Don't believe what they say: radio is alive and kicking. The advent of Spotify, Apple Music, podcasting and the rest was supposed to herald the passing of good old airwave broadcasting – but the statistics tell a very different story.According to Ofcom, around 90pc of adults in Britain listen to the radio weekly andthe amount of time we spend listening is on the up.
A big part of that is thanks to the advent of digital radio, which allows for more stations, stronger signal, and less interference. The best digital radios today offer top sound quality and slick interfaces – and at a reasonable price point too. Listening to the radio in your kitchen while washing up has never been easier, or clearer.
As with most technology products, this is a crowded space and there's a lot of very good devices for sale. When testing the products for this review, I tried them out at home, using them while I did the everyday tasks that the radio accompanies so well – getting ready for work in the morning, cooking at night, cleaning at the weekend.
Here's what I found on my search for the best DAB radio out there, starting with my favourite...
1. Roberts Revival iStream 3
What we like about it:A retro design and modern tech combine to fantastic effect
Roberts aretheradio manufacturers to beat, having been making wirelesses (ah, remember when the word wireless didn't refer to internet connections?) since 1932. Today, their range is extensive, spanning wireless (there's that word again) speakers and turntables. But for a premium quality, stand-and-deliver DAB radio, the company's Revival iStream 3 is as good as you can get.
Given that this radio proudly bears the royal seals from both the Queen and the Prince of Wales, you’d expect big things. Even so, during testing I was genuinely blown away by how good this radio is.
Let's start with the look. It drips retro charm – a reminder of radio's golden years. That deep blue you can see in the picture (also available in four other colours) is leather; it combines perfectly with the gold detailing on the straps, logo, and speaker face. For my money, put this on your kitchen window and you've got a status symbol to rival that Le Creuset cast iron frying pan on the stovetop.
Despite the very premium look and feel, Roberts have somehow managed to keep the radio light and easy to move –ideal if you fancy taking it out into the garden while you’re mowing the lawn. It uses rechargeable batteries, so powering it on the go is straightforward.
The radio's control panel is on the top, and it's here where you start to see how Roberts are melding old with new on the Revival iStream 3. There are two old-school knobs, a few press buttons, and a digital screen that displays square 'app' icons much like you see on a smartphone. Yes, this is very much a 21st Century radio.
Out of the box, the radio scans forDAB radio signals, opening up a portal into a world of hundreds if not thousands of radio stations. You can choose up to ten presets to jump back to if you want to be able to find your favourites quickly – although it's worth noting that setting up those presets can be a bit fiddly. This is probably my one criticism of the product (the display is a bit small to easily use setup menus) but I'm going to forgive it because the knobs you use to navigate it are so good. There’s a satisfying ratchet as you turn them which feels very precise and deliberate.
Once you settle on a station and start listening to music, you learn that theiStream 3 is blessed with clean, clear sound, and it can really blast it out at high volume. That combination, of clarity and power, was unsurpassed by the other radios I tested, and a major reason why I chose this one as my favourite.
Anyway, banging out a radio tune is only half of the magic here. As I mentioned, this is a radio built for 2019, so it can do more than just pick up a radio signal. It can also connect to the internet, and that's where the iStream 3 reveals a variety of new tricks. Hook it up to wifi and you can use a variety of streaming apps: Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, Tidal.
You can also stream internet radio, which is a useful function if your DAB signal is poor. Anyone living in a bsement, take note.
While we're talking about streaming, you can send music from yoursmartphone (which can also control those streaming apps I mentioned) over Bluetooth. So the Revival iStream 3 is effectively a wireless speaker as well as a digital radio.
I get the feeling that the iStream 3 is the type of radio which will keep evolving as it ages and that fills me with excitement for its future. By combining a retro look with fully up-to-the-moment functionality, Roberts have crafted a really special product that’ll sit in pride of place on your kitchen counter.
2. Ruark Audio R1 Mk4
What we like about it:The compact design and no-frills use
The last Ruark radio I tested was the Mk1 and while I was suitably impressed, there were a few niggles. The design was a bit marmite and I struggled with connecting to it via Bluetooth. Thankfully, a few generations later and the Mk4 fixes all my problems.
The look of the device immediately feels premium and timeless, with a handsome wooden grill across the front. It’s free from clutter, the screen is big and easy to read, and again, the moulded polymer casing helps channel the sound through the front.
