Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB)+ has been on the air since 2011 and supplements classic FM reception. Like analogue VHF radio, it is distributed via several transmission masts. Thanks to digital transmission, several programs can be broadcast on one channel at the same time. This means significantly lower transmission and electricity costs for the program provider and a significantly larger number of channels for the user.
Older cars in particular cannot access digital radio. With newer models, DAB+ is often part of the special equipment – it costs extra accordingly. Car owners don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy noise-free reception. With the help of so-called DAB+ adapters, retrofitting is possible even for laypeople in just a few steps. We looked at the most exciting solutions.
Digital radio offers numerous advantages over traditional FM radio reception. In addition to the large selection of programs, noise-free listening pleasure is the top priority of the advantages of DAB+ radio. There are also new options for data transmission directly into the cockpit.
While FM frequencies only transmit audio signals and RDS information to the car radio, for example to display the station name or current traffic information, DAB+ can visualize further information. These include weather maps, traffic information, news or album covers and song titles of the current artist. As with VHF, the digital signal is transmitted terrestrially from the transmission mast to the receiver.
Retrofit solutions are available for drivers of older vehicles. These often consist of a controllable display element, a power pack for a cigarette lighter or USB port, and an antenna that is either mounted on the windscreen or attached magnetically to the roof. An integrated FM transmitter or AUX cable for connecting to the car radio and a holder for the display is usually added.
Where can I receive DAB+?
DAB+ enables a uniform offer throughout Germany. The programs on the two so-called federal multiplexes can thus be received from Flensburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Above all, this offers drivers the advantage of being able to listen to their program without interruption and without an Internet connection.
While the second multiplex has only been on the air since October 2020 and has so far covered around 85 percent of the population, 99 percent of the signals from the first program package from 2011 can already be received in Germany. There are also regional offers in the individual federal states. The signals cannot yet be received across the board in every federal state. However, the expansion of the individual networks is progressing steadily. The official DAB+ website shows which stations can be received via DAB+ at each location.
Which stations are broadcast via DAB+?
In addition to the stations already known from the FM range, DAB+ radio offers many other programs. The first nationwide range of programs includes the broadcasters Deutschlandfunk, Classical Radio, Sunshine Live and the rock station Radio Bob. The second multiplex includes, among others RTL Radio, Rock Antenna as well as various special programs under the brand Absolut. In the individual federal states, all stations of public broadcasters, such as WDR, Bayerischer Rundfunk, MDR, NDR or SWR, are broadcast in DAB+ mode.
In addition to the main programs distributed via FM stations, there are other special interest stations via DAB+. In the north, for example, the transmitter NDR Schlagerin the west that Jugendradio 1live diggi and in the south BR home the public offer. The large private broadcasters such as FFH, Antenne Bayern or Radio SAW also broadcast via DAB+.
Are there additional services with DAB+?
In addition to the distribution of audio signals, the DAB+ transmitter networks also allow the transmission of additional services. Within the available, rented broadcasting capacities, the radio stations usually broadcast the station logo in addition to the display of the music track currently playing. Many stations also use DAB+ for additional information such as CD covers, slide shows or the latest news.
Is DAB+ also available in neighboring countries?
DAB+ is now also on the air with a wide range of programs in many other European countries. Norway was the first country in Europe to almost completely stop FM transmission in favor of DAB+. Our neighbors in Switzerland would also like to switch off FM radio frequencies completely in the coming years. The variety of programs in the neighboring countries goes far beyond the previous VHF offer.
Which DAB+ radios are there?
There is a large selection of DAB+ radios. More than 500 devices from different manufacturers and for any purpose can be bought. The offer ranges from small, compact devices for the bedroom, to DAB+ radios with rechargeable batteries for on the go, to DAB radios with CD players and streaming and Internet radio functions. We show other digital radio devices in detail in the DAB+ guide for the home: digital radios and compact systems with CD, WLAN and Bluetooth.
There is also a large selection of digital radio receivers for use in cars. Manufacturers such as Sony, Zenec, JVC or Kenwood offer radios for retrofitting. Anyone who does not yet have a car radio with DAB+ can easily upgrade the feature with an adapter. Existing hi-fi systems can also be upgraded with an adapter or tuner for DAB+ reception.
