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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 – 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 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 or perhaps a radio station’s official app, to have the music streamed to your car audio system via your phone. 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, 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!
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