Best cheap DAB radios for 2020
By Oliver Trebilcock
Find an excellent-sounding and easy-to-use digital radio without breaking the bank, with our pick of the best budget radios.
Radios can cost hundreds of pounds, but our in-depth testing shows you don't need to spend a fortune to find a great-sounding one. In fact, there’s almost the same number of Best Buy radios under £100 as there are over £100, proving that money is no indicator when it comes to quality.
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Best cheap radios
This compact tabletop radio excels. It has a beautifully warm sound that elevates a wide range of musical genres, and speech is clean and clear as well. It has 10 DAB and 10 FM presets to store your favourite radio stations, and an easy-to read LCD screen. There’s even support for Bluetooth, aux in, line out and a headphone socket so you can connect various devices. It’s the ideal space-saving companion for the kitchen or any room in your house.
This nice-looking DAB+/FM radio has a smooth wooden finish and a handy carry strap for whenever you want to reposition it. It’s highly suitable as a bedside alarm clock radio, with alarm and snooze functions and a nice, clear large screen with good contrast, even when viewing at an angle. Sound is nice, even and clear, with vocals and speech particularly strong. It even has Bluetooth and line in so you can play audio from your smartphone and other devices, and you can even get a rechargeable battery for it, sold separately for around £20, that’ll turn this compact space-saving radio into a portable one. It’s the perfect all-rounder for the bedroom or anywhere else. Login to find out how easy the radio is to use, and whether the screen is ideal for reading at night.
It's not as high scoring as some of the other radios we've tested, but it’s undoubtedly our cheapest Best Buy at just £40. Well designed and easy to use, this portable device produces better-quality audio than many radios that are double in size and twice as expensive.
This dedicated alarm clock radio has a full-front screen that’s easy to read even when you've stood up out of bed. The snooze button is large and easy to hit, and there's a generous several dozen presets and two direct-access buttons to save your favourite radio stations, plus two handy USB sockets to charge your devices. Bluetooth allows you to stream audio and access internet features like podcasts from your smartphone.
This DAB radio is simple to use with a large snooze button and well-spaced buttons. Its full-front screen is easy to read and the dual independent alarms and sleep timer are ideal for bedroom use. Presets to store your favourite stations are generous, the sound quality is good, and there’s two handy USB sockets for charging your portable devices.
Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct at April 2019.
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Three cheap radios to avoid
The old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ isn’t always true, as our testing has frequently proven, but it is correct in some cases. Even brands that make the best radios also manufacture one or two duds, and you can’t easily tell until you get it home and give it a listen. In our tests we’ve found some with flimsy aerials and feeble reception, as well as poor sound quality and confusing controls. To save you time - and money - we’ve rounded up three of the worst cheap radios below. These digital radios aren’t worth buying, no matter how much they're discounted.
Worst cheap radios
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.
This DAB radio gets it wrong in the worst possible area – its reception is so bad you often can’t find you radio stations. And good luck trying to find out if your one is missing – the radio stations aren’t listed alphabetically and seem to be in a totally random order. This just tops off a whole litany of problems – buttons are stiff, small and cramped to use, and often won’t register your commands. There’s no alarm and the display is tiny. It’s a disaster – avoid.
Four ways to listen to the radio for free
You don’t necessarily need to shell out on a ‘traditional’ radio in order to listen to your favourite stations. There are plenty of other ways to tune in, some of which are free. If you have a TV, computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet - and a decent wi-fi connection - you can listen to internet radio.
Below, we round up the various options for listening online, and explain how to access thousands of major radio stations worldwide.
Digital radio on smartphone or tablet apps
Many of us carry around a perfect radio player at all times, as with the right app your smartphone or tablet can become a powerful alternative to the traditional ‘wireless’. There are plenty of apps to choose from, although one of the most popular on Android and iOS is TuneIn. It’s free to download, and will give you access to a plethora of internet radio stations.
You’ll not only be able to access the usual stations, such as BBC Radio 4 or Capital FM, but you can also listen to thousands of stations from across the globe. If 24-hour mariachi music is your thing, you’ll probably find a station that offers just that.
Digital radio on your laptop
Most radio station websites offer their own players, but if you’re something of an audio butterfly, and like to flit between stations at whim, constantly moving from one site to the next can prove tiresome. RadioPlayer is home to hundreds of radios stations and, as well as the big national stations, there are also lots of local ones to choose from, too.
You can listen live or use the catch-up service to listen to older shows from those stations that provide them.
Digital radio on TV
Since the move to digital, all TVs also offer radio stations as well as the usual channels. They’re tucked quite a way down the channel list, so if you’ve never made it any further than QVC, chances are you might have missed them.
The range isn’t as extensive as you’d find on the internet services mentioned above, and the number of channels you can access depends whether you’re on Freeview or you get your TV from a service provider such as Sky or Virgin Media. That said, all the big names are there, from BBC Radio 1 to BBC Radio 6 Music, Capital FM, TalkSport and others.
If your TV is smart (connected to the internet) it should also be able to stream digital radio – Samsung TVs, for example, can do just that through the vTuner app.
Digital radio on an internet streaming device
Although more traditionally associated with video streaming, it’s still possible to use internet streaming devices - such as Google’s Chromecast or Sky’s Now TV - to listen to digital radio stations.
The method varies by device, but usually it’s as simple as downloading the relevant app, such as BBC iPlayer or TuneIn Radio.