Technology Explained

How to Get Digital DAB Radio in Your Car

Christian Cawley 29-10-2013

Digital radio might seem a bit old to some, but when it comes to listening to your favourite radio station on the road, things can prove difficult. Forget FM 8 More Things The Internet And Technology Killed Off Here are 8 more things and practises the Internet and technology have killed off, are in the process of killing off, or not quite dead but will eventually (most likely) kill off in the near... Read More – how can you get DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio in your car?


Coming from the United Kingdom, I’ve struggled to enjoy digital radio while driving for some time (for those of you in the USA, the attraction is this: you have a multitude of radio stations, local and national, on traditional bands; we have about ten). First of all, the problem was due to a lack of suitable equipment; latterly, issues concerning coverage and poor reception quality have plagued my enjoyment of some superb broadcasts.

Regardless of where you are based, the problems are largely the same. How do you get digital DAB radio in your car, maintain signal strength and, ultimately, enjoy trouble-free digital audio broadcasts while you travel from A to B? While packing the right tech for a long journey Road Trip USA: A Techie's Toolbox For A Great Drive You're already using your Android for anything but phone calls? Smartphones also make for great travel companions! Before you start your road trip, be sure to stock up your digital toolbox with useful apps. Read More might seem sensible, should you let poor digital radio reception spoil your journey?

Three Ways To Get Digital Radio In Your Car

There are – strictly speaking – three ways to get digital radio.

The first is a bit of a cheat, and is wildly expensive. Unfortunately, as most of you reading this will be unable to afford to buy a brand new car with audio extras simply for a wider selection of radio broadcasts, it is unlikely that this will prove practical.



Second is perhaps the most popular, utilizing your smartphone’s mobile Internet connection and an app such as TuneIn Radio Enjoy Podcasts, Music, Talk & Sport On Windows Phone With TuneIn Radio Aware that I should probably listen to the occasional contemporary sound, I became a convert to the BBC's 6 Music channel, which plays an astounding mix of great tunes from the 1950's to the 2010's.... Read More or perhaps a radio station’s official app, to have the music streamed to your car audio system via your phone How to Connect Your Android Phone to Your Car Audio System Want to listen to music from your Android phone in the car? Here are your best options on how to connect, from aux cables to Bluetooth. Read More . There are a couple of potential problems here: the first is potential issues with high speed mobile Internet coverage, while the second is to do with the age-old issue of mounting and using your phone responsibly while driving.


The third option is perhaps the most effective in the long term. Buying a new digital radio tuner and compatible head unit will solve many of the problems with using a smartphone and is of course considerably cheaper than buying a new car. However, while a new radio might come with various multimedia options in addition to the DAB receiver (such as a connector for your smartphone, an SD card slot or a USB port), this approach can be affected by problems with reception.

It should be noted that DAB radios are available that can be mounted in your car that transmit the audio to your existing car stereo on the FM band. However these devices are needlessly expensive, often frustrating and still require a new antenna. As such, they are best avoided.


We’ll ignore any further focus on buying a new car – there are plenty of other sites offering assistance in that area – and look at using smartphones and improving reception on an in-car DAB receiver.

Using Your Smartphone For Digital Radio

Over the course of several Android and Windows Phones, this was the approach I used between passing my test in 2009 (yes, I’m a late developer) and finally getting a DAB receiver at the end of 2012.


There are several apps that you can use to enjoy digital radio stations – albeit streamed via the Internet – on your smartphone. As mentioned above, these include TuneIn Radio TuneIn Radio Takes Traditional Broadcast To Mobile [iOS] Speaking of the iPhone and Spotify, it is a little disheartening to think that radio could give way to these newer, sexier modes of listening to (and sharing) music. But even still, radio has fought... Read More , which is probably the best option on all popular mobile platforms (although if you have a better suggestion, let us know in the comments).


Using your smartphone to stream digital radio through your car’s audio system is a good option if the cost of a new DAB car radio is considered prohibitive, or if you’re concerned about theft.

