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Top five best cheap radios for 2018

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.

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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.

Below we reveal the top-scoring low-cost radios, one of which is available for just £40. Although they may be inexpensive, they're certainly no compromise when it comes to sound, as our expert listening panel will attest to. Not only that, but they’re simple to set up and straightforward to use, providing direct access to all your favourite radio stations and with genuinely useful features that will enhance your listening experience.

But that doesn’t mean all cheap radios will offer excellent value for money. In our tests we’ve found some with flimsy aerials and feeble reception, as well as poor sound quality and confusing controls. We’ve also rounded up three of the worst, so you can make sure you don’t waste your money on a cheap radio you won’t want to use.

Only logged-in members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Best cheap radios

Lowest price (in stock) £79.98
Which? score 82%
Reviewed Dec 2015
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Ease of use:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Sensitivity:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Presets available:
Member exclusive

Not only does this radio sound far superior to other alarm clock radios, it even stands up to more premium models. As well as fantastic sound, it has a big, bright display and simple controls, making it ideal for early mornings when you’re still half asleep.

Typical price £89.00
Which? score 81%
Reviewed Dec 2017
Overall sound quality:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Ease of use:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Sensitivity:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Presets available:
Member exclusive

With a stylish wooden finish, John Lewis claims the Aria is the 'ideal bedside radio'. It is versatile too, and can even be used as a Bluetooth wireless speaker. Has John Lewis created the ideal flexible audio companion, with excellent sound to match? We reveal all in our expert review.

Lowest price (in stock) £52.00
Which? score 76%
Reviewed Dec 2015
Overall sound quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Sensitivity:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Presets available:
Member exclusive

The tiny ultra-portable radio is a pleasant surprise. Despite its diminutive size, it has a good set of lungs and it has a built-in rechargeable battery that will give nearly 16 hours of listening time, so it will comfortably last all day.

Typical price £30.00
Which? score 71%
Reviewed Dec 2015
Overall sound quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Sensitivity:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Presets available:
Member exclusive

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.

Typical price £69.00
Which? score 67%
Reviewed Oct 2017
Overall sound quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Sensitivity:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Presets available:
Member exclusive

The Spectrum Duo II digital radio is the refresh to John Lewis' much-loved Spectrum Duo model. Upgraded to a colour LCD display, as well as Bluetooth and NFC connectivity for wireless streaming, it comes in a variety of bright, soft-touch variants, and can be powered by mains or battery.

Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct at June 2017.

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our digital radio reviews.

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. 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

Lowest price (in stock) £39.97
Which? score 40%
Reviewed Jan 2013
Overall sound quality:
1 out of 51 out of 5
Ease of use:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Total number of direct access presets available:
Member exclusive

Although this brand makes excellent alarm clock radios, this isn't one of them. Our listening panel could barely detect any bass or treble, and in addition to the tinny sound it was a pain to use because the buttons are small and close together.

Lowest price (in stock) £39.99
Which? score 35%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Overall sound quality:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Ease of use:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery operable:
Member exclusive
Total number of direct access presets available:
Member exclusive

One good thing you can say about this radio is that only one person at a time can be subjected to the sound, as this personal radio can only be listened to through a pair of headphones.

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.

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