Monday, 28 February 2011

Why on earth would you want a DAB radio?

I've been gadget shopping. You'd probably guess that I quite like gadget shopping, and you'd be right.

Throwing music around my old flat was pretty easy. There was a CD player in the bedroom and the radio stations that come with Freeview TV in the living room. The flat was so small that if you weren't in one of those two rooms, you just turned up the volume.

With a bit more space in my new place, I've got a new problem. There's loads of music stored on my PC in the office, the Freeview TV is downstairs and you can't get Absolute Radio on FM in the North of England. My bedroom had become a music free zone (unless I want to listen to Real Radio and I really, really don't.)

A new gadget for bedroom music then. Miss Data Monkey (who isn't really a data monkey at all) said we should buy a DAB radio. Maybe, but you don't dive head first into a gadget purchase just because the BBC say it's what you need. At the very least, there are some reviews to be read on cnet first.

DAB feels like a technological backwater to me and take-up has stalled at around 25% of listening, which is nowhere near high enough for any kind of permanent switch-over.

DAB technology is outdated already and it's barely got started yet. Older receivers can't handle DAB+, so you'll need to upgrade (again) in the same way that your Freeview TV box won't do the new HD broadcasts. We've also picked a different digital system to the rest of Europe - which was smart - so your new car's probably not going to get a UK DAB radio ever, except as a paid-for extra.

My major problem with DAB though it that it doesn't offer much that you can't already do quite satisfactorily on FM. There aren't that many additional channels and just to pick up Absolute Radio outside the M25, it's a pretty expensive box, no matter how funny Frank Skinner is on a Saturday morning.

Nice DAB radios go for £150 - £200 (I know there are cheap ones but what the hell, I like my music) so I set that as a budget limit to see what I could do that's better than DAB. Having made my choice, I can't see why anyone would buy a 'good' DAB radio. A £40-£50 one to get a few extra channels in the kitchen maybe, but there's a miles better solution if you're spending a reasonable amount of cash.

You've got always-on broadband at home and pretty much every radio station in the world broadcasts online.

You've got lots of music on your PC.

You quite like LastFM.

You might even have a Spotify subscription.

You need one of these. Or the Squeezebox Touch, which is what I went for.It's all of your music in a wireless box, plus all of the radio stations on the web (which pretty much means ALL of the radio stations) plus if you like music streaming, everything you can access through Spotify, LastFM and Napster too*.

The great thing is that you don't need to be a tech wizard to set it up. You give it your wireless password and an email address for the obligatory Squeezebox account and then it just works. You've got a little touch-screen by your bedside with more music on it that you know what to do with. I love it. My girlfriend loves it too, which is important because it means it's not just for blokes who like gadgety toys.

Sorry DAB, you're dead in the water; a solution looking for a problem and only a partial solution to getting more music into more rooms at home. On the move, there are just too many FM radios in circulation for a DAB switch-over - in your car and even in your brand new state of the art mobile phone. They're still being built and by the time they all run out, mobile data will be fast enough that you'll be able to stream wirelessly on the go too.

Time to stop spending BBC licence fee money on ever bigger campaigns in support of DAB and accept that it's already obsolete. The good news is that - as ever - the technology that's replaced it is better, more flexible, just as easy to use and the price is dropping.

* Paid only for Spotify and Napster and if you want to pay, choose Spotify. Napster downloads have been hobbled for the past year or so and it's now an overpriced piece of junk.

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