
DAB (digital) radios range in price from a surprisingly cheap £15 to well over £500, but our expert lab tests prove that paying more is no guarantee of quality. We’ve found Best Buys available for as little as £70, and disastrous models costing well over £100 that would be an expensive mistake to buy.
Expect to pay £70-100 for a quality DAB and FM radio, and considerably more (£100-200) for a good internet radio.
Make sure you're not influenced by cost, style or brand alone when deciding on a radio, as you could easily end up with one you'll regret buying. Some budget, fashion or nostalgia-focused radios in particular may look great, but can have tinny sound and awkward menus and buttons that are a frustrating pain to use. We’ve also found a surprising number of disappointing radios from the biggest brands.
What are the best DAB radios to buy?
The best DAB radios sound great, with crystal-clear speech, easy-to-read displays and simple buttons and menus. The worst radios sound dull, tinny and lifeless, with muffled speech. Below we’ve selected some of the very best models on the market, recommended by our discerning expert listening panel with decades of experience between them.
Pricing and recommendations correct as of January 2021.
Best DAB radio features to look for
DAB radios are more than just broadcast devices. To get the most out of yours, consider models with the following useful features:
Some might think that all radios have alarm functions, but it’s not always the case. You’d expect to find them on non-budget radios including models that aren’t dedicated alarm clock radios.
The best will allow you to get out of bed in the nicest possible way: the alarm will gradually rise in volume rather than waking you up with a start, you’ll be able to select which days to set the alarm for (so you can have a lie-in at the weekend), and you’ll be able to choose how the alarm will sound – be it a buzzer or a radio station.
If you and your partner need to get up at different times, look for a model with dual independent alarms, an increasingly common feature.
Dedicated alarm clock radios are bound to have this, but if you’d prefer to use a tabletop-design radio by your bedside (for example, for improved sound quality), be sure to look for one with a prominent snooze button.
This way, you can easily buy yourself 10 more minutes in bed when needed. No one wants the frustration of groggily battling with a poorly designed radio when they’ve just woken up.
Even if you intend to use your radio at home, battery power can be a useful feature. Whether it’s to listen to ‘The Archers’ in the garden or catch up with the news on a camping holiday, it means you don’t have to stay within reach of a power socket.
Some radios use dedicated rechargeable batteries which will recharge when the radio is plugged into the mains, even while you’re listening to it.
We independently test the battery life of radios that come with battery packs included, or run on conventional batteries, to see if manufacturers’ claims stack up in reality. For some tabletop radios you can buy a separate battery charge pack, giving you the benefit of portability without the compromise on sound quality you often get with dedicated portable radios.
Bluetooth, NFC and aux-in
Bluetooth is the secret to making a standard DAB radio ‘smarter’, without having to pay more for an internet radio.
It allows you to stream internet radio, and any other audio on your smartphone, to your DAB radio – so you can listen to everything from podcasts and audiobooks to your personal music collection. NFC (near field communication) is simply an easier way of connecting via Bluetooth – instead of finding the radio in the Bluetooth menu on your smartphone or tablet, you can simply touch your device on the ‘N’ symbol on the radio.
If you prefer a wired connection or have an older MP3 player or other device, look for a model with an aux-in socket, although these are becoming rarer.
Many DAB radios, particularly alarm clock models, have one or more USB sockets for charging portable devices including your smartphone or tablet. This is particularly handy if you want to save plug sockets when using your radio by your bedside.
Remote control or app
Some radios have a dedicated remote control, or an accompanying smartphone app that can act as a remote control. These can be very handy if you’re choosing a radio for a living room or dining room, so you won't have to get up every time you want to adjust the volume or switch stations.
They’re also particularly useful for radios with lots of functionality, such as internet radios, where performing a long series of button presses can get clunky.
However, not all remote controls are equally good: look for one with large, well-labelled buttons, where the most-used buttons fall naturally under the thumb. Some radios are compatible with the UNDOK app, which can act as a remote control, even if the manufacturer doesn’t supply its own app for the radio.
Most non-budget DAB radios are also compatible with DAB Plus, although the UK is well behind the continent in taking up this technology. For radio stations that support it, DAB+ offers improved sound quality.
Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to transition most BBC and commercial radio stations to DAB+, with both consumers and the industry generally happy with the audio quality of DAB stations.
