UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware) Archive

Product Review – Sony STR-DA5500ES network-enabled home theatre receiver

I am reviewing the Sony STR-DA5500ES high-end home theatre receiver which is the first network-capable home-theatre receiver that I have reviewed in my blog. At the moment, Sony have supplied me with the SRS-DB500 2.1 powered speaker set which I will be reviewing in a separate article on this blog, for use with this receiver.

Some of you who may not understand sophisticated audio setups will benefit from a reference page which will explain the terms that I will use when describing this receiver and other audio equipment in this blog.

This unit is the second model down from the top-of-the-line STR-DA6400ES receiver in Sony’s high-end “ES” range of home-theatre receivers but is still very capable in its home-theatre-hub role.

Fit and finish

This receiver has the same fit and finish associated with the good-quality Sony hi-fi equipment that has existed for many years/ The controls are smooth and properly responsive and the unit’s finish looks “very polished”.

Usability

This unit excels on useability in a similar manner to most Sony home AV equipment that I have used.It has that very bright vacuum-fluorescent display that is easy to read even at dim levels and the controls are easy to manage.

Normally comes with two remotes – one with many buttons for controlling a home-theatre system’s components and for full control of the receiver; one for GUI-based control of the receiver.

Connectivity and Flexibility

This high-end receiver excels in this field of connectivity and flexibility. There are seven 120W power amplifiers built in to this unit’s chassis. You can set up a 7.1-channel speaker setup so you can properly enjoy movie content on Blu-Ray discs that is mixed to a Dolby Digital EX 7.1-channel sound-mix. On the other hand, you can set up a 5.1-channel speaker setup for Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound-mixes commonly on digital TV or DVD and use the two spare power amplifiers for different setups.

Firstly, you could have speakers in another room to play another stereo sound source to that room or set up a sophisticated “bi-amp” setup where the tweeters and woofers in a capably-wired pair of front speakers are amplified separately. The limitation with this receiver is that there isn’t the ability to have the crossover functionality or the amplifier levels managed in a bi-amped setup.

An example of very good connectivity options

The multi-zone feature also allows for yet another zone to be catered fro as an audio-only stereo zone but with its own amplifier. Similarly, the secondary zone can be amplified with another amplifier. The line outputs for the extra zones are in fact line-level outputs that are independent of the main volume control and you would have to adjust the sound at the remote amplifiers.

These setups also allow you to “scale up” your sound system as you see fit and can afford the extra equipment. You can even start with a pair of good stereo speakers and, as you can afford them, connect up extra speakers for your surround-sound setup.

There are plenty of audio and video inputs for extra audio and video equipment, Music enthusiasts are even catered for with a phono input for a good turntable as well as two tape loops for recording devices like cassette or MiniDisc decks. These same connections can be used for connecting up a computer’s sound subsystem for recording vinyl or cassettes to the hard disk rather than using those poor-quality USB turntables. Those music enthusiasts who believe that the audio reproduction of a dedicated CD player connected to the analogue inputs is better than that of a DVD or Blu-Ray player connected to the HDMI or optical digital inputs of this receiver can connect the CD player to these inputs.

The front panel provides walk-up connections for 1 regular video source (composite video, stereo analogue audio and optical digital audio) and 1 HDMI video source.

There is a DMPORT connection for use with optional Sony-supplied modules that provide connection to and control of various portable devices. These include Sony Walkman MP3 players, phones that have Bluetooth A2DP functionality like my Nokia N85 as well as Apple iPods and iPhones..

For video displays, there is connection for two HDMI-equipped video display devices so you can run a projector or smaller “operator-console” LCD screen alongside the regular large-screen LCD or plasma display. The receiver also supports video-signal conversion from regular video signals to HDMI signals, which means no need to connect composite or component cables to the main display to gain benefit from legacy video sources.

Network AV

The receiver offers some network-enabled functionality but this is limited to playback of DLNA media content with the user controlling the receiver through its remote control and requiring the video display attached to any of the monitor outputs being on to select toe content. For radio functionality, the unit can only work with Rhapsody or Shoutcast Internet radio services.

This network connectivity is made feasible by the receiver having an Ethernet connection. This means that it can work also with HomePlug AV powerline networks when you use a HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge; and is my preferred “no-new-wires” network-connection method for connecting home-theatre and hi-fi equipment to a home network.

When you navigate a DLNA media server, you have to choose the kind of content you are after – music, pictures or video. If you browse around the same server for content outside the class you selected, this receiver will not start any of that content.

It could be feasible to select audio content by using the receiver’s built-in display and through the use of either the remote control or controls on the unit’s front panel. For Internet-radio functionality, it could be feasible to select Internet-radio content from vTuner, RadioTime or Reciva directories which include access to local radio from other countries.

Sound quality

The sound quality is as you would expect for high-end Sony gear, where it is not coloured. I even noticed this with my computer’s sound which was fed through the SACD/CD input and out through the Preamp outputs to the SRS-DB500 speaker set. I switched the unit in to regular 2-channel mode, then to “analogue direct” to assess whether the digital circuitry was colouring the sound. The receiver and the active speakers were set to “tone-flat” – bass and treble at centre positions in order to really assess how it sounded and I had played one of the early “Café Del Mar” recordings from my PC.

The reason I use this kind of recording is to assess the equipment from a mature user’s viewpoint and find out how it handles music other than aggressively-amplified pop music. In the context of the home theatre, it would also include being able to yield the whole soundtrack of a movie or TV series.

I haven’t been able to test the receiver with regular passive speakers but the power amplifiers are something worth trying out and using.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

I had mentioned that there could be some points of improvement as far as network operation goes. These include the ability to use the unit’s display and controls to select and control audio material from DLNA servers on the home network, without the need to switch on the TV display. Similarly, the receiver could offer what competing home-theatre receivers offer where you can “tune in to” Internet-radio stations offered by vTuner, Reciva or RadioTime directories.

For operation, a main point of improvement would be to allocate one video monitor as a “control monitor” while the other monitor shows video content. Here, it could allow for a smaller screen to be used for this purpose while the larger screen is used for the primary video.

Conclusion and Placement notes

Save for certain network-media limitations, this receiver would be considered as a worthy candidate for a primary “hub unit” for the main home-theatre area. It is also well-placed for audio enthusiasts or people who have material on legacy formats like vinyl records and want to be able to play these material on good equipment.

Notes:

The cited output power is based on manufacturers’ specifications with an 8-ohm speaker load and 0.09% total harmonic distortion (minimum quoted in the specifications).

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Product Review – OXX Digital Classic DAB+ tabletop Internet radio

OXX Classic V Internet radioI am reviewing another of the Internet radios that are in that “mantel-radio” form factor like the Kogan Internet radio that I previously reviewed. From what I have noticed, it was as though it was the Kogan radio but without an iPod dock and in a glossy white cabinet.

