How to Upgrade Car Stereo to Dab Radio




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Although not available in the U.S., DAB has been around for the last 25 years or so and is fast overtaking F.M. and AM radio.

I enjoyed listening to this radio for nearly ten years while living in the U.K, and standard radio is being phased out by the U.K. in the next decade. This means it is essential to know whether your car radio can be upgraded to incorporate some form of a DAB device. 

There are three ways in which you can upgrade your car stereo to a DAB radio. These include the use of integrated systems, which can consist of standalone displays. Then there are Plug-and-play devices such as USB type dongles or display units similar to navigation devices, and lastly, entire stereo systems that would replace your previous car stereo.

In this article, I will explain what DAB is, how it works, its history, where you can use it, what the differences between DAB and DAB+ are, and compare them to F.M. radio.

Also, I will go with details about upgrading your car stereo to a DAB radio and the various options you will be able to choose from in wanting to do so.

What is a DAB in car audio?

DAB standards for Digital Audio Broadcasting. It is a digital radio standard for broadcasting digital radio in many continents such as Europe, Africa, and Asia.

It is important to note that DAB is not available in the United States because its form of digital radio is H.D. radio.

The DAB initiative was initially released publicly in 1995. It was in development since 1981 however, the first radio station was broadcast on the 1st of June 1995.  

how to install dab radio in car

DAB is broadcast from a wide variety of network transmitters in the United Kingdom (U.K.). DAB uses a form of technology that allows broadcasters to package several radio stations together, and this is known as multiplexing. 

These radio stations (Multiplexed radio stations) are then sent and broadcast on single frequency networks worldwide. This form of technology allows many more radio stations to be broadcast simultaneously using fewer radio frequencies. 

How does a DAB radio work?

DAB uses frequency modulation to transmit and broadcast its signals and is sent via transmitters both on earth and via satellites.

It is typically more efficient when using the spectrum of frequencies compared to standard analog F.M. radio. Hence this is the reason why it can offer multiple radio services on the same given bandwidth. 

Error-correction coding of DAB

DAB uses punctured convolutional coding for its ECC. This means that certain parts of the audio bit-stream that are susceptible to errors causing noise and audible disturbances are provided with much more protection. 

In addition to using convolutional coding, the DAB standard utilizes the Reed-Soloman ECC as an inner layer of coding (the convolutional coding is placed around the outside of the byte interleaved audio frame while the Reed-Soloman ECC is placed inside it). 

Modulation of DAB

Regarding modulation, DAB is immune to fading and inter-symbol interference, and it is achieved with the help of OFDM and DQPSK modulation techniques.

In simpler terms, these modulation techniques use subcarriers that are transmitted in parallel. 

Single-frequency networks

What is excellent about OFDM is it allows the use of SFN (single frequency networks). This means that network transmitters can provide coverage to a vast area (the size of a country), and these transmitters utilize the same transmission frequency. 

Bit rates of DAB

The maximum bit rate per multiplex is 1,184Kbits/s. The maximum bit rate allows this number to be higher; however, it is limited to the ECC that controls it.

Because most U.K. services implement protection level three, the average ECC code rate is approximately half, which equates to the current bit rate level.

Frequencies and channels of DAB

DAB is currently being deployed within the band III (band 3) frequencies. Below is a table of DAB’s complete frequency range and the DAB channel associated with it.

Keep in mind that unlike F.M. radio, each channel can hold many radio stations (multiplex stations). Furthermore, the entire spectrum can vary and may not be available in all countries or continents.

DAB ChannelFrequency MHzDAB ChannelFrequency MHz
DAB channels with frequency range

What is the difference between DAB and F.M.?

With regards to mobile listening, DAB is more robust than F.M. radio considering noise and multipath fading. This means that there will be less of both when trying to use DAB in a mobile situation like driving.

One thing to note is that the sound quality deteriorates faster than that of F.M. radio when the signal strength falls below a certain threshold.

What is the difference between DAB and DAB+?

