Re: R4 Feedback asking for comments on DAB
- From: "Rayzor" <ray@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 21:35:18 GMT
"DAB sounds worse than FM" <dab.is@dead> wrote in message
On the most recent Feedback programme on Radio 4, Roger Bolton said that
they will be covering digital radio in a forthcoming programme and he has
asked listeners to write in or email with any issues they would like to be
raised. There was also a short piece about DAB coverage, which starts 19
minutes into the programme, which you can listen to via this link:
If you intend to email Feedback, their email address is:
and some points you might like to raise are as follows:
1. DAB's sound quality
Obviously the audio quality on DAB is still very poor due to the
ridiculously low bit rate levels being used with the MP2 audio codec, and
it is simply not good enough that they provide audio quality that is far
worse than on FM in the 21st century.
Also, you might be interested to know that the Director of Radio at Ofcom,
Peter Davies, has recently said this:
"I don't think the sound quality [on DAB] is good enough"
Full article here:
so it would be good to mention in an email to Feedback that the person in
charge of radio at Ofcom has even said that the sound quality isn't good
There isn't any possibility to increase the bit rate levels on DAB to
improve the audio quality without removing a large number of stations on
DAB, so this won't happen. Therefore, the only way that we're going to be
able to receive better audio quality on "DAB" is if the UK switches to
using DAB+, so I think the most important point to raise with regards to
sound quality would to be ask the BBC to switch to using DAB+ as soon as
2. BBC stereo stations broadcasting in mono
Radio 4 is reduced to mono in the evenings whenever Radio 5 Sports Extra
goes on-air after 5 p.m. (Radio 3 is reduced to 160 kbps whenever R5
Sports Extra is on-air before 5 p.m.), and BBC7 and the Asian Network are
permanently in mono on DAB despite carrying a large proportion of stereo
content. So again, the only way to provide these stations permanently in
stereo on "DAB" would be to launch DAB+ streams for them, so the BBC needs
to say how it intends to do this, and how long it will take.
Also, all of these stations are permanently stereo on all of the other
digital platforms, so for someone who wants to listen to these stations,
so which platforms carry these stations in stereo should be available on
the BBC's website so that listeners can decide whether they want to listen
in stereo or be forced to listen in mono.
3. The BBC has never been honest about DAB's audio quality, and it is time
for them to come clean
Whenever DAB's audio quality has been criticised on a BBC radio programme
before, a BBC executive has trotted out some "market research" survey
figures that they think show that the sound quality is good enough. In
reality, the audio quality is much worse than on FM, so until they can
provide some market research figures to show that the general public
actually wants to receive audio quality on DAB that is much worse than on
FM, their use of market research survey results is actually a highly
dishonest way of dodging the issue entirely whilst simultaneously
promoting DAB's sound quality!
Considering the recent issues regarding the BBC acting dishonestly, and
the Director-General Mark Thompson saying that dishonest behaviour will
not be tolerated, I think it is time for the BBC to finally come clean
about the audio quality on DAB, especially now that the person in charge
of regulating radio at Ofcom has even admitted that it's not good enough.
There's also other aspects to the way the BBC has acted dishonestly. For
example, the BBC partially funds the Digital Radio Development Bureau
(DRDB), and the BBC's Director of Radio Jenny Abramsky is the Vice-Chair
of the DRDB, and it is the DRDB that commissions the unbelievable adverts
you hear for DAB on commercial radio which tell us, variously, that DAB
provides "superb digital quality sound", and how terrible FM is and so on.
So the BBC is basically using licence fee payers' money to be dishonest to
the general public, but it seems to think this is acceptable just because
the dishonesty isn't being broadcast on a BBC channel itself. Sorry, this
isn't good enough, and our money shouldn't be used to fund dishonest
The ex-BBC Controller in charge of DAB, Simon Nelson (the person who is
basically responsible for the audio quality being as bad as it is on DAB
today, and who has thankfully moved to TV now), was also dishonest each
time he appeared on a Radio 4 programme discussing DAB. The following
recording is one good example of this:
and here's a transcript of what was said:
Roger Bolton: "Why is digital Radio 4 sometimes broadcast in mono?"
Simon Nelson: "Yes, that does happen from time to time, erm, it's because
the programme has been made in mono."