All the buttons and dials are located in one place on the top of the device keeping them all in one place and they’re easy enough to work out as you use the device. You control the radio mostly with the volume knob which is a lot easier to use than some of the other options on this list.
The speaker is capable of going louder than any of the others I tested. It's got a delicious bass to it which gets the blood jumping. Unfortunately it isn't EQ adjustable, but that isn’t a terrible thing given that the device features adaptive equalisation technology to sound good no matter what the volume. I was impressed with the standard performance so hopefully the lack of adjustment won't be too off-putting for most.
You can save up to 16 preset stations on this one, though, as I mentioned above, without physical buttons to access them, saving presets doesn't actually save you a vast amount of time.
Again, you've got DAB, FM, Bluetooth, and AUX functionality here, as well as two alarm clocks. You can instantly connect via Bluetooth to use the device as a speaker, or plug your phone into the back. If you go with the latter the radio will charge your device too. It’s a nice if unessential feature.
Everything else on this unit looks and feels premium, and the sound quality is fantastic. If you're looking for a radio that'll make a statement, this one is definitely worth considering.
3. VQ Monty
What we like about it: Theprice
I really appreciated the simple yet sophisticated look of the Monty radio. The real wood casing is lovely and comes in a variety of nice colours so you can fit it in with whatever your home decor looks like. It’s got a nice heft to it, but it’s certainly not too heavy to carry around with you if you want to. You can buy a separate battery for it, if you want to use it while pottering around the shed, for example. You can also charge your phone from it, if you so wish.
As with every other radio here you’ve got DAB+, FM, AUX, and Bluetooth functionality, two alarm clocks, plus the handy ability to connect with other VQ devices like the ones mentioned below, which will definitely be a welcome feature for those with bigger houses or just like to flit between rooms while listening.
The speakers are very good and with the MyVQ app you can adjust the levels of bass and treble to your heart’s content which is all very useful.
The one thing that did irk me was that the buttons used to control a lot of radiofunctions are very small and feel unnecessarily awkward to mess around with. When I came to try setting presets, I gave up because the amount of button pressing annoyed me. It’s a small issue but it does make a huge difference.
Even so, the major selling point of the Monty will be the fantastic price point. It is technically priced at £129.99, but when I was looking around the internet I found it priced much, much better elsewhere. It’s probably the best cheap digital radio you’re going to get, so if you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of DAB, look no further.
4. Roberts Stream 94i
What we like about it:The look
This one is a handsome devil. Once again you've got the wooden cladding around a hefty speaker grill, and a nice shiny front piece. There's also a lovely real leather carrying handle, perfect for if you're taking this one out to the shed. It's definitely light enough to be portable too. It's also the only device here with a remote control; handy for changing channel when your least favourite presenter comes on and you don't want to move.
There's a full-colour LCD screen on this one which is nice, if a little pointless, but on the plus side you can see what songs you're playing and the album cover of it, if you're streaming.
As you might have guessed from the name, streaming is the focus of this one so you can connect it to your internet and play either albums or playliststhrough Spotify. And unlike most things, connecting it to the internet is a breeze. Either plug in a LAN-cable or tap a button on your wireless router and that's it. Easy-peasy.
The functionality is basically exactly the same as with the iStream 3, except you can only get internet radio and Spotify, – sorry Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon Music users.
You can also plug in a USB stick and the radio is capable of playing music from there too.
As a radio it's fine, though it does take quite a long time to do the scanning for new stations, so it may actually end up being quicker to just play music through internet radio instead. You can have up to 40 preset stations on this one, which I would think is probably plenty for thevast majority of people.
The speakers are good but not mind-blowing and there's no customisation to adjust them. Still, they're certainly not terrible either, just out-classed by the previous two devices.
Overall, the Stream 94i isn't quite the revolution it wants to be but it is a very good radio regardless. The look is fantastic and the well-integrated internet radio streaming will make this a must-have for people in areas with patchy signal.
5. Sharp DAB+ FM Digital Radio
In design terms, Sharp’s DAB radio sits somewhere in the middle. A squat rectangular box with a faux-wooden chassis and a large speaker grill on it’s left-hand side, this one is almost exactly what springs to mind when I imagine DAB radios. It’s a reasonably nice design but certainly nothing revolutionary,.
