DAB Radio: what it is and how it works

From 2020, all cars will have a DAB+ digital radio system installed: discover the advantages of Digital Audio Broadcasting and how it works.

DAB+: digital radio for your car

The over-30s will still remember the old car radios, the first examples of a technology that evolved significantly in just a few years. From fully removable stereos and early systems with cassette players and even CD players, to the modern systems featuring mp3 and Bluetooth readers, and much more, that is all water under the bridge: the latest revolution is DAB+, the new compulsory digital standard for all cars on sale from 1 January 2021. But what is it? What will change in our cars?


DAB radio: how does the new technology work?

DAB is the acronym for Digital Audio Broadcasting, a state-of-the-art system that allows you to listen to the radio with very high audio quality, similar to that of CDs. Created in 2007 as a technology for general telecommunications, DAB+ has already been in operation in several European countries, like the UK and Belgium, since 2017, and it is now on the verge of being introduced on the rest of the continent.

In essence, second-generation DAB+ technology uses a HE-AAC (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding or AAC+) compression algorithm and the Reed-Solomon error correction code to improve the signal quality and ensure less interference. In addition to power and signal quality, DAB+ can expand radio services and double or triple the number of programmes transmitted in a single multiplex (bouquet).


Advantages and disadvantages of digital radio

Essentially, the main advantages of DAB+ digital radio relate to audio quality, as there is less interference with the signal, but there are important new benefits relating to the availability of innovative multimedia services and to broadcasting costs, which can be reduced by more than 90% for each radio programme, compared to traditional FM radio. On the other side of the coin, DAB+ radio requires more systems than analogue broadcasting, as each system guarantees a smaller user base.


DAB radio for cars: what is changing

As mentioned, the DAB+ system will soon be compulsory in all vehicles, but systems are being planned to replace old stereo systems or make them compatible with the new technology. For anyone buying a new car, it is advisable to check that it already has a digital radio but for those who do not intend to change their car for the time being, there are already solutions on sale now.

You can find specific kits on the market to turn your old radio into a DAB system, using a digital radio tuner that can be linked to any video source. Kits can be fully integrated or semi-integrated, both of which require installation by a professional, or they can be plug and play, which do not perform as well but are easier to install as they only need to be connected to an adapter and the new antenna, which will be specific for those systems.