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This was bought as a first foray into the world of DAB radio, and the main reason for the purchase was the great price, if you shop around these units are really cheap for a well known brand like Sony. The digital radio quality is very good, it can be crackly on occasion, but compared to FM it is a world apart. It has a big long metal aerial that ensures you will get a good signal almost anywhere. The battery life is ok, not impressive, but lasts long enough. We tend to leave it plugged in at home, then just use it on batteries when on holiday. The screen is small but displays a lot of info about the radio stations, and is backlit which is useful at night. It is a shame that this doesn't have FM as well as a backup, but so far that hasn't really been missed. You can plug in headphones which is good, into a usual 3.5 jack. I especially like the knob on the side for selecting channels, as it is good and chunky and won't easily be moved accidentally.
I had heard a lot about DAB radios but not really looked into getting one until I saw the Sony XDRS50 on sale for a good price. You can get a lot of channels that you can't get on normal FM and the crystal clear sound is brilliant. Its small, so can fit in any room you like. It seems more and more channels are becoming available on DAB so it was a good investment. The downsides are that there is no FM tuner unlike some other models it just has DAB and you sometimes get interference which causes crackling sound, however I guess you get this with any DAB radio from time to time. Apart from this it is a good reasonable price DAB radio which offer great sound for the small size, you might want to check that your area can get DAB signals before you purchase as I believe not every where can get it at the moment.
If you after a DAB radio you cant really go wrong with this for the price and performace.
I've been hanging fire before buying a portable DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) radio for several reasons, not least of which is the price previously being asked for DAB sets compared to portable FM radios, which up to now have always been a mainstay of background listening in our household.
However, a few listens to my Mum's DAB radio in her kitchen convinced me that the time had come to take the plunge - after all, how could I look myself in the face as 'early adopter' and general gadget freak head of the family if I let my Mum who is two days younger the H.M. The Queen pip me to the post, even if she and my Dad insist on having it tuned to Classic FM non-stop at high volume?
From the technology point of view, I didn't really need much convincing of the benefits of digital radio - after all I'd been using the radio side of my Freeview tuner(s) frequently, so being purpose-built for radio, DAB had to be even better didn't it?
Ironically, the digital soundtrack supplied by Freeview either to accompany TV programmes or as stand-alone radio programmes can in fact be better, if you really get down to the nitty-gritty of comparing digital sampling rates and the like. However, in real life, the fact that I'm comparing a home-cinema system fed through my hi-fi to a portable radio renders the argument futile and comparisons odious.
What really matters with DAB and most things relying on digital transmission is that if you can get a signal at all, it remains flawless until it's more or less lost completely; a cautionary note if you happen to know that your local DAB reception is 'marginal'.
Anyway, at £29.99 from Amazon including postage, the little Sony XDR S50 seemed as good an introduction as any, especially as it was reduced from its previous price of £39, no doubt making way for a newer model (In fact there is a Sony XDR S55 which justifies its higher price by having an FM band also).
Yes, it's got that corporate blandly black look of a lot of other Sony products, but on the up-side it also seems to have their penchant for neat design and reasonable build quality, if you can heap such an accolade on something that's all plastic. It has a pleasantly sculpted feel to it at the back, top and front panels appear to be made of one fold, rather like a lady's clutch bag.
The front panel houses a left hand single speaker and on the upper right there's a liquid crystal display boasting two rows of text. Apart from some discrete little push buttons, the front is agreeably flush and devoid of bits that can get knocked off!
To knock bits off, you'd have to look at the eastern end of the case where you'll find the two major control knobs, one for volume and the other for tuning/changing stations.
The top panel has a further array of push-buttons, and the left hand end panel houses the 6v adapter socket and the headphone jack.
TUNING IT AND USING IT
As with most portable radios, you may need to do this quite often if you travel around a bit. The first thing that strikes you is that tuning a DAB radio is more akin to that of a TV or a car radio. Gone are the days of turning a 'real' tuning knob like The Radio Ham. The tuning knob on this radio only clicks in either direction - it does not rotate.
