Listen Up Is there a future for Dab radio in the UK ?

william-1

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Plans for digital radio switchover are against the interest of consumers
by Steven Green
Summary of his report
The public does not support FM stations being switched off. Ofcom’s research has
shown that 91% of people are “satisfied” with the amount of choice available on the
radio today, and only 3% of people are “dissatisfied”. DAB’s proponents claim that
its main benefit is the additional choice it offers; therefore Ofcom’s research shows
that there is very little demand for DAB. This has been borne out in practice by
DAB’s very low sales figures, which led to Tim Davie, the BBC’s Director of Radio,
saying that the current trend in sales “would not lead to radio switchover in our
lifetime”. The public outcry that resulted when the 2015 switchover date was first
announced was further evidence of the public’s opposition to the plans to switch off
FM stations. And the broadcasters have yet to provide a single piece of evidence to
even suggest that the public is in favour of this happening. As it is the public that will
have to spend approximately £7.7 billion on replacing existing audio equipment, the
BBC Trust should hold a public consultation on this matter prior to any legislation
being put in place.
DAB delivers lower sound quality than FM. Digital radio switchover should not lead
to listeners receiving their favourite stations at lower audio quality, therefore stations
must switch to using DAB+ prior to any FM station being switched off.
The commercial radio broadcasters would only save an estimated £16.2 million per
annum by switching off FM stations, not the £30 million that the radio industry has
claimed, and some of the other claims made by the radio industry about dual
transmission costs are contradictory in nature.
The DAB system has a long list of drawbacks associated with it due to the fact that
the system was designed 20 years ago and it uses technologies that are outdated and
inefficient. Numerous countries that had previously supported DAB rejected using it
because it is so outdated. DAB+ is an upgrade of the DAB system, which solves or
vastly improves upon each of DAB’s drawbacks. The main advantage of DAB+ is
that it is three times as efficient as DAB, which mean that DAB+ can carry far more
stations, and all stations can be delivered at far higher audio quality than on DAB.
Other benefits include transmission costs being far lower; less spectrum being
required; reception quality is far more robust; and DAB+ is a much greener
technology because the overall transmission power required is far lower.
Despite Internet radio offering consumers many advantages in comparison to
DAB/DAB+, the Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG) chose to exclude Internet
radio from the recommendations it made to Government about how to proceed
towards digital radio switchover.
http://www.parliament.uk/documents/documents/upload/stevegreen.pdf
 
william-1

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Worse, the "digital switchover" is all pain with very little gain. The government can't make a profit by flogging off the old radio spectrum, and the current plan is to keep using FM for local radio broadcasting, including community and hospital stations that can't fit on DAB. People are not crying out for more radio stations: they don't listen to most of the ones they already have. And whereas digital TV brought things like HD TV and 3D, DAB doesn't even get you HD radio. The sound quality of the UK's current DAB, with its low bit-rates and obsolete MP2 codec, is worse than FM.

Sadly, the UK broadcast radio industry more or less has abandoned the idea of high-fidelity sound, which the BBC did so much to foster. Even your old hi-fi may be too good for stations targeted at small kitchen radios that are either mono or offer very little in the way of stereo separation.

What to do?
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Prediction is difficult, but it's clear that radio is now and will remain a multi-platform medium. I think FM, DAB, DVB-T (Freeview), Freesat/Sky, cable and internet radio will all be around for the foreseeable future. You can probably add DAB+ to that, because more advanced countries have adopted it and even the BBC is testing it. You may also see DRM/DRM+ (Digital Radio Mondiale), since this is developing rapidly and can make good use of old LW/AM/FM spectrum. Basically, DRM brings the digital advantages of DAB plus FM-like sound quality to long-range (ie short wave and medium wave) broadcasting, though interference can be a problem. The BBC World Service has been participating in the development of DRM.

The more radio platforms you can use, the greater the range and variety of stations you can receive. This includes "radio like" online stations such as Pandora, Spotify and Last.fm.

