At a time when audio equipment is geared towards the future, when wireless speakers, phone docks and surround sound are ubiquitous, you might think that the humble tabletop radio is extinct. Not even close. It’s just evolved, and gotten a lot smarter over time. As terrestrial radio has had to make room for online stations and streaming audio, the tabletop radio makers have adapted. Their flagship lines bear little resemblance to the dinky little clock radios from the past twenty years. And as a bonus, they’re not all that expensive - not compared to other examples of audio equipment, which can cost thousands of dollars. Even the most expensive tabletop radio will cost you well under a grand. It’s worth noting that it’s actually quite rare for manufacturers to release new models; although while some of these units are a few years old, there’s a reason we still think they’re the best available.
 


How We Choose:

Like many examples of audio equipment, the answer to this question comes down to sound quality and feature sets. Starting at the very top around $500, our picks cover all budgets - all the way down to $60. 

This year’s top sets feature household brands like Bose, which naturally offer the most advanced features - from liquid crystal displays and equaliser controls, to multiple drivers, high-quality analog circuitry and the latest digital audio mode capabilities, all to be explained in more detail in our Buying Advice section below. 

You may not recognize all the brands in the lower price brackets right away, but all the radios we’ve included exhibit great sound and build quality and are great value for the price.

Our lower-priced picks are perfect for anyone who wants a hassle-free, plug-and-play sound. As is the case with most budget audio equipment, cheaper models may sacrifice advanced features like equalisers, digital audio and streaming music services (such as Spotify or Pandora). If you don’t need all those fancy additions, no need to pay for them.  Since cheaper models aren’t designed to produce audiophile sound quality, they can often exhibit distortion at high volume levels. On the plus side, they are likely to be very simple to operate, and so they are ideal for anyone who just wants to listen to the radio without thinking too much about it... 
 

Our Tabletop Radio Picks:

1. Bose Wave Soundtouch Music System IV ($599)

Bose Wave SoundTouch Music System IVWeight: 9.9 lbs
Dimensions: 14.6" x 8.7" x 5.6"
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Superb spec with all the bells and whistles.
What We Don't: Upgrade probably a little expensive from the original Wave IV.

At the very top of our selection is the Wave Soundtouch Music System IV - the upgraded version of the original Wave IV which, while a little pricey, is a lighter, still excellent version of the original. Everything is supercharged here, but it’s the sound you’ll notice first. It’s huge - and frankly, a little disconcerting that something this size can make a sound that should come from something ten times larger. Bose doesn’t supply speaker data, so we don’t have wattage figures for you, but this can hit some substantial volumes.

You can send audio from any signal source into this radio: AM, FM, streaming (with services from Spotify to Deezer), MP3 player and even a CD player, if you still have some lying around. The Waveguide technology is present and correct here, with twin 3” and 4” drivers partnering up to provide that absolutely epic sound. The Soundtouch app provides excellent control, too. This is still one of the most superb systems money can buy - perfect for audiophiles, or those who simply want superb sound. It’s probably not ideal for anyone who wants just a simple AM/FM radio - for one of those, look further down the list - but we still consider it the business.
See the Bose Wave Music System IV
 

2. Cue Radio Model R1 ($399)

Cue Acoustics Cue Radio Model R1Weight: 6lbs
Dimensions: 10.5" x 6.5" 4.25"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: A serious alternative to the market leading brands.
What We Don't: Lack of digital radio and WiFi a disappointment.

Cue Acoustics aren’t the most high profile name in tabletop radios, but they’ve created a worthy challenger to the Bose systems in their Model R1. It’s a simple tabletop radio: AM/FM tuner, an iPod/iPhone dock and an alarm clock function. A sleek front end with three dials for control means that it’s at home wherever you put it. It’s the sound that’s the real draw, and the reason that this is actually in the high-end range. Cue pack in a D2Audio DSP (digital signal processing) chip combined with a digital amplifier and pair it with 3/4” tweeter and 3.5” woofer for deep, rich, powerful sound that belies its small size. There’s very little to dislike about the R1. We’d definitely recommend it for those who are looking for a high-end model with excellent sound, but aren’t quite willing to hit the top end of the range.

