When asked which is better – digital vs. analog 2-way radios, most beginner hobbyists will automatically say that they prefer digital as it is the more modern of the two. However, does being new truly makes digital 2-way radios that much better than analogs?
Ever since digital radios first became popular, hobbyists have been fighting over which radio type is still the best. If you are a newcomer to the 2-way radio scene, and you find yourself thinking about which camp to support, or you just want to know which one is the best then this article is for you.
An Overview of the Analog and the Digital Radio
The analog radio is the traditional type. It is the one that has been around for decades and played a huge role in both world wars. It was first introduced in 1933 and its first intended use was for business communications (but it was already being used by the military for more than twenty years by that time) and was only limited to a small population.
However, because of its efficiency in communication, its popularity skyrocketed. Radio became one of the most reliable forms of communication back then that all industries used it as a primary form of communication. This is why there came a need to come up with new ways to keep radio accessible to all.
Because analog radio has been around for decades (and within that period, it has already reached its peak), it attained the very top of its technological evolution. Scientists even came up with digital radio systems to provide a new platform for newer technological advances, which the advancing society craves for.
It is because they realized that there is nothing more that they can add to the analog radio. Of course, by definition, the signal types used by analog and digital radios differ. However, these two have other differences, including sound quality and the price point.
With the advent of digital radio, wireless communications were given lots of room for growth and evolution. Some of the improvements that digital radio received compared to the analogs include:
- A longer and wider communication range
- Improved voice quality
- Greatly increased reliable coverage area
- The availability of advanced software
These are only some of the many advantages that digital radio has over analog radio. However, analog radio still does have some distinct benefits of its own.
Analog radio has, for the longest time, been the primary and only form of wireless communication through the use of two-way radios. Even with digital radio gaining quite a lot of popularity these days, a majority of existing radio systems still use analog signals. However, as digital technology continues to grow and evolve, an increasing number of professionals are starting to move from analog to digital. Almost all traditional analog 2-way radios come with standard options such as PTT (push-to-talk), document scanning, encryption settings, and one-to-one and one-to-many communications.
Also, thanks to the many innovating and enterprising individuals who have tried to push the capabilities of the analog radio, a lot of additional features and tasks that it can do are added to the humble analog radio. What most people do not know is that the original cellphones used the analog frequency band.
However, because more and more people have started using cellphones, telecommunication companies switched to the digital format. Digital radios offer different features. Some provide the same functions and features as analog radios while others come with tons of new features.
The features that you can get will depend mostly on the brand and model of the radio that you buy. However, it is always a given that digital radios guarantee at least a 30% increased battery life. It is mainly because their transmitters cannot run all day and night.
Standard analog radio signals will start to decay the closer it gets to its maximum range. At that point, all that you will hear is white noise. On the other hand, digital radio signals will pretty much remain consistent regardless of the distance. When it goes beyond its maximum range, the audio will just drop off completely.
“Modern” analog radios use frequency modulation (FM), which creates a constant bandwidth with voice signals. Analog systems are easy to install and operate, which is why they are a lot more affordable than digital radios. However, even though analog radios are more affordable, their popularity is still on the decline, thanks to digital radios.
The numbers 1 or 0 represents digital signals and depending on the number, the voltage values will differ. Furthermore, digital radio signals have embedded algorithms that can identify talking from the background noise.
This means communication using digital radio is much clearer and louder than analog. A wireless digital signal is as reliable as wired signals, which is not possible with analog signals.
The Advantages of Analog Radio
You would think that analog being the older technology does not have anything to offer that is better than digital radio. Even though analog radio is slowly getting phased out, it still has a lot of advantages.
One advantage is that there is an almost endless number of accessories and add-ons for analog radios, thanks to them being around for many decades. A lot of users also notice that it is easier to use and understand analog radio systems. It is also generally understood by the public.
Another great advantage of the analog systems is that they tend to make the most use of radio bandwidth.
The Disadvantages of Analog Radio
Despite its benefits, it is also quite understandable to find several disadvantages in analog, especially if you compare it with digital radio. One drawback is that in most cases, you can only have a single two-way conversation at a time at one channel.
Analog receivers and transmitters are only fit for particular transmissions, too. You can upgrade the accessories but the technology is already past its prime. Furthermore, there is no business application software for analog radio.
Advantages for Digital Radios
Digital radio has a lot of advantages over analog. To save on time and page space, we will just list a couple of them here:
- Multiple conversations can be held in a single channel.
- Unit IDs, enhanced texts, status buttons, and other features can all be embedded into a digital channel.
- Digital radios do not consume as much bandwidth as analogs.
- Existing infrastructure and antennae that were once used to transmit analog radio can be retrofitted for digital radio use.
- There is a whole lot less background noise due to algorithms embedded in digital signals that allow the receiver to differentiate people talking from the background noise. This means clearer transmissions are possible using digital radio.
- There are lots of software applications that are compatible with digital radio and even more are being developed every day.
- Digital platforms allow the use of both digital and analog radios at the same time.
The Disadvantages of Digital Radios
Although digital radios are the hottest thing right now, they still have a couple of hang-ups. Because it is quite sophisticated, it takes quite a long time for beginners to get a grasp of the basics.
Also, digital signals are not tolerant of RF (radio frequency) signals. This means that if an area has too much RF noises hanging in the air, the digital signals might completely drop. Digital radio devices are also considerably more expensive than analog setups because they fall under a newer technology.
Differences between Transmitting and Receiving in Analog and Digital
The biggest difference between analog and digital two-way radios is noticeable in how they transmit radio signals. Digital radios transmit sounds by first turning the analog signal into digital format, which is a long string of ones and zeroes.
Analog radios, on the other hand, use electric currents that resemble sound waves to transmit sounds to the receiver. The difference in sound quality between the two types of radios is pretty obvious but that is not the only difference.
The other notable differences between analog and digital radio include:
Digital radio transmission and reception are less power-intensive compared to analog radio – This simply means that digital radios’ batteries last far longer than analogs’.
Digital radios have a farther range compared to that of analog radios – Even if there is a great distance between two digital radio users, their communication is still crystal clear and with little to a negligible amount of lag.
Analog signals will start to decay in quality the farther it is from the source. This means that if the recipient is still within the maximum range but nearing the edge, the transmission will be full of static.
Digital radios are not just capable of transmitting sound – They can also transmit other forms of digital data, such as text messages.
Digital radios can have GPS capabilities – This allows employers to monitor their mobile employees’ productivity, receive driving status reports, and others.
Digital radios offer much-improved security features compared to what analog radios offer – It also does not have to sacrifice sound quality for this additional feature.
Digital radios can use noise-canceling technology – It can isolate the sound of the vocals from the background noise then amplify the former while decreasing the volume of the latter. This means you can use digital radios even in noisy environments.
Alright, although analog radio equipment does have its charm and is easier to learn, it has already peaked a couple of decades ago, which means that their days are already numbered. This means that there is only a handful of passionate users who will still be using this stagnated technology even if it is already phased out.
Digital radio, on the other hand, is continuing on its meteoric rise. Although it is much more complicated to learn and operate, it is still a relatively new piece of technology, which can gain the interest of the public. Honestly, when asked which is better – digital vs. analog two-way radios, more people are inclined to choose the digital medium.
Richard Pennington is the one to consult when you need professional insight into electronics. With over a decade of experience in the field of electronics and communication engineering, he now serves as our chief content editor.
He is an advisor for multiple articles and videos with topics revolving around ham radios, electronics devices, and communication.