DAB+ is approximately twice as efficient and very much more robust than its predecessor DAB. This goes for both transmission quality and noise and interference negation.

One of the main differences between DAB and DAB+ is that they use different audio codecs for transmission. DAB uses MP2 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer II), and the DAB+ standard utilizes the HE-AAC version 2 audio codec.

The HE-AAC audio codec is approximately three times more efficient than MP2 because AAC+ uses an MDCT (modified discrete cosine transform) algorithm. This means that broadcasters that operate DAB+ can deliver far more stations than the standard DAB, and the audio quality is much higher. 

DAB+ also utilizes the MPEG surround audio format, which features a stronger ECC (error-correction coding). Furthermore, DAB+ has been standardized as the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). 

One thing to note is that DAB is not forwards compatible. This means that any device functioning on the DAB protocol will not be able to catch (listen) to DAB+ stations. However, broadcasters mix and transmit programs inside both DAB and DAB+, enabling individuals to transition from the older version to the newer DAB+.

Does DAB radio need WiFi to work?

DAB uses an entirely different technology to that of WiFi and hence is used on separate devices. DAB works on frequency modulation across bandwidths and therefore does not require the use of WiFi. 

You can listen to digital radio stations on your smartphone if you wish, but this will require WiFi use; however, smartphones do not come with DAB tuners, so you will need to install an app to create this functionality. 

How it works is that your phone will utilize data sending and receiving packets to the app. The app will be receiving the transmission via the standard DAB and DAB+ protocols of frequency modulation via bandwidths. 

Does DAB radio work everywhere?

As I mentioned, DAB and DAB+ only work for specific continents and countries. The USA has there own form of DAB, which comes packaged as H.D. radio. Below is a list of the countries that currently support and feature both DAB and DAB+.

AustraliaHungaryRussian Federation
Brunei DarussalamItalySlovenia
CanadaLatviaSouth Africa
ChinaMalaysiaSouth Korea
Czech RepublicMexicoSweden
DenmarkThe NetherlandsSwitzerland
FranceNew ZealandTaiwan
GreecePortugalUnited Kingdom
Hong KongRomaniaVietnam
Countries using DAB

Do I need a DAB radio in my car?

Many factors come into play for why you should consider upgrading to a DAB car stereo, and one of the most significant factors is worldwide and nationwide development.

Implementing a DAB car stereo will futureproof your car stereo because the U.K. intends to switch over all radio stations to DAB within the next decade. Many radio stations offer simultaneous broadcasts on standard F.M. radio and DAB at the moment; however, transitions from traditional radio have already begun.

Furthermore, some digital-only radio stations provide a wide variety of exclusive content that is only available on DAB. 

Hence it is in your best interest to switch to DAB if you are continually listening to the radio in your car if you want more choice, better quality, and better reception. Let’s consider these benefits and more below.

What are the benefits and advantages of having a DAB car stereo?

Wider variety of radio stations

AM and F.M. are limited to one station per frequency, whereas DAB uses a multiplex system. This means mean stations can sit on one frequency. 

This effectively multiplies the number of services you can have on the frequency bands to as many as the codec limits them to.

New radio stations are not based on F.M. but rather DAB, and older radio stations have even begun the transition to DAB, effectively moving some services over for good already. Hence the stations and services on DAB are ever-increasing. 

Access to specialized niche stations

Most radio stations and services on AM and F.M. radio cater to the mainstream public, but because you can have many stations on one channel, many small niche stations and services have risen up, catering to specific demographics instead of the masses. 

Better preset saving functionality 

Depending on your car stereo model, you may have a save functionality to remember your favorite radio station frequencies. DAB is digital and keeps information a little differently, and thus, you can save and recall stations by names rather than frequencies. 

HUD information 

Traditional radios do not give you any information to display except for the manual frequency selector. Modern DAB units, just like other modern infotainment systems, feature digital screens, showing you what radio station you are listening to, what the presenters or guest’s names are, what song is playing, and the sports score, and more. 