It’s worth pointing out that we’ve seen its availability on Amazon fluctuate. At the time of writing, it was unavailable, although when we were doing our research a few days before publishing this roundup, it was still in stock. Check back regularly – and if you still encounter problems, you can always order direct via Cue’s website.
See the Cue Radio Model R1
 

3. Como Audio Solo ($299)

Como Audio SoloWeight: 4.2lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 5.2" x 4.7"
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: One of the most advanced radios around.
What We Don't: Doesn't sound as good as the Bose or Cue.

Como Audio is a relatively new manufacturer, but they know what they're doing. Although this model has a bigger brother, the Duetto (and a smaller one, the Ambiente) this is our pick. It strikes the perfect balance of price and features, offering excellent value for money as well as a huge range of capabilities - not to mention fantastic design and useability. It's probably better for digital audio than FM, and we think it doesn't sound as good as other models, but it's still a great start for Como Audio.

The sound quality probably keeps it off the top spot, but there’s no question that it’s one of the better looking models in this list, with a gorgeous finish and build that matches analogue design with modern sensibilities. It also comes with a good range of features, including some nice, clicky preset buttons, and a USB input for when you want to playback music from a flash drive. There’s some smart technology at hand as well – we particularly like the internal power supply, which switches depending on the voltage it detects. Bottom line: we expect big things from Como in the future.
See the Como Audio Solo


4. Revo SuperSystem ($750)

REVO SuperSystemWeight: 21.6lbs 
Dimensions: 17" x 8.7” x 6.5” 
Digital: Yes 
HD: No 
WiFi: Yes 
What We Like: Splendid functionality and sound.
What We Don't: Very, very pricey, middling looks.

First, the downside. Or maybe, downsides plural. The Supersystem, the bigger brother to the much acclaimed SuperSignal, has an intimidating look that not everyone is going to enjoy. It's also quite overpriced, we think. While you do get exceptional functionality and sound, which we’ll go into a little more detail below, there’s no doubt that $750 is a hell of a lot to pay for a tabletop radio.

Admittedly, Revo are selling this as a complete music system, and it probably qualifies. It offers DAB and DAB+ as well as FM, streaming functionality, USB connectivity and a whole lot more. It offers access to the UNDOK app which lets you create a wireless, multiroom music system (although we think it’s far from the best wireless speaker available). By far the biggest draw, however, is the excellent and weighty sound quality, thanks to a Class D amplifier pushing out 80 watts of power audio per channel. The quality is smooth and rich – although at this price, we’d certainly expected to be. An excellent, if overpriced, choice.
See the Revo SuperSystem
 

5. Tivoli Audio Model One Digital ($300)

Tivoli Audio Model One DigitalWeight: 3.4lbs 
Dimensions: 8.7” x 5.5” x 4.5” 
Digital: Yes 
HD: No 
WiFi: No 
What We Like: A terrific update on a classic.
What We Don't: Fabric-based design may not appeal.

Different pieces of art aren’t going to appeal to everyone. Everybody has their own taste. With that in mind, if you can handle the fabric covered speaker driver, you are absolutely going to love the new Model One Digital from Tivoli Audio.

We do. We adore its wooden housing, it is clear, simple display, and its range of functionality, which runs from FM streaming all the way to Spotify. The wide dial around the digital display allows you to change the station. There is no remote, but you can control it using the companion app. The sound is nothing to write home about, hence its low-ish position on the list, but what you can do is pair it with one or more of the company’s stand-alone speakers. You can choose from either the circular Art speaker or the cuboidal (obviously) CUBE. You get fair warning: expanding the system this way is expensive, and it may be worth your while to look at a separate wireless system, or at least a cheaper one. For the rest of us, this is an excellent tabletop radio. And if you do want the original, and can deal without the extra features, then check out the original and brilliant Model One.
See the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital
 

6. Grace Digital Mondo ($160)

Grace DigitalWeight: 1.6 lbs
Dimensions: 10.1" x 6.1" x 4.2"
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Super connectivity and huge choice of channels.
What We Don't: No Bluetooth.

One company who continue to impress are Grace Digital. Their Wifi Music Player is a revelation, a major upgrade to the old GDI-IR2600 Innovator X. You get massive functionality, including HD radio and WiFi (obviously) as well as access to thousands of streaming stations. Plus, you can even plug a USB stick preloaded with music in, and enjoy the fantastic audio quality. No Bluetooth, but it's cracking value for money - and there are plenty of other Grace Digital models available, if the ones on this list don’t take your fancy. All good, but this one is the best, in our opinion. Be aware, though, that it's 100% an internet radio - no AM or FM here.

