Portable Radios

Making a choice

While there are now a host of hi-tech ways for us to access information and entertainment, it seems we still love listening to the radio. Not that portable radios are stuck in some sort of time warp - far from it. The advent of DAB put radios at the forefront of digital advance, and Internet radio seems likely to keep them there. Today's portable DAB and Internet radios are technological powerhouses, capable of picking up hundreds of DAB stations and thousands more on the Internet. Some double as CD players and come with a host of bells and whistles which have more in common with a set top box than a traditional transistor.


When choosing a portable radio, you need to consider a few factors. Firstly, can you receive DAB radio? At the time of writing, around 85% of the UK is DAB enabled. Several manufacturers, including Roberts and Panasonic, have a search facility on their websites which allow you to check if you can receive DAB. Secondly, are there any factors that will interfere with DAB reception in your house? It's rare, but tall structures nearby can interfere with DAB reception, so you may want to borrow a friend's DAB radio before buying your own to check. Thirdly, how much do you want to spend on a portable radio? There's a huge variation in prices depending on what features a radio has - you'll pay a lot less for a simple tri-band portable radio than you will for a DAB radio with a built in CD player or Internet connectivity.

DAB technology

digital cameraYou may be happy with an FM/MW/LW portable radio, but increasingly people are making the switch to DAB. There's no doubt that if you want the widest choice of radio stations free of interference by pirate radio, you'll want to check DAB out. DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting. DAB programmes are transmitted by digital signal which take up less room on the frequency spectrum than traditional AM or FM stations. This allows for more stations and automatic tuning. There's no messing about with DAB - you get a definitive list of stations accessed without the need for precision dial twiddling. While small pockets of the UK are not covered by DAB, the UK is committed to making the switch to digital broadcasting, and it seems certain full DAB coverage will be achieved in the near future.


Some radio listeners maintain FM radio is better to listen to than DAB radio. If you can pick up perfect reception of an FM station, you may find it sounds clearer than a DAB equivalent or CD player, but there's no denying there's more choice on DAB or that DAB radios are easier to tune. For those who still want their FM, it is possible to buy a DAB radio with the capacity to receive FM stations.

Internet compatibility

While DAB greatly increases the number of radio stations you can listen to, you can access many thousands more stations from all over the world via the Internet. The rise of Wi-Fi has seen several of the leading manufacturers of portable radios add Internet compatibility to some of their DAB radios. Devices such as the Stream 205 from Roberts and the EVOKE Flow from Pure, now come with Wi-Fi Internet radio as well as DAB and FM. With Internet radio you can listen to Internet shows whenever you want. These radios also allow you to stream music from your desktop or laptop over a Wi-Fi network, eliminating the need for a CD player.


Internet radios also come with USB ports and sockets allowing you to plug in your iPod and MP3 devices. With DAB, FM and Internet options all included, this new breed of portable radios really do offer the most complete package available. An increase in Wi-Fi hotspots outside of the home makes them a great choice for taking away with you, because, as long as you have access to Wi-Fi, you'll be able to listen to your favourite stations in high quality wherever you are in the world. And, while pocket DAB radios are nothing new, you can now buy pocket Wi-Fi Internet radios allowing you to access some of the features of the larger portable versions while on the go.

Features

digital cameraA standard non-DAB portable radio will have AM and FM settings. Some have a built-in CD player and digital tuners, allowing you to save a list of preset stations. Higher-end models also come with iPod docking stations to allow you to access MP3s as well as a CD player.


DAB radios come with added features that aren't available on traditional portable radios. Stations are listed by name on the radio's LED display. On many DAB radios, this display will also feature 'intellitext' services. These scrolling text messages provide streaming information on songs, programme line-ups and live news or sports headlines. Some DAB radios also include Electronic Programme Guides (EPG) which allows you to record programmes in much the same way you would with a set-top box. If this sounds like something you'd make use of, bear in mind you'll probably need to purchase a Secure Digital (SD) card to use in conjunction with your radio. Pause and rewind functions are available on some DAB radios, and even the simplest pocket-size versions will allow you to store a list of pre-set favourites. Many portable DAB radios also come with alarm clock functionality.

Internet radio comes with all the perks of DAB radio, but it will also allow you to listen to shows again and again and, like DAB, most portable Internet radios come with a line-in, allowing you to connect an external MP3 device or CD player should you wish.

Conclusion

If you're someone who likes to stay at the cutting edge of technology, you'll want to invest in a radio which gives you DAB, Internet and FM functionality. These radios are great little entertainment systems that open up your portable radio to the world. They can be pricey, though, so if you're on a budget you may want to focus on DAB only or DAB/FM radios. There's a wide number to choose from, ranging from fairly basic models with no bells and whistles, to radios with record functions and scrolling 'intellitext.' If sound quality is a factor for you, make sure you get a DAB radio with stereo speakers, but remember that as long as you live in an area that can receive DAB, your radio should sound crystal clear - no matter what it costs.


If you like to listen to CDs around the house, then you can still find DAB or FM radios that include built-in CD players. But if having access to your music collection on your radio is that important to you, it may be worth considering an Internet or MP3 compatible radio instead of one with a CD player. You'll need a PC and/or MP3 player to stream your music to your radio, but by downloading your music you'll be able to access your whole collection via your radio at the touch of a button in a way that just isn't possible with a traditional CD player.