Digital radio: which cars have it? Should I bother?

Today marks the third anniversary of digital radio in Australia, but you’d never know it by stepping into a car showroom. And given how much of our radio listening happens within the steel confines of our automobiles, that’s a real shame because digital radio offers a marked improvement in sound quality.

Which cars offer digital radio?

Car makers in Australia only began offering digital radio since about the middle of 2011, so the range of cars available with digital radio as standard or as an option is still pretty limited.

Make Model Status
Audi A6, A7 Option, priced around A$3,000
BMW (most models) Option, priced around A$900
Ford Kuga Standard on Titanium and Trend; n/a elsewhere
Lexus GS, RX Standard
Toyota Aurion Standard on Presara, Sportivo ZR6; n/a elsewhere
Toyota Camry Standard on Hybrid HL, Atara SL; n/a elsewhere
Toyota Prius Standard on i-Tech; n/a elsewhere

Can I add digital radio to my current car?

But of course you can. If you’re lucky enough to have a portable digital radio, you can plug that into your car’s auxiliary jack and Bob’s your uncle.

Alternatively you can purchase the Pure Highway or the newer, shinier Pure Highway D300i, both of which also connect to your car stereo via an auxiliary port. The original Pure Highway can also transmit digital radio to your car stereo via FM, which is not exactly an ideal solution but necessary for car’s without an auxiliary port.

If you’re willing to replace your car’s headunit, there’s the single-DIN Kenwood KDC-U5049DAB, Sony CDX-DAB700U and JVC KD-DB56. Step up to the double-DIN Kenwood DNX4310DABNAV and you’ll also gain a large touchscreen and satellite navigation.

The umbrella organisation overseeing digital radio in Australia regularly updates its list of DAB+ compatible cars and car stereos.

Where is digital radio available in Australia?

If you live in the bush or in Tasmania, you’re fresh out of luck — for now. Digital radio is only currently available in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane (and the Gold Coast), Perth and Adelaide. There are currently low power trial transmissions occurring in both Canberra and Darwin.

When will analogue radio be turned off?

At this stage, never.

Unlike television services, where analogue transmission will be turned off nationwide by the end of 2013, the federal government has no plans to switch off analogue AM and FM transmissions.

Why should I bother then?

Sound quality for one; the improvement is akin from the switch from AM to FM. If you can get your hands on a digital radio, try listening to the same station on FM and digital back-to-back and the difference should be clear. Fans of AM radio will also notice a marked improvement.

Like digital television, digital radio offers greater choice in stations with almost every radio licencee offering extra stations to choose from. For instance, the ABC offers up not only the usual menu of local radio, Radio National, Triple J and News Radio, but also Grandstand and regular shows when the local radio and News Radio are broadcasting sport and parliament.

Why are car makers so slow at getting on-board?

Long development cycles, local testing and demand are the common reasons offered up car makers as to why they’re slow to or, in most cases, not offering digital radio in their cars.

Just as important, there’s no imperative for them to do so — unlike the UK and other countries analogue is not going to be switched off in Australia. And, finally, Australia uses the newer, more technologically advanced, DAB+ standard for digital radio. This means that car makers and equipment manufacturers have to produce and test specific units for our rather small market.

Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek has a lifelong love for all things automotive, from the dullest Camry to record shattering Bugattis. Prior to starting up Between the Axles he was a reviewer for CNET Australia and the founding editor of its Car Technology channel. [Read more]