A bit of an update. Grace Digital have got in touch to say that they’re sending us the latest version of this model, the Mondo+ (Plus), which incorporates Chromecast audio. That’s a big plus (pun definitely intended) for Google fans, and it even comes with voice control. As soon we’ve had a full look at it, expect an updated list and a full review.
See the Grace Digital Mondo
 

7. Tesslor R601SW ($540)

Tesslor R601SWWeight: Not given 
Dimensions: 21” x 9” x 7”
Digital: No
HD: No 
WiFi: No 
What We Like: Just beautiful - and killer sound.
What We Don't: Very hard to find, AM/FM only - although it has Bluetooth.

Never let it be said that we know everything, or that we don’t listen to our readers. We’d never heard of Tesslor, but after checking them out on the suggestion of a TMS reader, and subsequently getting to hear one of their models, we are convinced. 

It’s quite difficult to get hold of the somewhat expensive R601SW, and the lack of functionality and price holds it off the top reaches of this list, but this is about one of the most beautiful radios we’ve ever come across. Both on the outside – the stellar, 1940s-style, which is now also available in very limited quantities with walnut housing - and on the inside, which houses tube circuitry that gives the audio a rich, warm quality. Tube radios are rare enough these days for this to be worth celebrating, especially on a website like this one where we love tubes. You’re not going to get DAB or WiFi connectivity here (although it does have Bluetooth). But if all you need is some FM/AM accessibility, then we’d say this is a surefire win – if you can afford it.
See the Tesslor R601SW


8. Pure ONE Flow ($130)

Pure ONE FlowWeight: 1.43 lbs
Dimensions: 8.1" x 5.8" x 3.1"
Digital: Yes
HD: Yes
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Feature set.
What We Don't: Sometimes hard to find.

Pure is a bit of a boutique manufacturer - only a few of their models are available stateside, which can be a bit annoying. But the ONE Flow is pure magic, with excellent sound quality and a massive wealth of features, including digital radio, HD audio and WiFi capability. It’s not the most exciting radio, In terms of looks – to our eyes, it looks like something you’d find stashed on a shelf in a garage somewhere, with grease stains on the dials from the mechanic’s hands. But look closer, and you’ll it has a few more modern touches.

Sound is crisp and exciting, with a decent low-end, and this is the ideal radio for those who like to listen to stations from all over the world. If you do want a more advanced version, not yet on Amazon, try the excellent Evoke H6 - currently only available in the UK. Far from the best on this list, by any means, but still good.
See the Pure ONE Flow
 

9. Sangean WR-2 ($106)

Sangean WR-2Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 7.6" x 4.4"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Sound quality and ease of use.
What We Don't: Analog radio only.

It’s unusual to see a model in this range without digital audio, but the Sangean WR-2 more than makes up for it. The answer is the sound. Sangean have produced a crystal-clear tabletop radio, with effortless, warm bass and crisp highs, even at high volumes. We’d pick this one for those who want audiophile sound quality but aren’t on an audiophile budget.

There are plenty of opportunity, unlike cheaper models, to adjust the sound, with bass and treble controls readily available. It’s wood-finished, with a digital tuning set-up, the ability to store preset stations (five AM and five FM), and a clock and timer system. We also really like the looks. The wooden housing sets off well against the metal front end, and although the control layout is a little bit more confusing than we would have liked, with a few too many buttons, they have a pleasing feel when you press them. Admittedly, Sangean of the most exciting company on this list, but the WR-2 gets the job done – and as you’ll see, it’s one of two models that we featured from them here, and with good reason.
See the Sangean WR-2
 

10. Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2 ($72)

Insinia Tabletop HD Radio NS-HDRAD2Weight: 1.3 lbs 
Dimensions: 8.3" x 5.2" x 2.4"
Digital: No
HD: Yes
WiFi: No
What We Like: Artist Experience (the display of song/artist details).
What We Don't: No Bluetooth/MP3 connectivity.