How can I retrofit DAB+ in the car with an adapter?
The DAB+ adapter is usually connected to the car radio via Bluetooth or a jack connection. Bluetooth receivers that fit directly into the cigarette lighter and have additional connection options via USB have proven to be particularly practical.
The adapters can be attached to the windshield with a suction cup mount, similar to a mobile navigation system. The prices for these retrofit solutions start from around 50 euros. Other DAB+ adapters also offer numerous other features such as a Bluetooth interface, SD card slots, hands-free function or even an integrated speaker. The more features the DAB+ adapter offers, the more expensive it gets.
For better sound quality with music or news, an AUX cable is recommended for transmission to the radio. If the car radio has neither Bluetooth nor a jack or AUX input, an FM transmitter is a solution for using DAB+ in the vehicle. Here the adapter sends out the signals on an FM frequency. If the frequency is set on the FM transmitter, you can search for it via the FM radio. However, this is not a real listening pleasure, because interference signals can occur when using a wireless FM transmitter.
The adapter from Blufree, for example, expands the existing multimedia system in the car with digital radio, Bluetooth and a hands-free function. The device gets power from the cigarette lighter. Owners can use up to 60 transmitters on the 2.3-inch LC display. This adapter does not come with a window antenna, but receives the digital signal via a magnetic antenna that is attached directly to the bodywork in the interior. In addition, the device is not attached to the windshield or dashboard, but has a swiveling bracket that sits directly on the power supply for the cigarette lighter.
In the higher price category, buyers get DAB adapters with better color displays and transmission standards. This includes the DR56+ from Albrecht. The device uses a bright 2.4-inch TFT display. In addition, the control buttons can be illuminated if desired, which makes operation in the evening and at night much easier and safer while driving. A slot for microSD cards is also integrated, which can be used to access music files. Otherwise, the adapter, which costs around 80 euros, does not stand out from cheaper variants.
The electronics retailer Pearl sells a DAB+ adapter with Bluetooth and a large TFT color display under the Auvisio brand. The adapter comes with plenty of accessories. This is how buyers will find magnet mounts for air vents or windshields – both mounts can be pivoted. Accordingly, the display can be positioned in the driver’s field of vision. The scope of delivery also includes an adapter for the cigarette lighter with two USB ports, an AUX cable, an adhesive antenna with clips for tidy laying of the cable and a micro-USB cable for the power supply.
We have already tested two such adapters: Sangean Gotune 200 (test report) and Albrecht DR56C (test report). Albrecht’s model left a particularly good impression. If required, this can also be used as a hands-free system for retrofitting and as a Bluetooth adapter for the car radio. The device from Sangean also offers similar functions.
Can I exchange my current car radio for a model with DAB+?
Some, mostly older car models allow the replacement of the existing car radio. However, potential buyers should consider that control options such as volume control or changing channels on the steering wheel may no longer work or only work with additional adapter solutions. Manufacturers such as Kenwood and JVC offer DAB radios in 1 and 2 DIN installation depths. In addition to FM and DAB tuners, these mainly also have Bluetooth, and sometimes even a navigation system.
Do I need a new antenna to receive DAB+?
Since DAB+ uses higher frequencies (from 174 to 230 MHz) compared to VHF, you have to lay a separate antenna for retrofit solutions, such as in a car. The windscreen antenna required for this is simply glued to the top of the windscreen on the passenger side. Home receivers or portable DAB radios already have the receiving antenna built in.
More than ten years after the launch of DAB+, digital radio has arrived on the market. The EU-wide obligation has given digital radio another powerful boost. In addition to significantly better network coverage, the significantly larger range of programs is a particular incentive to buy.
However, the transmitter network is still patchy in some regions. The supply of motorway tunnels must also be expanded. Compared to VHF, DAB+ can still trump with a significantly larger range, noise-free reception and attractive additional services such as the display of slide shows, CD covers and a large selection of devices.
With inexpensive adapters, buyers often do without Bluetooth and extensive accessories. Interested parties have to think in advance whether a connection to the smartphone makes sense. Those who strike in the higher price segment usually do not have to worry about purchasing such a cable. Buyers can get high-quality mounts and TFT displays here. Bluetooth, high-quality antennas and dual USB ports for the cigarette lighter are also included.