Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Harald Kuhl, who notes that a new firmware update for the Avion AV-DR-1401 DRM receiver is now available for download via the following link:
Many thanks to SWLing Post readers, Cap and Bill, who both shared this press release from the DRM consortium:
(Source: DRM Consortium)
Following from a very successful General Assembly, the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) Consortium, and the German DRM Platform held a most comprehensive European workshop hosted by Fraunhofer IIS in Erlangen, Germany from 6th to 7th April 2016.
This was a first such DRM event aimed at offering solutions to all broadcasters large or small. During their presentations and discussions participants stressed that DRM is the ITU endorsed and internationally adopted standard for the distribution of programmes internationally, nationally and up to local coverage level. DRM can also provide an economic and complementary solution to exactly those coverage scenarios that the established DAB/DAB+ networks in Band-III were never designed for.
Following their deliberations the participants urged all stakeholders of Digital Radio in Europe – including European organisations, regulators, broadcasters and the receiver and automotive industry – to embrace publicly the duality and complementarity of the open DRM and DAB standards as the complete Digital Radio solution for Europe (and worldwide). This means a digital future for all broadcasters, offering more programme choice to listeners, extra multimedia services with text and images, increased energy savings and spectrum efficiency. The participants ask ‘all European stakeholders to promote actively the manufacturing and distribution of multi-standard Digital Radio receivers, comprising at least the DRM and DAB standards.’
The first session, held in conjunction with the open part of the DRM General Assembly, took a brief look at the status of DRM adoption around the world, including the DRM roll-out in India, ready to become the largest digital radio market in the world with over 600 million people being reached by DRM broadcasts. Presentations given by experts from various European countries showed that the digitisation of radio progresses in Europe. At the end of the first day Fraunhofer IIS (Bernd Linz) demonstrated the latest development to provide traffic and travel services in DRM radios, soon to be installed in Asia. Afterwards Martin Speitel demonstrated the features of the Fraunhofer software package for car radios with DRM. With this solution, radio manufacturers can quickly build or enhance radio platforms on a proven modular system covering the full DRM and DAB standards including their full feature sets, thus shortening their development times and, in turn, reducing their costs.
On the 7th April benefits and opportunities of DRM were shown with practical applications. Ampegon (Matthias Stoll) showed how easy and cost-effective the transition from analogue AM to DRM can be. Marc Holthof of the German Navy gave an example of how to use DRM over shortwave for maritime broadcasting of information and entertainment to ship crews at sea. Csaba Szombathy, Technical University of Budapest, demonstrated his original monitoring programme of DRM transmissions. Then RFmondial (Jens Schroeder), demonstrated how to provide DRM services in the crowded FM band compatible with all the existing FM stations. Joachim Lehnert, German DRM Platform Chairman, showed that DRM is a suitable system for local/regional coverage in VHF Band III, fully compatible with DAB/DAB+ and DVB-T networks and in keeping with RRC-06. RFmondial (Detlef Pagel) also referred to the use of DRM in VHF Band III and stressed that DRM+ is the most suitable digital system for the local and regional single-station broadcasters, as a complement to multiplexes, while sharing all the listener related features with the DAB+ standard. Finally, Manfred Kühn, Mobile Broadcast Consult, demonstrated the flexible transmission of multiple DRM channels in a single DAB frequency block in VHF Band III.
This session was followed by a status report on the development of digital multi-standard radios, presented by Robert Bosch Car Multimedia, NXP, Fraunhofer IIS, PnP Networks and Panasonic. All the speakers finally emphasized the market and framework requirements for the production of multistandard radios for Europe.
Joachim Lehnert, Chairman of the German DRM Platform, concluded that the workshop was an important step to bringing national activities together and added; “With all the European DRM activities presented over the past two days and the encouraging messages from the receiver industry, I believe that the famous ‘chicken or egg’ problem can be solved from the receiver end by adding DRM as a complement to existing digital receivers. This will eventually help all radio broadcasters across Europe, whether national, local or community stations, and will ensure each has a digital home in the future.”
