FM, AM, DAB: what is the future of car radio?


While the radio is still a central part of any car, it may soon be changing. Indeed, more and more cars do without this once indispensable piece of equipment.

The end of analog radio

Firstly, you should know that AM radio is absent from many recent cars. For example, the 2024 Ford Mustang, scheduled for release this summer, will go without this option. The GT finish can be equipped with an excellent Bang & Olufsen audio system with 12 speakers and a subwoofer. But it will not be possible to buy a new Mustang with an AM radio. As FM became more popular, it eventually ousted AM radio for many listeners.

Car radio: interior of the 2024 Ford Mustang
The 2024 Ford Mustang does not have an AM radio. It is still possible to listen to the radio in FM.

As a reminder, the main difference between FM (frequency modulation) and AM (amplitude modulation) radios lies in the quality of their signal. FM technology is less susceptible to degradation and distortion than AM technology, resulting in better sound quality, especially for music, and stereo transmission. On the other hand, the AM signal has a much longer range and is less expensive than the FM signal. As a result, AM broadcasting is generally used for talk radio, while FM radio is more suitable for music.

AM waves are mostly used in the United States. In France, FM has already largely overtaken AM, and the majority of stations have already switched to FM frequencies. This was the case of RTL on December 31, 2022, which was the last station to broadcast on large waves.

FM radio in car
AM radio has been overtaken by FM, the latter offering better sound quality for music and stereo transmission.

Moreover, even in the United States where AM is still used, some electric vehicle manufacturers are abandoning this type of radio for technical reasons. For example, Volvo abandoned AM radio because the car’s electric drive train creates electromagnetic interference that disrupt AM radio reception. This is also the case for Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, which have found the cost of interference mitigation to be uneconomical.

Tesla has also chosen to remove FM in addition to AM and keep only DAB+ radio. This decision notably echoes the end of FM broadcasting by 31 December 2024 in Switzerland.

Interior of a TESLA car
Analog radio (FM and AM) is already gone from Tesla’s electric cars.

DAB/DAB+ radio: the future of car radio?

Driving a car while listening to the radio is a real pleasure for many drivers. And to make the journey even more enjoyable, DAB/DAB+ radio seems to have a great future in the cars of the future. Digital terrestrial radio has been deployed in France, notably on highways, to allow you to listen to various content among a wide choice of programs. In addition, in 2022, the Eiffel Tower grew a few meters taller following the installation of a DAB+ radio antenna.

All about digital radio. DAB+, more advantages

It must be said that DAB radio has a wide range of advantages. It offers a sound quality similar to that of CDs, provides more information to listeners about the music or programs being listened to, and allows for better program continuity during car rides. Thanks to the use of the latest AAC+ decoders, up to thirteen radios can be broadcast on the same frequency, avoiding saturation and making it easier to find stations by name.

Car radio: dashboard with DAB+.
DAB+ radio offers optimal sound quality, better program continuity and more information for listeners.

Today, 99% of new vehicles sold in France are equipped with a DAB+ receiver. And for good reason: since the end of 2020, a European directive requires the small receiver to be installed in all new vehicles. For older models, in addition to the replacement of the car radio, a DAB antenna like the Kenwood CX-DAB1 model, allows the reception of digital radio in any vehicle.

Finally, just like the radios offered today, digital broadcasting seems to be the future of car radio.

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En pleine découverte du monde de la hi-fi et du home-cinéma, Son-Vidé est sans conteste devenu ma caverne d’Ali Baba. Jazz, Rock, Pop, Soul, Rap… Mes goûts musicaux, comme cinématographiques, sont très variés. Pour donner vie à mes playlists préférées, j’ai choisi l’amplificateur Marantz PM-6006, accompagné de la paire d'enceintes colonne Elipson Prestige Facet 14F.

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