The set is connected to mains power via a mains cord that is attached to the set rather than the usual AC adaptor that plugs in to the set. This is more in line with the traditional mantel radio or most of the clock radios that are currently ins use and will be likely to benefit people who have to deal with crowded power outlets and powerboards,

The set uses a bitmap LCD display which yields a large clock display whenever it is turned off and provides a useable menu display. The knobs are of an equal shape and all the buttons are lined up under the display in a single row. This may impair useability for older people because the labelling is too small.

On the other hand, the volume control is a real analogue volume control rather than the rotary encoder that I have used on most Internet radios and other recent consumer electronics. This will appeal more to mature people who want greater control of the set’s output volume – I have even heard that a sign of a person’s maturity is knowing that the volume control can be turned down rather than always up!!!!

Connectivity

Kogan and OXX Internet radios

Kogan and OXX Internet radios alongside each other

Like the Kogan table radio, there is an auxiliary input for external audio equipment like MP3 players and Discmans as well as a headphone jack which you can use as an external speaker jack when connected to active speakers.

It also excels on network connectivity through the provision of an Ethernet socket for use with wired networks, including HomePlug powerline networks. The wireless-network connectivity has been improved through support for WPS “push-push” setups as well as network profiles for multiple different wireless networks.

Lately, I had visited another location where this set was in use as a kitchen radio and was setting it up to work with a multiple-access-point wireless network and it shows each access point as a single entity even though the network was set up as an extended-service-set. This is still a problem with the Frontier chipset Internet radios because they are presumed to be kept in a single position rather than moved around the network. As well, the WPS “push-push” setup experience went very smoothly without a problem when I enrolled it with a router that was set up to work as an access point.

Use

There are four preset buttons for each of the operating bands as well as support for integration with the “www.wifiradio-frontier.com” Internet-radio portal. This then allows for a larger list of preferred stations to be kept consistent across multiple sets.

The unit also has improvements in other areas like dead-programme “clean-up” with DAB multiplexes for sets that are moved between towns or whenever the multiplexes are rearranged. Similarly there is also an equaliser function with five tone presets and manual adjustment for bass and treble. There wasn’t a loudness-compensation control on the manual tone adjustment unlike other Frontier radios with similar firmware.

It does work well with DLNA media services, especially the TwonkyMedia Server that is part of the Western Digital MyBook World Edition network hard disk. At the moment, it only works as a media player that can be operated from its control surface.

Bitmap display on OXX radio

Bitmap display on OXX radio

When this set is run at a loud volume, it sounds as loud as the Kogan set, which is loud enough to cut over noisy kitchen appliances for example.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation that I have experienced is the tendency to work on a small buffer which causes the radio to “start and stop” especially when playing some overseas Internet radio stations. It may be also limited through problems with Wi-Fi networks that may be difficult in some areas. The problem may also become worse as more people “hit on to” Internet radio – the new “short-wave” band, and servers don’t work well for quality of service. Other radios don’t seem to be as sensitive to this problem as much as this model.

A point of improvement that I would like to see would be steps to make the set more ergonomic and easier to use. For example, I would like to make the buttons more prominent so they are easier to find. This is more so for the on-off button and the mode button. As well, the LCD display could be better replaced with one of the monochrome OLED displays to improve on readability, or could be engineered to fill the display panel space more to make better use of that space.

Other than that, there wasn’t any other main limitation with this particular set for its class.

Conclusion

Although there is the limitation with the set working on a small buffer and being more prone to “start-stop” behaviour with Internet radio, it can work well as a tabletop radio / network media player for an office, waiting room, small shop or kitchen. I wouldn’t recommend this set for use in a workshop or similar location because of the glossy finish being more susceptible to damage that occurs in those areas.

Update note – 18 May 2012

I have added some further experience notes about the OXX Digital Classic DAB+ Internet radio since this review was published. This is due to my using a a radio of the same model that had been purchased by someone whose home network I was servicing and optimising.

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AVM FritzWLAN Repeater NG – competition to the Apple Airport Express

Product Page

AVM FritzWLAN Repeater NG – manufacturer’s page (German language)

My comments

This gadget had intrigued me not just because it was a WDS-compliant Wi-Fi network repeater for all of the Wi-Fi networks but was a DLNA-compliant media player without a control surface.

It plugs in to an AC outlet in a similar manner to a HomePlug wireless access point like a Netcomm NP290W, Solwise ‘85PEW or Devolo dLAN Wireless unit. But this connection only exists to power the unit and, at the moment, is available only to fit the Continental-European power outlet.

The main strength in my opinion is its prowess as a network music player for the DLNA Home Media Network. It can be controlled by Windows Media Player 12, recent Nokia phones, TwonkyMedia Manager, an iPhone running PlugPlayer; and other UPnP AV Control Points or through its Web user interface. That same Web user interface can be used to select between six different Internet-radio streams of your choice but you would have to know the URLs of these streams.

You can connect it directly to a music system via its line input or digital input or enable a built-in “flea-power” FM transmitter to have it play through an FM radio tuned to a frequency that you nominate through the Web interface.

The closest competition to this device would be the Apple Airport Express which works as a USB print server, wireless-only router or network music player that only works with iTunes.

What I would like to see for this device would be to have it able to work beyond Continental Europe i.e. available with plugs to suit North America, UK, Australia and other markets. If extra value were to be applied to this device. It could also be improved with HomePlug AV and Ethernet connectivity in a similar manner to the aforementioned HomePlug wireless access points and work properly in an extended service set with client roaming to latest specifications.

The Internet-radio functionality could be improved by having the FritzWLAN Repeater work with an established Internet-radio directory like vTuner, Reciva or RadioTime to select the radio streams. This could then be taken further with access to the user favourites functions that the directories have.

The main take from this is that AVM have pushed the boundaries by adding a standards-based media player to a Wi-Fi network repeater instead of following the crowd.

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Product Review – Revo IKON stereo table Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio platform)

I am reviewing the Revo IKON, which is the first Internet radio that I have reviewed to be designed in a similar manner to a classic boombox. Here, it has been designed with that similar footprint in mind and also is equipped with stereo speakers that are angled outwards.

Description

The unit actually has an oval shape and has a pop-out iPod dock on the front, under a colour LCD touchscreen which is the set’s main user interface. The volume knob and the power button are located on top of the set, although the volume knob is a rotary-encoder type which doesn’t show on the display what volume position you have set it to.

Operation and Sound Quality

The colour LCD touchscreen is easy to read and the user interface that it presents to you when you select stations or other options is similar to an automatic teller machine that uses a touch-screen. The home menu shows a list of all the sources available – DAB, FM, Internet, LAST.FM, Media Player (UPnP AV), iPod dock and auxiliary input.

It also comes with a remote control which offers volume control, snooze / sleep control, transport control for the UPnP media player function or attached iPods, LAST.FM song voting as well as the ability to turn the unit on and off. You don’t have the ability to change stations or sources from this remote control.

