Originally published Mon 21 July 2014, I keep revising this, most recently Thu 18 July 2019.
As of June 2019, after five years, I still use this radio regularly, however I had to get it repaired once (~ £30 including postage), because the LCD display stopped working.
Radio make/model: Roberts SportsDAB 5 radio (Amazon When I bought this in July 2014, the radio sold for £41-£45 on Amazon, but as of June 2019 it's selling for £59.99 (was £67.99 a few months ago). There isn't a more recent model - there are some cheaper makes, e.g. Majority Petersfield, but they have considerably mixed reviews. There are more expensive ones too - e.g. Pure Move R3 (scroll down).
User manual (PDF, 828KB)
Decent reception despite no telescopic aerial. Coverage on train journeys can be variable and you also lose coverage when walking under an underpass etc. (which takes getting used to compared to mobile phones and buffering). Set of earphones supplied, but works fine with Apple and Sennheiser earphones, which are more comfortable.
Takes 2x AA (R6) batteries, therefore:
Supports DAB+ (AAC rather than MP2, higher quality for same bandwidth) out of the box. In 2019, there are an increasingnumber of DAB+ stations: e.g. Jazz FM and BFBS on the SDL multiplex, and Gold and Heart Dance on D1 - albeit at no more than 40kbps each currently.
Volume control: +/- buttons rather than rotary dial, as is now the standard (dials attract dust/dirt and, like faders, eventually wear out producing crackle every time you adjust them). Lowest level set about right, could be a touch quieter.
Presets work well:
You can get at all the data you should be able to do (DAB text, signal strength, bitrate, date/time, multiplex name, description and frequency). Pushing the “jog wheel” in cycles through everything, no need to use menus.
On balance, despite its faults, I think I'd still recommend this Roberts radio over the equivalent product from Pure, provided you value being able to change your own batteries.
Pure's Move R3 is about 30 grams lighter and will last longer on a full charge (but, being Li-ion, within 2-3 years you're likely to need to have the internal battery replaced) and has 20 presets, 10 of them DAB (but only 3 physical buttons to select them). It's more expensive, currently selling for £89.99.
I've owned larger Pure radios, but have not had a chance to test any of their "personal" (i.e. pocket) models.
I believe three segment battery displays are inadequate.
An LCD display means you can’t have the precision of a smartphone (which may have a graphic accurate to around 5% and an optional text display as a percentage.)
But I’d prefer four or five segments, or maybe provide a menu option so I can see the exact data.
A drawback of external batteries is the device has no SoC (state of charge) information. A smartphone will use Coulomb Counting and refence points (empty and fully charged) to pretty accurately track energy going in and out and give you a percentage.
Alkaline (Duracell) and rechargeable (NiHM) batteries operate at different voltages; 1.5 and 1.2 volts respectively; some products - e.g. Tascam recorders have a setting where you can indicate which type you’re using and have it calibrate the battery life display accordingly.
Roberts suggest up to 20 hours battery life. I've never managed anything like that, though I'm using ~1900 mAh rechargeable NiMH Eneloop batteries. Amazon reviews suggest it's not much better when using non-rechargeable Duracells either, BUT I'm much more positive about the battery life on this radio than many reviewers on Amazon are. I'm probably getting somewhere between 5 and 8 hours per charge, which I think is reasonable, given it's so easy to change the batteries. Therefore: a fully charged set should get you through a major sporting/outdoor event – just remember to take spares. A pair of AA batteries doesn't weigh much at all.
Also, Panasonic are now selling Pro 4G Eneloops that have 2500mAh capacity versus the usual 2000mAh of the cheaper type. The disadvantage is fewer charge cycles, but they’ll still last hundreds.
My trick for judging if something’s value for money: divide price by number of days you expect to own/regularly use it and see if that ‘cost per day’ is what you’d be willing to pay.
The most you'll pay for this radio on Amazon is ~£70, which works out favourably even if you only owned it for a year or two – it ought to last longer given DAB+ support and swappable batteries.
Although as the SportsDAB 5’s name suggests, there have been previous versions of this device, my view is both Roberts and Pure have spread themselves too thinly.
As a consumer, I assume the more products you’re churning out the less you truly care about them individually. I’m less confident I’ll get software updates or proper after sales support.
Show you believe in the last product you designed rather than starting from scratch.
Infinite choice is rarely better. Give us fewer, better radios. For example, if Apple can nail a full mobile operating system in about five years, why can we still not get the interface for a radio right?
Many years ago I got one of the earliest portable DAB sets - the Perstel DR101. As you’d expect there were even more shortcomings back then (and rechargeable battery capacities were substantially less.) I put up with all that, but then one day the aerial snapped off and I didn’t bother to get it repaired. By that time I’d got an iPod and started buying my own music and listening to endless podcasts. Portable DAB seemed too much hassle with expensive receivers, poor sound quality and unreliable reception.
As an iPhone user, I used to have 3 or 4 different radio apps - now I limit myself to BBC iPlayer Radio/BBC Sounds and TuneIn, or otherwise use the website of the station I want to listen to. There aren't many good radio apps to choose from and several (e.g. Internet Radio Box and WunderRadio, have been discontinued or received insufficient updates). On the Mac, I put MP3/AAC streams for all the stations I regularly listen to in an iTunes playlist, and then use Launchbar to quickly start them with a few keypresses rather than having to go through a website.
Radio over 3G/4G is rather cheaper than it used to be, but I still wouldn't listen for hours at a time that way due to the battery use. It's the only option when you want to listen to something live from the other side of the world though.
For a long while, my only real live radio listening (i.e. from an actual transmitter, as nature intended) was via a somewhat battered Sony SRF-M37L – a little analogue LW/MW/FM receiver: no speaker, lots of presets. I've since retired it.
It's nice to be able to use a proper radio in areas without 3G/4G reception (or just to save data and avoid the hassle of having to open apps). The radio has also proved useful during power cuts.If there's a big sporting event on 5 Live or Sports Extra, or a Radio 3 concert, then I’ll usually choose live radio over podcasts, audiobooks or music. Likewise I rather enjoy listening to The World At One, PM etc. on Radio 4 at their set times when travelling. New stations like Scala Radio also provide extra choice.
I've also used it on trips to Wimbledon where there's a tournament radio station operating on an RSL - 87.7FM (and two further dedicated commentary FM feeds available within Centre and No. 1 Courts) and the quality is obviously far superior to the £10 fixed-frequency radios they sell which clip on your ear.
It's nice knowing exactly where your local mast is – you can see the lights flickering on it in the distance from dusk.
I wish Apple, Google and others had build DAB receivers into their phones. It won't ever happen, especially with the move to bluetooth earphones, as there cable to act as an antenna. But DAB would have been a great feature. Only radio geeks are going to buy portable receivers like this these days.
Has the radio industry actually been talking to tech companies? In the past it’s largely co-operated to produce UK Radioplayer and Radio DNS, but are people still sharing ideas about distribution and technical issues? Does radio speak with a single voice when lobbying Ofcom on digital switchover?
In recent years, I’ve never, ever seen anyone else listening to live radio in public except at sporting events. No portable receivers. We know people do use apps, but I’ve never seen anyone doing so in the wild, and I do pay attention to what people are doing on their phones (playing games, texting and scrolling through their Facebook feed, mainly.) That’s sad.
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When I’m not listening to the radio – and often when I am – I make websites.