Pause and rewind options

Just like with digital streaming across other platforms, some DAB stations allow you to pause the station and even rewind it if you have missed something and feel the need to catch up. This can include anything from news updates to weather and sporting events. 

Multiple connectivity support

Most modern DAB stereo units, just as with infotainment din units, allow you to connect your mobile device via USB, Bluetooth, or wireless technology. This enables you to play various forms of media from your device and includes music, audiobooks, and movies, even in some cases. 

Do I need an aerial for my DAB radio?

Due to the fact that DAB runs on similar principles to that of traditional AM and F.M. radio (it uses frequency modulation across various bands), you will need an aerial, so you can pick up frequencies and thus DAB DAB+ channels.

There are different types of DAB aerials, and depending on how you plan to upgrade your car stereo, it will utilize one of these types. 

  • Internal glass mount DAB aerials
  • External glass mount DAB aerials
  • Roof-mounted DAB aerials
  • Body mounted DAB aerials 

Can I upgrade any car stereo to DAB?

In fact, upgrading your car stereo unit to integrate and incorporate or change entirely to a DAB unit is possible.

Depending on your car stereo, you will want to look at the various options you can employ when upgrading to a DAB stereo. There are several ways in which you can do this, which we will discuss below. 

How to upgrade car radio to DAB?

Depending on your budget and what car stereo you have, you will be able to upgrade your stereo, overhaul it with integration, or completely change it out for a new DAB stereo unit. 

What types of DAB radio units do you get for cars?

When DAB was first released, they came in the form of a radio and a typical car stereo unit. However, you get three main variants nowadays that offer you a choice when considering an upgrade to a DAB unit.

Integrated adaptor DAB units

This type of DAB unit works in parallel with your current car stereo unit providing inline functionality. Some will come with their own display unit, and some may be integrated to function on the display unit that you have.

Depending on how much money you are willing to part with, you may be able to retrofit these DAB units with exceptionally integrated functionality that lets you control its features from your steering wheel or your car stereo.

Upgrading and integrating this type of unit will require a professional’s assistance due to the intricacies of the methods involved. 

Plug and play DAB units

This is the simplest and least expensive option you can choose to upgrade your car stereo to a DAB stereo.

These types of DAB units are standalone devices that mount to your windscreen or dashboard. Most of these DAB units will also allow your current stereo to play music because they tend to stream audio by broadcasting on an F.M. frequency.

Plug and play units are pretty straightforward to install, and some devices will use slightly different methods. All in all, you will be able to accomplish this yourself just by reading the owner’s manual and guide. 

USB DAB units

Besides plug-and-play display units, you also get USB devices that function the same way that a dongle does. This short video will explain to you how simple is the installation of the DAB unit with only two additional parts:

  • The receiver (USB stick)
  • The aerial.

Replacement DAB units

If you would like a complete revamp of your old stereo and do not have a modern infotainment system, this option may suit you.

Designed to look similar to standard car stereos but with the functionality of DAB, these stereo units may be somewhat challenging to install and may require the assistance of a professional.

They are slightly the same as a traditional car stereo in terms of wiring; however, there are some differences. Going into detail about the differences in wiring and detailing wiring for car stereo, in general, is beyond the scope of this article; however, you can reference car stereo wiring in this article


Now you know that DAB is the future of radio; however, it has been around for the past 25 years and is still only available only is specific continents and countries.

The USA uses their own form of H.D. radio instead of DAB, and you will not be able to use your DAB radio if you are in the USA.

The U.K. will completely transition away from AM and F.M. radio within the next decade, only allowing for DAB and DAB+ channels on specific frequency bands.

DAB, via multiplex technology due to digital codecs, allows multiple stations across one frequency where AM and F.M. only allow one. This allows for many more niche radio stations and services catering to a broader demographic of listeners.

From all of this, you can see that it is essential to upgrade the car stereo to incorporate DAB so as to futureproof the radio. There are three ways in which you can upgrade almost any car stereo to utilize DAB. These are via integrated systems, plug-and-play systems, and the complete replacement of your car stereo unit.