If you are using the Internet radio mode, you can’t have ready access to the preset stations like you can with DAB or FM where you press a star icon to see the preset list. Instead, you have to meander around the menus to see the preset list. This can be an annoyance to those who tune in to local RF-based radio and are likely to visit Internet radio programs frequently and can be a pain for older users.

The unit works with DLNA-compliant media servers but you have to use the touchscreen or remote control to navigate the DLNA media server. This is common with Internet radios because Frontier or Reciva, who make most of the firmware for these radios don’t support “three-box” operation using UPnP AV Control Points.

The set supports LAST.FM and can allow users to “scrobble” (expose listening habits to LAST.FM) content from LAST.FM content or from content from a UPnP AV / DLNA media server.

The set has a “clean-up function” that makes it easier to manage changes to the DAB station list, which can be of importance if it is taken between locations or the DAB multiplexes in a city are being re-arranged.

Revo IKON - iPod dock exposed

iPod dock exposed

The set has a similar tone control to the previously-reviewed Revo Domino, where you can select one of five tone presets or set up a customised tone preset. Here, you have bass and treble controls and a loudness-compensation switch. Infact, the “normal” tone preset is with flat bass and treble settings and with loudness compensation switched on.

Speaking of the sound, the sound quality is very similar to most of the low-end to mid-range portable radios made through the late 1970s to early 1980s. It can also fill a small to medium-size room with sound in an intelligible manner.

Connectivity

The set can work with WiFi networks that use conventional WPA2-PSK passphrases or can be “bonded” to routers that support WPS “push-button” configuration. This function should be made available not as a WiFi network option but as part of the setup wizard. It can store the parameters relating to four different WiFi networks, which can be useful for home networks with more than one SSID or if you take the radio between multiple locations.

This radio also has an Ethernet socket which adds plenty of flexibility to how it is connected to the Internet. Here, you could connect it to a HomePlug or MoCA “existing-wires” segment using the appropriate bridge adaptor, a WiFi network that it can’t connect to using a WiFi-client bridge or directly to to an Ethernet network like in business premises.

There is only one external output socket in the form of an SPDIF optical socket for connection to a digital amplifier, home-theatre receiver or a digital recorder like a MiniDisc deck. This is limiting as far as outputs are concerned because a set like this could benefit from an analogue output like a headphone jack (to connect to headphones or external active speakers) or a line output jack (to connect to another amplifier or a cassette deck).

Advantages

One main advantage with this set is the stereo sound provided by the two speaker systems built in to the unit. This is an advantage compared to the Internet radios that I have been reviewing in the blog so far. The other main advantage that this set has is the ability to work with an Ethernet network rather than just a WiFi wireless network, which opens up a world of flexibility.

Other features that I like include the colour display, improved DAB handling and support for stations that present logos as part of their Internet-radio streams.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation with the Internet radio function is the inability to access the preset-station list from all of the Internet-radio screens unlike what you can do with FM and DAB. This limitation could be rectified through a software update and impairs an otherwise very good Internet radio.

The other limitation with this set is the lack of a headphone jack or line-level output. This also limits the flexibility that the set could offer as far as connection to external audio equipment is concerned.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Other than the few limitations concerning output connectivity and ready access to Internet-radio presets, this radio does have a lot going for it as a general-purpose Internet table radio.

It would work well as a radio for a kitchen, office or small shop, especially if it is used as a direct replacement for an older boombox or iPod dock or as an upgrade from a single-speaker Internet radio like the Revo Domino or Kogan Internet radio.

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BBC reception problem now rectified for Kogan Internet radios

Kogan Internet table radio

Kogan Internet table radio - BBC updates now available

Over the last few months, those of you who own a Kogan Internet/DAB+/FM table radio, which I have reviewed in this blog in November, wouldn’t have been able to receive any Internet radio services from the BBC. It may be of concern to UK expats or Anglophiles who have bought this radio primarily to listen to the sound of the BBC radio stations that broadcast there like BBC Radio 4. The symptom was typically in the form of the radio showing “Network Error” when you select a BBC radio service. This was because the BBC were doing a technical re-engineering of their online radio streams and were moving away from the original Real-Audio streams to newer technologies.

vTuner had updated their “master” Internet radio directory which services Frontier-based sets as well as a lot of other Internet-radio designs to reflect the BBC changes. The set manufacturers had to then roll out the updates to each of their set designs through the over-the-air updates. In the case of this Kogan table radio, it took a frustrating long time for the update to materialise because the OEM who makes these sets had to make sure it was working properly before releasing the update.

As of 18/03/2010, Kogan have rolled out the updated directory to these radios and next time you turn on the set and select “Internet radio”, you will have an “update notice” appear on the display. Press the INFO button in response to this “update notice” and wait for the update to complete. The radio must not be disconnected from the power at all during this process. The progress of the update is highlighted with a “fuel gauge” bar that appears on the bottom row of the display and when the set is updated, the display will show “Press SELECT to continue”. At this point, press the large “tuning knob”, and the set will restart and, a while later, the last Internet radio station that you listened to will play.

Then you can tune to the BBC stations using the menu system or recall any BBC stations that you previously allocated to the preset buttons. This update does not affect any other functionality or personal settings that you have established when using this set.

If you had bought one of these radios and the BBC reception problem had made you think of returning the radio to Kogan, now you don’t need to do so because of this update/

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Product Review – Revo Domino Internet table radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

I am reviewing one of Revo’s latest Internet radios – the Domino FM/DAB+/Internet table radio which one of many of the radios appearing in this class.Revo Domino 2

This set comes in a charcoal-grey rubber-textured housing, with a joystick on the front as the main selection control. It also has a knob for selecting between operation modes and another knob to turn the volume up and down. As well, you turn the radio on and off by pressing this knob in a similar manner to most car radios.

The display is in the left “porthole” on the front of the set and is a small OLED display with a similar “off-white” colour to the vacuum-fluorescent displays on most consumer electronics made by Sony and Panasonic.

Revo Domino - display close-up There is an integrated iPod dock that is covered by a removable panel and the set came with Apple-style iPod inserts that work with whichever iPod or iPhone you have.

It also comes with a card-style remote control which, like its stablemate, allows for operation from a distance and allows for direct access to the locally-preset stations.

Setup

This process is similar to most Frontier-platform Internet radios like the Kogan and the Revo iBlik. The set is capable of supporting “quick-setup” with WPS “push-button-setup” routers and is the first one that I have reviewed to offer this method/ But this option isn’t made as part of the Network Setup Wizard, rather you have to go to System Settings – Network menu and select “PBC setup” to instigate this kind of setup.