You do also get a greater number of radio stations with DAB+, but they tend to be niche offerings. However, DAB+ is widely used in other countries across Europe, so the main benefit is if you go on holiday: DAB+ support means you’ll be able to continue using your radio when travelling abroad.
Do consider carefully which features you actually need – you’ll save money by avoiding those you’re unlikely to use.
Which brand: Roberts radio or Pure radio?
Those two aren’t your only options – a third British radio brand, , has been growing rapidly in recent years and is now seen as a serious challenger to Roberts and Pure. There are many other brands to consider as well, including , , , , , , , Majority, , , , Sainsbury’s, , and – with many of our Best Buys coming from some of these alternative brands.
‘Portable’ radio charge packs: watch out for hidden charges
Be especially careful here for hidden charges. Manufacturers can be very misleading with what they call a ‘portable radio’ – often you have to buy the manufacturer’s custom battery pack, which is sold separately – an extra charge you probably didn’t expect.
Check the tech specs tab of our to see what batteries the radio takes, and if it requires a rechargeable battery pack that’s not included in the box. Then you can add the price of the battery pack on to the price of radio, to find out what the full cost of buying the radio really is compared with other models.
When a radio is described as ‘portable’, it could be powered in one of three ways:
- Using conventional batteries, such as AAs. Choose one of our to save money and help the environment. Most portable Roberts radios are powered this way. The Pure Elan E3 (pictured above) is an anomaly in the Pure portable radio family since it takes conventional batteries.
- Via a battery pack that’s sold separately. Most Pure and VQ portable radios are powered this way, as well as the odd high-end Roberts radio. VQ charge packs cost around £20, but Pure ones can be very expensive, at £35 or more – sometimes more than half the cost of the entire radio. Roberts battery packs can cost up to a whopping £45 alone. For more information, see our .
- Using a supplied battery pack. These are rarer, and you’ll usually only get a supplied battery pack when the built-in battery can’t be easily removed, such as with small pocket-sized radios like many in the Pure Move range.
At Which? we don’t accept that you’re buying a ‘portable radio’ unless the battery pack is included in the box, or it works with conventional batteries you’re likely to have at home – rather than being forced to buy a manufacturer’s bespoke charge pack.
For this reason, if a radio is advertised as ‘portable’ but requires you to buy a separate battery pack, we consider it to be a ‘tabletop’ model instead, as it’s not what we call ‘portable-ready’ out of the box. Look for the term ‘portable-ready radios’ in the tech specs tab of our reviews to be sure you don’t get caught out with hidden charges. For radios with sold-separately charge packs, the charge pack model you need is listed there as well. There are great radios with separate charge packs – so don’t be put off buying them.
What is the difference between DAB and FM radio?
DAB radios are easier to use because you simply choose the name of your preferred station, rather than having to tune it in manually like you do with FM. The sound quality of DAB radio tends to be better because there’s no natural static. DAB radio generally has good coverage across the UK, but in remote areas you might still struggle to get a good signal and have to use FM or internet radio instead.
DAB radio benefits:
- Wider choice of channels compared with FM.
- Automatic tuning – simply choose a channel by name.
- No natural static, as it picks up a digital signal.
- The screen can display track title and artist name as you listen, if your radio has an EPG (electronic programme guide).
- You don’t miss out – all models we review also receive FM radio.
DAB radio disadvantages:
- Dependent on good coverage in your area.
- Miss some features of internet radios, such as internet-only radio stations, podcasts, audiobooks, and music-streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music (may require subscriptions). However, if you get a DAB radio with Bluetooth, you can stream all these features to your radio from your smartphone or tablet.
My DAB radio has poor reception, signal or missing radio stations – what can I do?
However, most radio reception issues aren’t due to coverage, but local issues. If you live in a valley between steep hills, or in an urban area surrounded by tall buildings, it will be harder for the radio signal to reach you. Our lab experts rigorously test the reception of radios so you can find out which have the best signal – look at the test results tab in our reviews to see how sensitive each model is to picking up radio stations.
Tips for getting better radio reception
- Try putting the radio in a higher location, for example on a shelf or by a window.
- Angle the aerial higher and towards the window.
- You’ll usually get better reception with a long, rigid, telescopic aerial than from a wire aerial, so it’s worth trying a model with one of these.
If you’re still having trouble, buying an may be the answer – this will work in range of your home wi-fi signal, and most models have DAB and FM radio as well in case signal improves in your area in the future.
Does DAB radio sound better than FM radio?
