Tips and advice

Best DAB car radio adaptors to buy 2020

If your car isn’t DAB compatible, these adaptors can have you listening to digital stations for under £150

While most new cars now come with a DAB digital radio as standard, many used cars, and even some new ones, miss out. Luckily, there’s a competitive market for aftermarket DAB car radio adaptors, converting FM stereos to DAB with the minimum of fuss.

These connect to the factory-fitted stereo, so the looks and functionality of your car aren’t affected – and some don’t even require any fiddly wired connections.

If you aren’t familiar with the advantages of DAB radio yet, it gives you a broader choice of stations than FM. This includes some broadcasts like BBC 6 Music and Radio 4 Extra that are only broadcast digitally, along with many local channels. While it’s also possible to listen to stations such as this on internet radio via your smartphone, this uses your data allowance, which can get expensive. Like traditional FM radio, DAB is free to listen to.

Best mobile phone holders to buy 2020

DAB radios also suffer less from interference and tune automatically, providing you with a list of all the available DAB stations to choose from. This can be especially helpful in a car with a central infotainment screen, consigning the days of manually tuning radio frequencies to the history books.

How we tested them

Reception and a clear sound were our top priorities, so we firstly judged the DAB adaptors on their ability to maintain good reception while driving around our test route in a Nissan Leaf, using only the aerials supplied in each kit.

To provide plenty of variety and to see how each device coped in areas with patchy DAB signal, our journey included driving in a busy city with lots of tall buildings, as well as heading further afield and driving at high speeds on a dual carriageway.

We also assessed the ease of installation, with points awarded to products that took up a minimal amount of space and avoided dangling wires. Not only do exposed cables look untidy, they can even be dangerous if they become caught in the gear lever, steering wheel or handbrake, and could lead to an MoT test failure.

The experience and ease of use for each interface was important, too, as was the purchase price and included accessories for each DAB adaptor.

Read on for our list of the best DAB car radio adaptors:

Kenwood KTC500 DAB review

  • Price: £69.95
  • Rating: 5/5

The Kenwood KTC500 looks very similar to the Pure Highway 400, one of our previous Best Buy recommendations, meaning it's likely a rebranded version of that device.

It’s easy to install and setup, with no DAB signal drop-outs during our test. Differences from the Pure Highway include a separate microphone and a phone connection point, meaning you can make and receive good quality Bluetooth calls. When you consider it costs about half as much as the Pure, but offers additional functionality, it looks to be a bargain.

Buy now from Kenwood electrics

Pioneer SDA-11 review

  • Price: £109.99
  • Rating: 4/5

The Pioneer SDA-11 has a premium look and feel to it, a large sharp screen, which displays details such as track information and the station you’re listening to, and has a simple control panel. That said, it isn’t battery-powered like some of the other adaptors here on our list, meaning it’s not wireless, either. This means it needs wires for the aerial, the aux out, and for power, so things can start to look a little cluttered once it’s installed.

On our test route, the DAB signal did drop out briefly, but connecting via the supplied aux cable improved the sound quality. Using the FM transmitter also gave respectable results.

Buy now from Pioneer car 

Pure Highway 400 review

  • Price: around £129
  • Rating: 4/5

The Pure Highway 400 has previously been the model to beat in the DAB adaptor market, but it still makes our top three. As well as having excellent DAB reception, this compact unit also allows hands-free pairing with your smartphone, so you can play media through the car’s speakers. Its audio output can be transmitted in one of three ways – either to your FM radio on a free frequency, through an aux-in jack or using the head unit’s rear phono input. This gives lots of flexibility, but it’s worth noting a wired connection gives the best sound.

The Pure Highway 400 comes with a magnetic ground connection, which needs to touch the bare metal roof at the edge of the windscreen headlining, and can be slightly fiddly. It’s worth the effort, though, improving DAB reception. The supplied aerial discreetly attaches to the windscreen, no closer than 40mm to the A-pillar. Its interface is simple and easy to understand, and overall, the Highway 400 is a neat solution that works well and isn’t too expensive.

Buy now from Halfords 

AutoDAB GO+ review

  • Price: £49
  • Rating: 3.5/5

Unlike the other units on test here, the AutoDAB GO+ is similar to a small smartphone with a crisp colour touchscreen, making it easy to browse DAB stations. It’s also one of the easiest to install as once the device is mounted on the windscreen alongside the aerial via the suction pads, plug the power lead into the 12V socket, tune your car’s FM radio to the frequency, and you’re good to go.

Signal was respectable in our test, although we did experience a few signal drop-outs while listening to weaker stations. The GO+ is also equipped with an aux-out socket, but you’d need to buy a cable to fit it. This means the device depends on FM transmission alone, which causes a constant crackling noise.

Buy now from AutoDAB

AutoDAB USB review

  • Price: £194.99
  • Rating: 3.5/5

If you prefer a more discreet design, the AutoDAB USB device is for you. It’s simple to install, connecting directly to your car’s USB port. This enables you to browse and select stations using the car’s infotainment system or via the steering wheel controls.

This does mean it won’t work with older cars that don’t have an infotainment screen. It’s also much pricier than the other devices tested. Also, the aerial has been designed for left-hand drive cars, making it quite tricky to install, meaning we had to seek professional help to install it.

Buy now from AutoDAB

Co-Pilot CPDAB1- Universal DAB Adaptor review

  • Price: £16.86
  • Rating: 2.5/5

If cheap and cheerful is what you’re looking for, then look no further than the Co-Pilot. It’s straightforward to use, plugging directly into your 12V socket and its flexible neck is helpful when positioning the display. It also only has one wire for the aerial, meaning it keeps the cabin looking tidy.

The Co-Pilot works by using an FM frequency on your car’s internal radio. You can link it using an aux cable as well, but this isn’t supplied in the package. The unit encountered interference on both the FM and DAB channels and, after struggling to pick up BBC’s national stations, it kept losing signal strength.

Buy now from Amazon

Nextbase Adapt DAB250 review

  • Price: Around £22.95
  • Rating: 2.5/5

A substantial black plastic unit, the Nextbase DAB250 has a clear 2.4-inch LCD screen and a row of physical station preset buttons along its upper edge. A stick-on windscreen aerial and magnetic earth tab are included in the pack, the latter of which needs to be attached to the windscreen pillar and can be a bit fiddly.

Fit an audio wire connecting the Nextbase and your car stereo and that’s three in total, or you can transmit the DAB station to a free FM slot on your stereo. There’s even a dedicated ‘FM Trx’ button that can automatically find a free frequency.

Finding and sorting DAB stations was simple, while reception was strong, but not quite as good as some competitors.

Buy now from Amazon

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