Digital audio broadcasting
… too little, too late, and too bad.
What may have been an OK idea for an alternative to FM broadcasting 20 years ago, is just a flop in 2017. A technology that is overtaken and made obsolete, should be abandoned – not enforced. Yet, enforcing DAB+ is what they have done here in Norway.
Actually no wonder the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) shut off their FM transmissions nation-wide, as that's the only way they could make at least some Norwegians buy DAB+ receivers and adapters.
The big switch from FM to DAB+ here in Norway, takes place at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons. The future for big and small radio stations isn't FM and/or DAB+, it is Internet Radio – consumed via stationary and mobile devices. That future is already here, and terrestrial radio transmissions will at best end up as supplements and emergency channels.
The nation-wide shut-down of NRK's FM transmitters now in 2017, is nothing but a full-scale experiment. DAB+ coverage numbers
exist only on paper and pretty unrealistic maps, while out in the countryside not even the best installations can
get a reliable reception on the move.
The technology behind DAB+ is working for stationary receivers – at least in theory. However, the opportunity to compete on quality was lost when they decided to cramp as much as possible into a bandwidth-limited stream, destroying audio quality in the process.
The system as a whole is not well prepared for stable reception in vehicles … our mountainous Norwegian terrain pose a real challenge. Garbled signals and frequent drop-outs are reported along all major cross-country roads, and along minor roads one cannot expect much of anything.
By packing too many individual stations – channels – into each stream, the average bit-rate for each station becomes too low and quality suffers. The bitrate numbers presented in the example-picture, are all well below the very lowest limit for acceptable audio quality, regardless of content.
The better the original content, the more mangled digital compression will make it sound. Thus, it won't help if all DAB+ channels sent all my favorite stuff 24/7, as the more I may like the original stuff, the more distorted the over-compressed DAB+ versions will sound to me.
For a critical ear most DAB+ channels sound like crap after only a few minutes of listening, compared to what we had on FM. And, if/when they squeese more channels and services into the limited capacity, the sound quality can only get worse.
Never mention “HiFi” and “DAB+” in the same sentence, ever.
Add to the above that most DAB+ receivers and adapters on the market now in 2017, are substandard products from the inside out. Some models have been recalled because they represented serious fire-hazards in peoples' homes, and dismal audio quality alone should lead to most of the others being recalled too.
Anyway, with low quality DAB+ transmissions being the standard here in Norway, who cares what DAB+ receivers are capable of.
When the signal is compressed to death before transmission, it doesn't matter what equipment that is used and what conditions it is used under at the receiving end. What is lost can never be regained, so it isn't worth switching on even if top-quality receivers were given away for free.
The “low quality” stamp on the entire DAB+ chain is set in stone because of how the technology is applied, not because of what the technology in itself is capable of. Quantity over quality is the problem.
Having spent quite a few years as technical advisor and responsible for a number of local radio stations and recording studios, I know what I want to hear when I turn on a receiver – or any other audio-capable device for that matter. DAB+ in its present form does not deliver.
Regardless of how much promotion and incentives that gets sent my way, I have no intention of buying a DAB+ receiver. With all the available alternatives I simply can not see the point, and I most likely never will.
I may be just an old audiophile that is stupid enough to value quality over quantity. It is my choice to make though, and with DAB+ in its present form it's an easy one.
last rev: 05.jun.2018