The original NS was a real crowd pleaser, and although Insignisa aren't the most high-profile company, the HDRAD2 is a gem. HD Radio is a fairly new technology, allowing listeners to hear stations at a higher sound quality with less noise. One of the few budget models to offer this feature is the Insignia HD NS-HDRAD. It’s strictly a radio device, and doesn’t offer MP3 connectivity. But you’ll get an excellent radio experience here, as there are station presets, and a digital display which displays artist and track names.

We should point out that as radios go, it doesn’t raise the heart rate, outside of the HD inclusion. Sound can be a little flimsy – Insignia don’t give details about the wattage or driver size, but we doubt it’s very high. If you’re expecting audiophile sound quality, you should look elsewhere. It’s acceptable, however, and as tabletop radios go, this does offer some good functionality. Get it if you want a basic, budget model that offers a little more than just a standard plug and play.
See the Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2
 

11. Sangean WR-11 ($72)

 Sangean WR-11 Tabletop RadioWeight: 5.2 lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 6.7" x 4.6"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Big sound.
What We Don't: Really basic - AM/FM only.

Another Sangean - and why not? Their corporate identity may be bland as hell, but they make excellent products, although the names sometimes make it hard to tell them apart. Still, as radios go, the WR-11 makes a good first impression, with a nicely analogue feel and build that it is heartwarming to see

If you’re looking to fill a medium-sized room with sound but you want to stick to your budget, check out the Sangean WR-11. For an office, bathroom, garage, or just about anywhere else, the WR-11 produces clear and crisp audio that can be turned up to reasonably high levels of volume without breaking up. It’s extremely simple, with basic AM/FM connectivity, but if you’re prepared to sacrifice features like station presets you’ll be picking up a really good model. We’ve seen the price fluctuate on Amazon, as well, so there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to pick this up for a real bargain price if you’re prepared to wait a while. Check back on this page regularly, as we update prices whenever we can.
See the Sangean WR-11
 

12. Crosley Solo ($79)

Crosley SoloWeight: 3lbs
Dimensions: 7.5” x 7.5” x 5.8”
Digital: No
HD: No 
WiFi: No 
What We Like: Great looks.
What We Don't: Basic functionality, middling sound.

We originally had the fantastically 1970s Ranchero on this list, but after careful thought, we’ve decided to swap it out for the Solo, which we think is the superior model. It’s not to be confused with the much better (and more expensive) Como Audio Solo, which you’ll find at the top of this list. This is a budget model, but a very attractive one.

You only get a very basic feature set – AM/FM radio, a headphone jack, auxiliary input and output. But what you lose in features you gain in aesthetics. The Solo looks bloody amazing, continuing Crosley’s dedication to classic Americana designs. It resembles something from an alternative history 1960s, and we can't get enough of it. We are a little more dubious about the company’s claim of “audiophile sound” – with a basic 3” driver, that simply isn’t going to happen, and it never has whenever we’ve listened to one. But the sound is solid, if unspectacular, and this is a product that just brightens whatever room it’s in. Check it out.
See the Crosley Solo
 

13. SPARC SHD-BT1 HD Radio ($80)

SparcWeight: 2.4 lbs
Dimensions: 8” x 4.5” x 4.5”
Digital: No
HD: Yes
WiFi: No
What We Like: Bluetooth, great design, good sound.
What We Don't: A little underpowered.

SPARC make some surprisingly good products, and the SHD-BT1 is currently at the top of their range. Its small stature and friendly design make it an ideal bedroom model, and the control scheme is easy to get to grips with. Plus, it does have at least one ver nifty trick: if HD is available when you're looking for an FM station, it'll automatically tune to that channel. Sweet! 

It's a tad underpowered, but perfect if you're not pumping the volume too high. SPARC don’t give out information on their audio specs, sadly, but any attempt to turn this thing to high volume will not give you pleasing results. Trust us, we’ve tried. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable at medium volumes, if not exactly audiophile-grade, and we think its feature set and that HD trick make it worth an investment. The $75-$100 range is crowded here, and this isn’t the best of the bunch, but does make for a good alternative.
See the SPARC SHD-BT1 HD Radio


14. August SE55 Radio ($181)

August SE55 Weight: 1.1 lbs
Dimensions: 7.3” x 4.1” x 3.5”
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Bluetooth Speakers, EQ, Hands Free.
What We Don't: Sound quality could be better.

