Digital radio is radio that uses digital technology to transmit and/or receive across the radio spectrum. In many modern systems, the radio signal is a digital signal that has been produced using digital modulation. Digital radio receivers also exist, that decode analog radio signals using digital electronics.
What to look for in a digital radio
If our digital radios appeals to you, or you spot what looks like a bargain, make sure that the radio you're considering does what you want it to do. Below, we list the key features to check in more detail:
good reception - ask and check for your area
good sound quality at the volume you use
analogue tuner for FM reception
display - how readable is it?
menus - how many levels do you need to go through?
controls - can you manage them?
station ordering - how helpful is it?
presets - how many and how easy to set?
recording, pause and rewind - does it do these and can you manage them?
power options - battery and/or mains
portability - reasonable weight and comfortable handle?
voice output should speak station names and other information
You're unlikely to have much difficulty turning a tuning dial or pressing up/down buttons to select stations, even with a weak or painful grip. This is something you can easily try out in a shop - check the size, how slippery and the force needed to operate them.
This is helpful for sighted people. As you tune the radio, the station name shows on the screen and you just stop or press the dials or a button to select the one you want. You don't have to remember frequencies, and the displays can give other information such as the type of station and programme details. Look for a fair-size screen with contrasting coloured information against its background. Most are backlit LCD (liquid crystal display) but self illuminating OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays are coming in that should be brighter and use less power. Check also that you can see the information on the screen from different angles.
Electronic programme guide
Some more expensive radios have an electronic programme guide (EPG). This lists the stations and planned programmes, which you can scroll through on the displays. Depending on the model, you can set the radio to come on for a particular programme and even set it to record a future programme. Take note that you need to be in a strong signal area to receive the EPG information. You also need to have enough sight to see the screen to set the recorder.
Pause and rewind
A useful feature if the phone rings or you miss some information in a programme. If you pause the programme, with a button press, you can then rewind to hear something again. The Pure Evoke-3, Roberts RD-8BW Duet and Roberts RD-41 had this feature.
Again, it was the two top-end radios that could do this. Recording a programme you are listening to was straightforward - just press the record button - as was playing back a recording. But setting the radio to record a future programme was through the EPG, so was dependent on being able to see the display screen. The programme was stored in the radio's internal memory or on a removable SD (Secure Digital) media card.
Most digital radios have a built-in clock but not all of them can be used as a clock-radio. All the clocks automatically got the correct time from radio signals.
Check out the weight with the batteries in, if you are planning to use them, and any handle to see how comfortable it is. Just three of the tested ratios were small enough to be hand-held and each weighed around half a kilogram. Tabletop ones varied in size and weight, from just under a kilogram to more than 2.5 kilograms.
External aerial connection
If you live in an area with a weak radio signal, you might need a digital radio roof aerial (different from a TV aerial) to get good reception. Get an aerial installed by a registered installer. In this case, go for a radio with a built-in rod aerial that can be removed, so there is a socket to plug the new aerial into. This was possible with only six of the radios tested. All needed a tool to remove the aerial because the connection was recessed. Obviously, you will not be able to move the radio around the house once a fixed aerial is plugged in.
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