Roberts has keenly demonstrated its appetite for retro. As a big player in radio for several decades, the company is lucky enough to own the rights to an impressive reservoir of classic chassis designs. Robert's DAB formula is an appealing one: take an old design from the catalogue, strip out the insides and replace the analogue circuitry with brand-new digital components. What at first seemed like something of a cheat has proved exceptionally popular.
Many manufacturers make the mistake of assuming that a digital radio should, for some unexplained reason, look and behave completely differently from a traditional analogue radio (see the BT Aviator for the most obvious failure of this technique). Roberts has taken a rather different approach, trying as hard as possible to make the transition to digital radio more or less transparent to the average radio user. It's an approach that works.
What you tend to see from Roberts, evidenced in the RD-76, is a gentle integration of DAB circuitry into an appealing tried-and-tested chassis. Obviously there has been a substantial overhaul behind the scenes, but at a casual glance this radio could be 40 years old. So, we like the styling, but does the RD-76 pack enough of a punch with its receiver hardware to justify your jump to the world of digital broadcasts -- and the £90 price tag?
The RD-76 isn't the best looking Roberts DAB: that plaudit goes to the gorgeous Roberts Gemini 10. Nonetheless, it's an attractive retro-styled radio with an understated charm. You can choose from a range of trim colours -- our review model came in pastel pink, which we'd advise against unless you're the young heiress to a hotel fortune. It's also available in aquamarine, black, blue, cream, green and red.
The top panel is clear and uncluttered, with a large LCD topped off by buttons to activate the radio's main functions. To the left of this there's a volume control and an on/off button. These could have been more elegantly integrated, although it's only a small oversight. To the right of the LCD, there's a simple scrolling wheel to skip though stations. As you can see in our images, the top panel proudly displays Roberts' 'By appointment to' royal heraldic emblems -- this may not endear the radio to republicans.
The designers managed to sustain their interest over to the rear of the radio, which is a simple wood veneer with telescopic aerial attached. There's also a 3.5mm line out, headphone and power-cable port here. The whole radio is transported using the faux leather carrying strap, and will accept six C-cell batteries for portable listening.
If you've set up a DAB before, you'll be right at home with the RD-76. If not, don't fear, it's impossible to get this wrong. The automatic tuner inside the RD-76 activates itself automatically when the radio is first switched on.
Provided the external aerial is extended and well-positioned, the RD-76 will automatically seek out all Band III (ie UK standard) DAB broadcasts and list them on the LCD. The tuning speed is rapid and first-time users will have no problems.
An electronic programme guide (as seen on the PURE Digital Evoke-3) is notably absent, but this would have been expensive to implement and there's no recording function to use it with anyway. Since it looks like Roberts has designed this to appeal to the very traditional kitchen radio market, this is no great loss. It might be a little much to expect Great Aunt Margo to want to program her DAB.
Both FM and DAB transmissions can be received on the integrated tuner. Station and programming information is displayed on the RD-76's screen. This includes RadioText, RDS and standard DAB station information, which gives you supplementary information about the current broadcast -- for example the name of the artist and a short biography, or news updates.
All your standard DAB caveats apply here. Sometimes the RD-76 encounters reception problems in tricky environments. It helps to bear the unit's placement in mind when you first setup the radio. Londoners and other UK city dwellers are unlikely to have any real difficulty tuning into a reliable signal, but even in built-up regions, with very strong digital broadcasts, the DAB signal can be lost depending on the listening situation.
Unlike analogue broadcasts, which generate interference patterns in areas of poor reception, digital broadcasts simply stop altogether. This gives DAB an all-or-nothing flavour. We didn't have any problems with the RD-76 in our London-based tests. It gave crystal-clear, crackle-free reception.
Sound quality is clear and accurate, though it doesn't sparkle. There's no distinctive punch from the unit, but audiophile pretensions tend to evaporate in the kitchen. Arm-deep in washing-up liquid and listening to Radio 4 is hardly a likely moment to start evaluating the sonic fidelity of broadcasts. For most practical purposes we found the RD-76 more than adequate.
Roberts appear to have delivered another very respectable radio that matches the build quality and finesse of its other offerings. Given the mess some radio designers have made of the DAB medium, it's good to see Roberts sticking to what it knows best and championing good old-fashioned durability and understated style over flashy fads.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide