Audio

Crave Talk: Internet radio is everything DAB should have been

DAB promised so much and delivered so little. Internet radio is everything DAB should have been. Find out why Internet radio puts DAB to shame

We were promised music for every generation, culture and religion, but did we get any of this? Did DAB really deliver? The DAB revolution promised CD-quality sound and a dazzling choice of radio stations. It promised digital airwaves filled with indie outfits broadcasting deliciously quirky music from the underground scene. Did this happen?

No. DAB slapped us in the face with indentikit versions of existing mainstream analogue stations, and a handful of pseudo-independent niche interest stations crippled by bit rates that would embarrass a ringtone.

There is an alternative though, and its name is Internet radio. With bit rates that commonly soar into the realms of 160 or 192kbps, Internet radio is technicolour to DAB's black and white. Many UK DAB stations saunter in the doldrums of 80kbps -- our broadcasters should be sent to their bedrooms in disgrace.

DAB radio reneged on its promise of higher-quality radio broadcasts. Anyone serious about their hi-fi has returned to the superior signal that FM offers. What happened to the Jules Verne-like visions of our DAB radio pioneers? These visions were crushed by the over-eager hands of the UK radio operators who decided to cram as many stations as possible into each multiplex (broadcasting pipe) at the expense of sound quality.

Kitchen-radio listeners across the country may hesitate to raise a bored eyebrow at this cabaret of tech specs. Watching a CNET hack point at bit rates and curse means nothing when you're enjoying a Radio 4 play with crystal-clear DAB reception. But the reality of the situation is that good DAB reception is a privilege of those close enough to a transmitter and with thin enough walls to tune in.

For spoken word, you may find DAB sounds fine. But then, a pot-holed road is fine for driving down at 10mph, but what if you want to drive at 30mph, or 100mph? What if you want to listen to rock music, or classical? DAB falls on its bit-rate-starved face.

There is hope though. Open up iTunes, or get hold of a stand-alone Internet radio receiver like the Noxon 2 and you get access to thousands of radio stations from across the world. Many of these are truly independent stations, often without adverts and completely free of any corporate affiliation. The music you hear broadcast by stations like the fantastic Soma FM is a world apart from the Nutrasweet pop that Virgin radio and others are clogging up the DAB spectrum with -- and at a bit rate high enough that you can enjoy it.

Take your DAB back to the shop and demand a refund. We're taking back control of our airwaves and we're doing it by ignoring airwaves entirely. Kiss DAB radio goodbye, the Ethernet cable beckons. -Chris Stevens