Home / Product Round-ups / Portable Audio / Best DAB Radio 2017: Which digital radio should you buy?

Best DAB Radio 2017: Which digital radio should you buy?

Andrew Williams

by

Looking for the best DAB radio to buy? We've reviewed the most popular models currently available to help you find that perfect listening companion

Radio isn’t dead, not by a long shot. We don’t imagine anyone reading this doesn’t know what DAB radio is, and these days you can get a pretty good set for less than the cost of a terrible little Bluetooth speaker.

Radios may not be cool anymore, but that means you don’t have to pay a premium for the standard models anymore either. If you’re not on the bandwagon already, why not?

There’s a good deal more than just DAB to consider, too. Bluetooth streaming, NFC and Wi-Fi internet radio are all no strangers to DAB sets, even ones that cost well under £100.

So, which radio is right for you? We’ve been trying plenty of sets from the biggest radio-makers out there, including legends of the radio scene Pure and Roberts.

From £50 radios to ones costing up to £200, we’ve compared the lot to see what you get for your extra dough. Press the arrow to the right to start our group test, or click one of the links below to check out our reviews directly.

This Week's Best DAB Radio Deals

John Lewis Spectrum at John Lewis.co.uk | Was £59.99 | Now £40

Ruark Audio R1 Mk3

Key features:

  • Bluetooth
  • Optional battery pack
  • DAB/FM
Looking for the ultimate small bedside radio? This might just be it. Classy premium design is combined with superb sound quality and the latest tech.

In addition to exceptional DAB and FM radio playback, the R1 Mk3 has Bluetooth for streaming from a mobile device. You can even add an optional £50 battery pack to make it portable – and if you’re feeling particularly flush, splash out on the £40 sumptuous hand-stitched leather carrying case.

The OLED display is easy to read across the room, and there’s a USB socket around the back that can be used for charging your phone or tablet.

Sure, it’s not cheap, and it’s only mono, but it does its job so very well and with build quality that’s unmatched. It’s also available in a variety of finishes – real wood, white lacquer or black lacquer.



At time of review the Ruark Audio R1 Mk3 was available for £199.
John Lewis Spectrum

2 / 6

Our Score:

9

John Lewis Spectrum

Key features:

  • Bluetooth with NFC
  • Dual speakers
  • DAB/FM
The John Lewis Spectrum may be the most anonymous-looking radio we’re checking out here, but it also packs in absolutely loads of features for the money. £60 gets you standard DAB and FM plus NFC-enriched Bluetooth for streaming from your phone, plus dual speakers.

This combo gives the Spectrum not only the best sound among our budget picks, but also the most satisfying set of abilities. If your phone is NFC-enabled it can simply be waved over the left part of the top plate to get it to sync up with the John Lewis Spectrum, letting you feed it any tunes on your phone and streaming services like Spotify.

Dual speakers give the Spectrum more powerful sound than the sub-£60 competition, with a nice forthright mid-range that helps it cut through the sound of noisy kitchens and fare better outdoors.

However, next to the Roberts iStream and Pure D4, the John Lewis Spectrum lacks in the bass department. Its speakers just don’t offer much low-end power.

Still, it is a bargain and the only elements that disappoint at the price are those of attention to detail in the design. It’s not the most convenient radio in a few respects. Rather than a cylindrical power jack, it uses the same microUSB port as most phones. This means it can be powered by a phone charger, but the socket is on the side, which is not handy if you’re looking for a radio for a kitchen with limited space.

The interface is also fiddly. Two knobs control volume and the station. Not only does the station knob not depress to select as it would on a more expensive radio, a slight knock of the dial will change the station after a brief gap. It can make it seem as though the John Lewis Spectrum is doing this by itself. If John Lewis had actually design and manufactured this radio, we doubt this would be the case — third parties are brought in for gadgets like these.

Think twice about buying for extreme technophobes, but otherwise the John Lewis Spectrum is a cracking bargain if Bluetooth appeals and you want to spend under £80.

It also offers battery-powered portability, with a plate on the back covering space for 4x C batteries.

Buy Now at John Lewis.co.uk from £40


At time of review the John Lewis Spectrum was available for £59.99.


