If you like to take a shower with John Humphrys in the morning, (a) seek medical help, or (b) a splash-proof DAB radio. You’d think there would be a wide selection of bathroom-friendly DAB radios on the market. Yet, when looking for one I really struggled to find anything – the choice is really between the John Lewis Spectrum DAB/FM Digital Shower Radio and a much more expensive model from Roberts.
The John Lewis model is hardly cheap, either, at £49.95. So, for that money, what features do you get and is it really ready for the shower?
John Lewis Spectrum DAB/FM Digital Shower Radio review: what’s in the box?
Packaged in a large box, John Lewis has done a great job of ensuring that as much of the waste is paper, with even the moulded inserts made of cardboard. A plastic cable tie and plastic film for the radio’s screen are the only exceptions.
Inside the box, there is a slim instruction booklet and a USB charging cable and mains charger. The radio is available in both white and blue (sorry, azure) – I purchased the latter and the box, cable and mains charger are in the same colour, which is a nice touch.
John Lewis Spectrum DAB/FM Digital Shower Radio review: what features does it have?
The radio has been kept intentionally simple and unfussy. Two large, round knobs on the front control volume and channel selection. On the top are six well-proportioned buttons – four for channel presets, one for Info/Menu and one for switching between DAB and FM.
Pressing the Info/Menu button either changes the information on the display or, if pressed for a few seconds, enters the menu. From here you can choose various settings, most of which you’re never likely to change. But it’s nice they’re there.
On the side is a rubber flap, covering the micro-USB and headphone sockets, along with a key-lock switch. Slide this across and all the buttons stop functioning. Not quite sure why you’d need this but it’s there.
Powering the radio on and off is where things start to fall apart. It shows a power symbol in the middle of the speaker grill but, in fact, there is no actual button. Instead, the front of the case is supposed to be pressed but this is very hard to do – you end up adopting an odd pinching motion, pressing together the front and rear of the case. It’s awkward and user reviews on the John Lewis website indicate this to be the primary pain point for buyers.
The whole radio has a soft, rubber feel, and large, grey strap arcs over the top. The strap is actually the antenna and can be detached from one side so you can easily hook it over a shower rail. The battery is not user-replaceable and there are no visible screws to gain entry to the device yourself. A couple of holes at the rear seem to be for water drainage.
The one feature that is missing is Bluetooth – to be able to use this as a Bluetooth speaker would have been fantastic and would have helped justify the price. After all, you probably wouldn’t want two speakers in the bathroom, so one that could do both jobs would have been a real selling point (and it’s worth noting that the Roberts radio that I mentioned at the very beginning does include this feature).
John Lewis Spectrum DAB/FM Digital Shower Radio review: how was it, in use?
When you first switch on the radio, it will automatically tune your DAB stations. The display is large, backlit and shows a dominant digital clock.
Considering the strap is the aerial, I’ve been impressed with how good the reception has been, even when the strap has been detached from one end. This is in comparison to the reception I get from another DAB radio with a more traditional telescopic aerial.
Sound quality is no more than okay. There’s no lack of volume but it’s not going to win any audio awards. I find it a little bass heavy, which makes it sound muddy when listening to spoken-word stations (particularly in an echoey bathroom).
Battery life is quoted at 12 hours and that seems about right to me, although the battery indicator is pessimistic. It remained working with zero battery life showing for hours.
Of course, the key selling point of this is the fact that it’s designed for the bathroom. “Splash-proof, so you can listen in the shower,” says the product packaging. So, what does this mean? Can you put it on the shower rail and get it soaked while you wash? Little is said in the instruction booklet about where to use it where not to, other than “do not immerse in water”.
However, it also states (without explanation) that it is IPX-4 rated. This means it is designed to protect against “splashing of water”. What does this even mean? Well, the next highest rating IPX-5, gives a clue – this is designed to protect against “jets of water”. Personally, I’d class a shower as the latter.
What this means is that this radio is now my second one as the first one failed in quite a spectacular fashion, due to water ingress. To be clear – it was hanging in my shower cubicle, not directly under the shower but next to it. Nevertheless, splashing meant that it would get quite wet. But, that’s fine, right? After all, it’s “splash-proof, so you can listen in the shower”. It would appear not.
The first time I knew something was wrong was when the radio switched itself on in the early hours of the morning. I switched it off, went back to bed and wondered what had happened. The next day, though, it came back on again. And retuned itself. And turned the volume up. And turned itself back on when I tried to turn it back off. I finally managed to wrestle the volume down and left it in a warm place to dry and run its battery down. After a couple of days, I recharged it but continued to have problems.
I rang John Lewis and they immediately agreed to replace it – I didn’t even have to send my old one back. I received the replacement a few days later. So, you can’t fault John Lewis’s customer service but it’s a left a question mark over the actual waterproofing of this radio. Now I have it hung high in the shower, where it gets the lightest of splashes – I suspect that will be fine but it’s not the most practical positioning.