Investigating internet radio

I am quite a fan of DAB radio. It allows me to listen to two of my favourite stations, Radio 5 Live and Absolute Radio, in crystal-clear quality as opposed to the duff medium wave frequencies they have historically used. Two of my other favourite stations, 6 Music and the World Service, are not available on analogue radio. So DAB wins for me on two key counts — sound quality and choice.

But there is no doubt that DAB is troubled. Its future is constantly being questioned. There are grumbles about poor sound quality and reception issues. The fact that car and handheld DAB radios are still thin on the ground is no help either. Take-up has been slower than anticipated.

Moreover, technology is beginning to overtake DAB. Having been developed during the 1980s and early 1990s, DAB uses old-fashioned and inefficient compression techniques.

I am considering buying a second digital radio for when I move. But given the continued niggles surrounding DAB and the uncertainty regarding digital switchover for radio, I am beginning to wonder if buying a second DAB set would be a sensible move.

Is the future of digital radio on the internet?

I was therefore interested to read about the BBC’s new high-quality system, which they are calling HD Sound (not to be confused with HD Radio!).

At first it will be offered for Radio 3, then Radio 2. But given that feedback of the trial as so far been extremely positive — even among the demanding Radio 3 audience — this is beginning to look like a promising system.

Only one thing. It will be available on the internet only. So should my new radio set be an internet radio?

I hadn’t seriously considered buying an internet radio up until now. But it has a massive wealth of choice. There is huge flexibility. It is more future-proof. This platform has widespread adoption (you don’t see the internet disappearing any time soon — although somehow the future of DAB always seems relatively uncertain). And now it seemingly the internet has the potential to have the upper hand in terms of audio quality.

Do any readers have any experience with internet radios? Are they worth a purchase?

6 comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about one for a while. Our DAB radio only gets reception in the bedroom, with the aerial at full length at an angle of 20deg facing south.
    I would only really want to listen to all the BBC channels, Absolute, XFM and the locals, but I worry about how fiddly it might be to programme them with a few buttons.
    However I’ve installed TuneIn Radio on my Nexus One, and now use that to listen to 6Music when I can’t be arsed to get out of bed in the mornings.

  2. Thanks for the comment Ryan.

    I know what you mean about it possibly being fiddly. One of my worries is that there might be too much choice, and you end up becoming swamped with thousands of stations. But if you can choose presets that would solve that problem. It looks like you can do something like this using the Pure Lounge.

  3. I really like my Roberts stream 202. Presets are easy – just hold down a numbered button, and it stores the station. Easy.

    I really enjoy having many stations – sometimes I’ll listen to etn.fm from Montreal for high quality (256kb) “progressive” trance. Ad-free. Or perhaps a cow try and western station from the deep south. Or jazz. Or NPR breakfast show (during uk early afternoon) – the choices are far broader than the somewhat parochial UK radio scene.

    The same unit also has podcasts, so I can listen to hilarious shows like savage love.

    Browsing for music is quite easy – stations are all organised by genre, with a “highlights” section for the pick of the bunch in each genre.

    My only caveat is that the Roberts unit has a less than impressive speaker – mono, tinny – but I solve this by plugging it into some decent (not audiophiles decent, but decent) creative speakers.

    Streams vary in quality. BBC streams are crappy – 40kbit usually. This does sound better than FM however and nit far from dab. Sone stations are very high bitrate and high quality – it depends on what they choose to stream.

    You can explore the world of Internet radio via iPhone and its intune radio app (or the google equivalent on android) – or use shoutcast via your browser. Radio unit is only for convenience – listening to radio while washing dishes is easier that way.

  4. Not with the sets, no… but we did sponsor an internet radio station for a while, Radio Riel (www.radioriel.org and http://bit.ly/ao29KU). There’s some really exciting stuff going on at the moment, it’s definitely a world that’s worth looking at more closely.

  5. I’ve wanted to explore DAB but living in an area with a pretty bad sigal for all other forms of radio I’ve held back, particularly since they all seem to be single-speaker units for kitchens or whatever. I don’t want mono. I’m not an audiophile either so I’m not going to spend on a beefy system with all the trimmings.
    Equally, I’ve held back on internet radio because of the liklihood of buffering. In any case, we can now get some radio stations via Freeview (seemingly not as many here as elsewhere), I listen to Kerrang and sometimes 6Music that way.

  6. When I first moved to Birnam I couldn’t get decent reception on my old radio tuner but was delighted with DAB, particularly BBC Radio 7 which has some good comedy and Sci-Fi radio plays. I agree, though. DAB is pretty low-fi, really.

    Haven’t checked out internet radios yet but do sometimes listen to radio streams while I work. http://www.haarlemsource.nl is good on Friday afternoons when the Jamaican music is on.

    Couldn’t you set up an old laptop as a dedicated internet radio and hook it up to a decent amp?