Dig 1You can’t miss Mother’s Day, well not if you’re in any of the big electrical stores anyway. According to Appliance Retailer, a specialist publication for the trade, Mother’s Day is the second biggest sales opportunity for retailers after Christmas. It lists Mother’s Day specials on mixers, kettles, toasters, vacuums, blenders, irons, noodle makers, toothbrushes, steam cleaners, microwaves and coffee machines. Especially coffee machines. But maybe the biggest push is going behind digital radios.

Commercial Radio Australia, digital broadcasting’s industry group, has mounted a high intensity ad campaign leading up to Sunday May 10 plugging Sony’s offer of a free pair of noise cancelling headphones with a particular digital radio model. Given that the headphones cost almost as much as the radio it’s a pretty compelling offer. But there’s a thing.

Pairing headphones with digital radios is clever because digital broadcasting’s big sales point is sound quality and headphones really underline this. But the radio in question, the $229 XDRDS21BT (actually Sony classifies it as a wireless speaker) doesn’t have a headphone plug. It does have Bluetooth and near field communication and so do the headphones, the $200 MDRZX550BNB, and this is how you get them working together. But you won’t get the sound quality of a cable.

Dig 2

Figuring how to pair them up may be a bit challenging for your mum. As may be the radio itself. It took me fully five minutes to work out how to get its digital tuner running. The controls generally are unintuitive and the sound quality isn’t special. The free headphones are the best part of the deal. Buy them alone and you’ll save $29.

Will you notice digital’s improvement over analogue? There’s no question about the improvement over AM; no interference, no static, no fading in and out, digital radios aren’t even affected by trams. FM is another matter. Unless the radio has particularly good speakers, or it’s playing through a good stereo, you’ll be hard pressed to hear an improvement.

Portability is another issue. If you’ve used a digital in a car you’ll know that this is an all-or-nothing signal – you either receive it perfectly or not at all. Enter a black spot and all of a sudden the radio goes utterly silent and stays that way until you exit the badlands, when suddenly it’s perfect again.

Thus you need a clear understanding with the retailer that you can return the radio for a refund if it doesn’t work at your place, because there are black spots.

Dig 3Note that digital only works in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, although the low power test transmissions in Canberra and Darwin have been going so long now you could assume permanency. If you’re anywhere other than these places your digital radio is cactus, which is why most of them have an FM band as well.

Once you get used to them most digitals are easier to use than analogue radios (the only ones I’ve struck with odd controls are a few Sonys) and stations are always perfectly tuned. It’s a new discipline to scroll through the stations, and there are heaps of stations, pick one and then press ‘select’, but it’s simple.

Listen and operate before you buy. For example Panasonic’s RFD10 is inexpensive – I saw it for $99 – and simple to operate yet has first class sound for the price. Radios wearing the Pure brand generally sound good for the money and so do many Bush branded radios. The Bush BR25DAB I listened to was a standout bargain at $69.

Look for something with a large speaker, the bigger the better. Bigger speakers give better low and mid-range sound while smaller speakers favour the high range, despite their claims of having ‘megabass’.

There are exceptions. I listened to a Sangean DPR45 with a 13 cm speaker that sounds good at the low end, but highs can become annoyingly harsh.

Test for maximum volume too; some don’t go loud enough to fill a room.

You’ll get a better result by buying a sound system that carries a digital tuner, and these range from anywhere around $200 on up. I was impressed by Panasonic’s SCHC49 at $299. It looks dead sexy, sounds good and has a footprint compact enough to be used as a bedside unit.

Published May 2015


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