Digital Radio – A look at Some receivers and Sydney Reception

I’ve been working in Radio for something like 14 years.  The vast majority of that in AM radio. So for me, Digital Radio offers one huge benefit – Quality.From...

I’ve been working in Radio for something like 14 years.  The vast majority of that in AM radio. So for me, Digital Radio offers one huge benefit – Quality.From 2003 I worked closely with the development of Digital Radio trials in Sydney, and the then imminent announcement of DAB as the future from the then Minister for Communications.  Instead, the announcement came that Australia would not go ahead with the technology it had been trialling, instead, we would be one of the first to adopt the DAB+ technology.  This even newer technology would allow more content to be jammed into the same amount of spectrum space.


It was to be frank, quite disappointing.  All my DAB Radios (I have several PURE models, and several little SANYO portables) continued to work as the ‘trial’ continued while this new technology came to us.  So I continued to enjoy that one big benefit – Quality.

A couple of months ago, those trials ended. Digital Radio Plus launched in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

Now, a new range of radio’s is required.

So for the last month or so, I’ve been trialling a few models.  Primarily from the biggest player in the market PURE, and also one from left field – the OXX Digital.

Firstly, the PURE Siesta – The entry level DAB+ radio for the Australian Market. RRP of $199 is harsh, in fact it’s too much.  There’s your first reason not to convert – the price is essentially for the enthusiasts.  This is a fantastic little model, bedside radio is where it’s meant to be however it will sit well as a kitchen of office desk radio too. No special featuers except for the mainly clock based display and the alarm functions.

Next up is the PURE Chronos iDock.  As indicated by the ‘i’ in the name, this unit has an iPod dock right on top.  It works extremely well and using the remote you can not only listen to all the radio you want, but also remotely contol you iPod music selections.  Additionally there is the alarm feature which makes this too a perfect bedside companion, however I think its much better suited to the kitchen/living room environment. Available at Harvey Norman for $449 it is again quite pricey, but a little easier to justify as crazy as that sounds.

Sitting at the $299 mark is the PURE One Elite.  The Elite has stereo sound, and as such is one of the best PURE units available, the ‘Pure One’ has just a single speaker, and you truely do get better sound with the Elite.  This is the first unit also, and one of very few on the market with the much heralded PAUSE and REWIND functionality.  I find the sound from this unit top class, and the display and feel is excellent.  However, one gripe is that to change stations you need to first press the ‘stations’ button then scroll the wheel (Same wheel as volume) – A little annoying.  But only a little.

Also around the $299 mark is the ONLY CAR DIGITAL RADIO on the market (More on this later) The PURE HIGHWAY.  This unit requires you to hook it onto the windscreen, just like you might a Sat Nav unit.  It works as a standalone portable device, but its a bit bulky to carry around like a walkman so I don’t think that’s going to be its big selling point.  In your car, the Highway searches for a vacant FM frequency and re-transmits the DAB signal to your existing car stereo via FM.  Sorta defeats the purpose I think, however you can still get a noticable jump in quality most clearly from the AM stations.  And this is your only way to hear any new stations being launched as Digital Only.  The in car FM re-transmission REQUIRES the unit to be plugged into you internal car power (cigarette lighter) which is quite annoying – 1/ because one of my cars doesnt have this, and 2/ because the DAB radio works on Battery and not having that cable is one less bit of clutter.

All in all the Highway is an easy unit to use, however if you have more than one car, be prepared to shell out for a second antenna because the first one won’t come off all that easily!

The iRiver B30 is one of the hottest items on the market in terms of DAB+ radios.  It’s available only at JB-HIFI and the first shipment sold out fast.  This little unit is an 8GB MP3/MP4 player with a DAB+ chip built in.  Allowing you to record audio and also see SLIDESHOW pictures which the industry has been hyping for some time now.  Shelf price of $269 but don’t pay more than $219 – they will sell it to you for that.  Apart from the flimsy feeling antenna this is one of the best DAB radio’s on the market today.

Finally, the dark horse – the OXX Digital.  This hand-painted wooden cased unit is slick.  It has the look, and the tactile feel of the volume and station control buttons beats them all.  At $299 you’d think it’s pricey, but add to all of this the fact that it has an Ethernet Plug AND WiFi so you can tune into all your favourite Internet Radio Stations or podcats – this is a tough device to beat.

PURE have a couple of excellent WiFi/Internet Radios – under their ‘Evoke’ Tag, however they are priced over $600 and that’s just the base model.  The podcasting features on the PURE product are amazing, but the attempted ‘touch’ interface leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s not an intuitive user interface at all.

All in all, I can’t go past the OXX as my DAB+ Digital Radio of choice – the price, the quality, and the sound are all outstanding.

The PURE One Elite is second best with the added benefit of Stereo and Pause/Rewind, while the iDock is another great offering but a bit Pricey.  the iRiver B30 is a must consider for anyone looking for portable, and perhaps get yourself an FM transmitter (iPod style) and use that in your car!

Expect prices to be slashed leading up to Christmas.  Several retailers are getting ready for a big rush leading into December.  I also expect some other big names to enter this space.

A word however on Digital Radio in General.  This space will not grow until cars are built with DAB+ receivers.  Already in Europe manufacturers are putting things in place for a 2013 launch, lets hope Aussie manufacturers and consumers get vocal about this asap, or the whole Digital Radio space will disappear as quick as it came.

And finally, and most concerning – Reception.  Please, make sure you get a receipt and check your return policy when purchasing.  Not to be a downer, but reception is NOT the same as AM or FM.

I live in the North of Sydney and have huge trouble getting reception in my garage (my shed/my office) and even in my Bedroom (antenna required to be placed on window).  That alone concerns me.  However, in the last few days I’ve done a lot of driving with the PURE Highway.  Excellent DAB+ coverage up the old Pacific Highway to Cowan and a little beyond.  However on the F3 around Hornsby not so good.  Down the Pacific Highway to the City was great, until Killara when dropouts became more common than not, all the way – beleive it or not, until Milsons Point.  Blame me perhaps for the installation of the antenna for the Highway, but I’m as good as the next person at it, so if we expect something better from the Public we’ve got a long way to go.  Audio Levels and latency (the delay of transmission) are both being looked at by the industry as a whole – I am hoping for more work on reception and transmission – again, this thing will die as quick as it started if it’s not checked and educated quickly.

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Trev produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He hosts a nightly radio show on Talking Lifestyle, 8pm Monday to Friday in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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