Most DAB radios are conservatively styled boxes that sit on a shelf in your kitchen or bedroom, tethered to the mains by a snaking cable -- but it doesn't have to be that way. Sony's XDR-M1 is smaller than your wallet and runs off batteries, enabling you to enjoy DAB broadcasts in the great outdoors. You can get commentary from Test Match Special while you sit in the stand at Lord's or tune in to Gardener's Question Time while you plant your carrots.
Marketed under the Walkman brand, the XDR-M1 lets you listen to FM radio as well as DAB. If you're primarily interested in FM, there are many smaller -- and cheaper -- radios on the market. On the DAB side there aren't as many options and this is the smallest of the current crop. We've seem Internet prices ranging from £115 to £149, so shop around.
The XDR-M1 is a neat black box with tasteful styling that's typical of Sony. The minimalist front combines gloss black plastic at the top with matt black plastic at the bottom. The LCD screen is the same size as the silver control panel, giving an overall feeling of simplicity and harmony.
The screen has a pale green backlight and displays four lines of information. It's dim and difficult to read, even when you activate the backlight, which stays on for a miserly five seconds. We had to concentrate hard to be sure the backlight was working.
The control panel has four buttons for activating the menu, selecting presets, switching between DAB and FM modes, and changing the information on the screen. The round button in the centre can be rocked up or down to scroll through the menus or stations. Pressing it selects the highlighted item.
The rest of the controls are tucked away around the sides and include a switch for selecting FM sensitivity, a button for activating the backlight, a hold switch, a power button, and a rocker for controlling the volume.
Sony supplies stereo earbuds and a remote control that lets you change modes, change stations, adjust the volume and turn the radio on or off. The headphone cable acts as the aerial, so it's best to extend it as far as possible. You also get a mains adaptor that you can use when you're listening at home. If you want to take the radio out into the great outdoors, you'll need two AA batteries. With batteries, remote and earbuds, the radio weighs 155g.
When you power up the radio for the first time, it automatically scans for DAB stations and starts playing the last one on the list. To choose another station, simply rock the central control.
The XDR-M1 sorts the stations by ensemble (an 'ensemble' or 'multiplex' is a group of stations that are broadcast on the same frequency). Within the ensemble the stations come up in a standard but meaningless sequence. In the Switch London group, for example, you'll find Spectrum, Virgin Groove, The Hits, BBC London, YARR, Galaxy, Kerrang!, Jazz FM, Heart and Saga, in that order. Virgin Radio is in a different multiplex and Virgin Classic Rock is somewhere else again. We're all for mixing things up and encouraging people to try new stations, but this is just annoying. We much prefer radios that list the stations alphabetically.
To reduce the confusion, you can copy up to 20 stations to the Favourites list. This involves pressing Menu, scrolling down two positions and selecting Favourite, then selecting Save -- a total of five button presses. Following this procedure automatically switches you from Normal mode, where you can see all the stations, to Favourite mode, where you can only see your presets. To store a second station, you've got to switch back to Normal mode and start again. It's not the most intuitive or convenient system for storing presets.