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When Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) radio tuners first went on sale in the UK, they were limited to high-end expensive hi-fi separates. Now there’s a whole range of products from a number of manufacturers and it’s no surprise that recently sales of digital DAB radios overtook those of analogue in the UK.
One of the key benefits of DAB is that it provides clear digital sound, though the marketing talk of it being CD quality is not really true. It uses similar compression to MP3 files and the sound quality level will vary between stations depending on the bit-rate used. Some such as BBC Radio 3 use 192Kbps but most use 160 or 128Kbps. This squeezing of bandwidth is done so broadcasters can give you more stations, many of which are broadcast exclusively on digital, though if asked, most people would probably choose higher quality. What is essentially true though is that with a clear signal DAB is superior to most analogue radios, delivering better sound and more stations.
Sony’s entry into DAB last June was a shot in the arm for the format, and it made its first entry into the market with the breadbin like Sony XDR-S1. Now it’s released its first mobile DAB radio in the guise of the equally snappily named XDR-M1. This is set to give some serious competition to the current best selling DAB radio, the Pure Digital Pocket DAB 1000 and others such as the S Series Personal DAB Tuner by Ministry of Sound.
The Sony has an immediate advantage in that it’s the smallest pocket DAB tuner yet released. It’s only 88mm high but a fairly chunky 21mm thick, and while we’re at it, 60mm wide, which makes it feel nice and snug in the hand. It’s also fairly lightweight at 119g. Of course what would be great is when technology has progressed to the stage when DAB tuners can be integrated in MP3 players and phones, but in the mean time, this is as good as it gets.
The Sony is doubly attractive as it offers a good ‘ol FM Tuner as well as DAB, ensuring that it doesn’t turn into a Sony badged paperweight in those areas where you can’t get DAB. This means that you can take it overseas to Europe, where DAB coverage is even patchier than it is in the US, where inevitably they have a completely different and incompatible version of digital radio. Furthermore the XDR-M1 can receive DAB signals broadcast on Band L as well as Band III. The latter is used in the UK and most European countries that broadcast DAB, but Band L is used by some German stations and in a typically idiosyncratic manner, exclusively in France.