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Digital radio buying guide

If you're looking for a new digital radio to use at home or on the go, we can help you find the best one to meet your needs.

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Digital Radio

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Quick facts about digital radios

  • Digital radios can give you access to a wide range of stations and clear reception both at home and on the go.
  • Prices start around the $100 for portable digital radios.
  • High end models with eye-catching designs can cost up to $1,000.

What is a digital radio?

Digital radio is the latest generation of radio broadcast technology. Sound is turned into digital signals and transmitted. This digital signal is then picked up and decoded at the other end by a digital radio receiver. This results in enhanced sound quality close to what you'd expect from a CD without the interference that can plague AM and FM stations.

However, while a set-top box allows you to convert an analog TV to digital, you'll need to get a new radio if you want to listen to digital transmissions. Digital radios in Australia feature chips that allow them to receive DAB+ (the upgraded and most widely accepted version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting standard) transmissions.

Why should I consider a digital radio?

Compare the quality of digital TV with what your old analog TV used to produce and you'll get an instant idea of why digital radio is a big deal. There are plenty of reasons why you might want to upgrade your AM/FM model to a digital radio:

  • More choice. Digital radios provide access to a much wider range of stations, allowing you to listen to a variety of music, chat shows, talkback programs, sports channels and more. Many units also allow you to pick up your favourite FM and Internet radio channels as well.
  • Automatic station tuning. Rather than turning a knob this way and that to try and find the reception sweet spot, digital radios allow you to skim through the available stations simply by pressing a button.
  • Know what you're listening to. Ever heard a song you like on the radio but been frustrated by the fact that you don't know what it is? With a digital radio, the song title and artist are displayed on a screen right in front of you along with other info like the station you're listening to, news feeds and more.
  • More than just a digital radio. There are digital radios for use at home and on the go, models that allow you to access FM and AM channels, radios with alarm clocks and even radios that allow you to stream music via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

However, digital radio reception varies, especially in regional Australia. To find out whether digital radio reception is available in your area, head to Digital Radio Plus and enter your postcode.

What types are available?

There are two main types of digital radio to choose from:

  • Desktop digital radios. These household digital radios plug into your wall socket and include features like a display screen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This category can be divided even further into units for use in the kitchen or living room (these are generally larger and more powerful) and those for use in the bedroom (these are more compact and include features such as an alarm clock).
  • Portable digital radios. Lightweight and compact in design, you can take these units with you wherever you go. They offer the convenience of battery power and many are also water-resistant, but they tend to have fewer features than desktop models. However, they're usually cheaper than desktop radios.

Though nowhere near as widely available, there's also a third type of digital radio to choose from: in-car models. If you've got a new car, then you'll likely have digital radio already, but drivers of older vehicles will need adaptor radios that allow you to play digital content through your car's stereo.

How to compare digital radios

When shopping for a digital radio, you'll need to consider your budget, whether you want a portable or home unit, the design of your radio and the type of listening you want to do. To find the perfect digital radio for your needs, remember to take the following factors into account:

DAB

DAB+ is the digital audio broadcasting standard used in Australia, so make sure any model you choose features "DAB+" in the product description.

Sound quality

Most digital radios feature one or two speakers, so you have a choice between mono and stereo sound. Sound quality is essential to ensure that you get the most out of the radio, so it's worth asking for an in-store demo of how a radio performs.

Ease of use

How easy is the unit to set up and use out of the box? Is it straightforward to find new stations? Is there a preset feature to allow you to program in your favourite channels? If the unit has a remote, is its layout intuitive and easy to understand?

Power output

You can match your digital radio's power output to the size of the room. 20W and above will be needed for most large living rooms, while smaller rooms require less power. Anything over 50W will be overkill in most situations.

Display screen

Many digital radios feature an LCD display screen that shows info such as the name of the station and the song you're listening to, the current time and the Wi-Fi signal strength. Make sure this screen is easy to read and, if choosing a model for your bedroom, ensure that it's softly lit or that the brightness can be dimmed.

Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth

Many modern digital radios offer Bluetooth music streaming and the ability to access thousands of Internet radio stations via Wi-Fi. Models with Wi-Fi also allow you to take advantage of services like Spotify Connect and stream your Spotify library straight to your radio. Some digital radios are NFC-enabled, so you can easily sync them with your smartphone.

Design

From sleek, modern units to retro models sporting a "1950s wireless" look, digital radios come in designs to suit a wide range of decor.

Pause and rewind

Some desktop models allow you to pause live radio and rewind up to 15 minutes if you get distracted or simply want to listen to something again.

Clock and alarm

Most radios will display a clock on their LCD screen, but bedroom models will also allow you to set an alarm to help you wake up in the morning.

AM/FM support

Most digital radios also allow you to tune into FM stations, but very few models can access the AM band.

CD player

If you want a unit that can play CDs as well, some models provide digital radio as part of a larger hi-fi system.

Line out

If you want to hook your radio up to a better set of speakers or a soundbar, check that it offers the necessary audio out port to do so.

Batteries

If you're choosing a portable model, some models have an internal rechargeable battery while others require AA or C-cell batteries. Most models offer between 10 and 16 hours of playback time, but some provide as much as 20 hours.

Dimensions and weight

If you're buying a desktop radio, check the dimensions to find out how much space it'll take up on your kitchen bench or bedside table. If you're choosing a portable model, make sure it's lightweight and compact enough to take with you wherever you go.

Headphone jack

Make sure you can plug in headphones if you want to listen to the radio without disturbing anyone else.

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