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|Majority Barton II Retro|
|Goodmans Portable DAB/FM Radio|
|Majority Girton DAB FM|
|Majority Shelford D Vintage|
|Newham DAB+ Rechargeable|
It’s interesting to note that regular radio broadcasts, of the type we still listen to today – news, entertainment and music – only began in the 1920’s. Even then it was sporadic and largely – despite radio having been refined and further developed in the early 20th century in the UK by Guglielmo Marconi – only in the UK. Indeed, the first sports broadcast is believed to have been a college football match in Virginia, in 1921.
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Radio as entertainment took off quickly in the USA, having been used to transmit messages in the late 19th century, and the rest of the world duly followed. Marconi had, in fact, opened the first ‘radio factory’ in Chelmsford, UK, in 1912, and in addition to the growing use for entertainment in the 1920’s, it became the standard for communication by aeroplane pilots. The early radios used ‘amplitude modulation’ (AM) as their method of broadcasting. It was, in fact, enthusiasts who discovered the benefits of FM – frequency modulation – which would be adopted later in the development of radio.
We’ll finish our potted history of radio by saying that it fast became a fixture in many homes, with the ‘wireless’ becoming a place to gather for the daily news broadcast, and with the invention of transistors – which allowed for miniaturisation of radio sets – by the 1960’s the pocket radio was not an unusual possession.
The digital age brought new developments in radio, and our review today concerns DAB – digital audio broadcasting – radio sets, which many people prefer to the standard FM/AM versions. However, while it does have it’s benefits, it also has drawbacks, so before we give you details of ten models you should look at, here’s a little bit about what DAB is, and why you should consider it.
How It Works
What is DAB radio, and how does it differ from your standard FM radio? Put simply, it is a method of transmitting radio signals digitally, rather than by standard radio waves. It has been in development since the 1980’s, and is now used in many countries across the world. Hailed as the next revolution in radio broadcasting, it does however have its problems.
Whereas DAB promises a clearer and more precise sound, there have been complaints in the UK – and elsewhere – that the broadcasting power, for want of a better word, is not strong enough. DAB, when tuned in correctly, is undeniably better than a regular FM broadcast. However, it needs far greater precision to hit that tuning, and in many places in the UK this has proved to be difficult.
In comparison to an FM broadcast, if you move away from the DAB signal your reception will degrade very quickly; an FM signal remains more in tune for a longer time. This is a problem with the method, rather than the radio sets themselves. Nevertheless, many people have moved over to DAB – or to be more precise, an upgraded version known as DAB+ that is now in use in the UK – and are very satisfied with it, so here is our run down of the top 10 DAB radios, especially for those who you who are on a budget.
The Top 10
1: Majority Barton II Retro
There has been a trend with radios, DAB included, to make sure they have a retro design. This one is clearly attempting that, and is vaguely retro in some ways. It’s a neat design, an upright one rather than a low and long model as we are used to, and there is no fuss to it, which is a good aspect. A wood-look surround and clean front with just the necessary dials and digital readout gives it a nice finish, and it is compact enough – just 19x12x12cm – to sit bedside, for example.
With this one you get the choice of DAB, DAB+ and FM – a handy touch there – and it has the ability to handle 20 preset channels so you can skip between them as you wish. It has an auto search function so you can find your channels with ease, a sleep feature for when you listen late at night, and an alarm too. Decent sound quality, a headphone jack and 36 month warranty make this one an attractive basic model for use around the home, and at the price it is certainly competitive.
2: Goodmans Portable DAB/FM Radio
The Goodmans brand has been at the forefront of well-priced, well-made audio visual equipment for some time now, and this radio is typical of its output. It’s a neat design – modern and stylish with a silver finish – and compact too at just 18.5x11x5.7cm. This one, unlike the above, has an external antenna that can be rotated by 360-degrees. This is a DAB and FM radio so you get the choice, and it comes with many of the usual feature that you would expect in this price range.
These include a standard headphone jack, a clear LCD display, a search function and an alarm, and it is easy to set up and use. The speaker is a 3watt output one – not massive, but more than enough for a radio of this type – and you also get the choice of using it via the mains or by battery, which is included in the package. There is nothing special about it but that means there is also nothing complex. It’s a simple, easy to use and capable radio, great for when you’re in the bath, even.
