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Digital Radio GaGa

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For a long time now I’ve wanted to wire up my iPod into my car. All those thousands of tunes at my disposal would make a mockery of the in-dash 6-Cd changer I’ve currently got. To do this I was looking at getting the Denison Ice Link Plus, which would enable me to control the iPod from my head unit and steering wheel remote, while charging the iPod. I currently use an iTrip, which transmits the sound over FM, but frankly, the sound quality is rubbish, it’s prone to interference and it’s technically illegal.

However, the Ice Link Plus works by mimicking a CD changer and my head unit doesn’t have one, the designers wrongly assuming that if it has an in dash changer it wouldn’t require an external one. This means that I’d have to change my whole head unit. However, I though if I’m doing that, I might as well get one that includes DAB. Now if by DAB you first think of something being touched lightly, let me educate you.

DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcast, and is supposedly the radio technology of the future. I say supposedly as it turns out that the core technology behind DAB is pretty darn old. What is broadcast is a compressed digital audio stream, much like an MP3. Now these days, MP3 is considered fairly old hat, with more recent formats such as AAC, used by Apple, WMA, used in Windows, and OGG, used by geeks, all offering better quality at higher rates of compression.

The thing is that DAB is based, not an MP3, but on MP2 a predecessor to MP3 and seeing as it was developed in the late eighties, it’s pretty primitive. As such it takes an awful lot of bandwidth to broadcast a decent quality signal. So to get a near CD quality sound you’d need to broadcast a DAB signal at a bit-rate of 256Kb/s. But in terms of bandwidth that’s hugely expensive so lower bit rates are inevitably employed. Now DAB, with a few notable exceptions, is used in many countries around the world, most of them in Europe. It won’t come as a surprise to those of us that live in good ‘ol, ‘Rip-Off Britain’ to learn than the UK leads the way with the lowest average DAB bit-rate in the world. Yes, we’re finally at one end of a leaderboard, albeit at the wrong end. While most countries enjoy DAB at 160Kbps or 192Kbps, almost all in the UK go out at a mere 128Kbps. I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that if you really want good quality DAB, Estonia is where you’ll be going for your holidays, with all of its DAB stations broadcasting in maximum quality 256kpbs. Superb. I imagine though, they’ll all in Estonian, so there’s clearly a limit to how jealous we can get.

But frankly 128Kpbs is a bit ropey. Forums are full of self confessed audio files denigrating the audio quality of DAB compared to FM. UK promoters have long ago had to stop advertising DAB as having CD quality, as this really isn’t true. That said, you can still find information in the web that refers to it as such.

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