It is also the first Internet radio that I have reviewed that supports multiple wireless-network profiles (SSID and security-parameter combinations). Here, this set can remember the profiles for the four last-used wireless networks but the user can delete a particular network profile from the list.Revo Domino - remote control

Operation

It works in a manner similar to the other Internet radios that I have tried, with a “mode selector” and heavy use of menus. The unit also supports FM radio with RDS and DAB/DAB+ digital radio for regular RF-based radio service. The aerial for this is a telescopic rod one that is clipped vertically on the back of the unit so you don’t have to unclip it when you just need to extend it upwards.

The set stores 10 preset stations for each “band” – FM, DAB and Internet radio; and you select them by pressing the star button and highlighting the station with the joystick then pressing the joystick to hear it. To set a station as a preset, you press the star button to show preset list, then hold joystick button in until “Preset saved” comes up on display. For Internet radio, this is in addition to the favourite stations that you have identified at the wifiradio-frontier.com Website.

The set works properly with a UPnP AV / DLNA home media network and the transport controls on top of the set allow you to move across the music collection that you are playing.

The set can work as a replacement for the old clock radio in the bedroom. The Alarm button on the front of the set is for enabling different previously-set alarm times when the set is off or to set the alarm times when the set is on. You can set two different alarm times and determine what to wake to – buzzer, FM station, DAB station, Internet station or iPod for each alarm time. Like the iBlik that I reviewed previously, you can set an alarm event to occur on a particular date, every day, every weekday or every weekend. When the alarm sounds. all the buttons on the unit reset the alarm. The joystick works as “snooze button” and repeated pressing of it allows you to extend the snooze time. There is a sleep-off timer that causes the set to stop playing after a known time. but you have to go through the menus to start the sleep timer, something you wouldn’t do if you are very tired and just want to drift off to music.

There is inherent support for the last.fm “personal-music” service which can “learn” your music tastes from music played from your iPod, last.fm’s Internet radio service or a UPnP AV media server.

Sound quality

The Revo Domino is the first Internet radio that I have reviewed to have tone controls. These are found under “Equaliser” option in “System Settings” menu. There are 5 preset tone settings plus a user-determined tone setup – bass, treble and loudness-compensation.

The NXT “dual-radiator” speaker allows for some “punch” in the sound without suffocating the vocals when music is played. It also reproduces speech very clearly and the set can put up a significantly loud volume without distorting. This can be of benefit if you need to use it in noisy environments.

This unit has the similar output level to most radios of its kind, enough to fill a reasonably-size room with easily–identifiable music and can compete with the noise emitted by typical kitchen appliances.

Points for improvement

There are a few places where the Revo Domino could be improved.

One is that the OLED display could be made a bit larger. This could improve its useability, especially if the user doesn’t have good eyesight, which may be common with senior citizens.

It also could benefit from having a headphone jack installed, which can cater for late-night listening or for playing it through an active speaker system.

Conclusion and placement notes

Beyond the above-mentioned limitations associated with a small display and the lack of a headphone jack, there isn’t anything much else that I could fault this set on.

Here, I would recommend that the Revo Domino be best sold as a “step-up” Internet radio / iPod-dock combination for use in the kitchen, office, workshop, or small shop. It can also work well as a clock radio even though you have to go in to the Main Menu to set the alarm or enable the sleep timer.

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Product Review – Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Pure Evoke Flow This radio that I am reviewing is the top-end network-enabled model of Pure’s popular Evoke series of DAB digital portable radios. All of the models have different functionality but a very similar style, with an oval-shaped accent encompassing the speaker and control area. The lower-end units have a wood cabinet and a plastic front panel which is varied according to the model.

Description

This particular unit has a gloss-black finish with a large yellow OEL bit-map display and knobs for the volume and tuning controls. Other functions are operated using touch buttons that are lit up in yellow where applicable. This is intended to make the set look more classy, especially with the “piano-black” finish.

OEL display on Pure Evoke Flow The OEL or “organic electroluminescent” display is based upon the displayed letters and segments needing the power to light up rather than the LCD display being dependent on a backlight to be easily visible. This is similar to what is used on my Nokia N85 phone reviewed in the blog and is very appropriate as a display method for devices that work on low power. I even refer to the OEL display as the “vacuum fluorescent display” for battery-operated devices because of the fact that the display yields the same brightness and contrast as the typical self-illuminating vacuum fluorescent display often used as a user-information display on VCRs, DVD players, home theatre receivers and similar equipment but doesn’t chew through the batteries to achieve that aim.

The Evoke Flow, like the rest of the Pure Evoke range of radios, is capable of operating as a two-piece stereo set when you purchase and use the optional matching external speaker. Similarly, this radio, like the rest of the Evoke range, can be used as a battery-powered portable radio when you buy a Pure rechargeable battery pack from the same retailer that you bought the set. These accessories haven’t come with my review sample, so I won’t be able to assess how it works with these accessories.

Features

As well as its Internet-radio and network media player functionality, this set is also capable of receiving DAB+ digital radio and FM radio with RDS RadioText.

For connectivity, it also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack for playing music from an iPod or portable CD player and a 3.5mm line-out jack for use with external amplifiers or recording devices. There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket as well as the socket for the accessory stereo speaker. All these connections are located on the back of the set, in a similar manner to the Kogan and Revo Internet radios reviewed in this blog. I have always preferred these sets to have the headphone jack located on the front panel of the set, or at least on the side, to permit “walk-up” headphone use where you didn’t have to move the set to plug in a pair of headphones which are used on an ad-hoc basis. This is a practice I have often seen with most portable audio equipment I have seen and used through the 1970s and 1980s.

Pure do supply an iPod dock as an optional accessory for this radio but it doesn’t have a power input connector so the iPod can be run on external power while playing through the radio. Instead, I would use the Apple Universal Dock or an iPod dock with a USB, Apple Dock or DC socket so that I can connect an external power supply to the iPod or iPhone that is in the dock.

The set can connect to the home network and the Internet via a 802.11g WiFi network segment but this network can be secured to WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal standards. This is the same for other Internet radios, which also means it can’t log in to a “corporate-standard” WPA(2)-Enterprise network or a wireless hotspot that uses Web-based authentication.

An improvement I would like to see on the setup when it comes to enrolling the set with a WiFi network would be to allow it to keep configuration details for multiple networks. This is more so because this radio is an easily-portable design and capable of working on batteries. thus could be taken between locations at a moment’s notice.

It can also stream audio from DLNA-compliant media servers like TwonkyMedia Manager or Windows Media Player (Windows Media Connect) or most NAS units.

The unit has the built-in Internet radio directory but benefits more if you associate it to the Pure Lounge portal. Here you benefit from facilities like persistent Internet radio presets and extra content. The Lounge service also provides background sound-effect loops like waves for situations where a sound-effect loop is needed. Such applications may include having the sound of waves to help you drift off to sleep or the sound of thunderstorms to help in getting a dog used to thunderclaps. This also includes a reference tone set representing the strings of a guitar for use when tuning your guitar.

