Digital radio in Canberra

I’ve done a piece for Monday’s The Canberra Times on digital radio. In brief, it discusses some of the advantages of digital radio and gives a brief review of audio quality, but it is primarily about the legal complications. According to ACMA, the present trial will conclude on 30 June 2011, its guidelines do not permit extensions of trial periods, and there is no provision in its legislation for the granting of proper broadcast licences for digital radio in Canberra.

In other words, come 1 July 2011 there will be no more digital radio here for some unknown period.

But I also spoke to the CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, and she was confident that, as with Sydney, the trial will be extended with a view to full licensing around 2013.

I do get the impression that there will be some very irritating broadcasters should it conclude in the middle of next year. After all, they’ve gone and bought equipment specially for digital radio.

Anyway, I thought that some information that didn’t make it into the article might be of interest here: the actual broadcast bitrates of the Canberra stations. Remember, digital radio in Australia is using the DAB+ standard, and the audio is encoded in HE-AAC format (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding), so it wouldn’t be directly comparable with more familiar codecs. Still, the figures may be interesting. I got the figures from the Onkyo UP-DT1 digital radio receiver. This is a module that plugs onto the proprietary port on Onkyo and Integra home theatre receivers (it sells for $399). It discloses quite detailed information on the OSD when you press the receiver’s remote’s ‘Display’ button.

All are broadcast on channel 10B (211.64MHz). Their bitrates are:

Station HE-AAC Bitrate
104.7 Hit Music 64kbps
2CA 64kbps
2CC 64kbps
Classic Hits PLUS 64kbps
Hot Country 64kbps
MIX 106.3 64kbps
My Canberra Digital 64kbps
RADAR RADIO 64kbps
SBS Chill 80kbps
SBS Pop Asia 80kbps
SBS Radio 1 48kbps
SBS Radio 2 48kbps

Incidentally, while all the stations had some text accompanying their broadcast, it was mostly just some station logo. But SBS Chill and SBS Pop Asia both had genuinely useful text, alternating between the titles of the song ‘Just Played’ and the song playing ‘Now’.

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2 Responses to Digital radio in Canberra

  1. Simon Reidy says:

    Those bit-rates seem very low. Then again, as you say it’s a codec I’m not familiar with. How does 64kbps music sound to your ears Stephen? Is it an improvement from analogue 22khz FM stereo radio?

  2. Stephen Dawson says:

    I don’t think FM is 22kHz, actually. From memory, a 19kHz coding signal is used to provide stereo.

    But anyway, I thought it sounded pretty poor on most of the stations, and quite adequate on SBS, and I don’t think it had much to do with the 64/80kbps divide. The music fed into a radio signal tends to get EQ’d and dynamically compressed so that it sounds half decent in a mediocre car radio in a noisy car. That same signal was fed through, my ears tells me, to the digital channel by 2CA and 104.7, which are the only two I listened to carefully. They both sounded quite nasty — harsh and flat all at the same time.

    There was a lot of confusion in more complex music on 104.7 and, as I called in in my piece, a kind of ‘quavery’ distortion. The former may have been the other processing, but the latter sounded like excessive compression to me.

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