The controls themselves areadequate. The electronic display takes up a lot of room with just a few buttons next to it to control a lot of functions, from setting the alarm clock to accessing one of your 60 preset stations. None of it feels intuitive but if you’re prepared to spend a while tinkering, you’ll get the hang of it. Setting up an alarm clock had me flicking back and forth through the instruction manual for quite a while, I must say.
In addition, the sound quality is nothing to write home about. It’s not bad but just decidedly flat and unimpressive. It’ll do for talk shows, but music lovers should look elsewhere.
Still, there’s plenty of other bits that I do approve of. The scanner is really powerful and I was able to pick up more stations on this one than any other radios on this list. The Bluetooth connectivity is also quick and easy to set up. I also quite appreciated the fuss-free nature of Sharp’s offering: there’s no AUX, no internet radio, no messing around with connecting it to other radios for surround sound.
Look, it’s not going to blow your socks off, but the price is on the cheaper end of things, which probably renders a lot of my criticism of this one moot.
6. VQ Lark
By far the smallest of the bunch, the VQ Lark might be an alarm clock radio by birth, but don't dismiss it out of hand. It's a solid little performer that packs a lot of bang for your buck.
The Lark has a nice fabric cover that reminds me of the newer Amazon Echo range, and a wooden back to give it a natural look. The clock screen is big and easy to read, and you can adjust the brightness at your leisure.
The controls are all pleasingly simple, ideal for an alarm clock since you'll almost certainly be pretty groggy while you're using it. There's two physical buttons for your top two preset stations, though you can save up to 30.
In terms of DAB, this one picks up significantly fewer stations than most of its counterparts. I'm assuming that's due to the small size, and a correspondingly small transmitter. Still, it found the major stations, and that's good enough for me.
Arguably my favourite thing here is the big button on the top, whichcan mute it with one tap. Tap on, tap off. Easy. Perfect for if you're listening to some tunes in bed and someone calls you from downstairs. No need to turn it off and back on again, just tap to mute and tap to go. Simple yet genius.
7. VQ SuzieQ
With a fantastic retro design and a whopping amount of functionality, the VQ Suzie Q is a bit of a behemoth for radio fans to lose themselves in.
The construction is beautiful and looks fantastic from all angles. It's clear that VQ put a lot of thought into the design of this radio, and it stands out wonderfully. This thing feels premium so for those who want to show off a little bit, look no further.
The Suzie Qactually has the most functionality of any of the devices on this list. Like the Stream 94i it has internet connectivity to allow for internet radio and Spotify streaming (the latter handled in the same smartphone-centric way), as well asDAB, FM, Bluetooth, AUX, and a USB plug-in. If you can think of a manner to play music, this thing can do it.
It also shares the ability to adjust the bass and treble with the Revo Supersignal.
Again, you can even link it with other VQ devices to play music across multiple rooms at a time.
So with all this great functionality, you may be wondering: why is the Suzie Q so far down the list? Well, the truth is that this radio is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none.
The controls are a bit fiddly, mostly controlled by a dial at the top which feels slightly imprecise and laggy, and an array of buttons on the face of the unit. For simple things like volume you have to use button presses where a control knob would seem more intuitive. The menus appearing on the little screen feel cluttered and difficult to navigate.
All this in service of a radio speaker which feels... fine. Maybe "good" at a push,but it certainly didn't blow me away. And while you do have the option of adjusting the bass and treble levels, the truth is that it makes barely any difference.
There's also an NFC point which I have no clear understanding of after extensive testing. The manual doesn't even explain what the purpose of it is.
It just sort of feels like VQ rushed into the candy-shop of product features and said "I'll take one of everything", rather than making sure to fit them into the device in coherent ways.
I approached the Groov-e Encore with a sense of trepidation. The manufacturer's MP3 player earned probably the most scorn I've ever heaped on any tech product I've ever tested.
I'm happy to say that the Groov-e Encore is not that bad. In fact, purely from an aesthetic point of view, it's actually rather nice. When I was unboxing all these radios in my kitchen to test, my partner cried "Oh I love that one, it's so cool!" And yes, it is very nice. It's got a nice 1940's vibe to it, with shiny copper buttons and knobs and a dark wood exterior. Look a bit closer and you see it's all very plasticky and a bit horrible, but if you're content to look at it from a distance, it's rather nice.