3: Majority Girton DAB FM
Majority is a brand that is fast becoming one of the market leaders in affordable DAB radios, so we make no excuses for including more than one of their models in this line up. This one is a bigger model than those above – it measures 26x14x9cm – but is still small enough for using as a portable radio. It’s mains powered, but has the option of using 4 x C batteries, which are not supplied with the package. It’s a neat if uninspiring design, but it does everything you would expect.
You get a nice wood finish with a ‘classic’ look, a choice of 20 preset stations, and an easy tune auto scan function. It has two alarms with a snooze button and a clear LCD display for all the information you need. It also has a carry handle and a telescopic aerial, plus a headphone jack for personal listening. This is a decent radio from a known brand at a sensible price, and we see no reason you shouldn’t give it a second look.
4: Majority Shelford D Vintage
Majority offers this rather pretty option as a ‘vintage’ design and it may appeal to people who want a radio that looks a little different. It is aiming to emulate some classic look radios with a leather-like finish in pale pink, and would make a great gift for a girlfriend or sister. It’s offers both DAB+ and FM, with the usual 20 preset stations, and comes with the dual alarm, sleep and snooze functions that others from this brand also offer.
We also note it can be mains or battery powered – there are no batteries supplied – and a leather handle for carrying, plus it is covered by the Majority 36-month warranty, which adds extra peace of mind. Once again, apart from the looks, there is nothing special about this compact DAB radio – it measures just 25x15x10cm – but that’s not a bad thing as it keeps everything simple and easy to handle, and it’s a decent price in this company.
5: Newham DAB+ Rechargeable
Despite the name, this is actually another model from the Majority brand, who seem to have this market covered. That is, if you’re looking for a compact, simple and portable DAB radio, they have a vast range of them to choose from. We reckon that each has pretty much the same internals – after all, they all offer the same 20 preset stations, auto scan and snooze plus sleep options, and they all feature a similar MCD display – but why try and fix what isn’t broken?
The difference in them seems to be the looks and the size. This one is a simple black rectangle that really doesn’t try and be anything else, it measures 21x18x6.5cm so is suitably compact, but where it does differ from most is that it has a rechargeable battery. That’s a bonus for some, as it means not having to buy any when they run out. All in all it’s a decent portable DAB and FM radio that you can find at a sensible price, and that will do the job nicely.
6: Majority Petersfield Colour Personal Pocket DAB
Compared to the other Majority DAB model we featured at the top of our list, this Petersfield Colour model has a very modern look and feel to it. Curved, compact and features a generously-sized LED colour screen. The company has been designing and manufacturing electronics for more than 20 years, and this experience shows in the user-friendly layout and functionality of this DAB radio. At just 7.7 x 1.5 x 6cm, it’s extremely compact. Despite that, it still offers many of the features you’d expect of a larger, more expensive model.
Features including 20 pre-set radio stations and not just one, but two fully programmable alarm clocks. These can be set to sound once, daily or during weekdays/weekends only. Whether you want to wake to the sounds of your favourite station or a simple buzzer, you have the choice of both. The radio is powered by a rechargeable battery that can be easily charged using the USB cable included for a total of 8.5 to 11.5-hours of playback. As well as its compact design, the Majority Petersfield Colour has clearly been made for use on the go as there are 3.5mm earphones included.
7: Majority Arbury Portable DAB FM
Guess what – yes, its another from the Majority brand, and why not? WE like this one because it’s a surprisingly funky design. It’s finished in black and is a 14x13x4.5cm compact radio – very compact, in fact – and has a set of nine square buttons on the front and the usual display. We think this gives it a modern and surprisingly different look, and one that will appeal to people who perhaps have a more contemporary finish to their home.
What does it do? All the usual! You get a choice of 20 preset stations, and an easy tune auto scan function. It has two alarms with a snooze button and a clear LCD display for all the information you need. It also has a carry handle and a telescopic aerial, plus a headphone jack for personal listening. This one comes with a rechargeable battery fitted so is perfect for using in the shed or the bathroom, and as you get the usual Majority 3-year warranty, it comes at a very impressive price.
