Top five best cheap radios for 2019
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.
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.
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Best cheap radios
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.