Radio reception has been available to consumers in the industrialised world for nearly a century now. Starting just after the First World War, Britain was swept with enthusiasm for the new technology. Crystal radios were all the rage, shops sprang up to sell all the bits and pieces needed to build and maintain personal sets. Wealthier households, at the same time, started to invest in family-sized valve radios that might be thought of as the Blu-ray entertainment centres of their day.
That same divide still exists today, with small, portable and versatile devices like FM-capable mobile phones taking the place of crystal radio, while FM tuners and their newer digital equivalent have long been at the hub of home entertainment centres. When it comes to buying radio accessories, there are three main areas: flexible listening, which often means new or different headphones; signal enhancement, which concerns aerials, and the variety of items that involve interaction in various ways depending on the type of listening involved that buyers on the lookout for radio accessories need to consider in order to make an informed purchase.
Types of Radio
Buyers considering radio accessories should first educate themselves about the types of radio receivers. They should also be knowledgeable about the various features of each.
Home Entertainment Component
The FM tuner,, and nowadays the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) receiver, has always been at the heart of a home entertainment centre. What defines a home entertainment centre and distinguishes it from a domestic portable radio is that it is usually large enough that it does not lend itself to being moved around frequently. If it is a dedicated tuner, then it requires a separate amplifier to route the signal to the loudspeakers.. Dedicated tuners seldom have headphone sockets, so private listening also requires an amplifier.
The most common type of accessory for this type of radio is an external antenna. External to the device is the primary meaning of this, but often an external antenna means a roof mounted aerial delivering the signal. Although flexible listening, usually meaning headphones of one sort or another, is more of a general than radio-specific topic, people who mainly use their hi-fi to listen to the radio no doubt consider this aspect to be a radio accessory.
Portable Domestic Radio
There are really two flavours of portable domestic radio,, the compact "brick" style and the more expansive "cinder block" style, perhaps more familiarly known as a "ghetto blaster". The latter is usually a portable home entertainment centre with media playing capacities. Old fashioned models would have one or more audio cassette players and a CD player. More recent ones might also have the capacity to plug in mp3 media and DAB compatibility.
Bricks are designed to be self-contained and tend not to be expandable. Some, though, do permit an external aerial to be plugged in. Moreover, the type of accessory that might accompany a ghetto blaster includes flexible listening, even if the whole point of this style is the size and power of its loudspeakers and an external aerial.
Portable Outdoors Radio
For outdoor listening, the aerial needs to be part of the receiver. It is not really practical to trail external aerials around while travelling. On the other hand, a change of headphones might well be something that a discerning listener may want to consider.
In Car Radio
Modern cars have entertainment centres rather like a portable domestic radio. A radio is often considered to be the most essential asset for drivers, as local traffic information is immediately and conveniently accessible. Accordingly, an aerial upgrade can improve both the vehicle's signal and style, although some people manage just fine with a coat hanger.
While flexible listening, in the sense of choosing between loudspeakers and headphones, is not really an issue, some enthusiasts like to upgrade their listening experience by installing larger, more powerful loudspeakers. Finally, an increasingly common in-car accessory is an adapter that enables its user to connect a smartphone to the car audio system.
Amateur radio is a different world entirely. Sound quality is not a pressing concern, but ensuring the best reception normally is. On the other hand, what might seem to be an accessory for domestic entertainment purposes looks more like an essential part of an amateur radio operator's equipment.
Types of Accessory
This section goes over the various types of radio accessories as they relate to signal improvement, flexible listening, and recreation. The information below helps buyers figure out what radio accessories they may want and are necessary to their particular situation.
A radio is as good as its signal. However, there are usually ways of improving the signal, especially if the alternative is to use the aerial built into the device. It is often a compromise involving factors like convenience and price.
For domestic users, the choice is between an indoor and an outdoor aerial. With a tuner wired into the home entertainment centre, the idea of connecting to a fixed wall socket delivering an outdoor aerial's signal should not be a concern. Outdoor aerials deliver the best signal enhancement, but they are not always practical. Urban and suburban locations are usually served by transmitters that are powerful enough to be picked up by indoor aerials..