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phil Brennan, who shares the following guest post–an article he originally authored for the Australian DX News:
What Future for Radio Broadcasting in Australia?
By Phil Brennan, Darwin, NT
As we witness the worldwide decline in long wave, medium wave , shortwave and indeed FM broadcasting, it can be at times a slightly depressing exercise to ponder the future of our hobby. As I write, just last week Radio France announced that it will soon cease all LW broadcasting. There’s an on-line petition to save the service: this morning it had collected 770 signatures after one week. It was 769 until I sent my modest click across the universe L.
On the domestic front we’ve seen the pointy-headed bean counters in Canberra and their political masters take the knife to our national broadcaster to the point where Radio Australia now seems to be little more than a relay station for the ABC with barely any in-house production tailored for its audience.
With all this doom and gloom it was with some trepidation that I spied a recent Australian Government report entitled Digital Radio Report  which arrived via my email in-box through the excellent Australian Policy On-line resource. The report was published in July 2015 by the Department of Communications and was conducted by the Minister for Communications under the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radiocommunications Act. Note: the Minister for Communications then was Malcolm Turnbull who is now Australia’s Prime Minister.
The report makes for an interesting read (for nerds like us) and provides some great insight into the bureaucracy’s thinking on the future of radio broadcasting in this country. So while the report ostensibly considers the current and potential state of digital radio in Australia, in so doing it looks at the other forms of radio broadcasting and gives us a peek into the future.
The report broadly considers the following issues:
- The current state of digital broadcasting and alternative forms, eg streaming services through the interwebs
- Whether Australia should set a digital switchover date and close off analogue services; and
- The legal and regulatory framework for digital services.
Like you would have dear reader I quickly scrolled through the report to see if it was recommending a full switchover to digital. The good news is that this won’t happen anytime soon and perhaps not ever. Phew! It seems Australia’s geography and sparse population works in our favour (for once). Anyway, more on that later.
So what does the Australian radio broadcasting landscape look like at present? Well for lovers of analogue radio it’s still looking pretty strong and it’s likely to remain that way for some time to come. In the five big cities the 2014 average weekly audience for commercial radio services grew by 4.13 per cent to 10.1 million people. That’s pretty impressive given the quality of the stuff they serve up each day. Aunty’s (that’s the ABC to foreign folk) radio service reached a record 4.7 million people in 13/14, an increase of 155,000 listeners on the previous year. Well done Aunty!
All up there are 273 analogue commercial radio services (104 on AM, 152 FM and 12 outside the broadcasting service bands. Community radio is going strong with 357 analogue services (13 AM and 344 FM) plus 244 narrowcasters (33 AM and 211 FM). There’s lots of stuff still out there it seems. Perhaps too much as the FM band is becoming very crowded in the major metropolitan areas.
There are 142 commercial digital services in the big capitals plus the two trial sites in Canberra and Darwin. Interestingly a good proportion of the digital services are simulcast analogue services, for example 11 out 29 of the commercial digitals in Sydney. Listenership of digital radio is growing slowly and steadily, reaching 25 per cent in the first quarter of 2015, primarily due to the growth of receivers in motor vehicles.
Streaming services are rapidly gaining ground with services like Spotify, Pandora and the new Apple Music picking up new subscribers each week. The move by Aunty and the Special Broadcasting Service’s (SBS) to mobile apps for streaming content is also showing good growth. It would appear that to some extent this growth has been at the expense of terrestrial digital services, but audience data in this area is pretty sketchy it seems.
So what of the future for digital radio? Well it seems that for the present the public does not show a preference for digital radio over other forms. And while some European countries such as Norway with near total digital coverage are looking to switch off their FM services, some countries such as the UK have postponed their planned switchover to digital due to slow uptake by the listening public.
