Maxview DAB Antenna and Sony XDR-S1 DAB Radio

Last week I purchased a rather natty digital (DAB) radio. I'd had a hankering for getting better reception of the BBC World Service for international news and also more convenient reception of BBC7 for archive comedy and sci-fi.

Normally I'm a Roberts man, but recently have been disappointed with their lack of support for longwave, a vastly underrated waveband which allows the listener to tune in to BBC Radio 4 throughout most of north-western Europe. This caused me to switch brands to a Sony ICF-SW35 last year in my search for a digital-tuning analogue radio with both shortwave and longwave.

My criteria for purchase were DAB band III (UK DAB), longwave, mains power and a line-in socket to allow me use the radio as a loudspeaker for my MP3 player. Additionally I would have also liked to have spent no more than £75, to also support DAB band L (continental Europe DAB, which may also be used in the UK from next year; there is already an L-band allocation for Cheltenham) and to have an external antenna socket.

Eventually I went for the Sony XDR-S1 which had been discounted from around £99-£150 to only £89 at Apollo 2000 in Gloucester. This had all the mandatory features I was looking for, including L-band, longwave and line-in, plus a remote control. It also had a very heavy, solid build and a meaty sound. The nearest Roberts rival, the RD25, was rather small and delicate looking, didn't have longwave, didn't have L-band and had a bulky external DC adaptor, although it could be picked up online for £85 including delivery. On the plus side, the RD25 can use batteries, whilst the XDR-S1 is mains-only.

Interestingly, none of the decent-brand kitchen DAB radios under £100 supported an external aerial socket- I wasn't that bothered about this, since I had got some experience wiring up crocodile-clip antenna extensions from my SW-DXing days, and in my experience a croc-clip antenna extension to an inbuilt telescopic antenna always outperforms the same external antenna wired through a dedicated socket.

Also the RD25 and XDR-S1 seemed to be the only kitchen radios with a line-in socket for MP3 players. A line-in socket is a very inexpensive feature, and I found it strange that so few DAB radios at this price bracket supported it. At the sub-40 quid end I wouldn't have been surprised, but for the best part of £100 I expected a lot more manufacturers to support this. The guy at Comet commented that the MP3 player generation (teenagers) and the DAB generation (old fogies) tended to be very seperate - I was rather surprised to hear this.

On plugging the XDR-S1 in at home, in the worst possible location (in a kitchen cubby hole on the ground floor, against a solid internal wall, directly in front of two mains sockets), I got all the radio stations that the DAB postcode checker said I would; namely all the BBC national stations (1-5, 6 Music, BBC 7, World Service etc) plus all the Digital 1 national commerical stations (Virgin, Planet Rock, OneWord, Classic FM etc). Out of interest, I relocated it into the window of the north-facing upstairs nursery, just to see if I could get the MXR multiplex for the West Midlands which carries Kerrang Radio, as this is a favourite station of Mel's. It popped up straight away, albeit with only 20-40% signal strength and some muddy DAB burbling.

So obviously it was going to be worth me getting an external antenna. The problem now was one of geography; I was now picking up stations from three multiplexes (called "ensembles" in DAB terminology) in completely different directions. Ridge Hill near Ross-On-Wye to the west of me was carrying the BBC National stations, either Ridge Hill or Churchdown Hill near Cheltenham to the south-west of me was carrying the Digital 1 multiplex, and Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham to the north of me was carrying the MXR multiplex. I would spend a hundred quid getting a professional to fit a highly focussed directional antenna, only to loose a third of my stations!

Obviously an omnidirectional antenna was required. This would be easier to fit - no "prongs" (elements) to weigh it down, but potentially lower signal gain. Looking at the self-fit options, the cheapest was Screwfix Direct who had a DAB aerial kit (Maxview model A1401/KIT) complete with omnidirectional 1-element antenna, fixing mounts and cable for only 12 quid. There was also a ScrewFix Direct store in Gloucester. Result!

Preliminary mounting at first floor height on the north-facing exterior wall, running the cable through the window and using a crocodile clip to attach to the internal telescopic antenna was moderately successful, so I went back to Screwfix the next day to get an extremely nasty-looking 40cm-long drill bit to get the cable through the kitchen wall. It was then a case of figuring out how to route the cable to the kitchen table without destroying the kitchen cabinets or making the whole place look like an explosion in a Brazil-esque duct factory. Mel hit upon the idea of corner shelves to place the radio above the kitchen table. This is where it suddenly became useful to have a radio with a remote control! To be honest, I'd never really thought I'd use the remote, but it is great to just sit at the kitchen table and be able to switch stations without fuss.

One of the best finds of the new radio stations is DNN, Digital News Network, which is a station so new that its website isn't live yet. This is a bulletin news station similar to France Info or CNN Headline News, with repeated 15-minute segments which have news headlines, two commericals, news summary bulletin, sport, showbiz, business and travel news. This goes round and around in repeat, and changes whenever an important story arrives.

The radio now picks up all stations with 70% or higher signal strength, and I've gone from suspicious interest, to an out-and-out DAB evangelist.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2006-03-06

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