Radio has long played second fiddle to TV, and now it's fighting the Web. Traditional broadcasts are falling out of favour as Spotify, iTunes and online stations vie for our attention. How refreshing it is, then, to find a radio that bucks the trend. The Sony XDR-S10 is a digital and FM radio -- no Web or MP3s -- that puts all its energy into broadcasts. But, at £70 or so, it's fairly expensive for a run-of-the-mill device that lacks any unique features.
Few audio options
The XDR-S10's sound quality is good, which is just as well, since you're stuck with Sony's defaults. There are no options for boosting the bass or trimming the treble. If you want to bring vocals to the fore, you should look elsewhere. The speaker is loud, with good dynamic range, and the casing is sturdy, so there's no rattle. If you want to convince yourself it's real wood, as it appears to be, just don't look at the bottom, where you'll find a seam in the veneer.
The two-line, 16-character, backlit display does a good-enough job, but it's underwhelming when competitors like PURE Digital are moving to OLED screens, which are brighter and scroll by the pixel rather than a full character at a time.
Back to basics
The XDR-S10 has no bells and whistles. There's no live pause to prevent you missing the end of The Archers, and there's no card slot for recording. Line-out is notable by its absence, so you won't be plugging in any better speakers unless through the headphone socket, and there's no auxiliary-in, so, if you're after a radio through which to pipe your MP3s, this isn't it. There's a sleep button to shut off whatever you're listening to after 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes, but there's no way to set an alarm to wake you up, despite the radio taking a time signal from the digital network.
Surprisingly, DAB performance proved superior to FM in our mid-Essex test area. National FM stations were clear, with only slight hiss, but local stations were poorly received and exhibited a high level of interference. DAB was excellent. There was no gobble as the radio struggled to fix a constant data stream, and it offered up an excellent choice of 45 stations, including secondary services like BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and BBC Radio 4 Daily Service.
The XDR-S10 only works with Band III, which is fine for the UK, but means you'll miss out on some services when in countries where both Band III and L Band work side by side. The XDR-S10 has 20 presets, split evenly between FM and DAB.
Breaking the mould
Sony has eschewed the twist-and-punch method of tuning, in favour of a scroll knob and a separate button for confirming your choice. If you're used to the old way of doing things, this system takes a while to get used to, but it quickly becomes second nature. It's perhaps best explained when you switch to FM and find that scanning either up or down through stations involves a very similar action: turning the knob one stop in either direction and then pressing 'enter' to scan.
The headphone socket is around the back, which is a shame, as the less time you spend there the better. The smart front, with glossy black controls and a silver grille, is badly let down by the bland, grey, plastic posterior. Fortunately, the only other port on the back is the power socket, so, when your headphones are secured, you can spin it back and revel in the front once more. There's no handle, unless you count a recess in the case wide enough to accommodate four fingers, so it isn't a radio you'll be carting around the house too often.
The Sony XDR-S10 is a mixed bag. It looks good from most angles and works well on DAB, but it could do much better on FM and would have benefited from some attention on the part of Sony's bells and whistles department. If your listening will be primarily digital, you want a no-nonsense radio and you intend to put it on a shelf, the XDR-S10 is a good, although not excellent, option.
Edited by Charles Kloet