Domestic Portable Radio
The "brick" style portable radio is designed to be autonomous and may not even have an external aerial socket. "Ghetto blaster" style radios, though, can have an external aerial port. To benefit from the radio's portability, an internal aerial is probably preferable to wiring a series of outdoor aerial outlets.
In Car Radio
A traditional hazard of car ownership has been having the radio aerial damaged by vandals, and modern designs sometimes incorporate the aerial into the coachwork. Still, there are alternatives that can be fitted by an enthusiast, such as a retractable aerial.. There are also designs that resemble domestic indoor aerials even though some of them are roof mounted..
Apart from the hand-held models that are the amateur radio equivalent of a crystal radio set, ham radio transmitters and receivers are normally operated under arrays of outdoor aerials. Part of the ham radio ethos is building equipment, and set-ups grow organically.
Flexible listening means having a choice between hearing the radio over loudspeakers or through headphones. For that matter, it can also mean choosing between different types of headphone, which might be better suited to one context or another.
For home entertainment purposes, the option to listen privately to the radio while other people are carrying on some other activity is often welcome. For complete peace and quiet, radio apart, an over-ear design that excludes ambient noise is the best choice. For more flexibility, there are wireless headphones available. There are three technologies: infrared,, which is good for short distances within sight of the docking station; radio frequency,, which allows a greater range but is more vulnerable to interference; and Bluetooth,, which is better suited to mobile listeners.
For mobile listeners, the choice is not usually between loudspeakers and headphones but rather between sets of headphones. Either the plan is to upgrade from the equipment supplied with the player, or else it is to gain flexibility. It might just be a question of alternative styles for different wardrobe options or more likely concern having a set that can be worn while working out and another for more leisurely listening.
In Car Radio
In a car, headphones can let one person listen while the other sits in peace. Wireless headphones are commonly available now; usually they are infrared rather than RF. They are often part of a mobile DVD player set-up and may in those cases include two sets.
Hobby and Recreation
For the most part, the kind of accessories that appeal to someone in a hobby or recreation context involves some variety of do it yourself. In this category, the obvious candidates are car customisation projects and amateur radio.
In Car Radio
Aerials have already been talked about in relation to car radios. One rather trivial accessory that is available for these is an antenna topper. There are all kinds of cute designs available. A popular accessory for car radios now is a docking station that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket and uses an FM transmitter to communicate with the car stereo. They can be used to connect iPods, iPhones, and similar portable devices, often allowing them to play while also recharging them.
A bit like the antenna toppers that car enthusiasts might buy, there are a few dealers who specialise in customised call sign accessories for amateur radio operators. Every licensed operator has a unique call sign, and they can get it inscribed on things like mugs, mouse mats, hats, and name plates that can be attached to the transceiver set or shed door.
Buying Radio Accessories on eBay
eBay is an online marketplace with an extensive listing of products and a great place to start the search for the various radio accessories that you may need. The simplest advice for finding a specific item is to devise a simple search term and type it in to the search window on eBay's home page.. For example, if you are thinking about putting up an outdoor aerial, you might start with "aerial" and use the filters to narrow it down. If you need an "outdoor aerial&", then that term can probably get you to the results you need more quickly. In general, searching is always a delicate balance between maximising the number of results and maximising relevance.
Once you find the accessories that you need, read through the product descriptions to ensure you know what you are getting and also research the seller to ensure he or she is a reputable vendor. Once you are satisfied with your choices, make the necessary purchases.
Even though the various options might seem to add up to a maze, eBay's powerful search tools make it a quick and easy task to sort out the wheat from the chaff and get hold of the right thing. Some of the accessories that are available for enhancing anyone's listening experience are not always necessary, but a lot more of them can make a big difference. Regardless, the buyer can find whatever accessory they want on eBay.
Furthermore, in terms of signal enhancement, aerial upgrades are the route to getting the best possible signal. The main issues with this concerns sitting, whether inside or outside, but there are other factors that can come into play. For instance, some indoor types have boosters, but these are not always effective when the signal strength is already low. As for flexible listening, with headphones, the first question is what are they going to be used for, whether it is for activities like running or gardening, certain headphones are better for certain situations. Whatever the case, buyers should consider their wants and needs and take advantage of eBay's massive listings and search features to find the necessary radio accessories.