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Review: VideoLogic and Sony DAB tuners

Bristol Sound & Vision logo

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What's new in DAB?


» You can view new arrivals in the world of DAB and wi-fi internet radio - including brands by Sony and Panasonic by looking on our home page, on our news pages or on our dedicated radios and tuners pages.







Bristol Sound and Vision 2001 (February 2001)

Bristol's yearly Sound and Vision hi-fi show gets bigger each year, but was far more interesting this time around with the chance to listen to some new DAB digital radio tuners. With the recent launch of the local digital multiplex for Bristol and Bath, this was a good opportunity to see what was on offer. Digital One, operators of the national commercial multiplex, had an impressive stack of digital tuners next to their stand on the terrace, but sadly only one pair of headphones through which to listen. It would have been good to bring the tuners up to eye level to avoid having to kneel down to see what was going on! However, it was good to see the range of kit available and gain some helpful advice. I visited both Sony and VideoLogic's demonstration rooms and was able to catch a listen to their brand new tuners.

VideoLogic DRX-601E DAB tuner

VideoLogic DAB tuner

The VideoLogic is a full-size separates component, so it will happily sit with the rest of your set-up.

The VideoLogic has a functional, if rather dull, black brushed aluminium fascia, with just a few buttons to control the information on the small, but readable two-line display and a large rotary dial to skip through stations. A press on the dial confirms the selection of a new station and the VideoLogic momentarily falls silent as it re-tunes. There aren't any buttons for selecting preset stations; indeed most other functions have been squirreled away to the remote control. The front of the machine is heaven for those of us who like the 'minimalist' look. There's a bright LED indicating power, fighting for attention with the green station display. Usually, this gives the style of station (e.g. rock, dance music, etc.) heard, but can also be left to scroll information about the current programme. In many ways, though, it's like another version of RDS.

Although I was only able to experience the sound through loudspeakers and not headphones, the VideoLogic gave an engaging performance. The dance music of Vibe was delivered with brightness and clarity, with plenty of gusto. Similarly, the attention-grabbing Xfm put the tuner through its paces, but a longer listen might reveal the tuner's slight brashness with relentless high-energy music. It would have been interesting to see how the VideoLogic fared with bass-heavy music, something from the station Planet Rock perhaps, to see how it handled the opposite extremes. However, Radio 2 sounded just as expected - Parkinson's Sunday Supplement benefiting from DAB's nonexistent hiss levels.

It appears, however, that the tuner has only enough memory to recall 9 preset stations through the remote control, which is a bit measly given DAB's main selling point of station availability. Once the novelty of the dial has worn off, tuning in to more stations could become irritating.

The tuner is also now available with a brushed silver finish for a 50 premium. There's an input loop on the rear of the tuner that makes hooking up an existing FM/AM tuner child's play. A socket ensures future expansion through an RDI (receiver data interface). This will give access to data services when they become available.

Sony ST-D777ES DAB tuner

Sony DAB tuner

The Sony, however, has a more impressive button-for-money count. There's an expensive-looking brushed champagne front to the machine and a large dial to select the station. It is possible to scan straight past two or more stations using this method, but most people will reach for the remote anyway. There's a good number of presets - 99 in all - enough to store all the stations you're ever likely to need, which are accessible from the remote. The Sony also doubles up as a standard FM/AM tuner: useful should signal levels fall on DAB. The FM band is equipped with RDS EON (Enhanced Other Networks), meaning that functions like radioTEXT and station-naming are also to hand. The display is larger than the VideoLogic (but then again, so is the price) and incorporates a matrix-style display giving the station name and other information.

The tuner's sound through high-quality closed-back headphones provided an enjoyable and zealous listening experience on stations such as GWR FM and Vibe. With sole access to the shuttle dial, I was armed to the hilt with stations. Classic FM provided a captivating listen, with an appreciable lack of hiss or distortion to spoil the performance. This is where DAB excels; its background silence during quiet solo passages contrasting with its ability to handle full orchestral pieces with aplomb. This was also in marked contrast with the mono Bloomberg Radio, which sounded much less appealing. However, speech stations are often more suited to a lower 'data rate' (and hence narrower bandwidth), since it easier to pick out what is being said at lower listening levels.

As would be expected, most of the well-known national DAB stations sounded fine. Virgin Radio and BBC Radio 1 to Five Live and Five Live Sports were heard loud and clear, and without distortion. Some stations, especially those playing pop music, such as GWR FM and Life, did seem to suffer from distortion. This effect was most noticeable through headphones. The effect is difficult to describe, but produces a slightly wobbly sound as if the left-right channels are constantly switching. It makes for an odd-sounding show and this could become tiresome during prolonged listening. This apparently happens on stations that transmit at a lower data rate. Unhappily, many of the local and national stations that are only available on DAB transmit at this lower rate, so suffer the most. On a happier note, this is less prominent when listening through loudspeakers. It was also intriguing to hear Classic Gold in stereo.

Verdict

There's no doubt that DAB offers more stations, and in most cases better sound with less background hiss, but I can't help noticing that the 'interactive' features of digital radio are few and far between - the information displayed is limited and programme information and schedules are decidedly lacking at present. This is bound to change with time, but this means that the only unique selling point for digital radio at this time is an increase in the number of stations available. With the prohibitive cost of DAB tuners for most of the population, there is little else to recommend the technology.

In essence, there is little to distinguish the VideoLogic and Sony tuners. A comparison in some ways would be churlish, as the price difference will dictate which tuner, if any, to choose. The Sony has both DAB and standard FM/AM bands, but attracts a higher price tag. The VideoLogic is the cheaper alternative, but seems to have annoyingly few station presets. It is, however, the cheaper of the two and will therefore be the better choice for anyone with a spare 299 burning a hole in their pocket. Please note that, since this article was first published, the DRX-601E and DRX-601ES have both been superseded by the cheaper and higher-specification DRX-701E and DRX-701ES.

VideoLogic DRX-601E (black finish)
VideoLogic DRX-601ES (silver finish)

Price: Around GBP 249-299 pounds in black, GBP 349 in silver
For: About the cheapest DAB tuner available
Against: Superseded by the newer (and cheaper) DRX701E and ES, which both have 99 presets. We'd go for one of these newer models every time.
Small display on the DRX601E; few presets

Buy it now! Go to our DAB radio store to find retailers or buy online now.

Sony ST-D777ES

Price: Around GBP 600 pounds, but shop around as this tuner can be found for as little as 400
For: Good looks, easy to use
Against: Price is beyond most people's reach

Buy it now! Go to our DAB radio store to find retailers or buy online now.

You can email us or fill in a form with any comments or corrections regarding this article via our feedback page.

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