Best DAB car radio adaptors: 2018 group test
Want to fit a DAB digital radio into an older car? We've tested eight popular DAB adaptors to establish the best
Want your car to have access to the best sound and the most radio stations? Then you’ll need a digital radio. While most new-car buyers get DAB as standard, owners of older vehicles have to make do with FM. This is where DAB adaptors come in; they will tune existing in-car audio systems to DAB frequencies.
Many adaptors available today come as easy-to-install plug-and-play units, using either the car’s FM frequency or a built-in auxiliary port to feed the digital signal to the head unit. Some also have Bluetooth to help drivers of old cars connect phones for hands-free calling. We tuned in eight systems to pick the best.
How we tested them
Clarity of sound was key here. We wanted adaptors that transmitted clear radio signals to the car, and which weren’t susceptible to crackling or loss of signal when on the move. Ease of use and simple installation were other priorities. We also made a note of additional features, and our final factor was price from makers and online sources.
The top-spec Pure Highway secures victory here, but it doesn’t win by much. New entry Nextbase and old rival AutoDAB have made big strides over the years, and the differences separating the top three are marginal.
- 1. Pure Highway 600
- 2. Nextbase 350BT
- 3. AutoDAB GO+
Pure Highway 600
Price: Around £160Rating: 5.0
We've previously tested Pure’s Highway 400, but with rivals now including Bluetooth and other features, we went up the range to the 600. As usual with Pure, it impresses out of the box. Thanks to the magnetic earthing wire and simple design, this is easy to install and was the quickest to tune into DAB frequencies via aux-in or FM.
While some rivals have a touchscreen, the Pure’s rotary knob makes changing stations faster and easier. Crucially, sound quality was excellent, with no crackles on our drive. We liked how easy it was to hook up our phone via Bluetooth, to access features like Spotify music streaming.
Price: Around £130Rating: 4.5
Dash cam giant Nextbase’s first DAB adaptor is impressive. We liked the extras on the 350BT, such as the wipe to clean the windscreen and get the best possible antenna signal. As a result, sound quality was excellent. On the move we heard a crackle only once, and the rotary knob makes switching stations easy. Setting favourites was simple, too. Info like radio programme titles and names was shown, and there’s Bluetooth for phone pairing.
Price: Around £100Rating: 4.5
The new GO+ has the most impressive display by far. It’s the only device with a touchscreen, and scored well with its clearly laid-out menus, plus info such as artist names and song titles. If only it were more responsive to prods when changing stations. Sound quality was good, aside from a couple of crackles. The price is another strong point. If the next GO+ has a better user experience and improved sound quality, it could win our test.
Price: Around £89Rating: 4.0
Instead of a regular adaptor, the clever SmartDAB uses smartphones (iOS and Android apps are available) as the interface. The app’s menu is the same as on the GO+, so it’s easy to navigate. Again, song and radio show titles are displayed, and there are regional station categories. Our smartphone proved more responsive than on the GO+, but you need a phone holder. The radio signal from the adaptor box provided was good, and while there were a few crackles, none of the stations dropped signal.
Pure Highway 200
Price: Around £80Rating: 4.0
For those on a tighter budget, Pure’s Highway 200 is worth considering. It looks similar to the Highway 600, but has a smaller display and fewer features; there’s no Bluetooth or any other mobile phone connectivity. Installation is as easy as with the 600, thanks to a magnetic earthing wire and a simple antenna set-up. Sound quality was good on the move, with very little distortion. Swapping between stations was easy thanks to the rotary knob, and we could place up to 20 stations as presets.
Price: Around £120Rating: 3.0
The AutoDAB FM uses the car’s FM signals to tune into digital frequencies. We found it worked well at 87.50MHz, but results were mixed. An adaptor box and antenna are supplied, like the SmartDAB, yet signal quality wasn’t as good. It occasionally dropped, and crackles could be heard on our test route. A remote lets you toggle stations, although it proved hard to pair and tricky to use on the go.
Price: £45Rating: 2.5
Budget devices like the Sonichi struggle to match top performers Nextbase and AutoDAB GO+, plus pace setter Pure; a low price isn’t enough. The S100 remains bulky, and its plastic feels cheap here. Still, it’s easy to install, using an aux-in connection to tap into DAB frequencies. Scanning stations didn’t take long, but reception needs improving as signal was lost three times on test.
Price: Around £60Rating: 2.5
The Pama PNG1220 is easy to install, slotting into the 12V socket. The screen is better than the Sonichi’s, but trails the Nextbase or GO+. Suction cups to hold antenna wires also make the interior look messy. Many rivals have small hooks with tape for a more secure fitting. It scanned for stations quickly and was easy to use on the move, but the signal dropped three times during our test.
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