In Australia there are big interests such as SBS, Commercial Radio Australia and Broadcast Australia pushing for a switchover to digital as soon as possible. Thankfully the report’s authors have listened to other bodies that advocate for a multi technology approach. Significantly the report notes that while digital could match FM for coverage with a similar number of transmitters, it will struggle to match the coverage provided by the medium and high powered AM transmitters that reach the remaining population. Digital Radio Mondiale and satellite digital radio technologies could increase digital’s coverage but are not considered viable.
Internet based services are not seen as a realistic alternative in the medium term due to high data costs, restricted wifi coverage, likely interruptions in high traffic areas and poor battery life on mobiles. It’s likely that this will be a niche medium for some time.
So what does the report conclude and recommend? Well, digital radio was only ever introduced as a complimentary technology and that will continue to be the case. In saying that the report makes a series of recommendations to free up the rules so broadcasters can take up the digital option more readily. DAB+ is the preferred technology so don’t go ordering a DRM set anytime soon.
Perhaps most interestingly, the report makes a major finding that there may be an opportunity to consider how analogue terrestrial radio coverage can be improved pending the roll out of digital radio. This includes further research into how AM coverage can be improved in metropolitan areas and whether the FM spectrum can be made available in regional areas for new analogue services or switching existing AM services over to FM, potentially in lieu of the rollout of digital services. For us lovers of analogue radio this is certainly good news, particularly if more high powered AM broadcasters hit the band.
Does this actually mean that analogue radio services are safe? Well, governments have been very good at ignoring reports advocating for the public good and succumbing to the commercial interests with other agendas, particularly when it comes to media. That said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the government to pull the plug on analogue anytime soon given the coverage issues in regional Australia. However, when it comes to governments, the sensible thing to do is often viewed as the last option.
 © Commonwealth of Australia
Thank you, Phil, for your article and opinions! I agree–in a country with such vast expanses, analog radio still has advantages over other mediums. Comments?
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alexander (DL4NO), for the following review of the new Avion DRM receiver:
A review of the Avion DRM receiver
by Alexander von Obert (DL4NO)
The Avion AV-DR-1401 DRM receiver has appeared on the SWLing Post before in a previous review.
Amazon India does not sell the Avion outside of India. As it happens, I found someone who was willing to buy it for me and bring it with him from India to Germany.
The first impressions were quite disappointing. This feels more like a prototype, not a polished product:
- The power supply produces lots of interference and runs quite hot. Unless I find another power supply, I can either charge the battery or listen to the radio.
- The handle rattles. Such things often are symptoms for the whole product.
- The firmware fails in many ways: update errors of the display, very confusing user interface.
- No acceptable field strength indicator, especially in DRM until a signal is decoded. If you have a selective antenna you need to switch to AM to tune it. And then you tune it by ear or by numbers. No bar of any kind.
Radio Romania produced very good signals this evening in southern Germany on 41m. But with the built-in antenna, DRM reception was impossible even in my shack directly under the roof. A Degen 31MS selective active antenna indoors enabled sketchy reception of Radio Romania and All India Radio on 41m. Reasonable reception was only possible with my external antenna.
Just imagine why I took the trouble to get the receiver! It is a far cry from what I really wanted: a modern replacement of my trusty Sony ICF7600D from the 1980s. I had to retire it for mechanical reasons after it travelled with me for 20 years.
In India, they might not have the industrial infrastructure they have in China or Japan, but an intensive firmware update is urgently needed. Software is something they are good at in India. Many problems could be solved that way:
- The volume knob has no stop and must be pressed for a few seconds to turn the radio on or off. A short press could be used to switch it between volume and tuning.
- A reasonable field strength indicator should be introduced.
- The remote control does not work reliably.
- With the “mode” switch I can select AM, FM, or DRM. But I have not found anything that the “band” switch could be doing.
- The “scan” switch works on FM and puts all transmitters found into the favorites. But neither is that the function I would expect it to do nor does it work on other bands.
From my preliminary tests I fear the unit has massive large-signal problems. For example, I heard distorted signals of Radio Romania on bands where they were not transmitting at all. I use an active antenna but this is the same I use for the DX Patrol or SDRplay RSP, therefore I know that my antenna is not to blame. I also see this as an indicator about the DRM signal of Radio Romania.