Use

When you use the Internet radio, you can browse a worldwide directory of all the stations registered with Pure’s Internet-radio directory or use a “form-based” search to narrow down the list. Here, when you touch the “Search” option, you see a form and select the attribute to filter the list by. This can be by “Genre”, “Country”, “Availability”, and “Bit Rate”. Then you press the Tuning knob to set the attribute’s value. After that, you touch the “Go” option to see your reduced selection. This is different to the Kogan and Revo radios where you went through a menu tree to select the Internet-radio station that you want.

Unlike the Kogan and Revo radios, there isn’t a row of preset buttons for allocating favourite stations. Instead, you select the “Favourite stations” which is marked with a heart symbol to go to your preset list and browse through the preset list and press the Tuning knob to play that station. When you listen to a station that you want to add to the list, you touch the “Add to Favourites” option to set it in your preset list.

The set can work as a DLNA music player but you can only play the content by using the set’s controls rather than over the network using software like TwonkyMedia Manager.

FM tuning is based on a “seek by default” method so that when you turn the knob, the radio finds the next strongest signal. The DAB function is based on selecting from a list of stations sorted by alphabetic order. There is a “trim station list” option for clearing up dead station entries, which is handy if you move the set between cities or the DAB multiplexes are being reorganised.

Sound and Useability

The set sounds more “soft and rich” compared to most small portable radios, including the Kogan and the Revo, but has a similar sound output level. Like the other Internet radios I have reviewed, there isn’t a tone control, whether as an easily accessible control or within the menus.

The OLED display is much more legible than the typical LCD display found on most Internet radios and is a bit too bright for night-time use. There is the option to dim the display or to have the display dark whenever the set is turned off. The clock display is large enough for easy reading across a room. Even if you dim the display, it is still legible, which can be a bonus if you have the set in your bedroom as a clock radio or have it in a hall or other room and still like the clock display to work as a “nightlight”.

Fit and finish

The set’s fit and finish represent a high-quality product that is enjoyable to use. The knobs even have a feel associated with you operating a piece of quality equipment. The main limitation with the black gloss finish is that it could harbour fingermarks too easily and you may have to wipe those off frequently.

The telescopic aerial that you need to use for FM or DAB reception is much different from what I have seen in use on most portable radios that I have used. Here, this set, like a National Panasonic RX-C52 “ghetto blaster” that I have had once,  has a dedicated screw for anchoring the aerial. This will definitely make it easier the user to buy and fit a replacement aerial if this aerial is damaged, as is common with a lot of portable radios that I have seen and used. Good marks to Pure for realising what often happens with many portable radios and making the aerial easy to replace on their Evoke radios.

Points of improvement

The Pure Evoke Flow isn’t a perfect portable digital / Internet radio and needs a few points of improvement for its product class. One would be for Pure to release a cheaper “junior model” in the “Evoke Flow” line that has a finish similar to the rest of the Evoke series and uses a two-line alphanumeric display rather than a bitmap display.

As far as connectivity is concerned, I would at least like to see the headphone socket located up front or on the side to allow “walk-up” headphone use. For battery use, there could be the possibility of the set working on any of the “regular battery sizes” i.e. AA, C or D through the use of an add-on battery module that takes these batteries, so that one can use these commonly-available “Duracell” or “Energizer” batteries with the radio.

The wireless-network connectivity could be improved through support for WPS “quick-setup” and / or the ability to work with multiple networks to suit its nature as a portable radio. The set could provide information that is necessary for enrolment to the “Lounge” portal on the display through a set-up option.

Conclusion

The set’s “piano-black” look will appeal to people who like a “classy look” for their Internet radio solution. This would typically encompass a lot of office users, especially professionals. It may also look the part with a home office or on a shelf in that classy kitchen. But it can definitely work very well as a “floater” portable Internet radio that can be taken around the house as required because of the light size and integrated handle. The fact that the handle doubles as a snooze bar may make the set appeal as a clock radio, although you have to descend through menus to set or enable the alarm clock, sleep timer or countdown timer.

The set’s display would be suitable for people with limited eyesight and the fact that you use knobs to adjust the volume and select stations may make the set appeal to mature and older users who are more comfortable with using knobs to select stations or adjust the sound.

The main limitation with this set is that it is significently expensive, usually around AUD$400-600 depending on the retailer.

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Product Review – Kogan Wi-Fi Internet Table Radio with iPod Dock (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Overview

Kogan Internet radio

Kogan is an Australia company who are selling good-quality value-priced consumer electronics like LCD TVs in a manner that is considered common in the USA but rare in Australia. It is to sell the goods under their own brand through what used to be known as mail-order. You can buy equipment like this Internet table radio by visiting their Website or calling 1300 304 292.

The set, which is sold direct for $169 excluding delivery but including Australian GST, looks like a mantel radio made during the late 70s just before that style of radio went out of fashion and has a generous-sized front-facing speaker behind a mesh grille. An iPod or a USB memory stick can be connected to sockets installed on the top of the set.

The set is powered from the mains through a small AC adaptor but the adaptor that came with the review sample had something that can be annoying if you were to properly switch it on or off at the wall, because it sticks upwards.

Connectivity

The set has an iPod dock which can work with most of the Apple iPod range; and a USB port for connecting USB memory keys, MP3 players and other devices that present themselves as USB Mass-Storage Devices. This port may be better placed on the front or back of the radio so as to avoid dust, crumbs and other nasties falling in to the set and causing unreliable operation with USB devices.

It also has a 3.5mm jack for connecting up another MP3 player, Discman or similar device to play through the built-in speaker; and has a 3.5mm headphone jack which can also be used to play the set through a pair of better-sounding active speakers.

Setup

When you unpack the set, you don’t get the instruction manual as part of the packaging. Instead, you have to go to the support section of Kogan’s web site to download the manual as a PDF file.Kogan Internet radio - close-up

There are some issues that affect the way you integrate the radio to the Wi-Fi home network. One is that there needs to be a clear indication for “enter” to confirm the WPA-PSK key and another clear indication for “backspace delete” of erroneous characters.

As well, you have to make sure that your router’s wireless-network security is working in a “pure” WEP or WPA-PSK mode rather than a “compatibility mode” that may be common on some routers made when WPA just started to come in as a Wi-Fi link-level security option.

Once the radio is on the home network, everything is effectively “plain sailing”. The unit can be set up to get the time from the Internet, but you have to determine the time zone yourself by going to the Main Menu – System Settings – Clock Settings option. You will also have to change the time zone by an hour every time we switch from standard time to daylight-saving time. For example, in Sydney and Melbourne, you would have to set the Time Zone to +10 during Standard Time and to +11 during Summer Time. This may be rectified in a future firmware update for this set.