Roger Bolton: "So if they don't make it in stereo you can't do anything
Simon Nelson: "That's correct."
The reality, which has always been the case since the BBC reduced their
bit rates in December 2001, is that Radio 4 is reduced to mono *whenever*
Radio 5 Sports Extra goes on-air after 5 p.m., and Radio 3 is reduced to
160 kbps whenever R5 Sports Extra is on-air before 5 p.m. So his answer
was, I'm afraid, very dishonest, and considering that Feedback is supposed
to be a forum where licence fee payers can hold BBC executives to account,
it is especially unacceptable to lie on Feedback.
4. The BBC should provide higher audio quality on its radio stations on
the digital TV platforms and online
The BBC won't be able to switch all of its stations to DAB+ immediately,
because they squeezed too many stations onto their national DAB multiplex
so it will be relatively difficult for the BBC to make the switch to
DAB+ -- although this shouldn't stop us asking for them to switch to DAB+
as soon as possible.
However, the bit rates used by the BBC stations on the digital TV
platforms are higher than on DAB (e.g. R1, R2 and R4 are 192 kbps on the
digital TV platforms but only 128 kbps on DAB), and there's none of this
nonense of stereo stations being broadcast in mono, as they are on DAB.
But in the last 2-3 years the BBC has reduced the audio quality of their
radio stations on these platforms by employing very poor audio engineering
practice. This simply is not good enough, and I suspect that this was done
deliberately, because providing far higher audio quality on the digital TV
platforms than on DAB isn't good for their overall aim of moving everybody
from FM onto their favoured DAB system.
For example, someone I know undertook some spectral analysis of Radio 3
broadcasts on digital satellite and Freeview during the Proms last year,
and what he found showed that whoever had set up the MP2 audio encoders
for both the satellite and Freeview Radio 3 streams didn't even understand
the fundamentals of how audio encoders work, so whoever it was should not
have been let loose on it in the first place -- unless the person doing it
actually wanted to degrade the audio quality, of course. This type of
thing doesn't cost a penny in resources, because basically only people who
know what they're doing should be allowed to set up something like an MP2
encoder. It's just not good enough.
So at the very least the BBC should make the most of the bit rates being
used on all of their digital platforms -- it will be interesting to see
what they do later this year when they launch their Internet multicast
streams, because they will be using 128 kbps AAC, which means they should
provide the highest quality out of all of the digital platforms, but if
they don't engineer the feeds going into the AAC encoders correctly they
could sound terrible. They try their hardest to make the most of the
ridiculously low bit rates on DAB, so they should do the same on all of
the platforms, and not make radio listeners pay for the BBC's mistakes in
adopting the DAB system in the first place.
The BBC also has 231 Mbps of capacity on digital satellite of which the
radio stations only consume 0.7%. The BBC could therefore very easily
increase the bit rates of its radio stations on satellite to for example
256 kbps, which isn't even as high as the 320 kbps bit rate used by ARD,
the German equivalent of the BBC, on satellite -- if the Germans can have
320 kbps, why can't we at least have 256 kbps?
5. BBC national DAB population coverage likely to stop at 90%
Mark Friend, the BBC Controller in charge of DAB recently said that
rolling out DAB has become "prohibitively expensive" and that a "hybrid
solution" would be needed, which means that other systems, such as DRM or
DRM+, will need to be used to to provide coverage to those people that
can't receive DAB. The BBC has committed to rolling out DAB to 90% of the
population, but given Mark Friend's comments, it would seem likely that
that's the level at which DAB population coverage will stay at, especially
as DRM and DRM+ are far cheaper to transmit than DAB is.
The reason this is an important issue is that the last 10% of the
population will likely have to buy digital radios that support DRM and/or
DRM+, but there's only one DAB/DRM radio available at the moment, and that
was only available via the Internet the last time I looked.
So the BBC needs to both clarify what it is going to do in terms of
providing coverage for the last 10% of the population -- not least to
avoid people buying DAB radios when they're not covered and won't get
coverage -- and it needs to say when DAB radios will support DRM/DRM+.
Steve - www.digitalradiotech.co.uk - Digital Radio News & Info
Its not as bad as you say but you will always moan on about it.
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