Since DAB isn’t affected by natural static that can add crackles or fuzz to the sound of FM radio, it generally sounds better than FM. It depends on how clear a signal you can get in your area, where you position your radio, and how good its aerial is.
However, if you’re lucky enough to get a strong, clear FM signal, it’s possible to get better sound quality than with DAB, as most DAB stations transmit with limited bandwidth. DAB+ also offers greatly improved sound quality over DAB, but unfortunately most popular stations (including BBC national stations) don’t have plans to use it yet.
It’s an academic argument, though: all DAB radios we review also give you FM radio too, so you don’t lose out. You can easily switch between the two to get the best sound quality wherever you are. Also it’s important to note your radio’s speakers have a far greater impact on the quality of sound than choosing between DAB and FM broadcasts – it’s more important to choose a DAB radio we recommend.
Theoretically, internet radios have the potential to have the best sound quality. In practice, we’ve found many excellent-sounding DAB radios and some dreadful-sounding internet radios, too, so for the best sound quality it’s more important to check our reviews than worry about the particular technology.
Avoid FM-only radios
The UK government plans to switch off FM broadcasts for national radio stations such as BBC Radio 4 – see our . While no definite date has yet been confirmed (and it’s been pushed back several times), it would nevertheless be very unwise to buy an FM-only radio at this point, as you may find it’s missing your favourite radio stations in a few years.
FM-only radios often look temptingly cheap and are usually found in less digitally focused high street shops such as supermarkets and DIY stores. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid them – we don’t review FM-only radios, so if you pick one of our recommendations (or, indeed, any model from our ) you won’t have to even consider this issue.
Many cars are unfortunately still sold with FM-only radios. If you’re buying a new car, we’d strongly recommend choosing a trim level with DAB radio, or get it fitted as an option. You can also easily add DAB radio to your existing car – see our handy guide on .
Should I buy an internet radio?
Internet-connected radios have wi-fi, usually in addition to DAB and FM radio. They generally now have Bluetooth, too, to stream audio from your smartphone or tablet. This means you get a wide choice of ways to listen. The best internet radios tend to be sold at a premium as a result, and there aren’t that many internet radios on the market to choose from in the first place. They’re usually either tabletop or portable radios.
Pros of internet radios:
- Widest possible choice – listen to web-based radio stations from all over the world.
- Ability to listen to podcasts, audiobooks and music-streaming services such as Spotify (may require subscriptions) without a connected smartphone or tablet.
- You don’t miss out – all internet radios we review also receive DAB and FM radio.
- Potential for the very best sound quality thanks to streaming from the internet.
- No reception issues as long as the radio’s in range of your home wi-fi (some also have ethernet sockets for a wired connection).
Cons of internet radios:
- Very restricted choice – there aren’t many internet radios on the market.
- Tend to cost £100-200.
- Complex functionality makes them more difficult to set up and use.
- If you have a smartphone, you can stream everything internet radios offer to a Bluetooth DAB radio instead, which will cost less.
- You’ll need a stable broadband connection and a sufficient data plan.
It’s worth considering carefully whether you actually need an internet radio. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can access internet features on that by streaming it through a standard DAB radio that supports Bluetooth. This allows you to access internet radio and podcasts from apps such as BBC Sounds, TuneIn Radio and others, without needing a dedicated internet radio. You can also access audiobook and music-streaming services including Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited and Audible in this way (may require subscriptions).
People often find that it’s easier to access these internet features via your smartphone’s touchscreen anyway, as it can be fiddly to navigate them using the buttons on a radio. Some internet radios have an accompanying app to solve this issue.
For many, a Bluetooth radio is therefore a better choice, as you have a far wider choice of radios, and you save money as well.
Choose an internet radio if you don’t want to use a smartphone or tablet, or listen to internet-only radio for long periods on a daily basis – you won’t have to use two devices, or keep your smartphone in Bluetooth range of your radio, and you won’t have to worry about the Bluetooth connection excessively draining your phone’s battery life if you use it for hours at a time.
You should also consider getting a instead of an internet radio. These are also connected via wi-fi, and you control them with rather that with buttons. You can use a smart speaker as an internet radio by asking for your favourite radios stations, and it will play them through services such as TuneIn Radio. This gives you more choice of models, starting at lower prices – the only disadvantage is that smart speakers don’t also have DAB and FM radio like internet radios typically do. On average, sound quality is often better on smart speakers, too. For more information, see our guide on .