As far as the DAB (digital radio) operation goes, there isn’t a “clean-up and scan” routine available. Typically you have to do the “full scan” routine which adds new stations to the multiplex roster. This was annoying because the review sample, like the Revo iBlik RS clock radio reviewed in a separate review, had come down from Sydney and had references to the Sydney DAB multiplexes and stations. It can also be a headache for those of us who move between towns, or if there is a situation where the DAB multiplexes are being re-organised.

Use

The menus on the set are mainly navigated through the use of the tuning control which you turn to select the option and press to confirm the selection. There is a “Back” button to go back through the menus if you need to do so. The volume is adjusted with a smaller knob rather than “up-down” buttons. You change between FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Media Player, USB, iPod and Aux modes by pressing a MODE button. This control arrangement  makes the set appeal to be easier and comfortable for older people to use and makes you think of it as a proper radio.

Access to Internet radio stations is through an integrated directory that is regularly updated. You can select stations by “home area”, “country” or genre. I did a test to find Heart 106.2 London, a radio station that I often listen to over the Internet. Here, I went to “all stations”, then “country”, then “Europe”, then “United Kingdom” to filter for UK radio stations. After that, I went to all stations and browsed the list of UK stations to find “Heart London”.

There are five preset buttons which you can assign to a station in each of the radio modes. This means you have 5 FM stations, 5 DAB stations and 5 Internet radio stations held as “one-touch” presets You associate the button with the currently-playing station in the same manner as most car radios that are currently in use i.e.: hold the button for around 10 seconds until the display shows that the station is with the preset.

The radio also works well as a DLNA network audio player with the ability to honour the UPnP AV Media Server’s media hierarchy. It even worked well with playing music hosted on my computer by allowing a smooth playout experience. One main problem was that the transport keys such as the play-pause button didn’t work for the network media stream.

The radio does work well as an iPod speaker dock and the function keys worked properly when navigating the iPod’s content. I also attempted to adjust the volume from the iPod, but the sound came through at the same level, thus requiring you to use the radio’s volume control to adjust the sound.

Sound quality

The sound was something typical of either a classic mantel radio or one of those mono radio-cassette recorders made during the 1970s. There isn’t any way to adjust the tone on the set, whether through the menus or a separate control. There is still some “punchiness” in the sound but not the full bass expected by today’s young generation. A difficult-to-reproduce piece like the BBC brass-band rendition of “God Save The Queen” played at the end of the day (UK time) on Radio 4 may sound “difficult” at times. For talk-radio broadcasts, the sound is clear and intelligible whether turned up loud or at a modest listening level.

The sound volume is relatively loud, thus allowing the set to fill a room with its sound and can compete with a noisy appliance operated nearby. I even ran our noisy rangehood fan while the set was playing and it could easily compete with that. This means that it could work well at “belting out the tunes” in a takeaway-food shop, café or similar establishment.

Fit and finish

I have observed that this unit has avoided fingermark-attractive “gloss” finishes but this may be considered as a set that is dull and boring. But this also has been a bonus with a review unit that has “done the rounds” and been handled by many reviewers. This would be a bonus for radios that are likely to be handled by many users or spend their working life in a kitchen.

When I bought my own one of these sets, I had it working as a “utility radio” for the household and at times had seen it used in a workshop and outdoors while there was carpentry work going on. This hasn’t had any impact on the set’s finish or operation.

Points of improvement and product-class development

Connectivity improvements

The 3.5mm headphone jack could be positioned up front so as to allow “walk-up” headphone use and could be set to override a 3.5mm external-output jack on the back as well as the built-in speaker. The role of this rear-mounted jack could be determined by a menu option as a “line-out” jack independent of the volume control and headphone jack or an “external speaker” jack that is dependent on the volume control that can be set to either run with or override the internal speaker. This would allow Kogan to supply a “right-channel” active speaker as an accessory thus causing the radio to become a 2-piece stereo radio.

The manufacturers could relocate the USB port to the front of the set thus removing the risk of problems associated with dust and foreign objects falling in to the top-mounted USB socket.

Improved display

The display could be improved as far as legibility goes. It could be a high-contrast LCD with a strong LED-array backlight. Some other reviewers wanted to see a variable backlight display, which could make the set fit for use in a bedroom. This would be best executed with a backlight setting for standby use and a setting for whenever the set is in operation.

Possibility of tone control

There could be the possibility of some form of tone control, not just as a “bass-boost” option. This could be in the form of the classic “tone” control knob used on older sets which provided a bass-rich sound at the low setting and a bright treble-rich sound at the high setting.

WiFi connectivity improvements

Some users may take one of these sets between multiple locations like home and work or home and a friend’s house or holiday home; as I have often seen with some clock radios and portable radios. An improvement that I would like to see would be to allow the user to have up to eight “network profiles” stored in the radio, like what happens with computers and mobile phones. There could be an SSID and WEP/WPA passphrase associated with each of the profiles so the set doesn’t have to be reconfigured when it is taken between regular locations.

Similarly the set could support WPS “quick-connect” options so as to avoid messing with “pick-and-choose” WPA passphrase entry.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This set would be best suited as a radio you may use in a small office, household kitchen, small shop or waiting room at a doctor’s or lawyer’s office. It is also a set worth considering for the workshop or garage even though it is as loud is most typical clock radios because of the fact its finish isn’t susceptible to these working environments. It wouldn’t be appropriate in the bedroom as a replacement for that old clock radio because the set would be too big for a bedside table, the display is too bright even when switched off and the alarm-clock functionality isn’t easily accessible.

I also applaud Kogan for providing a tabletop Internet radio that is positioned at a price that most people can afford and this could be a way for them to cut in to the premium table radio scene. They could go further with a unit that has two speakers, a portable DAB+/Internet radio that can run on batteries or AC, or a tuner that can pick up FM, DAB+ and Internet radio; with all these sets being capable of playing audio from DLNA Home Media Networks.

But I would still recommend the Kogan Wi-Fi Digital Radio with iPod Dock as a value-priced entry-level DAB/Internet radio for situations such as your first Internet radio or when giving someone an Internet radio as a gift. It may also be a good excuse to ditch that tired old radio in the kitchen or office for something that offers a lot more.

Purchase online:
Kogan Web site

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Kogan and their public-relations company, Profession Public Relations. As well, Professional Public Relations have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media and I had taken up this offer.

The review has been updated with further notes from my experience with this set and may help with your purchasing decisions.

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Product Review – Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Revo iBlik RS 1 I am reviewing the Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio which can work as a speaker dock for the iPod. As well Marks & Spencers, the British department store commonly known as “Marks & Sparks”, sell the same radio under their private label but without DAB digital radio as the M&S Internet Radio with iPod Dock.