Out of the box, the radio needs a complete scan of your local airwaves - do this with the aerial extended or it might not find all (or any) of them. From west London, the Sony found 53 stations, all with the same apparent clarity, which is more than a typical FM band radio can boast. I say 'apparent' because they all can have a different digital sampling rate, like mp3 files. Music stations tend to have a higher rate, not only to give a better signal but to allow for stereo - the speaker might be mono, but the headphone jack pushes out stereo. Stations like BBC Radio 5Live have a lower quality rate, but this then allows for 'secondary content'. If the 'SC' indicator shows on the LCD display, you may press the 'SC' button on top and hear a completely different soundtrack. This allows 5Live to be outputting news and a cricket commentary at the same time.
With all these stations, presented to you in alphabetical order, getting from BBC Radio 1 to Virgin FM could take quite a while to click through, so the Sony provides for preset stations like a car radio. On top of the radio, there are only three buttons for going straight to a chosen station, but you can also set a kind of abbreviated list of stations for use with the conventional tuning knob.
Mercifully, the instruction sheet is merely that, a broadsheet page - unlike the last piece of Sony kit I wrote about which had 172 pages of instructions!
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?
The acid test.
Clarity can depend on the 'bit rate' used by the station concerned, so it would be unfair to slate the Sony for the sins of the programmers. Radio 3 uses a rate of 192kbits/second, which is a higher end mp3 file quality, whilst some speech stations and presumably stations on a limited budget go as low as 64kbits/sec, which, as anyone who buys music on line will tell you, is not that good. Certainly the in-built speaker is adequate for a radio of this size, but if you want stereo, use the headphone jack. Something stands 7" long and 4" high is hardly likely to replace a ghetto-blaster let alone a hi-fi, but the output is very clear and glitch free in a strong reception area. Its abilities elsewhere will only make itself felt later in the year when we take it on holiday to Devon and Dorset.
There is no tone control on this radio, not even a menu of the 'disco, speech, rock, classical' type so I find it's best used for speech programmes which suits me.
Well, no doubt I'm going to find, as we flit from one holiday rent to another this year that not everywhere has got DAB reception but it will be interesting finding out.
For a portable radio, eight or so hour's battery use is not good, and if speaker size is anything to go by, poor compared to similar-sized FM-only portables I've had in the past. However, having said that, running something this size from a mere clutch of four AA cells seems over optimistic. Thank goodness it works off the mains too using one of those AC/6v DC converters built into a mains plug. I'm not sure why this is, but maybe it's something to do with the power required to maintain a perfect output from a wavering signal - something that FM radios have no qualms in telling you they can't do in no uncertain terms.
Since it looks a little like you'll be doing a few changes of batteries, it pays to be able to do it quickly. Maybe not as quickly as a Russian soldier putting his Kalashnikov back together blindfolded but within a minute, otherwise you'll have to set the clock all over again.
Some might think that rechargeable batteries, nickel-metal-hydrides for example (NiMH) would be an answer but these only seem to last a few hours, which is even worse. I really feel that there's a missed opportunity here. If only rechargeable cells could be left in situ, and take their replenishment from the AC/DC adapter when it's plugged in, but no, you've got to keep taking them out, and even sooner than throw-away batteries.
Whilst it's got a clock that can be set as a 'sleep timer' to switch itself off, it can't turn itself on - how much more circuitry would it have taken to make it an alarm clock too?
Being an 'entry level' DAB radio means that it's not equipped to 'pause live radio' as some are - this would require a sizeable memory chips and more circuitry.
I'm beginning to suspect that they're all built with the ability to do these extra things, and then they're hobbled so more can be charged for cleverer models.
On reflection, since its battery life is so short, would you trust it to be an alarm clock?
As an 'in' to DAB radio, this radio is excellent and feels like 30 quid well-spent. It would appear to be well and neatly built in Sony's usual understated, some might say boring way. It's just a pity about the battery life.
Some friends of mine who live just outside Hereford, in the shadow of a sizeable hill, which blocks their line of sight with nearby transmitters, get some strange results from their DAB radio.
Downstairs, effectively blocked from getting anything from the local transmitter, they get a selection of radio stations more aimed at the Midlands, the signal coming from Sutton Coldfield, some 49 miles away. Upstairs, their local mast starts to make itself felt with local station programming aimed at them.