Not only does the August SE55 shine as a regular tabletop set, it can also be used with your smartphone and tablet, since it features built-in Bluetooth speakers. Audio quality is not great, especially compared to other models - another in the overcrowded $75-$100 range, this is outshone by the higher-quality drivers of other models, although it’s far from bad. It’s worth noting that if you dip below about $60, you see major sacrifices in audio quality - there are plenty of models available at that range, but we haven’t included them here.

The built in EQ (with four presets) and the inclusion of a passive radiator speaker, should help in dialling up the perfect background music ambiance. Speaking of dialling up, the Bluetooth option is not only good for playing music from your phone, but also for using the August as a hands-free, since it has a built-in microphone. Yep, you can answer a call through the radio, without even reaching for your handset.
See the August SE55 Radio


And For Next Time You Visit The UK:

15. Ruark R2 MK3 ($540)

Ruark R2Weight: 8lbs
Dimensions: 13.4” x 7.3” x 4.7”
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Great audio and design.
What We Don't: Only available in the UK.

It is magnificently annoying that the Ruark R2 MKIII is only available, right now, in the UK. One of the best radios around, with impeccable design credentials and stellar sound, and North Americans can't get hold of it. Right now, you can only buy it from the Ruark website (UK delivery only) and Amazon UK, along with assorted British retailers. Not very cricket. 

Still, if you find yourself in London, and have a bit of extra cash to spend, this is an excellent buy. You get all the usual suspects: DAB, DAB+ and FM tuner, along with Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, and WiFi capability. It comes in a variety of colour finishes, and it sounds truly spectacular. Too bad you’ll need the cost of a plane ticket to go with that $540 purchase price. And no, the company only offers UK shipping. Sorry.
See the Ruark R2 MK3


Specs Table:

Radio Price Weight Dimensions Digital WiFi HD
August SE55 Radio $181 1.1lbs 7.3” x 4.1” x 3.5” No No No
SPARC SHD-BT1 $80 2.4lbs 8” x 4.5” x 4.5” No No Yes
Crosley Solo $79 3lbs 7.5” x 7.5” x 5.8” No No No
Sangean WR-11 $72 5.2lbs 9.4" x 6.7" x 4.6" No No No
Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2 $72 1.3lbs 8.3" x 4.5" x 2.2" No No No
Sangean WR-2 $106 5lbs 9.4" x 7.6" x 4.4" No No No
Pure ONE Flow $130 1.43lbs 8.1" x 5.8" x 3.1" Yes Yes Yes
Tesslor R601SW $540 Not Given 21” x 9” x 7” No No No
Grace Digital Mondo $160 1.6lbs 10.1" x 6.1" x 4.2" Yes Yes No
Tivoli Audio Model One Digital $300 3.6lbs 8.7” x 5.5” x 4.5”  Yes No No
Revo SuperSystem $750 21.6lbs  17" x 8.7” x 6.5”  Yes No Yes
Como Audio Solo $299 4.2lbs 9.4" x 5.2" x 4.7" Yes No Yes
Cue Radio Model R1 $399 6lbs 10.5" x 6.5" 4.25" No No No
Bose Wave Soundtouch IV $599 9.9lbs 14.6" x 8.7" x 5.6" Yes Yes No
Ruark R2 MK3 $540 8lbs 13.4” x 7.3” x 4.7” Yes Yes No

Tivoli Audio Music System Three Caption | Kelly Teague
Buying Advice: 

What Is A Tabletop Radio?

At its most simple, a tabletop radio is a small model music station designed to fit unobtrusively on a desk, bookshelf, or bedside table. It is distinct from other radios, which may be part of a larger sound system. A tabletop radio will be a fully self-contained unit, with speakers, receiver and power source all packed into one box (or two, in the case of the Tivoli Model 2 we mention above - the old bugger had two separate boxes, which was a surprisingly fun design feature). Unlike portable radios, it’s actually quite rare to have a tabletop radio that runs off a battery. They almost always require mains power, so factor that in when you buy.

It might be a little surprising to see us doing a breakdown of radios in this day and age. Maybe even a little bit old-fashioned. The fact is, radio is stronger than ever, particularly digital radio, and with the growth of things like podcasts, more and more people are looking to get a self-contained unit specifically designed, or at least predominantly designed, for radio. All these models still sell incredibly well, and plenty of new companies and trying to get in on the market. What was saying is, if you're looking for a radio, you have a huge amount of choice.