Overview

This radio looks like one of the classic clock radios sold through the 1970s and 1980s but, instead of being a flat box with the faux wood-grain finish, it has a trapezoid look that is finished in dark charcoal grey. The top of the radio has a random-styled speaker grille and a removeable panel where you dock an Apple iPod or iPhone, and the right had side of the top surface has all of the radio’s control buttons. The front of the radio has a darker middle stripe with the LCD display. The set uses a telescopic aerial (antenna) rather than the ordinary “pigtail” aerial wire that is common with clock radios for FM and DAB operation. The only limitation, which is common with most portable radios, is that you can’t replace a broken telescopic aerial yourself. The Wi-Fi aerial is totally integrated in to the set.

2009-11-07 001 When the unit is turned off, the display is just bright enough to be a nightlight, which makes it suitable for bedroom use. The display becomes significantly bright when the set is in operation, but there could be improvements in the contrast issue. Revo could have improved the display by using a fully-bitmapped display which can allow for a full-height time display which would be more appropriate for this class of radio than a two-line date and time display.

The set comes with a slim remote control which can be a bonus if you need to operate it from the other side of the room. The only problem with this was that you had to be relatively close to the set to operate the remote control. This may be a problem with the review sample that had “done the rounds” and the remote control’s battery was nearly exhausted and had been transported with the battery in place.

Connectivity

The set has a 3.5nn line input jack (referred to as an mPort jack) for use with portable CD players and the like as well as a pair of RCA line-out connectors on the back for use when connecting to an external sound system or a recording device.This connection is a boon to small businesses who may want to connect the radio to a music-on-hold setup or public-address system if they want to play DAB, Internet radio or music held on a computer over the network through these devices.

Setup

This set is set up in a manner similar to other Frontier-based radios like the Kogan reviewed elsewhere in the blog. <Hyperlink to Kogan review> There is still that niggle with the confusing arrow and “return” symbol when you enter your wireless network’s passphrase. As well, you need to make sure your router isn’t using a WEP-WPA compatibility mode because the set may not connect to the wireless network.

The radio has the option of obtaining the time from the Internet or the local DAB multiplex so it sets itself to the correct time. If you set it to refer to the Internet, you then determine your local time zone. It also has a dedicated “DST” option which you turn on when the clocks go forward for Daylight-Saving time and turn off when the clocks go back for regular time. This is unlike the Kogan where you have to advance the time zone by an hour when the clocks go forward.

The DAB function doesn’t have a “clean-up and scan” option for situations where your set may be moved between locations or if the local DAB multiplexes are re-arranged. This was more of a problem with this review sample which had been taken between Sydney and Melbourne.

Use

Revo iBlik RadioStation - control panel You navigate the menus using four “arrow keys” and a “select” button in the centre of those keys. They are also used to tune the radio amongst the FM, DAB or Internet stations. There is a “mode” button to change between the different sources such as the Internet radio, DLNA music player, DAB radio, FM radio, iPod or aux inputs.

The set can store 10 preset stations in each of the FM, DAB or Internet-radio “bands”, which can be an asset if you dabble in many of the Internet-radio stations. This radio also works as a DLNA media player but can only support control from the set’s control panel or remote control.

Suitability for the bedside table

To set the alarm clock, you press the ALARM key. Here you have room for four different alarm times that can be set to apply once only, every day, Monday-Friday or Saturday-Sunday. This could be useful for setting an earlier wakeup time for the work week and a later time for the weekend where you can afford to have that sleep-in; and you can even have a different wake time for him and her on both the work week and the weekend.

You can set the unit to wake you to the buzzer; a particular station on either FM, DAB or Internet radio; or music held on an attached iPod at a chosen volume. What you set the radio to wake you to can be different for each alarm event, so you can factor in different radio programs that are broadcasting on different times. This definitely offers more than the typical clock radio that most of us use where you have up to two different events and you can wake either to the buzzer or the last-tuned radio station.

When you set the alarm, you have to make sure you save the changes by highlighting the “Save” option and pressing SELECT. This is also true if you want to override the alarm clock by turning it off. The ability to set the alarm clock to come on to a nominated radio program allows you to sleep to music from your iPod, DLNA network media server or a different radio station while you wake to your favourite radio program.

The all-important snooze bar is located at the front edge of the control buttons and is bracketed by two other buttons which are radio presets or “previous-next” buttons when the set works as a media player or with an iPod. This same button can be used to set up the sleep timer. Here, you press this button repeatedly to determine how long the radio can play before switching itself off, then press the “select” button to engage the sleep timer whereupon the radio will turn itself off after the nominated time.

Sound quality

The sound quality is similar to what you would expect for a typical 1980s-issue clock radio. This is because it uses the same speaker size as these units and the speaker is positioned to come out the top of the set in the same manner.

Fit and finish

The finish is a “satin-style” plastic finish that is similar to most current-issue clock radios and portable radios. This hasn’t harboured unnecessary fingermarks and the buttons are quick and responsive. It does then have the look and feel of a good-quality clock radio.

Points of Improvement

For this class of radio, the main point of improvement would be a larger bitmapped display with an EL backlight or a larger bitmapped OEL display which can show the time in large figures which makes it suitable for viewing from a distance. Other than that, the radio suits its best-placing very well, as a clock radio for the bedroom.

There could be an option to have the alarm set for particular days of the week, such as Monday, Saturday or Sunday; as well as Monday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday so you can cater for situations where you may have to factor in particular shifts that occur on particular days.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This is an Internet radio / iPod dock / network music player that I would recommend for use in the bedroom as a highly-flexible alternative to that old clock radio. This is more so if you want to wake up to more than regular FM and AM radio or need something that provides a highly-flexible alarm clock. It can also be used in the office, kitchen, shop or waiting room as a radio or background-music device, and can become a conversation piece in itself because of its shape. 

If you are after this radio in Australia, from my experience, I have found it for sale at the electrical department of the David Jones department stores at Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster. You may also find it available in other premium department stores like Marks & Spencers.

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Bush Australia. As well, Bush Australia have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media.

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Buyer’s Guide – Buying an Internet radio

Introduction

You love the sound of overseas radio stations or are fed up with what is playing on the local radio bands, and want to hear something different. You have then dabbled in Internet radio, usually through clicking on “Listen Here” links on radio station sites or using programs and Internet-radio directories like vTuner. You then realise that it would be better to hear this content through a standalone Internet radio rather than moving your laptop computer around and hearing the content through tinny speakers or being tied to your desktop computer.

There used to be a few Internet radios on the market but the number is slowly increasing, with nearly every premium-radio brand or boutique electronics brand running at least one model in at least a tabletop or portable form factor. The units can also pick up podcasts and support “listen-again” functionality for podcasts and similar content. Nearly all of the Internet radios on the market will have a built-in tuner for at least FM and/or DAB digital radio; and, save for a few cheap units, they are capable of playing music held on a computer or network-attached storage device via the home network using at least the UPnP AV (DLNA) protocol.

