After a bit of a hiccup and false start, Digital Audio Broadcasting Plus (DAB+) has finally had its official flick of the "on-air" switch. So whether you have taken the plunge yet or not, at least now in Australia's major capitals, there are numerous radio stations broadcasting using the new digital platform.
There have been ample digital radios to choose from, but 99 per cent have been portable or tabletop designs. American company Sangean is one of very few to offer a full-width component-sized tuner and as well as receiving DAB+, the WFT-1D+ will do a lot more.
It's a fairly plain looking slimline device, but beneath this inconspicuous exterior lurks a very sophisticated radio receiver. Several buttons adorn the front which means you can actually use it without the remote. A smallish square central LCD display shows what's going on, while a large control knob scrolls and selects through the various on-screen functions. Two antennas poke up from the rear; one for Wi-Fi, the other to receive both analog and digital radio.
If you're a fan of radio listening, this Sangean receives all sorts as an internet radio, DAB+ and analog FM tuner. Streamed audio from your PC or laptop is also something this Sangean can handle as a network music player. The internet radio gives you access to some 16,000 radio stations which the Sangean sorts by country or genre and you can store as many as you like as "favourites". And at the time of tuning in, we picked up around 12 DAB+ radio stations, from just north of Sydney on the Central Coast.
The Sangean will handle most audio formats including Real Audio, MP3, AAC+ and WMA files, which is the vast majority. Firmware and software updates are handled via an Ethernet port and the usual stubby antennas provide the Wi-Fi connectivity. A basic variety remote handset is supplied and provides all the necessary controls.
It doesn't take long for you to find your way around this radio, despite all that it can handle. The small, somewhat dim display could be better, but you'll not have any problems reading it if your eyesight's OK. In DAB+ mode it quickly scanned and locked in the available stations. Internet radio was also quite straightforward to program and select from the genre or country of origin. It had no trouble picking up our wireless network from the router either.
As a conventional-sized component this is a radio tuner designed to fit in with an existing hi-fi or AV system, so audio quality is far more important than with desktop or bedside radios. Any radio tuner is only as good as the signal it's pulling in, so a decent antenna is a must. Reception strength and quality also depends purely on location with geographical and atmospheric conditions playing a huge part. Its own telescopic aerial which pulls in the DAB+ and FM signals is alright if you're in a super strength reception area but not good enough to capture weaker signals. So, if you're serious about radio listening, a sensitive tuner such as this will thank you for having a proper antenna installed.
It performed well in situ with just the telescopic aerial, grabbing both DAB+ and FM stations strongly and never wavering during the test period. DAB+ sounded clear and noise free, but it's just a shame all broadcasters are using such low bitrates at the moment. Hopefully this will improve in the future, but with bitrates of 80 to 96Kbps currently being used, DAB+ transmissions are prone to compression artefacts, pops and generally lower audio quality than a decent analog FM one. This is no fault of the Sangean, but simply what the broadcasters are serving up for the time being.
Audio quality from the Sangean with all sources was generally very good. It fell into the fairly neutral category meaning it didn't over-emphasise sibilants in speech. A male voice, such as Richard Glover's during the ABC's Drive was detailed and filled with character. Lighter-toned female vocals sounded naturally brighter without becoming loud or strident. Aggressive sounding processed pop and rock stations tended to sound fast and harsh, but once again, this isn't down to the Sangean — it's on the receiving end. Generally, the Sangean combined insight into the finer details of broadcasts, even streamed music to a degree, sweeping you into the subject of the program itself. There is a pre-programmed graphic equaliser, but we preferred the audio performance without using it.
A bit of a jack-of-all-trades, this Sangean offers lots of different radio reception as well as excellent streaming capabilities. It's a pretty unique bit of full-width component kit too, at the moment, and given the feature count it represents terrific value for money.