And of course, these are often way more than simple radios. Several models come with the ability to tune into Internet stations, play music wirelessly and connect with larger systems. What is excellent about them is that they offer good sound quality and good feature sets for a very reasonable price. It's also worth noting that you do occasionally see CD players on these models, although none of our picks above have this feature. It's getting much less common these days, when so much music is listened to on a streaming media rather than a physical one. Kind of a shame, but not a deal breaker for the majority of people.

It's also worth mentioning that tabletop radios are occasionally known by different names. We've seen them called bedside radios, and even clock radios, which is a term we thought had died out in the mid-90s. What was saying is, these aren't different products; they are one and the same, and you shouldn't let names distract you when you're shopping for one.

Don't forget: sometimes just because you want to listen to the radio doesn't mean everybody else does. You might also want to check out a pair of headphones, too.

Sangean WR-II Caption | James Case

How Does Sound Quality Compare To Other Systems?

Good question.

It’s quite a subjective one, too. But not one without an answer. Sound quality in any set of speakers, or any amplifier, comes down so many factors: driver size, driver construction, the type of amp circuitry, how it handles power. The environment you put it in. But generally speaking: tabletop radios don’t match separate speakers for sound quality.

We know that probably isn’t what you want to hear, and it’s probably being a little bit unfair to some of the radios on our list, particularly at the top end. But it’s also the truth. A dedicated system with discrete speakers and an amp is always going to outdo a single, in the box system (at an equal price). Too many compromises have to be made. So generally speaking, you shouldn’t expect audiophile grade sound from your radio.

Should you let that stop you? Of course not. Not everybody needs audiophile grade sound, and the quality of the radios we mentioned is always adequate, frequently good, and occasionally spectacular. If you can, try before you buy to get a feel what kind of radio you should go for, and if you do want something a little bit more hefty, and with better sound, you should check out our lists of the best bookshelf speakers and stereo amps.
 

How Much Range Do These Have?

One of the most frequent questions we get here at TMS is whether a particular radio will pick up a certain local station. It’s one of the most common, but also one of the hardest to answer.

Although different radios have different reception strengths, it is, for the most part, much of the muchness. Reception and signal quality is far more likely to be affected by the radios surroundings, rather than the radio itself. And as for whether your particular radio will be able to the tact a station in your area… That’s entirely down to the station!

But as a general primer, radio is split up into two types: the more common FM, and the slowly-dying AM. FM signals, which are what most terrestrial stations use these days, have a slightly limited reception range – often no more than the horizon – while AM signals can travel for huge distances, thanks to being able to bounce off the ionosphere. This is a roundabout way of saying that there is no way of us being able to tell whether a radio can pickup your local station. The easiest way to figure that one out is to ask!

Obviously this doesn’t apply stations that stream over WiFi. All those need are a router.

Crosley Solo | James Case

What Are Digital/HD Radio?

Digital radio is a method of transmitting the audio by digital means, as opposed to analog FM or AM signals. It can be transmitted on cable channels, as a podcast, or by satellite. Any streaming station you find online can also be called internet radio. Tabletop radios that offer this require a wifi connection.

As of 2015 tabletop radios can feature different chipsets, allowing the decoding of several types of digital audio. We all want to just press ‘play’, but it is good to know what we are getting, right? What you could be listening to is one of the following types: HD Radio, DAB, DAB+, DRM30, DRM+ - and of course you have the analog FM and AM types of broadcast. 

Then there’s HD radio. In effect, HD Radio broadcasts analog and digital material simultaneously, but the name “HD Radio" stands neither for "High Definition" nor for "Hybrid Digital". It is in fact a trademarked term for an in-band on-channel (IBOC) - a digital radio technology that can be used both by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data simultaneously. 

By using a digital signal embedded “on-frequency” immediately above and below a station's standard analog signal, the same program can be broadcast in either HD (digitized audio and with less noise, as the FM HD mode uses a high quality codec called MPEG-4 HE-AAC standard), or as a standard broadcast analog radio with standard sound quality). 

Not only are the two (analog and digital) beamed at the same time, the HD format allows a single radio station to simultaneously broadcast one or more different programs in addition to the program being transmitted on the radio station's analog channel. 