Where to go

Not many mass-market home-appliance and consumer-electronics chain stores stock Internet radios at the moment because most of these chains perceive that “Average Joe Six-Pack” won’t understand these radios. This is more so in Australia because of it being a smaller market than the UK or USA. You may be lucky to buy a set from the electrical / consumer electronics department of one of the established department stores like Myer, David Jones, Macys, Selfridges or Marks & Spencers; or some supermarket chains like Aldi.

The best bet for finding Internet radios would be to go to an independent audio-video or electronics dealer like SoundStream or Radio Parts Group. Alternatively you could shop online through a place like Amazon or one of the catalogue-driven direct-marketing outlets like Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer or Innovations. There are some manufacturers and distributors like Kogan who supply Internet radios and other equipment through their own direct-sales channels.

What do you need to know

Form factors

Tabletop (mantel) style

Tabletop Internet radios.jpg
Left: Denon S-52 Internet Radio / CD Player   Right: Tivoli Audio NetWorks Internet Radio

Examples: Denon S-52, Sangean WFR-1 Series, Pure Avanti Flow, Revo iBlik RadioStation, Kogan WiFi Digital Radio with iPod Dock

Kogan Internet radio

This is the most common type of Internet radio, where the set is similar to a clock radio or classic mantel / table radio. These units are designed to run only on AC power and have one or two integrated speakers.

 The reason Internet radios have appeared more in this class of set is because there is a renewed interest in this type of radio in the premium radio sector.

Most of these units have a line-level input jack so one can play a portable CD player or MP3 player through the radio’s speakers as well, in some cases, a line-level output to connect the radio to a recording device like a MiniDisc deck; or an external amplifier. Some units will have an integrated CD player, integrated iPod dock and / or USB socket to play music from a USB storage device.

The more expensive units like the Pure Avanti Flow, the Sangean WFR-1 Series or the Denon S-52 illustrated above have a sound quality that is very similar to one of the large high-end “ghetto-blasters” of the early 80s and can be an alternative to a regular bookshelf music system for a small apartment like a studio apartment or a college dorm room.

Portable style

Examples: Pure Evoke Flow, Roberts Stream 202, Revo Pico RadioStation

PureEvokeFlow.jpg

Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio

There is an increasing number of portable sets that are the same size as the typical portable radio of the kind with the large handle that sits on many kitchen benches and window sills. Most of these sets have a single speaker and will have a line-level input at least. A few of them can work on integrated batteries, either as a set of D-size cells or a rechargeable battery pack that is charged when the set is plugged in to AC power.

These units will typically have a sound quality reminiscent of the typical large portable radio or 1970s-era mono radio-cassette.

Internet-radio tuner

Examples: Sangean WFT-1 Series, Linn Akurate DS

These units don’t have built-in amplifiers or speakers and are designed to be connected to an existing music system via its line-level inputs or, in some cases, digital inputs. Some of these units may have a built-in DAB or FM tuner and can easily work as a replacement to an existing AM/FM tuner.

Some manufacturers may market these units as network music players because of their ability to play music held anywhere on the home network through the hi-fi system.

Music system or home-theatre receiver

Examples: Pioneer X-Z9 Network SACD Receiver, Denon AVR-5308, Onkyo TX-NR5007

Some tabletop music systems or home-theatre receivers, most notably models at the top-end of most manufacturers’ ranges, have Internet radio and network media playback as an extra “source” or “function”. This is usually to add extra value to these units, especially at this end of the market.

Some manufacturers may also integrate Internet-radio function in to “music-server” or “music jukebox” components. These are components which have an integrated hard disk where music “ripped” from CDs played in an integrated CD player or recorded from line-level inputs is held and can be played through the connected amplifier or, in some cases, provided over the network.

Network Connection

The tabletop and portable units and some Internet-radio tuners will typically have integrated 802.11g WiFi connectivity to a home network’s wireless segment. This connectivity will work properly with wireless networks that use standard WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal methods for their security, and usually require the passphrase or WEP key to be entered using a “pick’n’select” method. They also work well if the network has a visible SSID and most of them won’t support WPS or Windows Connect Now “quick-setup” routines or WiFi networks secured to corporate methods. As well, these sets won’t self-connect to hotspots that use common “browser-based” authentication setups.

Some of the tabletop and portable radios and all of the Internet-radio tuners and music systems / home-theatre receivers have a regular Ethernet jack for connection. This connection also works well with HomePlug powerline segments if you connect a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge appropriate to the class of HomePlug segment that you are operating to the Ethernet jack on the set.

Internet station directories

These sets, which are based on one of four platforms (RadioTime, Reciva, Frontier or vTuner), typically work with an integrated directory of Internet streams and podcasts that is able to be updated over the Internet. This can be done automatically or manually with the user pressing an “update” key. They also work with a Web portal which allows you to have a list of “online favourites” alongside the favourite streams associated with the set’s preset buttons.

The Web portals also exist for uploading a user-specified streaming-audio URL to the radio, which can be good for adding new Internet radio streams to your set.

Choosing the right Internet radio for your application

This is similar to choosing a regular radio, especially a premium radio set or music system / component, but you will have to factor in what kind of Internet connectivity you are running. If the site is capable of operating an 802.11g WiFi network or 2.4GHz 802.11n WiFi network operated in “compatibility mode” and secured with WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal, you can use any set that works with WiFi networks such as all of the tabletops and portables. On the other hand, you may have to prefer a set with an Ethernet connection and, in some cases, use a pair of “homeplugs” to locate the set where you want to have it.

As far as bringing Internet radio to the hi-fi or home-theatre system is concerned, an Internet-radio tuner may be what you need if you are happy with your current  system or have just bought a new receiver or music/AV system. As well, some of the tabletop and portable radios have a line-level output which can be another way of bringing Internet radio to your music system. You would have to make sure your existing equipment has a vacant line-level input such as an AUX, TAPE, CD or TUNER input. On the other hand, it may be worth factoring in Internet radio and network media playback as a feature to look for when upgrading or replacing your receiver or system.

Other things to know

Once you own one of these sets, it may be worth reading the DLNA Media Network series of feature articles in this blog, especially “Getting Started With DLNA Media Sharing” to understand the UPnP AV media player functionality that these sets offer. This can help you “liberate” your music collection held on your computer’s hard disk through your newly-purchased Internet radio,

Some of the Internet radios, most notably the Tivoli Networks and the Pure Evoke Flow are designed along the classic two-piece stereo principles that used to be practiced with some consumer-electronics equipment during the 1950s to 1970s, and commonly practiced with cheaper computer speakers. This is where the radio has one integrated speaker that yields mono sound but, whenever it is connected to a matching accessory speaker, it can yield stereo sound. Most of these sets that work that way have the accessory speaker supplied as an extra-cost option.

Conclusion

Once you know what is involved in purchasing an Internet radio, you can enjoy the fun of overseas, out-of-town and offbeat radio without needing to be near your computer.

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