However, be aware that whenever you drive through areas with poor mobile phone coverage (such as areas of the countryside with sparse cell tower numbers) you’ll find that your ability to enjoy streamed radio will be restricted. To avoid this, you should focus your enjoyment to urban areas, and prepare alternative entertainment for when radio is unavailable. One way around this, if you enjoy a particular show, is to check whether or not a podcast version is available, and subscribe to this.

Buying a New Radio? You May Need A New Antenna

In 2012, I was fortunate enough to get a new car stereo, complete with DAB receiver and head unit. At last I was able to enjoy digital radio in my car!

Well, nearly.



The problem is that in older cars, the built-in aerial is often unsuitable for digital radio signals. This might be because of the quality of the aerial is poor. More likely, however, it will be because the digital signal is filtered out between the aerial and the back of your analogue car radio.

To overcome this, there are a couple of options. One is to fit an adaptor that retains the digital signal and splits it off into a separate connector for your new digital radio receiver. You can pick these up relatively inexpensively online (such as on Amazon, eBay or a specialist retailer) but you should research your car stereo model so that you choose the right adaptor.  Also, be aware that such equipment can be unreliable.

The second option is to fit a new antenna intended for collecting digital signals. This might be the antenna that ships with your new receiver (this was how I solved my reception problem), or if no such equipment was included, you might need to spend money on a third party antenna. For the best results, avoid glass-mounted (like the one pictured above from Amazon) or interior antennae in favour of ones that can be mounted externally with a magnet or with some minor customization to your car’s bodywork.

If you’ve previously used a smartphone for streaming digital radio on the Internet, you will already be aware that there are areas where the signal can drop out. The same is true for a digital radio receiver, so spending time and money on getting the best reception is well worth it.

How Do You Listen To Digital Radio In Your Car?

Listening to digital radio is not only a way to enjoy good sound quality – it’s also a method of giving yourself as wide a choice of music and talk radio as possible.

Using a dashboard-mounted smartphone or tablet is one way to enjoy digital radio in your car (in this case streamed over the Internet); using a DAB radio receiver is perhaps the best option.

What do you use? Does a smartphone work for you, or have you added a DAB receiver to your car? Perhaps you’ve gone one step further and opted for a satellite radio receiver?

Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: Notwist

Related topics: Automotive Technology, Digital Audio Broadcasting, Internet Radio.

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  1. Matthew Dickinson
    September 22, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Dension offers a large number of options for DAB+ and ipod iphone ipad integration into hundreds of vehicles. Really neat stuff.

  2. Dean
    December 23, 2015 at 3:13 am

    The data costs are more of an issue than mobile reception. Anyone streaming music all the time via their phone will be using more than their allowance of data. Upping your data allowance is possible however the monthly costs should be considered. If your not with Telstra your reception will be limited in regional areas. I drove a new car with DAB and it had all the stations but an older model only had some stations despite re-tuning so it seems reception and coverage are the main bug bears,

    • Christian Cawley
      December 23, 2015 at 8:20 am

      Data cost depends on where you are. Caps are apparently higher in the UK and Europe than in the US.

  3. Peter
    April 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    What about data costs to stream from the app?

    • Christian Cawley
      April 21, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Depends on your data package, really, and how much driving you intend to do.

  4. John Schmitt
    October 29, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    I love my Kenwood receiver with RCA in jacks. Mini stereo to RCA's. Done!

  5. Anthony
    October 29, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I once got a Ford Focus hire car in California that had a Sirius Satellite Radio - I don't think this is available here, but it was great - a *huge* selection of channels and no problem with signal quality. I could even get UK radio stations, with delayed transmission eg. so the morning show would be heard in the morning, even though it obviously is no longer live.

    • Christian C
      October 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      I used satellite radio many years ago on my old Windows Mobile 6.5, but struggled with getting a reliable app for it on Android and forgot all about it until I read your post!