We are not only talking of audio transmission, when it comes to the above-mentioned additional embedded digital material, as this could be data as well. For instance, HD Radio offers a service called Artist Experience. This allows playbacks to include the transmission of artist and track name, album art, logos and other artwork, which can be displayed on (the optional) radio screen.
 

What About DAB, DAB+, FM…

Don’t be put off if you see DAB offered, without any mention of digital radio. This is because they’re the same thing. In Europe or Asia, digital radio is called DAB, and it refers to Digital Audio Broadcasting. It’s functionally the same as digital radio, with a bunch of preset channels you can switch to without having to tune. 

Often when speaking of DAB, this is a reference to digital radio’s original or first generation. The typical digital quality, or bit rate to be precise, for DAB programs is somewhat lower than your average Amazon or iTunes download. It is in fact a mp2 codec sampling music at 128 kbit/s and as a result, most radio stations on (1st gen) DAB have a lower sound quality even than what analog FM has (under optimal circumstances). Not only, due to this severe quality compression, digital broadcasts may further ‘downgrade’ the original audio’s stereophonic sound to mono, which is far from cool for audio material designed to be listened to in stereo.

Such audio quality issues have lead to a DAB update, called DAB+, which uses a different way of digitizing analog audio which uses a higher resolution (with the AAC+ codec).

You may also see DRM (also known as Digital Radio Mondiale or DRM 30). It’s similar to AM HD Radio, and is designed primarily for digital shortwave (HF) radio programs for compatible radios already available for sale. 

Just like HD Radio, DRM also allows for the transmission of analog signals combined with digital data (also known as hybrid digital-analog broadcasts) or of course, of pure digital broadcasts.

DRM+ (confused yet?) is another digital radio system, but closely based on the DRM30. Instead of operating in HF digital shortwave though, it uses the VHF band. Although reception can be problematic, DRM+ allows for fairly high quality digital broadcasts as it has a high streaming capacity (up to 700 kbit/s data rate).

Then there’s good old FM and AM. FM refers to an analog method of broadcasting audio on a particular band of the frequency spectrum. What that means, in practice, is that you have to be in the transmission area to hear it, with a receiver tuned to the correct FM signal. Until Digital Radio became a reality, FM was your best bet for a quality radio playback, not only because of the more powerful and clearer signal, but also because its transmission were universally in stereo (only select AM broadcasts could do that - as the majority could only do mono)! 

Yes, some radios still carry the option for you to listen to analog AM stations. Are there even AM stations? Do they exist any more? At any rate, it stands for Amplitude Modulation, and is used to refer to signals in the broadcast range of 535-1605 kHz. These stations are usually crackly, sometimes inaudible, and almost exclusively local programming, as any station can afford it will be on the more powerful FM band.

Como Audio Solo | Como Audio

Pros and Cons of Digital Radio 

Interestingly, DAB and digital are likely to become to dominant method of broadcasting worldwide within the next ten years, as many countries contemplate an FM switch-off.

Unfortunately there are many flaws shared by all digital radio systems. DAB, HD Radio and DRM technologies can have poor reception (especially when on the move), when used inside vehicles, or inside buildings

The advantages of digital radio are numerous, though, and some of the obvious ones are: cleaner-sounding audio, steadier signal and the huge program variety on offer. Since broadcasts are no longer dependant (only) on analog transmitters, which by design have a limited range, you could easily enjoy your favorite evening LA radio show, while having breakfast in Australia.
 

Is AM Radio Still A Thing?

It’s not often that we have cause to link to the venerable New York Times here, but if you’re into AM listening, this particular article is worth a read.

TL;DR: it’s a Chronicle of one man’s quest to save AM radio in the United States, which he claims has a deep institutional relevance to the culture – and furthermore, is useful for emergencies, thanks to its range. But given that AM listenership only made up 15% of the total in 2011, it’s fair to say that AM stations are on the way out. They are being superseded by FM and digital radio, and almost any popular station these days is going to be broadcasting on FM.

That being said: it’s very rare to see an AM-only radio, as almost all models will have FM/AM functionality. So if you like AM radio, or your favourite station hasn’t moved out of the 1930s, then almost any model on this list will do just fine.

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