Category Archives: Web Radio

Wi-Fi Radio Primer Part 2: Review of the CC WiFi and Sangean WFR-28

I originally wrote this three-part WiFi radio primer and review series for the April, May and June issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  Each part of this series will be posted with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer. You can read Part 1 by clicking here–I hope you enjoy Part 2 below:


CCWifi-Front-2

As I mentioned last week in the first of this three-part primer on WiFi radios, I never thought a WiFi radio was something I’d ever acquire.  By “WiFi radios,” of course, I mean Internet radio devices that have the sole purpose and dedicated function of streaming radio audio, and so, as a die-hard ham with a penchant for a well-balanced tuning knob, I just couldn’t see the need for what I thought of as an overly-simple, perhaps even redundant, device.

Indeed, until I began the as a search for the perfect radio for my family and XYL (“ex-young lady,” old ham radio speak for wife), I had used only an app on my smartphone (with headphones), and on tablet PCs connected to amplified speakers, in place of a dedicated WiFi radio. And I was fine with that. Or so I thought…

Fast-forward several months. Now that the XYL and kids have been using WiFi radios for a while, I don’t think they’ll go back. And as for myself? Yes, I’ve crossed that no-return boundary, too. Our whole family’s now joined the WiFi radio club, and the truth is, we’re all enjoying the WiFi’s simplicity and unique benefits.

In Part 1 of our WiFi Radio Primer, we discussed what makes WiFi radios tick––their ability to find radio stations via radio station aggregators. We also discussed the comparative merits of the most dominant aggregators on the market, and took a look at one easy alternative to the WiFi radio, namely, streaming from your smartphone or tablet.

Now we’ll investigate some of my picks from the current market.

WiFi radios: an overview

WiFi radios, by and large, look like traditional radios; they typically have backlit digital displays, front panel buttons to recall memories, and an internal speaker. They function like them, too, in that they play radio stations––but there’s where the resemblance stops. Streaming lnternet audio, and their dependence upon an aggregator to do this, sets them entirely apart.

The market for WiFi radios is actually not as broad and diverse as the shortwave radio market. If you’re seeking a quality device that uses a well-known, properly-curated station aggregator (again, see Part 1 for more on this), you’ll be looking at about a dozen (or so) radios currently on the market.

Here’s a short list of the current market’s most popular WiFi radios. Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list––it’s a curated list of WiFi radios that are in wide use, are relatively simple to operate, have built-in speakers, and that use reliable aggregators. I’ve noted the aggregator in parentheses as well as the average US purchase price.

The Pure Evoke F4 (untested)

The Pure Evoke F4 (untested)

Amazon:

CCrane Company:

Grace Digital

Pure

Sangean

And now, let’s meet our real contenders

After much research and head-scratching, I chose four WiFi radios from the above list: the C.Crane CC WiFi, the Sangean WFR-28, the Grace Digital Mondo and the Amazon Echo.

FYI––and in full disclosure––here’s how I obtain my review radios. To keep my review budget within reason, I contact a supplier and request a loaner unit for review that I may return or purchase afterward; otherwise, I purchase the unit(s) outright. In this case, I purchased the Amazon Echo ($179), Grace Digital Mondo ($150), and rechargeable “D” cells for the WFR-28 ($30), while both C.Crane and Sangean kindly opted to send sample review radios, this being a less expensive route for these retailers. When I receive samples, my policy is to give away those I don’t wish to keep; for those I do decide to keep, I donate the full retail price to Ears To Our World, a 501(c)(3) non-profit which sends self-powered shortwave radios to teachers in off-grid developing world communities.

The decision process, this time, was a particularly difficult one. Every model has its advantages and disadvantages; and there are no “perfect” WiFi radios––at least, none that satisfied all of my stringent requirements:

  • Handy size
  • Intuitive display
  • Dedicated memory buttons on front panel
  • Clear, robust audio
  • External connections
  • An internal rechargeable battery option (for portability)
  • Easy setup
  • Remote control
  • Traditional FM and/or AM radio tuner

Several friends urged me consider the Pure EVOKE F4, which reportedly has excellent audio, a simple interface, and superb customer support. Plus, it’s a sleek little device, and…well, frankly, cute. Many have also touted Pure’s own proprietary aggregator, as well. But I just couldn’t justify purchasing and reviewing a WiFi radio with such a hefty price tag ($225), especially knowing that I would also need to purchase the optional battery pack ($50) for a total performance picture.

Reviews

Following are summary reviews of each radio I tested. These are not comprehensive reviews covering every feature; rather, in these summaries, I focus my analysis on their ability to tune stations, on audio quality, on portability, and simply on general usability.

The C.Crane CC WiFi

CCWifi-Front-Angle-2

I’ve had many C.Crane radios in the past. I love C.Crane products because they’re typically well-designed, effective, and because C.Crane offers excellent customer support.

