Arcam Laps the Field with Digital Radio Tuner

In the race for technological superiority, audio electronics companies in the United Kingdom, with a few notable exceptions, haven't often been first out of the gate. Arcam, however, may have already lapped the field with its Alpha 10 DRT (Digital Radio Tuner).

The £800 device goes on sale Monday, March 15, at approximately 100 dealers within range of the British Broadcasting Company's digital transmitters. The UK is the first nation on earth to have a fully operational digital radio system, with over 60% of its territory now receiving the signals---provided, of course, that citizens within that territory have the necessary digital tuners to enjoy them.

That's where Arcam got a big jump on the competition. The 22-year-old Cambridge company has long enjoyed a solid reputation for high-performance, high-value equipment, but it can now add "innovator" to its list of accolades. The A10DRT, designed and built in the UK, is the first commercial digital tuner to hit the market. "Hundreds of units have been pre-sold to radio and hi-fi enthusiasts and broadcasters," according to a company announcement made late last week.

With normal left- and right-channel analog outputs, the A10DRT is completely compatible with any component audio system. It has an alphanumeric display that informs users of the name of the program, song, and/or artist being transmitted. Stations can be tuned in by entering their names.

The sound is said to be of "concert hall" or "near CD" quality. Digital radio offers several advantages over traditional shortwave, AM, or FM analog broadcasting---primarily the absence of noise artifacts such as hiss, crackles, pops, and "birdies," the annoying whistling that sometimes accompanies shortwave and long-distance AM signals. The digital system is claimed to be "interference-free."

(It should be noted, for the sake of objectivity, that the same claim was made for stereo FM when it was first introduced, as it is now for any number of cellular telephone and personal communications systems. Digital radio signals are subject to dropouts when attenuated below the tuner's threshold by large buildings or geographical features.)

The BBC has already begun transmitting Parliamentary broadcasts and a substantial amount of live sports coverage over the new digital system. In October of this year, seven new digital stations will go into operation. In addition, Classic FM, Virgin Radio, Talk Radio, and BBC Radios One through Five will soon be transmitting in digital stereo.

Digital radio, like high-definition television, will eventually replace its analog predecessors. Within 10 to 15 years, old systems worldwide will have been completely phased out. No mention was made in Arcam's announcement of digital output or multichannel capability in the A10DRT.