Roberts Revival

3 / 6

Our Score:

9

Roberts Revival iStream 2

Key features:

  • Internet radio
  • DAB/FM
  • USB playback
If money is no object, the Roberts Revival iStream 2 is a great DAB radio to pick. It melds classic Roberts Revival design with features you wouldn’t normally associate with such an old-looking radio.

You can get the Revival as a basic DAB model if that’s all you’re after, but the Revival iStream 2 offers Wi-Fi internet radio, plus a USB socket through which you can play digital files. It doesn’t have Bluetooth, but there’s a BluTune model available if you value that over internet radio. There is not currently a Revival model that does everything. The iStream 2 does support Spotify Connect, though, which for some will be just as good as having Bluetooth.

If you like the vintage look, the Roberts Revival is still the best you can get. It’s covered in convincing synthetic leather and has a classic-style metal speaker grille. However, words don't really do justice to the design.

As well as getting a certain style just right, the Roberts Revival iStream 2 offers great sound among small radios, with much better mid-range clarity and integrity than most. It has a slightly soft, rather than sharp, sound that works very well with the limited quality on offer in the DAB signal. But the driver is clearly a cut above the rest here. It also has a decent amount off bass weight missing from the cheaper radios, and a 3.5mm output if you want actual high-quality sound from an external setup.

Like other Revival radios, you can actually see the inner workings if you open up the clasp on the back. The rear swings open to reveal the radio’s driver and even some of its electrical components.  It’s unusual but, hey, there’s nothing specifically wrong with this style if you’re careful. The radio also takes 4x D batteries for portable use, although we think Pure’s use of rechargeable ChargePaks is neater.

All that really holds the Roberts Revival iStream 2 back is price. Like other Revival radios, it’s expensive. You do pay extra for the Roberts name and style, and some of Pure’s top models do have a slightly more pristine feel. Still, it was the clear winner here on pure sound quality, and that counts for a lot.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £189

At time of review the Roberts Revival iStream 2 was available for £200.

Pure D4

4 / 6

Our Score:

8

Pure D4

Key features:?

  • Snooze handle
  • DAB/FM
  • Bluetooth
The Pure D4 is one of Pure’s more conventional radios. Its range now offers everything from budget low-frills models that get you beefy sound for around £80 to feature-packed internet radios with Bluetooth.

The D4 gets you Bluetooth and DAB/FM, but leaves out internet radio. This is perhaps the best compromise for a modern, easy to use radio, avoiding you needing to sift through the reams and reams of stations available online while letting you hook up with your phone.

If you’re not completely in love with the very retro-style look of the Roberts Revival, the Pure D4 also aces design. It offers a hint of retro, but with a more modern interpretation that’ll look great in just about any room. We’re not been convinced by all of Pure’s recent designs, but we’ve a lot of affection for the looks of its higher-end radios. Unlike the cheaper radios here, the outer part of the Pure D4 is lacquered real wood too — it feels extremely well-made.

This weight comes in handy if you want to use the Pure D4 as an alarm clock. Thanks to its superb snooze handle, this is one of the best alarm clocks around. Well, we say that: it has a capacitive handle on top that can be used to snooze an alarm with a touch. It’s genius, but makes it very easy to stay in bed too long.

Still, the only real criticism we have of the Pure D4 is about its sound. While you can hear that Pure is using higher-quality speakers than the budget models here, the tuning of the sound is overly bassy, cutting into the clarity significantly. Unlike some other earlier models, there are no bass/treble controls to tweak this either.

We didn’t hear the same sound issues in the Pure F4, so consider that model if you hate bloated bass. It does help give the sound a bit of extra welly, though.

If you want to use the Pure D4 as a portable set, it takes a ChargePak F1 battery available for £25 online. It’ll get you around 18 playback off a charge.

This is the only radio to come with a remote control too, giving it even more wireless cred. If only we didn’t have those sound issues it’d be a contender for king.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £129.99


At time of review the Pure D4 was available for £119.99.

Sony XDR-S60

5 / 6

Our Score:

8

Sony XDR-S60

Key features:

  • DAB/FM
  • Easy preset buttons
  • Aux input
Radios don’t get much simpler, much easier to use, than the Sony XDR-S60. Big knobs, big buttons and a very large, clear display make it an absolute joy to operate.

In particular, we love the big, smooth volume dial on the side. Given this is an unashamed budget set, a lot of attention has clearly gone into the design, including the position and feel of every button and knob.