The CC WiFi radio has been on the market longer than any other WiFi radio reviewed here. When I first unboxed the CC WiFi, I was a little surprised by its diminutive size: it is, perhaps, 30% smaller than I expected (based solely on web images and from the catalog). It comes with a small remote control with blister/membrane style buttons. The front panel on the CC WiFi is very simple: one large knob, six buttons, and a monochrome backlit two-line alpha-numeric display.

The front panel of the CC Wifi is simple and intuitive. The main knob acts as both a selection dial and volume control.

The front panel of the CC Wifi is simple and intuitive. The main knob acts as both a selection dial and volume control.

Setup is fairly easy; the accompanying owner’s manual walks you through the process (another C.Crane strength is their production of good-quality manuals). Once I had set up the radio and registered it with the Reciva aggregator, I was tuning in the world.

The CC WiFi’s plastic chassis feels rather thin––at least, thinner than I would have expected. But the radio is surprisingly lightweight, perhaps as a result of this. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised by the audio from the internal speaker. It provides a full sound and is more than adequate for medium-sized rooms. Bass tones are present, though not especially deep. It’s wonderfully balanced for the spoken word.

All of the external ports are on the rear panel of the CC Wifi and include an ethernet connection, headphone jack, line out jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

All of the external ports are on the rear panel of the CC Wifi and include an ethernet connection, headphone jack, line-out jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

The CC WiFi only has three buttons on the front panel of the radio that act as dedicated memory presets. I wish this number were, at the very least, doubled. With the provided remote control, of course, memory presets are expanded to 99 allocations. Fortunately, you can pretty much operate the CC WiFi’s functions without the remote control (a bonus for those of us who tend to misplace tiny remote controls).

There are a few updates that I think would make the CC WiFi shine:

To help with portability, it would make sense to add a carry handle and capacity for internal rechargeable batteries. The CC WiFi requires a DC power supply to operate; this is a shame because I suspect other listeners, like me, often enjoy radio away from home where there are no main power outlets. The unit is small enough, and lightweight enough, that it would lend itself very well to portability.

CCWifi-Display

Though I’m sure the two-line backlit display was among the best in its class when the CC WiFi was introduced, I now find myself wishing this display could be a bit wider, taller, and (ideally) in color. The display is small enough that if you’re browsing stations with the accompanying remote control, you need to be within a few feet of the radio. If it’s across the room, however, it’s very difficult to navigate.

Additionally, the display width is not sufficient for longer Reciva station names/labels. As an example, I have a folder with local CBC stations from across Canada. Stations are labeled with the town or city name following, for example, “CBC Radio One – Toronto” or “CBC Radio One – Charlottetown.” When I’m browsing the folder of CBC stations, the display merely shows me a long list of “CBC Radio One” stations––which is to say, the truncated display cuts off the city’s name. Of course, I can press the right arrow on the remote to have the station name slowly scroll into view, but this is a cumbersome process when browsing the list. There are, of course, work-arounds for this––I could, for example, create folders for each city, or assign the station to a dedicated memory position––but the then I would have to drill down another level to find my station. “Work” around is the operative term, in either case, .

Pros:

  • Small size
  • Ethernet connection
  • Line-out audio
  • Headphone jack (on back)
  • Included IR remote control
  • Affordable
  • Audio quite good for size of unit (bass, see con)
  • Extras include:
    • Pandora connect
    • Live365 (now defunct)

Cons:

  • No battery-power option
  • Thin, “plasticky” feel to chassis, seems less durable
  • Occasional slow connection time to WiFi
  • Internal speaker generates (comparatively) weak bass
  • No EQ for audio
  • Only three memory buttons on front panel
  • No smartphone/tablet app

Overall, I think the CC WiFi is a good value and is currently one of the least expensive WiFi radios using the excellent Reciva aggregator. The CC WiFi has a surprising number of features for its price class. None of the criticisms above are necessarily deal-breakers, but some strategic upgrades to this radio would keep it competitive for many years to come.

The CC Wifi can be purchased from the following retailers:

The Sangean WFR-28

Sangean-WFR-28-Front

When I first unboxed the Sangean WFR-28, I immediately noticed its design, which bore a striking similarity to other Sangean AM/FM portables like the Sangean PR-D7. The WFR-28 has a glossy hard plastic body that feels robust and durable. The buttons are spaced well across the front panel and have a tactile responsiveness and weight that speaks of quality. There is a dedicated volume rocker button, five memory preset buttons, as well as a dedicated tuning knob and five function buttons.