I could not help but open the Avion receiver: [the internal antenna worked so poorly, I wanted to investigate].
I must say that the rattling handle was an accurate indicator of production quality.
See “Inside the Avion” image above (click to enlarge). The back side on the left was originally covered by an aluminum shield. I had to remove it as the wires are quite short–one cannot put the two parts flat on the bench otherwise. You see that they tried to improve the shielding on the right.
See “Avion internal antenna preamp” above (click to enlarge). The circuit board at the lower left corner of the first picture is the preamp for the internal antennas. In the lower left corner is the telescopic antenna connection. The wire here was extremely short–either it broke before and made contact by chance or I broke it when I dismounted the circuit board. At least I did not force it (still a bad manufacturing practice).
If you examine the circuitry, you see very bad practices: C2 directly connects the antenna to the base of Q2. It must be a bipolar transistor considering R3/R4. At least there is DN1 which seems to be protection diodes. On the whole board I can find no inductivities at all. There is absolutely no band limiting.
See “Avion broken shielding wire” above. The shielding wire had broken from the soldering. That was definitely not my fault. At the yellow isolation, a second wire is connected. That is the wire routed around the backside without any connection. This doesn’t make sense to me.
See “Avion crushed battery holder” above. The battery holder is fixed together with the aluminum shielding. The worker crushed the lug of the battery holder while mounting the shield. A few other threads were torn, too. A typical case of too much strength.
Avion seems to know about the inherent RFI problems of this receiver, but could not solve them. No wonder I have to use an external antenna.
Perhaps I will replace the antenna preamp with something reasonable.
Otherwise this radio will gather dust here.
Thank you for your report, Alexander–I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with the Avion, especially after the trouble you went to obtaining it.
So far, I’ve heard no truly positive reviews of the Avion AV-DR-1410. Sadly, it sounds like a radio to avoid.
Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike Barraclough, for sharing a link to this review of the new Avion DRM receiver by DRM Radio Forum user PhilipOneL. I’ve pasted his evaluation of the Avion below–you can read this, along with the full discussion thread, on the DRM Radio Forum:
I received my Avion AV-DR-1401 this afternoon and have had it up and running for a couple of hours. There is no instruction booklet with it so I am puzzling over the 41-button remote. It is not as user-friendly as I hoped.
First impression: somewhat cheap feel to it. I have put a small bend already in the thin but long aerial. But that is just the outside (handle, volume control, master power switch, and aerial); I hope it works well anyway. But that cheapness hurts when the price of the radio was fairly high to begin with and I paid more than I wanted for a private company to ship it (Fedex).
The radio arrived with its battery fully charged: nice. (But I need to get an adaptor for the AC adaptor’s mains plug which has tubular prongs rather than the North American blade prongs.) I like a lot the fact that it runs normally with its internal battery rather than plugged into mains. This means I can carry it away from noise sources. And it is very carryable — it reminds me of a small 1965-era beach radio in size.
Turned on, it scanned the local FM spectrum well and registered all the local stations. But I cannot get the Scan function to operate on MW and SW, nor in DRM mode. With an outside antenna (8 metre wire) attached, it was able to get the AIR DRM broadcast on 7550 kHz and decode it. It didn’t seem to be able to get enough signal with just the extending aerial.
I have not figured out yet how to make it register a medium-wave, shortwave, or DRM station in its memory; it does not happen when the button labelled “Delete / Store” is pushed. Among the 41 buttons, there is no other likely candidate for that function.
Shortwave sensitivity in AM mode seems to be poor. I was listening, for instance, to ERT Greece on 9420 on the three receivers now on my desk: Satellit 750, MorphyRichards 27024, and the Avion DR-1401, each in turn connected to the same outdoor antenna. The MR27024 produces the best sound and greatest s/n ratio. It seems far more sensitive than the Avion. But who knows? I may discover I am doing something wrong with the set.