The preset buttons on the top are great too. They offer operation so easy it’d suit even a granny who doesn’t really know what DAB is. It’s fairly well-made too. It doesn’t offer a particularly eye-catching design, but the front plate is made of metal rather than plastic and all the controls feel good.

Of course, with no extra features the Sony XDR-S60 feels like it’s charging the right amount, rather than being a total bargain like the John Lewis Spectrum.

There is an aux input, though, letting you play tunes through a phone, if not with quite the slickness of Bluetooth. The one bit we do miss from the more expensive sets, though, is sound quality.

The Sony XDR-S60 has a single driver unit that doesn’t get you anything like the power and thickness of the Roberts or Pure sets. It’s the classic ‘small radio’ sound — fairly thin and not that powerful. As an occasional use radio for sound accompaniment while you’re cooking it’ll do the trick. But for almost-daily use, you might want something with a bit more oomph.

While the MDR-S60 is much more pleasant to use than the John Lewis Spectrum, its superior sound quality and extra features for less money make the John Lewis set the better choice. As with the other radios, the Sony can be used without an AC adapter, using four C-size batteries.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £79.99


At time of review the Sony XDR-S60 was available for £90.
Goodmans Oxford

6 / 6

Our Score:

7

Goodmans Oxford

Key features:

  • Retro design
  • DAB/FM
  • Aux input
Retro radios normally come at a significant price premium, but the Goodmans Oxford is a retro-style unit that is very affordable indeed. It offers good looks, but costs under £50.

Of course, at this price you’re not going to see high-end materials splashed across its body too much. There is some metal — the chrome elements are metal, not plastic, but the main part of the body is moulded plastic and feels a good deal cheaper than more expensive retro sets. If anything, it feels cheaper than some of the lower-end plastic sets.

There is a bit more to the retro style than a surface-level look, though. The Goodmans Oxford also uses old-fashioned control wheels rather than knobs, coloured in cream rather the pure white.  They give the radio a rather different feel to other budget DAB sets, and it’s not a bad change.

Controls are simple too with three preset buttons on the top plate.

The Goodmans Oxford is not well-suited to those with sight issues, though, as the screen is fairly tiny. While it’s a 3-line display, it’s much smaller than that of the Sony XDR-S60.

Sound quality is at a similar level to the XDR-S60. It has that classic ‘small radio’ vibe, resulting in fairly small-sounding output, but clarity is unusually good. There’s a bit more treble/upper-mid presence here than most, which sounds good if you like your voices with a bit more zing to them.

For music, though, we’d appreciate more power — bass response is flat-out poor here.

Given a fairly low-power sound, we’re surprised to see the Goodmans Oxford uses more batteries than the competition. It has a compartment that takes six C-type batteries.

Like the Sony XDR-S60, the Oxford works best as a low-cost, light-use radio where its lighter sound won’t seem like such a compromise.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £49.99

At time of review the Goodmans Oxford was available for £49.99.

MattMe

January 21, 2015, 1:55 pm

No Revos in the top 5 now? They're not cheap but they are excellent quality, and very good sound too.

Andrew_TR

January 21, 2015, 10:50 pm

We weren't able to get one in for this test. We really tried too. Fingers crossed we may be able to test and add one of their sets in the future

Seymour Cat

January 22, 2015, 1:20 pm

No radios with a pause button either :-(

My Pure One Classic is getting quite old now & I'd like a bump in sound quality for my next radio, but I couldn't even consider a radio which doesn't let me pause Radio 4 to make a cupper or answer the door.

RSD179

January 23, 2015, 12:53 pm

Well said. DAB radios are expensive, eat batteries, are out of sync with each other, often have lousy reception, etc. The only real benefit is extra, non-analogue stations for those who want them and don't want to listen to them via a PC/phone/tablet.

Ken Shiro

February 13, 2016, 12:45 pm

Panasonic RF-D10EB-K

is best cheap radio Dab !!!

dax

February 9, 2017, 10:43 am

you mean Time shifting?

Seymour Cat

February 9, 2017, 11:14 am

Yes. It's unbelievably useful. Can't understand why it's not a common feature.

dax

February 9, 2017, 12:59 pm

They are badly designed or the Memory is expensive. I agree with you. I'll try and use a PC instead.

comments powered by Disqus