Sangean-WFR-28-Front-Panel

The WFR-28 also has an easy-to-read square color screen that provides about five lines of text and can display any broadcaster artwork/logos provided. You can access all of the WFR-28’s functions by using the front panel buttons and tuning controls. As with most WiFi radios, doing so is not as enjoyable an experience as with most traditional radios, since you’re using a tuning control to move up or down through selections on a small display.

The Sangean remote control app allows full control of the WFR-28's functions.

The Sangean remote control app allows full control of the WFR-28’s functions.

The Sangean WFR-28 does not ship with a remote; however, if you have an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, you can download a free “remote control” app to control your radio.

I find that this is actually more convenient than with a traditional IR remote, because you can control the radio functions from anywhere within your WiFi network. Not to mention, it’s great to be able to turn the volume up from another room in the house!

What I really appreciate is the ability to browse the full Frontier Silicon database from the app-––so much easier than browsing through the radio’s front panel. I do wish there was a way, however, to add stations to memory allocations via the smartphone app (take note of this for a future app update, Sangean!)

The Sangean remote app even allows you to control the various player modes: Internet Radio, USB, AUX in, and the traditional FM tuner.

If you have a USB memory stick with audio content, you can play it through the WFR-28 via this handy, dedicated USB port on the top of the unit.

If you have a USB memory stick with audio content, you can play it through the WFR-28 via this handy, dedicated USB port on the top of the unit.

Speaking of which, yes, the WFR-28 has a very good FM tuner. I can easily receive one of my benchmark distant-FM stations, and even successfully decode the RDS data––both the remote app, and the radio display FM station information. Nice touch, Sangean!

Sangean-WFR-28-Battery-Compartment

The WFR-28 doesn’t ship with a battery pack: rather, it takes traditional D cells in either Alkaline or NiMH form. I purchased a four-pack of high-quality, high-capacity NiMH D cells––they’ll set you back $25-30, but are well worth the investment. The WFR-28 will internally recharge the cells when plugged into an outlet. Once fully charged, you’ll have hours upon hours of playtime. I haven’t measured the total playtime after a full charge, but I imagine it to be in excess of 24 hours.

Sangean-WFR-28-Back

What is the WFR-28 missing? One obvious thing is a carry handle or strap, always useful. Other than that, it really packs a lot for a $122 radio.

Pros:

  • Good audio fidelity from internal speaker
    • Preset EQ settings
    • Customizable EQ
    • Crisp with noticeable bass tones
  • Affordable
  • One-touch preset buttons (see con)
  • iOS/Android app/remote control
  • Accepts and charges standard NiMH D cells
  • Very good FM receiver/displays RDS information
  • Superb playtime from 4 D cells/batteries
  • USB MP3 playback (MP3 and WMA compatible)
  • Stream Spotify music channels and selections

Cons:

  • Only five preset buttons
  • No carry handle
  • If unplugged to go portable, radio shuts down and restarts on battery power, rather than remaining on
  • No battery indicator on display
  • On a few occasions the audio has failed after being woken up from standby (turning the radio off, then on again, is the fix for this)
All of the external ports are on the left side (facing) of the radio. The WFR-28 has an auxiliary in, line out, headphone jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

All of the external ports are on the left side (facing) of the radio. The WFR-28 has an auxiliary in, line out, headphone jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

Overall, I believe the Sangean WFR-28 is an excellent WiFi radio; when combined with rechargeable D cells, you have a portable multi-function audio entertainment system that’s simple to use. I should note that I’ve also been pleased with the Frontier Silicon station aggregator, as well; although more simple than other aggregators, FS just happens to provide all of my favorite stations and networks (do check for your faves before you buy).

Sangean-WFR-28-Front-Angle

The Sangean WFR-28 can be purchased from the following retailers:

Stay tuned! In Part 3 of our WiFi Radio Primer, we’ll take a look at two more WiFi radios: the Grace Digital Mondo and the Amazon Echo.

Wi-Fi Radio Primer Part 1: Radio station aggregators and alternatives

I originally wrote this three-part WiFi radio primer and review series for the April, May and June issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  Each part of this series will be posted with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer. I hope you enjoy Part 1 below:


The Grace Digital Mondo

I’ve always been a hard-core shortwave radio listener.  I like the tactile experience of turning the knobs of the shortwave, tuning in stations across the globe. So when online listening became popular, it never occurred to me to engage in this new, seemingly lesser sport; I put trying it on the back burner, and continued to enjoy my shortwave. After all, I rationalized, why listen to anything other than an actual radio?

Then, at the 2012 Winter SWL Fest, an excellent presentation on the merits and technologies behind Wi-Fi radio intrigued me. I found myself downloading and installing the Pro version of the TuneIn radio app. On the twelve-hour drive back home from the Fest, I tuned to local radio stations across the world via the TuneIn app. I had to admit, it was a pretty powerful listening experience…one I could easily get used to.

