I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on an in-car Digital Radio that is not yet available in Australia, and I’m glad to say, it’s going to be great for DAB+ take-up in this country.
Anyone who has followed my ranting about Digital Radio since the early part of the last decade knows I’m passionate about it, and it’s certainly a known fact that in car radio listening is key to audience size, and therefore the availability of DAB+ radios in-car is crucial.
click Continue Reading for a load of photos and my thoughts on the BLUESTATE RA-557 Single DIN In-Car DAB+ Digital Radio!
Having this radio in a box itself was an exciting thing, but then the realisation struck that I couldn’t just plug it in and see it working. Installing a Car radio has to me only been something professionals should do!
We have two cars in our family. One more modern European car which doesn’t have the type of radio you can just go to JB Hi-FI or Strathfield to get a replacement for. However, the 12 year old Holden Barina does – and while it has served us well with its innovative (at the time I’m sure!) 3.5m Jack for AUX IN. (known to this car as CD-IN, but has been great for direct iPod sound!)
The Bluestate RA-557 is a Single DIN unit – which means its your standard sized car stereo.
On Saturday Morning, I decided that not knowing where I might be able to get the Stereo removed and the Bluestate installed, I took to the car with screwdrivers to see what I could achieve.
Frankly, extraction was simple. Just pulled it out!. Then removing the inner housing was a single screwdriver. left behind was a cluster of cables for power and audio, plus a single aerial cable.
Bingo – This looked good. I inserted the outer housing that came with the BlueState, and checked the power cables fitted the new unit and powered it up – No problem.
Next, the Aerial. This was not so easy. The last unit had the aerial connection built into it, and the connection provided on the Bluestate RA-557 was quite different. ‘Female’ connector is how I would describe it.
With my normal impatience, and again, inability to even think who might sell a converter for this problem, I improvised.
I removed the connector from the old unit, a single wire connection, and cut the wire that came with the Bluestate. Quick bit of soldering done, and I had a connection to the existing in-car aerial.
Within seconds, I powered the unit up, pushed it into place, and tuned to 104.9 Sydney Triple M and was listening Loud and clear – this proved to me that my improv had worked.
Next, I pressed the BND button which I assumed (No Manual came with the unit I received) was for BAND. The RA-557 is FM/DAB+ only – no AM (See update at the bottom of this post) – which is the first negative for the unit. So I switched from FM to DAB, and the screen showed a message “< Press SEEK >” I pressed and held the SEEK button and the normal DAB+ style Scan began. The unit scans all worldwide frequency bands, with the Key 9B/C bands scanned early on, it was quick to pickup the 39 available Digital Radio stations in Sydney.
To my surprise (and satisfaction) the unit defaulted to SBS PopAsia when the seek was complete (Working at SBS Radio, I have had a lot to do with the establishment of the SBS PopAsia and SBS Chill Digital only stations). Sound was great, and I was pleased to be listening to DAB+ Radio direct through my radio Speakers. (the PURE Highway DAB+ Radio re-transmits the Digital Stations via a Local FM frequency to your car radio unless you have an AUX IN)
Using the |<< and >>| buttons selections new stations, with no additional step required to TUNE to a station, simply ‘scroll’ to the station and pause for the radio to Tune. This isn’t perfect, because the ‘tuning’ to a station takes a few moments, you will find the radio tuning to a station you didn’t want and having to wait for it to complete tuning before then continuing to search for your station. Likewise the scanning for a station in the list by holding down the arrow buttons isn’t a perfect science with the station names fleeting by quite fast.
However, with 6 available pre-sets, you’ll have everything you need for easy station selection as you continue your regular daily drives.
I have found that unfortunately the unit is not remembering the DAB+ station scan, after sitting for a few hours in the driveway, powering up the unit results in it being basically factory reset. I’m pretty confident this is my installation, and that if I have it checked by an Auto Electrician it likely needs some sort of battery power when the car is off to ‘save’ its settings. Will be interested to check this out in the coming weeks. (See update at the bottom of this post)
DLS (Scrolling text) displays well on screen by pressing the INFO (Seek) button briefly – Other display options are Signal Error rates, MUX Info (Which transmitter is broadcasting the signal), Time, and Signal strength. The DLS is not at all distracting when driving – and I hope the debate over this is shut down immediately, because the interesting (and rarely discussed fact) is that many (including the Bluestate RA-557) radios show scrolling NOW PLAYING information on many FM stations via RDS.
CD Audio is as expected, good quality either CD audio or MP3 CD. Inserting a CD requires the front face of the unit to be tilted down with the touch of a button, the CD slot hides behind that.
The small flip down flap on the right hand side of the unit allows you to insert a USB stick OR SD Card and the device will read it for audio. I only tested this with Mp3 Files and it was simple in both. No text display on screen, unfortunately at this time (without detailed testing) you get a simple list of directories by Number (D1, D17 etc). Like changing CD’s in a multi stack CD unit you simply switch to the next directory.
Interestingly, no Aux In 3.5mm jack, which in some ways could be seen as a disappointment, but also something simple that has been overlooked. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Volume is good, with DAB there are ongoing complaints that the DAB stations are at a low signal volume the Maximum ’32’ on this unit isn’t at all deafening, especially when compared to FM which did make me automatically want me to turn it down at that level. (See update at the bottom of this post)
Overall it’s hard not to be impressed, this is – after all – the hope of the side when it comes to In-Car DAB+ aftermarket radios. It will be (in my opinion) 5 years before cars built and sold here have DAB+ in them, with European cars likely to arrive here with DAB+ in 2013 though.
My thoughts are simple. If you have a car that has space for a Single DIN after market radio installation – this is the one for you. Why choose any other when this has CD, MP3, USB, SD and, most importantly, the best quality radio in the market – DAB+ Digital Radio.
Distribution deals are still not done for Australia, however that is very close, and I expect this to hit key retaillers in Q3 or early Q4 – pricing – at a guess, around $300.
UPDATE: The Manufacturers of the BlueState RA-557 have been in touch with me to tell me that the unit I have is a pre-production model. The full production unit will have the following improvements:
1. loss of Presets has been corrected.
2. Faster channel switching.
3. Channel scrolling is much faster and you can change channel whilst uning.
4. Volume control has been greatly improved.
5. Australian models have AM
6. 3 banks of memory (DAB 1/2/3 -> 18 prests in all)
In August the Bluestate RA-558 will launch – which has bluetooth and front AUX i/p – Great news.