Sony XDR-S1 review

Is the Sony XDR-S1 digital radio a sonic sensation?

TechRadar Verdict

A sonically decent, fairly future-proof kitchen radio - but no match for Pure Digital & Co

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Pure Digital has the credit for fuelling the digital radio revolution, but now everyone's jumping on the bandwagon - Panasonic, Roberts and Philips have all released kitchen sink DAB radios in the last year, and now Sony has joined the throng.

It's a designer's paradise, with new models offering ever more wacky - and often retroesque - styling. Unfortunately Sony's XDRS1, though it looks great in the brochures, seen in the flesh is plastic and resembles the shape of a breadbin (albeit quite a nice one).

Lifting our review unit from the blue gym bag it came in, our first impression was - shall we say - reserved at best. It just screams 'mass production' - something that Pure Digital and Roberts have managed to overcome - and the fabric grill is just begging to have chip fat spat all over it.

The XDR-S1's performance is more reassuring. The 2.3W-per-channel stereo speaker system gives a rich, full sound - though only four sound modes give a limited degree of personalisation. There's a fair bit of bass on tap for all those 1Xtra listeners out there. As portable radios go, DAB performance is crash hot.

FM performance is more crash and burn, though. BBC local radio stations just outside Digital Home's local area, which can normally be received on FM radios, were much more crackly and intermittent than usual. The noise reduction function helped only marginally. The range of individual BBC local radio stations is different on the DAB spectrum than FM, so it's a shame the S1's FM reception isn't better.

Features are a-plenty: the clock is automatically set by RDS (radio data system); the backlit LCD shows two lines of text and you can save web addresses, emails and phone numbers that flash up on screen; and there are ten presets for each of the four bands. But the lack of a rotating dial means that manual tuning and station scrolling are slower process than on, say, Pure Digital's excellently designed DAB radios. Usefully though, a remote control is included.

This radio is more future proof than most. At the moment all UK DAB broadcasts operate on the imaginatively named 'Band III' spectrum, but in the future the inexplicably named 'Band L' may also open to make way for broadcasting yet more radio stations. Few digital radios receive Band L, but the XDR-S1 does. Some DAB broadcasters on the continent use Band L now, so the S1 might pick up digital radio stations at your summerhouse.

AM reception is also ignored on many kitchen sink digital radios, which isn't helpful if you have a devotion to French Breton folk music. The Sony has an AM tuner as well as the mandatory FM. However, unlike the natty (or ugly, depending on your taste) Bug radio from Pure Digital, the XDR-S1 does not have a recording facility.

Instead you must hook up an external recording device to save your programmes. Not enough digital radios are offering this facility. Sale rates of DAB tuners might be 60 per cent of the whole UK radio market, but for DAB to really take off features like record, live pause and rewind must come as standard. We were hoping Sony's entry into the portable DAB radio market would be a more assertive one. was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.