How to buy the best radio
By Oliver Trebilcock
FM, DAB or internet radio? Wi-fi or bluetooth? Kitchen or bedroom? This expert guide will help you find the best digital radio for you.
Digital radios range in price from a surprisingly cheap £15, all the way up to a slightly less modest £500. We’ve found Best Buys available for as little as £35, and Don’t Buy models that will cost you hundreds. Make sure you're not influenced by cost alone when looking to buy, as you could easily end up with a DAB, FM or internet radio you'll regret buying.
Our tests help us to show you which digital radios not only sound great, but are easy to use and set up, as well as have a wide range of useful features. They also enable us to warn you about the ones that have disappointing sound or are unreliable, and tell you whether those manufacturer claims actually stack up.
Use our online tool below to help you pick the right type of radio. It allows you to look at the most common radio functions by clicking the information spots. If you're on a mobile device, you'll need to scroll down to the features tab at the bottom of your screen to explore them.
We've also summarised the types of radios available, as well as the features and specifications currently on offer, so you can make sure you'll be able to find the perfect radio for your needs.
Once you've decided what you're after in a digital radio, find the right radio for your needs and budget with our expert radio reviews.
DAB radios are the most popular type of digital radio. Approximately 33% of the population regularly tune in to DAB broadcasts, and 31 million people say they own a DAB radio. They range from small personal handheld devices to large traditional tabletop radios, and they can be picked up for around £20 and upwards. Where and how you want to use it will be a big factor in the type of DAB radio you choose.
- Wide choice of channels.
- No natural static, as it picks up a digital signal.
- Automatic tuning – simply choose a channel by name.
- The screen displays track title and artist name as you listen.
- Many models often also receive FM radio.
- No ability to download podcasts or stream music.
- Dependent on good coverage in your area.
Internet radio has had a surge in popularity in recent years, and now roughly 7% of the population regularly listen to internet radio broadcasts. Internet radios access your home wi-fi network and give you the option to listen to web-based radio stations from all over the world. The choice of what to listen to is vast. Most internet radios are able to download podcasts and stream music from your home network, and some also include a DAB tuner.
- 100,000s of internet radio stations to choose from.
- Better sound quality, as the radio station data is streamed over the internet, so it's not reliant on aerials and signal strength.
- Can act as a wireless speaker for your music collection.
- Some models connect to music streaming services, such as Spotify and Deezer.
- More expensive than traditional DAB radios.
- More complicated to set up.
- Require a decent broadband connection for steady streaming.
These can be a great boon if you want to take your radio out and about with you, whether it’s to listen to The Archers in the garden or catch up with the news on a camping holiday. Some use dedicated rechargeable batteries, which will recharge when the radio is plugged in. Our reviews tell you how long a radio will last on one charge.
- Great for portability.
- Some models charge the battery when plugged into the mains, while you're using them.
- Usefulness depends on how long the battery lasts.
- Replacing batteries can be expensive.
Personal radios are small, Walkman-like devices that mean you can listen to DAB radio while out walking the dog or down at the allotment. They can be a useful alternative to a larger, tabletop model if you want to listen to the radio in isolation.
- Small and portable.
- Usually have headphones with a built-in aerial to improve the reception.
- Often come with a built-in rechargeable battery.
- Reception can vary as you move about.
- Can only be listened to by one person at a time.
- Small speaker can negatively affect sound quality.
Key features to look for
To help you get the most out of your digital radio, out for the following features:
If you’re looking for a radio that can get you out of bed in the mornings, a model with good alarm options is essential. The best will let you select which days to set the alarm for, so you can have a lie-in at the weekend, and 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 multiple independent alarms.
Bluetooth and NFC
These are useful features if you want to wirelessly stream music from your mobile or tablet. Radios that have Bluetooth and NFC (near field communication) will easily sync with, and play audio from, your smartphone, tablet or MP3 player. Some radios will also have an aux input for a wired streaming connection.
It's much less common now, but some radios have a dock to slot your smartphone or MP3 player into and play music from your device. They are easy to use, and will also recharge the device at the same time.
Some radios have touchscreens instead of more traditional knobs and buttons. They’re not for everyone - those with dexterity issues may struggle with the controls, and they’re not best suited to kitchen radios, where listeners who are washing up or knuckle-deep in dough could have problems getting a response with messy hands.
If you’re after a dedicated bedroom alarm clock, look for one with a prominent snooze button. This way, you can easily buy yourself 10 more minutes in bed, without having to furiously scrabble with the radio and put your specs on to find the right button.
Not an essential accessory for everyone but, if you’re picking a radio for a living room as opposed to the bedroom, it can be handy to have a remote so you don't have to get up and adjust the volume or switch stations every time. Look for one with prominent, well-labelled buttons. Some radio brands have a free app that you can download to turn your smartphone into a remote control, if it doesn't already come with one.
You’ll find that most models are also compatible with DAB+. This is a major upgrade to DAB offering improved sound quality and a greater number of radio stations. However, there are currently no plans to transition the vast majority of BBC and commercial radio stations to DAB+, with both consumers and industry generally happy with the audio quality of DAB stations. Nevertheless, DAB+ is widely used in other countries across Europe, so DAB+ support means you’ll be able to use your radio abroad.
A USB port can be a handy addition to a digital radio, as it allows you to plug in other devices, such as a phone or tablet. The radio can then charge your devices or play music from them.
Not common, but some radios actually allow you to record your favourite show, just like the PVR under your TV.