Monday, 15 September 2014

DAB radio - ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

SubjectDAB radio - ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
DateCreated3/12/2013 2:55:00 PM
PostedDate3/19/2013 7:35:00 AM

Digital Radio - a rant...

Am only the only one who feels that DAB radio has failed to live up to expectations?
We were promised so much with this 'radio revolution' a few years ago, but it has failed to live up to my expectations. Better audio quality? Well the potential is certainly there, although I'm told a top quality FM signal though a huge outdoor antenna in ideal weather will theoretically give better quality. In the real world though, under normal conditions a DAB tuner will give better sound quality than FM. Or it should. However, certain radio stations have downgraded the quality they broadcast at - I suspect for financial reasons...

I first got a DAB radio about five years ago - largely because the Xfm signal was so poor where I was working at the time. Problem solved by a £19 DAB mono radio from Sainsbury's plugged into my stereo system at work via the (stereo output) headphone socket. It sounded pretty good. Nice and clear, no static, no noise, no interference from pirate stations or any other source - just as advertised.
Then of course I discovered loads of new stations not available on FM - mostly of little or no interest to me, but I did find several dedicated 24/7 ROCK stations.
I soon abandoned Xfm as I now had so much more choice and Xfm had stopped playing rock music in favour of mediocre indie bands and pop dross like LaRoux.
Planet Rock, Absolute Classic Rock, 6music, The Arrow, and Kerrang! became my stations of choice, and when something I didn't like came on it only took a second to hit the preset button for another station. Things were good. But since then things have gradually changed for the worse...

I liked DAB radio. I liked it a lot. I started listening to the radio much more that I had done for years. I discovered new bands. I bought another DAB radio to put in my kitchen. I bought a DAB radio alarm so I could hear ROCK music every morning when I wake up.
I invested in a DAB tuner for my hi-hi system. Then things started to go downhill. Planet Rock started to kill my love of classic rock with their unimaginative and overly repetitive playlist - other stations were nearly as bad. Absolute Classic Rock only plays tired old massively overplayed songs and is like 'Rock music for beginners'.
Songs I used to love now bored me - songs that used to really excite me when they came on the radio now became 'Oh no - not again!' songs, but that's only part of the story...

What has left me really disappointed recently is how the sound quality has slipped on most stations.
I guess they think most people don't notice? Maybe many people don't. But I do. When I first got a digital radio most the six main stions I listened to (the 5 mentioned above plus Xfm now and again) broadcast in stereo at a 128Kbps bitrate. Not any more. Kerrang! was already in mono at a mere 80Kbps bitrate and it sounded like a shit old AM radio however good a stereo system you were listening on - there was no advantage to it being on DAB at all as even Xfm on the cheapest FM stereo radio sounded far better. If you are listening on a cheapo little mono radio in your kitchen it doesn't really matter, but on anything else the sound is so poor I can't be bothered to listen to it - Kerrang! radio is actually a huge step backwards and totally fails to take advantage of what DAB can offer.
So I tend to listen to other stations instead. Kerrang! radio used to be the exception. Not any more. Of the other five stations I mentioned earlier only 6music still broadcasts at 128Kbps, as I think most the BBC stations do - glad to see at least some of my licence money is being put to good use.
I think 128Kbps is pretty similar to CD audio quality - not as good as digital can be but it sounds pretty damn good to me. Planet Rock and Xfm have recently downgraded their signal broadcast to 112Kbps - not a massive drop in quality but I reckon I can hear the difference on my hi-fi system even though it's hardly top-end. I assume it's cheaper to broadcast at a lower bitrate and I know Planet Rock has been losing money for some time... The Arrow used to sound excellent in stereo at 128Kbps but now broadcasts at 96Kbps in mono. There are no adverts on the station and I don't know who bankrolls them, but I guess they are economising too. The most obvious offender is now Absolute, who seem to compromise sound quality as they add even more digital stations - Absolute Classic Rock is now broadcast at a shockingly poor quality 64Kbps in mono - even worse than Kerrang!
I am sure it used to be at or near 128K in stereo but it now sounds like Absolute Shit. I changed stations yesterday searching for some decent music and Absolute were playing Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' - it sounded so incredibly bad on my stereo that I could only listen to it for a few seconds before changing stations in disgust - it actually sounded worse than a cheap old AM radio! I've heard better sound quality down a phone line when I've been put on 'Hold' by a call centre.

If you are listening to these poor quality broadcast stations on a £30 mono radio in your kitchen or at work it doesn't make much difference, but I am now wondering if it was really worth getting rid of my FM tuner and buying a decent quality DAB tuner for my stereo system? There seem to now be so few stations left on DAB that sound good enough to make it worth bothering. Why go digital when you end up with shite AM quality mono broadcasts?

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Update: In 2013 a new player appeared on the DAB rock radio scene - Team Rock No adverts and much broader and more varied programming, but shit sound quality from the start, and in mono too. As with Planet Rock (who continue to slowly destroy my love of classic rock), you can actually listen in stereo and decent sound quality online or via a tablet or smartphone, but on radio it's very poor AM quality mono sound even if you listen on a Hi-Fi system costing thousands of pounds. Two or three years ago I was thinking of getting a DAB radio for the car, but as all the rock stations broadcast in mono at shockingly bad audio quality I'm not going to bother now. Why bother 'upgrading' for worse sound quality?

1 comment:

  1. PS: Since I originally wrote all that I have discovered I am not alone in my opinions of the Great DAB Scam - read this: http://www.techradar.com/news/car-tech/why-dab-radio-in-the-uk-is-broken-and-how-to-fix-it-1217586

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