Analog Versus Digital Radios

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The word ‘digital’ has somehow become nearly synonymous with modernity, technology, and better performance. These days, we expect everything to be ‘digital’ from our radios, to our alarm clocks. Analog is messy and low-quality. Digital is crisp and new. Right?


In fact, all digital actually means, is binary. Digital means that there are only two types of signal, which in turn are used in order to create everything else. Computers area digital because they are comprised of billions of tiny switches that can be set to an on-or-off position. That is all this means.

So, while a digital product might often be newer and crisper, there is still certainly a place for analog – for the nuance that can be accomplished through spectrums and oscillations.

As with everything else, there is a time for digital and a time for analog when it comes to two-way radio.

Digital Vs Analog Radio

A digital radio is also referred to as DAB – meaning Digital Audio Broadcasting. This is in comparison to AM and FM, which are the two old analog channels. Everything from handheld two-way radio to HAM radio will generally be available in both forms. So what’s the difference?

Analog radio works using waves. This means variations in frequency, which can be picked up by antennae and converted into alternating currents, to be later decompressed into spoken words and music.

Digital signals on the other hand are slightly different, being made up entirely of ones and zeros. In other words, the signal starts and stops a little bit like morse code, and this can then be converted into sound at the other end in much the same way.

Because analog radio requires a little bit of variation in the wave, this means that a single band (channel) will take up more of the spectrum. One of the early advantages of switching to digital then, is that it will allow for more signals to be broadcast in a single area with less overlap.

At the same time, this also means that the frequency is a little more ‘locked on’. Because the frequency doesn’t need to oscillate, it won’t lead to hissing and crackling when the receiver isn’t picking up quite the full range. Likewise, digital radio isn’t affected by such things as planes flying overhead.

That said though, you may find that the signal cuts out as you reach weaker signal areas and this can lead to periods of silence.

Furthermore, DAB radios tend to be a little more expensive – though that is in exchange for getting more features.

Which is Right for You?

So, which is right for your needs?

While digital is indeed generally clearer, the advantages aren’t necessarily worth the extra expense when you just need a simple handheld two-way radio for a construction site.

That said, if you are working in areas with lots of trees overhead, or if you want to listen in to specific digital frequencies, then choosing digital may be worth the investment. And of course digital police scanners can allow for a greater range of channels – picking up both analog and digital.

Still, there is something appealing about analog, which is why so many of us still enjoy collecting records!

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