DAB+ turning up the broadcast quality?

Listeners to Classic FM will have recently heard adverts advising them that the digital broadcast of the station is going to switch from DAB to DAB+ from January. We are told that they are “turning up the broadcast quality” (by the mellifluous tones of John Brunning, no less, who is no longer regularly on the station, but that’s another issue).

I have to admit, I was expecting the new DAB+ broadcast to have anything but a superior sound quality. Classic FM’s parent company, Global Radio, do not have a great track record. I think when Classic FM started broadcasting on DAB radio, is was at 160 kb/s, but this was gradually reduced. Rival company Bauer recently switched their stations, including classical station Scala Radio to DAB+, and these have very low bitrates; some as low as 32 kb/s. Scala gets off lightly at 40 kb/s, but this still has artefacts that can clearly be heard, and it makes everyone sound as if they are speaking with a lisp. (I have taken to calling the station Sthcala Radio!) The reason is that they want to free up space in the digital radio multiplex in order to squeeze in even more radio stations.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised today to find that that Classic FM is being broadcast at 64 kb/s on DAB+. This makes it the highest bitrate DAB+ station in the UK. Opinions may vary as to how this compares to the sound of the previous 128 kb/s DAB broadcast. It may even sound slightly better now, but it certainly isn’t any worse. The bandwidth freed up has been used to increase the quality of some of their other stations that were already in DAB+, with a small amount left over where they could fit in an additional station.

For once, Global have done something right. I just hope they aren’t tempted to pinch some of Classic FM’s bandwidth in the future in order to add further stations, in the way they did with the original DAB broadcast some years ago.

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