Alarms, DAB, FM, Bluetooth, and AUX are all here, as expected. There's also three physical buttons for preset stations but it can hold up to ten.
Sadly, the sound quality is poor. Given the size of the grill you might imagine there's a big speaker behind it. You'd be wrong. The small tinny speaker is right in the middle, the big grill is just for show.
Still, on the flipside, you're paying about a quarter of the price of my top pick so you can't be too mad about it. This thing can pick up all the same stations. If you're not fussy about sound quality or luxury materials, the Encore might be a good fit for you.
Frequently asked questions about DAB radio:
What is DABradio?
DAB stands for digital audio broadcasting andis basically just a different way of broadcasting radio signal. The signal is sent in the form of ones and zeros which is then decoded and turned back into sound by your radio. It also doesn't need to be broadcast at any specific frequency for fear of overlapping with other stations.
These two factsmeanthat DAB radios can pick up sound that's totally free of static and interferenceandmore radio channels that aren't available with a traditional radio.
Digital signals also tend to be more reliable and better able to penetrate buildings and tall trees, so you're more likely to be able to get a good signal on a digital radio than an analogue one.
Another great benefit to digital is that you can send more information through digital channels. Radio stations can tell you the name of the song you're listening to and the artist, for example, which is handy if you hear a tune you love but you miss the name of it.
What is DAB+?
It's the same as DAB but just a slightly newer version. It's been available across Europe for a while now. It just allows more stations to be broadcast and higher quality audio files to be shared, meaning that you get a better quality sound.
Is DAB radio better than FM?
It depends. There's a lot of debate about this. Despite the fact that DAB offers a tonne of benefits, some purists prefer FM. And that's totally fair because there's an argument that FM gives better quality sound, as long as you've got a good signal. That's because most DAB stations transmit with limited bandwidth so the quality is impaired.
Do you need WiFifor DAB radio?
Nope. Although some newer DAB radios, including someof the radios on this list can be connected to the internet to allow you to stream music from Spotify or online radio services like BBC iPlayer. However, this is entirely optional and if you don't want to connect them you don't have to.
How to stop interference on DABradio?
Most DAB radios will find it easier to find stations than an analogue radio. However, there are exceptions. Some areas of the UK do just have weaker signal. The Scottish Highlands, mid-Wales, and the Pennines are all areas far enough from transmitters to cause problems. If you live in one of these areas you might want to think about investing in a radio with streaming capabilities.
However, there are a few ways to improve your signal. Extend your radio's aerial, put it close to a window, and try to keep it away from other big electronics such as large TVs.
Which DAB radio is best? ›
- 1/6. Best overall DAB radio: Roberts Rambler BT Stereo. Radio: DAB, DAB+, FM. Connectivity: Bluetooth, headphones jack, 3.5mm. ...
- 2/6. Best premium DAB radio: Ruark R1 MK4. Radio: DAB, DAB+, FM. ...
- 3/6. Best internet DAB radio: Pure Elan Connect+ Radio: DAB, DAB+, FM, and internet radio.
- Sangean WR-11 Wood Cabinet AM/FM Table Top Analog Radio.
- Sony ICF-P26.
- Panasonic RF-2400D.
- Sangean LB-100 Ultra Rugged Compact AM / FM Radio.
- PowerBear Portable Radio. Conclusion.
What is the difference between DAB and DAB+? DAB+ is an upgraded version of DAB digital radio that gives you access to even more stations. To receive DAB+ stations you must have a DAB+ enabled radio. If you recently bought a new DAB radio, then the chances are you already have DAB+.How can I improve the reception on my DAB radio? ›
Try moving the radio around to see if you can find a better position where you get good reception of all the stations you want to listen to. In most circumstances the supplied telescopic aerial should be perfectly adequate, and as a rule of thumb DAB aerials tend to work best when vertical and extended at least 35 cm.Is digital radio the same as DAB? ›
DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting. It is a digital radio service which is broadcast from a UK-wide network of transmitters. It uses digital technology which enables broadcasters to package together several radio stations; this is called multiplexing.Do I need WiFi for DAB radio? ›
Do you need WiFi for DAB radio? Nope. Although some newer DAB radios, including some of the radios on this list can be connected to the internet to allow you to stream music from Spotify or online radio services like BBC iPlayer.