If you are planning to buy a new radio, you can still buy one that only supports FM or AM/FM. However, it's probably a bit late to buy an FM-only hi-fi tuner like the Quad Elite, in spite of the attractively low price -- only £599.95. (Quad is now owned by a Chinese company, and the Elite looks just like my old Quad 77 system.) If buying either a tuner or a standalone radio, I'd suggest one that supports FM, DAB and DAB+, and preferably internet radio as well. At the moment, there's no reason to look for DRM, though Amazon.co.uk offers aMorphy Richards AM/FM/DAB/DRM radio.

DAB and Freeview
All DAB radios seem to support FM, and a large proportion support DAB+. Indeed, the UK government's guidance, Minimum specifications for DAB and DAB+ personal and domestic digital radio receivers, published in February 2013, says: "Receivers shall be capable of receiving DAB and DAB+ Digital Radio broadcasts in the frequency range 174 to 240MHz". It's worth having because the BBC can't switch to DAB+ if most of us own radios that don't support it. Whether your radio will last long enough to receive DAB+ is another matter.

If you can buy a tuner or FM/DAB/DAB+ radio with RCA-out sockets, that would be even better. RCA/phono plugs make much more reliable connections than audio-jacks. For people who have decent DAB reception, something like a Revo Mondo DAB tuner is a relatively cheap (£69.95) way of adding FM/DAB/DAB+ to an old hi-fi.

If you live in an area with good Freeview reception, then you can feed an audio signal to your hi-fi, preferably using 2 x RCA/phono sockets. People with newer hi-fis may be able to use a TOSlink cable instead. Freeview provides more than 30 radio stations so you will probably find some new ones. It helps if the Freeview tuner has a channel read-out on the front, so you can select radio stations without having the TV switched on. If you can't get Freeview then a Freesat set-top box -- plus satellite dish -- is an alternative.

Freeview and Freesat generally provide radio with higher bit-rates -- typically 192kbps vs 128kbps or less -- and therefore tend to sound better than DAB. However, bit-rates vary, and there is no guarantee that they will stay the same. The trend in both audio and video broadcasting is to keep reducing the quality of existing channels to add more rubbish that hardly anyone wants.

Internet radio
Internet radio offers by far the widest choice -- tens of thousands of stations -- and the most variable sound quality. But it can offer better sound quality, for two reasons. First, the bandwidth is not limited by broadcast requirements, and the BBC is streaming Radio 3 at 320kbps. Second, even if internet stations have the same bit-rate, they use much more efficient codecs. The 320kbps Radio 3 stream is encoded using AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) rather than MP2. Technically, it’s better than FM.

Of course, this assumes that the audio stream has not gone through earlier stages at lower quality. For example, if you convert a 64kbps mono MP2 signal into 128kbps AAC, it's not going to sound better. Also, the playback system has to be capable of exploiting the difference. You may not hear the difference between MP2 and AAC on a cheap kitchen radio, but you should hear it on good quality headphones.

Internet bandwidth is growing rapidly, and Ofcom says that the average UK broadband speed grew from 3.6Mbps in November 2008 to 17.8Mbps in November 2013. The average "urban broadband" speed is already 31.9Mbps. Advances are driven by online TV and movie services, and radio's need for bandwidth is relatively trivial. Internet radio stations can now stream studio-quality recordings, if they want.

The drawback with internet radio is that it doesn't really meet the need for mobile or in-car listening. The latter accounts for about a fifth of UK radio listening. You can use a 3G phone in urban areas, but the signal is not completely reliable, and this consumes expensive mobile bandwidth that is in short supply. (The UK has not adopted the long-range WiMax version of Wi-Fi that solves this problem.) Unless systems like Apple's CarPlay replace radio, we'll still need good old-fashioned broadcasting.

Aerials matter
If, as you say, "finance is a major consideration", then don't do anything until you're forced to. DAB/DAB+ radios are unlikely to get more expensive, and you may get better 4G/5G/DMB options later.
 
william-1

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I mainly listen to FM radio these days & some Internet radio it hard to believe that here in Essex where radio 1st started that the future of radio in the UK has gone backwards where we used to lead the World now we have a digital radio system that is so inferior that it is embarrassing to think that such short sightedness has allowed us in the UK to fall behind the rest of the World :-ohcrap

Our leaders here in the UK have let Marconi & EKCole down big time:(
 
2cvbloke

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As far as I'm concerned, DAB has no future, I don't use it, or want it, or like it, or need it, or enjoy it, it's low quality, drops out if a lightswitch is flicked, pops and squeaks too much when the signal's slightly off, and there's too much squashed into it causing the problem of low bandwidth...