8: Majority Histon Portable
Yes, we know, it’s the same brand again, but we think it interesting how they can package what is essentially the same item in so many different and attractive ways. This one is mains or battery – but unlike the above is not rechargeable so you need to buy four ‘AA’ batteries if you want it truly portable. You get the usual 20 presets – bear in mind, by the way, that with all of these that means 10 DAB and 10 FM – and it offers the usual attributes such as a standard headphone jack.
This one also comes with auto scan, snooze and sleep, and dual alarm systems, and is very easy to et up. It’s finished in white and presented in quite an attractive and modern case, and measuring just 18x11x6.5cm is small enough to move around wherever you are in the home or even outside. One more thing about this one: it can also be powered by a USB, a fact we haven’t seen on any others. You also get that three year warranty, at a great price.
9: Azatom Sonance T1
We searched long and hard to find you a representative portable DAB radio that was not from you-know-who, and found this rather nice model from Azatom. It has a 3-watt speaker, which is about the norm for a radio of this sort, and offers both DAB and FM. Like all the models from Majority, it is also what they label ‘Future Ready’; this means it will be capable of handling any upgrades to the DAB network that are planned in the UK, so you don’t have to buy a new one.
The radio offers no fewer than 60 preset stations, with an auto scan feature so you can tune in easily, and is a very neat and modern design in black with white buttons. It measures a mere 14x14x4.5cm so is amazingly compact, and can be powered by mains or by the USN rechargeable in-built battery. It’s a very nice little radio that does everything you want with one of these, and promises decent sound quality too. With a headphone jack and brightness control, plus a sleep timer, it’s also a great price.
10: Azatom Spitalfields Premium Sound
So, we close our set with the most expensive of the lot, but don’t write it off yet. To give you an idea of price range, the difference between the cheapest on the list and this one – another from Azatom – is about £15, and we think this one is worth a look. First, it’s a neatly designed DAB and FM radio with a nice simple look and a leather effect case, it comes with all the features such as 40 preset stations, a large display and easy controls, and is powered by mains or a rechargeable battery.
It also offers the following: it has a remote control, it offers 4 alarm systems, plus sleep and snooze, the battery gives 10 hours on one charge. Then there’s this – it is the only one on the list that features a subwoofer, which means it gives you proper sound from a very small – 19x14x9cm – package. It has to be one that goes at or near the top of your shortlist, if only for all the extra features that it offers.
That’s our selection of the top 10 budget DAB radios, but which is for you? Before we give you our verdict, let’s have a look at some of the important features you need to consider when buying one of these.
Important Features to Consider
What do you need to look for when buying a budget DAB radio? We’ve covered all avenues in the descriptions above, but here’s a brief list for you to use as a checklist.
DAB and FM – all of the above offer you both DAB+ and FM reception, which is a standard requirement.
Auto Scan – you need an auto scan feature to tune in properly
Mains or Battery – some, but not all, of the above can be used by mains or by battery, and within those that can, a few are fitted with rechargeable batteries; the choice is yours.
Size – if you want small, some of these are very small indeed, so check the specifications.
Looks – if what the radio looks like is a concern, then there are some very funky and neat designs, finishes and colours available among these models.
Preset – the standard is for between 10 and 20 preset stations, but a couple of these have considerably more.
Alarm – there are multiple different alarm, sleep and snooze functions with each of these, so check them out.
Sound – all of these radios bar one offer you the standard sort of sound you would expect from a portable radio, which is decent but hardly Hi-Fi quality. The last one on the list goes some way to rectifying that by offering a more sophisticated speaker system.
That’s our list of the things to look for, and you may want to add cost to that although there is very little between these, so which is for you? Let’s see if we can wrap things up!
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Let’s Wrap It Up!
So, we could have renamed this review ‘some radios from the Majority range plus a few others’ as that brand has dominated somewhat. However, would we recommend you buy one of their products? There’s no reason not to, as to be fair, each of them does the same thing – with minor differences such as not being rechargeable in some cases and therefore needing you to buy batteries -but in a different-looking case. They are all decent dab radios, and will do the job at very much affordable prices, just about every one of them being less than £30.
The one we would recommend you consider strongly is the final one on the list, the Azatom Spitalfields. For an extra few quid – it’s not much more than £40 – you get very decent sound thanks to the subwoofer, a remote control, 40 preset stations and great looks in a very compact case, and we reckon it is the best of the lot.
Have another look and make your choice, and we hope we have helped you choose the DAB radio that will serve you well for many years to come.