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Ofcom reveals DAB sound quality opinions

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Ofcom has undertaken research into the perceived sound quality of DAB Digital Radio services as part of a wider review of the future of radio in the UK.

The media regulator commissioned ICM to perform the survey after it received numerous responses to its "Future of Radio" discussion document claiming that sound quality on DAB Digital Radio was inferior to that available on FM; and that until parity in quality was achieved, FM should not be subject to a mandatory switch-off.

153 comments on the subject were received, which Ofcom attributes to a Guardian piece published last November that was critical of the sound quality available on DAB. The article said that Ofcom "is simply ignoring the whole issue of sound quality" and encouraged people to contact the regulator to offer their views. The comments, in addition to being generally critical of DAB Digital Radio's sound quality, suggested that the presence of mono stations was a "retrograde step" and suggested the adoption of newer AAC codecs, now known as DAB+, which are more compression-efficient.

Ofcom explained: "In the light of the volume of responses received on this issue, Ofcom has undertaken its own independent research into consumer perceptions to ascertain whether there is widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of DAB transmission, or whether it is confined to a small number of 'audiophiles'."

81% of respondents to the survey rated DAB Digital Radio's sound quality as "excellent" or "good". 14% said it was "average", 2% poor, 1% very poor with the remainder opting for "don't know." Of those with a hi-fi, 83% rated the sound quality as "excellent" or "good".

The survey also asked people to compare the sound quality of DAB and FM. 94% of respondents in total, and 92% of those with a hi-fi, said that DAB offered "much better", "better" or "the same" sound quality as FM.

In conclusion, Ofcom said: "We wanted to test whether people who rated the sound quality as poor or worse than FM were doing so because they were suffering from poor reception (often typified by the signal breaking up or hearing a burbling sound in the background) as opposed to the broadcast sound quality (for example where the dynamic range of the signal is limited). However, although we asked these questions in the research, because the number of respondents rating sound quality as poor, or worse than FM was so small, the sample size was insufficient to draw any conclusions. Nevertheless in practice the dissatisfaction of these listeners is likely to be based on a combination of these two effects."

The regulator added: "So in conclusion, the research showed little evidence that the majority of the public would agree with those respondents to the discussion document. That is not to say that those respondents are wrong; it is simply that their expectations of audio standards are not shared by the vast majority of listeners."

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