DAB can go away now please... :D

We have let Marconi & EKCole down big time:(
Actullay, Marconi transmitters were banned when Howard E. Armstrong invented the tuned AM circuit (aswell as FM radio too, but RCA stole that patent from him), so, it's an Armstrong that created the world of radio as we know it, Marconi just made sparks cross a gap that produced tones across the frequencies that polluted the airwaves when AM took over... :)
 
timo_w2s

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I have no problem with DAB reception here just outside London and it is better than FM for interference free listening, especially in the car, but... and it's a big but... the way it's implemented in the UK with the inefficient original DAB codec and low mono bitrates makes it a joke in its current state as far as I'm concerned. I also find there is very little content of interest for me these days on UK radio, but the same goes for FM, so I guess I'm one of the 3% of people are "dissatisfied" with the choice.

I used to be a bit of an anorak but radio is just boring these days. I have a DAB radio on to my hifi but I only use it to see if I can pick up a new multiplex and then I switch it off again. I don't think it's been switched on yet this year.
 
william-1

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I have a Roberts Stream 83i wifi radio & do listen to BBC Essex in dab for James Whale in the mornings as the reception on FM is very poor in my neck of the woods,
Some Internet radio is very good in 320kbps in WMA but the BBC has now ceased this transmission on BBC Radio-3 (Windows Media Audio Format) having now adopted HTTP Live Streaming and Advanced Audio Coding via the Internet,


MP3 (or MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is a digital audio encoding format that compresses data by basically removing parts of the file in order to make it a smaller size. This allows for the file to require less space for storage on a computers hard-drive or personal MP3 players. It also allows for this kind of data to be transmitted across the internet with less bandwidth.

When music is encoded into MP3 (from an audio CD for example) you are given an option as to how many kilobits (kb) the file may use per second of audio and the sample rate. The most common sample rate used is 44.1khz as this is also used for audio CD's. The bitrate options that you are given can be user specified from anything as low as 32kb upto as high as 320kb. An Mp3 file encoded at 320kb is considered to be as close to the original recording from the CD as possible in this format.

But this format misses a lot of the audio content that was on the original Analogue recording that is achieved via LP or a Revox Reel to Reel tape player.
 
Lazarus

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Just bought a cheap DAB Micro System: Even though we can't get DAB here, we patently can. 58 Stations and the (perceived) quality is fab.

I could be on the verge of becoming converted.

Mind you, being virtually stone deaf in one ear might mask certain deficiencies in the Medium.
 
Lazarus

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I mainly listen to FM radio these days & some Internet radio it hard to believe that here in Essex where radio 1st started that the future of radio in the UK has gone backwards where we used to lead the World now we have a digital radio system that is so inferior that it is embarrassing to think that such short sightedness has allowed us in the UK to fall behind the rest of the World :-ohcrap

Our leaders here in the UK have let Marconi & EKCole down big time:(

Ah, Marconi: I did my Apprenticeship with Marconi Comms in Chelmsford in the mid 1970s. That's where I started in Satellite Comms, in fact.

Back then, it all swam along nicely on Arnie Weinstock's GEC Cash Mountain.

What happened? It's all gone.
 
PaulR

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Best recommendation yet.

"Half-deaf man thinks DAB might be OK".

I'm sure that could be used in the advertising somehow.
 
william-1

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If Dab had been the beginning of radio then it would have died out after 1950 & been replaced by Medium Wave.
 
Captain Jack

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Good riddance. I can't imagine FM being switched off any time soon.
 
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I enjoy capital Xtra, at work, and DAB is the only way i can listen to it.
I seldom listen to any other radio stations and have given up on the BBC, both television, and radio, stations.
 
Channel Hopper

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Channel Hopper

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Rock Element has altered its playlist in the past few days and is horrendous. The 'rock' has vanished.
 
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