Tuning can be done by inputting a frequency on the remote. Alternatively, the volume wheel can be pushed (this takes two hands) to convert it to a tuning knob. Two problems are apparent. One is that the signal is muted as you tune until you wait on a frequency for four or five seconds. Thus it is a slow and aggravating experience to try to tune across a band looking for signals. Secondly, as soon as a station is tuned and producing audio, the knob goes back to being a volume control. Grrrr. (I think there is a professor at all the design schools who seems to be telling all her/his students to be visually minimalist in design and to give every knob multiple functions. That professor should be publicly shamed until she/he recants and causes all the students to go back to multiple knobs each of which does one thing well.) When the radio gets itself ready to produce audio it seems to ramp itself up to full audio in a series of four steps, each a half-second or so after the last — it is an odd-sounding process. It is like a faulty AGC circuit; perhaps it is.
Sound quality is mediocre at best on AM (both mw and sw). I didn’t listen long enough to the DRM signal from AIR before it signed off to get a good idea of DRM audio quality; I was busy cooking supper. FM audio is mediocre too on the internal speakers but, piped out through the headphone jack to external speakers, it is quite good. When I piped the AM audio out it still seemed mediocre.
Why the AM sound is mediocre seems to be related to two things: the tiny speakers (about 8 cm or 3.3 inches) and the bandwidth at the radio stage. Even comparatively strong (and clean) signals like RHC on 6000 kHz have what may be adjacent signals mixing in — perhaps even internal mixing products? I heard a splash of a local FM station at one point while listening to a shortwave band.
I have written my contact at Avion (Ankit) asking for an instruction booklet, or a pdf of one. I hope I’ll get that early next week (if indeed they have one).
I hope over the next week I will get some chances to check out more DRM signals. I am also hoping that my gradual love affair with the MorphyRichards radio will be replicated here. When I first got the MR27024 I was very cranky about its weird ways of doing things. But once I got a good antenna on it, and got used to its ways, I prefer it to all my other radios as a table-top radio (that is, one useful for listening to specific regular stations). The MR’s radio-stage DSP is quite lovely and makes for good sound. I doubt the Avion will seduce me to quite the same extent, but it may grow on me in other ways.
I understand the problems with DRM but I am still a fan of of the system. I bought this Avion set partly in hopes that I would encourage the manufacturer in some small way. I will use it but I suspect that the minimalist design features (which were also a part of the MorphyRichards design) will turn off users of the Avion.
I’m not terribly surprised by this reviewer’s assessment. Just looking at some of the preliminary info on the Avion receiver last year made me think of previous DRM portables like the Newstar DR111 and the Uniwave Di-Wave 100.
I have a hunch all of these designs were fleshed out by engineers and entrepreneurs who had not gotten customer input in advance.
It’s sad, too. While I know DRM (via the shortwaves) was a “cart before the horse” innovation–meaning, broadcasters adopted the technology well before consumer receivers were on the market.
I really wish the medium would’ve gained traction.
While I prefer the rich sonic texture of amplitude modulation, I love listening to DRM broadcasts well. Last year, during my presentation at PARI, I played a recording of a piano concerto I heard on one of Radio New Zealand International’s DRM broadcasts. If memory serves, the audio clip was taken from this recording I made on June 21, 2104:
Through the presentation room’s hi-fi system, the music sounded absolutely brilliant.
To put what this audience was hearing in perspective, I told them:
“We’re listening to a radio station some 8,300 miles away without the use of the Internet, mobile phones, satellites, or any sort of subscription service. We’re hearing FM-quality audio, streamed wirelessly and originating from the other side of our planet.”
I then received a number of questions like: “How is this technology possible?” and “Do they make car radios that can receive these broadcasts?”
There’s magic in DRM. Sadly, I feel its deployment was awkward and its window of opportunity may have already passed. An affordable, effective, and simple DRM receiver (combined with serious, viral publicity) could turn the tide somewhat–but it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon. Each new DRM portable is only a slightly improved iteration of its predecessor and the price tag continues to be too high for effective market penetration.
I want to be proven wrong, though.