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DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) - A false dawn and a big con

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DAB was hailed as the next best thing in Radio broadcasting.

If you live in the UK DON'T BOTHER getting a DAB radio unless you are absolutely desperate for a few of the extra stations.

Due to the financial constraints of cramming more and more stations into the available frequencies the quality is nothing like as good as the current FM as the bit rates have had to be substantially reduced and even some of the quite "Low fidelity" repeats of even BBC 3 (Classical music service) on the INTERNET sound almost as good as the supposedly High Fidelity quality of DAB.

The "flagship" BBC R3 Classical music service now only transmits at 128 kbs. It used to transmit at 192 presumeably to entice people into buying gear.

Now for MP3 listening I would regard 192 (sampled at 16 bit 44.1 KHz) kbs as the BARE MINIMUM acceptable for serious high quality listening - note this is for AT HOME listening through decent separates. I'm not thinking about portable players used on the move. I would tend to use MP3's at 256 or 320 kbs for using on a decent piece of gear.

Added to the fact that DAB is MP2 not MP3 so the 128 kbs of a DAB signal is SIGNIFICANTLY inferior to an already dubious quality of a 128 kbs mp3 signal. So the whole execise has been yet another con by the Music Industry to bolster it's revenues.

Added to the reception difficulty in a lot of places it really isn't worth bothering with, especially if you have access to a Satellite Dish.

(Cable systems are another issue. Some might be OK whilst others might add more compression to conserve bandwidth so they can supply more customers. I really don't know as I don't have cable where I am).

The best sound IMO (not always true but so long as you know in advance when a decent quality transmission is going out) is via Satellite.

BBC (and other commercial) Radio programs are transmitted "In the Clear" from the SKY satellite and with the new (HD TV enabled) digiboxes can capture Optical out which is the best way IMO of recording to minidisc. Some experimental programs go out at 256 Kbs and there is some talk of possibly trying AAC+ (MP4)

A great pity as the initial promise of this medium (DAB) could have given very high quality indeed at lowish cost.

I think "The Humble CD" will still be around for longer than people have predicted as nothing else comes close in music quality or transferrability for 99.999% of the population out there.

Here's another comment from a UK source agreeing




Edited by 1kyle
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Well, your observations have been well documented elsewhere, so there isn't much argument that the (sonic) quality of DAB in the UK leaves much to be desired.

However the system used in the UK (Eureka 147) was really designed for mobile use, in car radios and such like, and given adequate coverage (more transmitters are going in all the time improving coverage all over the country), it really ought to be viewed (or heard!) in this context.

FM radio sounds great in the domestic situation with a decent hi-fi and a decent off-air signal, in the same situation DAB sounds worse (at best) and "pants" (at worst ... eg. BBC Five Live Sports Extra ...!) at times when the bitrates of some channels within the ensemble are running at 80kB/s or less.

However, in a car, FM sounds "pants" for a great deal of the time due to multipath distortion (this is almost eliminated with DAB Eureka 147), if you listen carefully to it. Try listening to BBC R3 FM closely whilst driving round in a built-up area!

So it depends on your circumstances. If you have a small portable in say, your back kitchen without an external (ie roof-mounted) antenna, and you are in an area with decent signal strength on both FM and DAB, then in all probability DAB will be the best option.

The only "con" as far as I can see (and this really gets me going, I have to say) is when DAB is advertised as "CD quality" or "near CD quality", which, frankly, it ain't and never will be.

There are some similarities with the SP vs LP2 vs LP4 vs ATRAC vs ATRAC3 vs ATRAC3plus arguments, of course, and we all have our own levels of tolerance to audio reproduction artefacts.

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Perhaps a little unrelated but DAB was launched in Canada, very quietly many many years ago. In the US, DAB was either never officially launched or it was just as quietly done as it was here.

Never caught on.

In the US, several years later, as you probably know satellite services such as XM and Sirius started. We've also just gotten XM Canada and Sirius Canada officially/legally as well (before you could use XM or Sirius here but it was grey market and you had to bill to a US address for example).

The interesting thing comparing DAB and XM/Sirius is the price of the tuners. With DAB it seems you are paying royalties in the price of the tuner (which is often quite expensive). With XM and Sirius the tuners are relatively quite cheap and you pay monthly subscription rates. Which is really better I'm not sure, but the subscription rates aren't that bad, from what I've seen.

I've heard from many people that XM in the US is very similar to what you describe. There are now so many channels on it and no bandwidth that the bitrates are sounding like 64kbps MP3 :rolleyes: Pretty crappy quality. It's amazing so many people use XM--it is fairly popular in the US I believe. Lots of selection and lots of "radio" you can't get in many locales but still with that quality I'd probably cancel my subscription ASAP, if it were me.

Anyway, there's also a new standard radio (i.e. not satellite radio) service enchancement going on in the US right now, called HDRadio. I wonder if this will become popular? Kinda the same idea as DAB (though admittedly I don't know much about the way DAB works anymore). The HD tuners are more expensive than XM and Sirius tuners, but nowhere near what DAB used to cost. AM apparently now sounds like FM with HDRadio and FM like CD quality. The good thing is it is still radio so quality is dependent on whomever's broadcast you're receiving. But of course you're again limited to your frequency range/reception area unlike sat. radio.

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If there was a way to have a computer on but with only the system processes etc to stream music from it to a wireless receiver (e.g roku sound bridge etc), without the need for a wireless router , just the need for a wireless pci card and the receiver , then that would be ideal. The whole reason why those receiver things are annoying is the fact that you have to have the computer left on.

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gee,, i guess that's why God invented Cable TV on the ninth day; i (rayzray) just leave the Cable box on; TV off; and pipe the house FULL of music with the sound system on a Cable Music Station; thanks God!

no need for DAB here; or AAB and BAB; maybe CAB; but NOT DAB!

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@1kyle: The problem with DAB is not cost, the problem is a lack of frequencies.

While the UK, as an island, has a bit more leeway in that regard, it too has to follow international regulations. When DAB started, one multiplex per country/state was defined sometimes in 1999. And nothing has changed since then. Now in 2006, additional frequency blocks will be requested for DAB at the Stockholm conference. The reason for DAB's problems are politicians. Remember: Dumb, dumber, politician.

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