Web radios bring thousands of broadcasters to the home
Jan 25, 2009, 15:54 GMT
Berlin - Unpack, plug in, and enjoy - there's a certain magic to the simplicity of radio. Simplicity is a must for radios that cost 150 dollars or more, as is the case with many so-called web radios. They are radios with an internet connection, capable of gathering thousands of broadcasters from all over the world into the user's home. They're intended to be the kind of thing you can give to grandma - and have her operate it on her own.
'When it works, it's exciting,' says Michael Wolf from the German consumer product testing group Stiftung Warentest in Berlin. A web radio requires a DSL connection, at the least. Most devices also offer FM reception, although it's perhaps much easier and cheaper to simply buy a normal kitchen radio for 20 dollars. The kitchen, the study, or the hobby room - this is where the web radio can really shine.
Given that most people don't have a DSL connection next to the fridge or underneath the workbench, web radios can usually connect via WLAN in addition to an Ethernet cable. Installing a secure WLAN connection is probably not a task for everyone. So the grandkids may need to help grandma get the wireless network up and running. This last factor is why the devices have generally been popular among technology fans so far.
Web radios are available for a broad swatch of manufacturers. Among the best-known representatives are Philips, Logitech, Terratec and Tivoli. Terratec has dubbed its web radio line Noxon. It now encompasses four models, the latest of which is the Noxon iRadio Cube for 199 dollars. It provides access to more than 11,000 internet radio stations, the manufacturer claims. These range from exotic programs from far away and countless local programs.
Web radios can be connected to a stereo system to allow the broadcasts to be played out on the bigger speakers. As the little devices are not really intended for the living room, however, one should check the quality of any given unit's speakers before buying. Quality can vary greatly.
The Squeezebox Boom from Logitech was among the winners in the sound category in a test by 'Computer Bild' magazine (23/2008 issue). Extra points were also awarded to units able to support a broad variety of audio formats, as is the case with the 280-dollars Squeezebox Boom.
Given the flood of potential broadcasters, a search function is essential to actually find a station you like. The Noxon iRadio Cube is certainly among the best devices in this regard. The search function on the Networks FM Stereo Speaker Set from Tivoli also drew praise from Computer Bild. The unit is essentially a loudspeaker with an integrated web radio; combined with a second speaker to provide stereo sound, the package runs 800 dollars.
When it comes to network-ready stereo sets and radios, Philips is perpetually among the pioneers: The 229 dollars NP2900/12 for example is a network player with integrated speakers, capable of playing music both from the Internet and the home PC.
Unpack, plug in, and enjoy - in practice web radios only partially achieve that goal. The better models are really a bit too expensive. Those priced under 100 dollars tended to perform poorly in tests, though.