Old radios are always popular, whether they’re the genuine numbers you see in antique shops or modern reproductions. The benefit both the originals and the reproductions have in common is that they usually sound better than conventional radios.

radio 1That’s because they’re big, which means there’s room in there for a big speaker. Modern radios, even some quite expensive ones, are compact and often have speakers of seven cm or less. These handle high range sound well but fall down in the low range and sometimes in the lower mid-range too, where male voices are.

Old radios also look neat and Bush does a great job with re-creating them. For example its TR82DAB has buttons on top that look like the old Bakelite numbers of the 1940s and 50s, and the big front tuning dial for the AM and FM bands carries lots of city names, all of them in Europe. That tuning dial, by the way, is nicely geared to make landing smack on the AM or FM station a bit easier, but obviously isn’t needed for digital radio, where tuning is electronic.

European cities are listed because this is the way radios were back then. Australians generally got their radios from Britain; I have a Bush valve radio from the 1950s in my workroom (I got it for $20 at an auction) and it has cities listed on the tuning dial too, all of them European with a marked bias towards the United Kingdom.

I often listen to my ancient Bush because it sounds terrific, a full, mellow sound with lots of depth and presence – it’s great with classical music. And the TR82DAB, spotted for $98, sounds pretty impressive too. It’s nicely defined with the same mellowness and depth that makes the old valve number so enjoyable.

radio 2But the sales guy I spoke to said it sells for an entirely different reason. He said it’s very popular with people from the country because it gets AM in addition to FM and digital. The great bulk of digital radios don’t have an AM band, although most of them have FM. I was told by a technician that this is because AM and DAB can cause interference to one another and will only work together if shielding is in place. Shielding is obviously too expensive for the bulk of manufacturers.

Bush’s other retro model, the Heritage (spotted for $209) doesn’t have AM and to my ear was not as good sounding as the larger TR82DAB. But it was still superior to anything else I heard.

In a run around the major shops I saw only one other digital, or DAB, radio with AM, the Sangean DPR45, spotted for $199. It’s a modern looking radio and far more compact than the Bush, and it has separate treble and bass controls which make a noticeable difference to the sound (the single tone control on the TR82DAB is less effective). But it still doesn’t sound as good as the Bush. By the way, the picture here and on Sangean’s website shows the three bands marked as DAB, FM and MW. In Australian models the MW label has been replaced by AM.

radio 3If you live in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide the additional AM and FM bands don’t matter much because all the major AM and FM stations are available on the digital band, plus a good number of additional digital-only stations. However if you’re in the country, or if you travel a lot and take your radio with you, the addition of AM and FM is attractive. DAB works only in those five cities right now although trials continue in Canberra and Darwin.

If you don’t live in any of the big cities you won’t get digital broadcasts, and even if you live there you may be in a black spot where the signal simply disappears. Check your postcode on www.digitalradioplus.com.au to see how you fare.

If you don’t like the aesthetics of the Bushes or if the Sangean is too expensive I was also impressed by Panasonic’s $109 RFD10GN, although the controls can get a bit clumsy, and Roberts’ Ecologic4 that I saw for $99. Sony’s XDRS60DBP, spotted for $157, is comparable and has a four-line LCD, but doesn’t present the same value.

Published September 2014


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