Recently I reviewed the Majority Oakington, an all-in-one bookshelf stereo with a surprisingly rich sound, slick slot-load CD player and excellent DAB+ tuner. Oakcastle is majority’s sister line offering similar products at lower prices. The DAB500 is a close competitor to the Oakington, with the same features in a seemingly identical form factor. How does it compare?
In many ways, it outshines the Oakington in usability. Instead of a slot-load CD mechanism it has a CD tray, so it can also play 3 inch CD singles. The volume and navigation dial is on the front of the unit too, which I much prefer to it being on the top. The enclosure is MDF, but covered in a real-wood veneer where the Oakington is a wood-effect vinyl wrap.
There are minor signs of cost-cutting. A tray-load CD mechanism is undoubtedly cheaper, and the speaker grilles are part of the plastic fascia rather than the sleeker mesh of the Oakington. But feature wise there’s little to distinguish the two. They operate in the same way and share an almost identical feature set.
But there are differences under the hood. The Oakington has a self-contained power supply, the DAB500 is powered by a 12V 2A wall wart. There are no power output specifications, but we can make a reasonable assumption. 12 volts at 2A gives us 24W, so assuming a worst-case system power draw of about 5 to 7W in CD mode, and 1 or 2 watts of reserve headroom, we get a power output of 6 to 9.5W per channel. That is more than sufficient with small, efficient single-driver loudspeakers. It is built with proper speaker enclosures which are reflex ported at the rear and sounds every bit as powerful and loud as the Oakington, if not a little better.
You get a nice full-function remote handset too. Most functions can be accessed via the front panel, though only the remote can access the CD programming functions. Basic repeat (all / track) and shuffle functions are available, and programming of up to 20 tracks in any order. The CD drive is smooth and quiet, and response quickly to skipping and scanning commands. Unlike the Oakington, it doesn’t remember your position on a CD, and reverts to the beginning when CDs are swapped or modes changed. Thank goodness.
The equaliser has presets for normal (default), classic (flat), jazz, pop, rock, speech and ‘My EQ’. If ‘My EQ’ is selected, you can adjust bass and treble in the system settings to customise the sound to your liking. There’s a decent range of adjustment. If you change the EQ setting via the system menu on the front of the unit, the EQ will change as you scroll through the available options so you can preview the change before saving your selection.
My only gripe with the controls is their response time. Pressing the mode button doesn’t trigger a change for a second or two, and scrolling quickly through modes can be a slow process. The volume control reacts instantly both as a volume control and as a navigational dial, so this annoyance only seems to occur when changing modes. You also can’t eject the CD tray unless you’re in the CD mode, which is a minor inconvenience.
The tuner supports DAB+, DAB and FM broadcasts. It is identical in function to the tuner of the HiFi200, Oakington, so I won’t cover old ground here. It is an excellent tuner with great DAB reception, though I find the DAB500s FM reception lacking sensitivity and generally quite noisy. Most stations available on FM are also available on DAB these days anyway, so I don’t consider it a major concern. It could certainly be that interference in the environment is the cause, so your mileage may vary. You get a massive 99 presets to store favourite stations in FM or DAB mode, accessible both from the unit and the remote control. You also get RDS data display in FM mode, and the full complement of station information on DAB.
Like the Oakcastle HiFi200, the DAB500 implements a sleep timer and alarm. Not just one, but two – which can be set by regularity (once, weekends or weekdays), and to sound a buzzer or wake to the radio. You can’t wake to a CD, Bluetooth or the AUX input. You do get a snooze function though, and a sleep timer which will put the radio into standby after 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes.
Sound quality is surprisingly excellent. Bass is deep, highs are crisp and, in the ‘normal’ EQ mode at least, the mids are recessed slightly to give you the typical swept-back, powerful sound that is favoured in consumer audio. Flattening the EQ gives you a more honest performance with a slight bump in the mids, but it’s still a great listen. You don’t get much stereo separation as the speakers are so close together, unless you’re only a foot or two away from the unit. But it plays plenty loud, and doesn’t distort at high volume. It sounds significantly better than the HiFI200, despite that having external speakers.
The DAB500 is a nicely made and finished bookshelf music system that provides plenty of functions for most casual listeners. It’s the ideal bedroom, kitchen or workshop radio, and is a nice compact option for small living spaces. You trade stereo separation and outright sound quality for convenience, but you get a lot of convenience with a unit like this. A decent CD player, an excellent tuner, Bluetooth streaming, USB audio file playback and an AUX input for your telly or turntable (with suitable preamp) in a unit that will fit on most shelves or sit on the sideboard. I have to say that personally, I prefer the DAB500 to the Oakington. It sounds better, I prefer the CD tray over the slot-load mechanism, and I like the real wood veneer finish over the vinyl wrap.