And get used to it, I did.  That’s when I realized that streaming radio stations over the Internet is, essentially, content DXing. For while there isn’t any particular skill required to listen to Internet radio, it offers convenient listening opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have, and without the rigors of travel.  For example, from my home in the southeastern US, I can listen to a station in Perth, Australia––one local to that area and one that has never been, nor is likely to be, on shortwave. I found it frankly addictive.

uneIn's iPad app has a beautiful, simple user interface. If you purchase the TuneIn Pro version ($9.99 for the iPad) banner ads disappear.

TuneIn’s iPad app has a beautiful, simple user interface. If you purchase the TuneIn Pro version ($9.99 for the iPad) banner ads disappear.

Since 2012, I’ve relied on my TuneIn app and either a tablet or smartphone to listen to stations. I found I could hook up my tablet to a portable powered speaker, an SStran AM transmitter, or even a whole-house stereo, and enjoy music from all over the world.

There was only one problem, however: while they enjoyed the music, my busy family didn’t appreciate the complexity of my radio set-up. The truth is, it did require warming up a lot of equipment––most of which is in my shack––not to mention making sure connections were in place, logging in, launching apps, and then searching for stations.  One day, referencing the cobbler’s children (who, in the old adage, go without shoes), my wife asked in exasperation, “Isn’t there some way to make listening to music around here just a little more accessible to all of us?  Maybe something we could just turn on––?”

The Quest

Thus began my quest to purchase a dedicated Wi-Fi Radio, an Internet appliance with a singular purpose:  to play online radio stations from across the globe.  Simply. 

Fortunately, I reasoned, the process of choosing such a radio was likely to be just as simple.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I was already familiar enough with the wider radio landscape to know that these radios range from about $110 to $250 in price, and that they’re widely available from a number of radio and online retailers. Moreover, I’m lucky enough to count among my friends some of the most knowledgeable experts on the topic of Wi-Fi radio––Rob De Santos, Richard Cuff, and last but not least, John Figliozzi, author of the recently updated Worldwide Listening Guide––all of whom had jointly presented at that 2012 Fest that ignited my interest in WiFi radio. No doubt, I thought, a group-email to these experts would rapidly solve our dilemma.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

My expert friends all had excellent advice, but made me aware that there’s much more involved to choosing a WiFi radio than simply selecting the best-priced or the latest model. Firstly, they advised, it’s very important to identify a good station aggregator, and then select a good radio that relies upon it.

Radio Station Aggregators

WiFi radios are Internet appliances with the ability to stream Internet content, but they’re not endowed with the ability to seek out stations in the wild and import their audio streams. WiFi radios, I soon learned, rely on “aggregators,” or online databases of curated links to radio stations.

In the early days of WiFi radio, there were several models of radios on the market that linked to proprietary aggregators, many of which eventually closed down. When a WiFi radio loses its ability to link to an aggregator, it becomes no more than a pricey paperweight, especially if the WiFi radio doesn’t have traditional AM/FM reception as a backup.

The CC WiFi uses the popular Reciva aggregator.

The CC WiFi radio uses the popular Reciva aggregator.

So not only does an aggregator need to have some longevity, it also needs to be actively curated. This means having to staff actual human beings to help manage additions, deletions, and changes to the large database of broadcasters. This is necessary because radio stations and radio networks often change their streaming server address or format with very little notice. Good aggregators have methods that allow for broadcasters and listeners to submit such changes for approval so that streaming can be fully reestablished across the network of subscribing WiFi radios.

It should be noted as well that some aggregators may not support the protocol broadcasters choose to use for their streams. So, prior to purchasing a radio, buyers should attempt an Internet search to make sure their favorite broadcasters are listed among those offered by the radio’s aggregator. This being said, buyers must be aware that a number of aggregators require a username and password to search through their listings, thus limiting any pre-purchase search.

Types of Aggregators

Aggregators fall into two categories: those that are radio-dependent, and those that are not.

Radio-dependent aggregators are those that you can use only if you own a compatible device. For example, to stream from the Reciva system, you must first own a Reciva-connected WiFi radio. With your radio model/serial number in hand, you’ll be able to create a login on the Reciva system. From there, you can create lists of favorite stations and manage them.  If you don’t own a Reciva radio, however, you can’t log into the Reciva database. The same applies to Frontier Silicon (Sangean), as well as Pure.

The dominant open (or, non radio-dependent) aggregator on the market as of this publication is TuneIn Radio. TuneIn does not require a compliant device; you can create an account with TuneIn and stream from it via your computer, tablet, or smartphone. And of course, there are now radios that link to TuneIn as their aggregator.

VTuner is another open aggregator that can be explored prior to purchasing a compatible WiFi radio. Note that in this WiFi primer we will not explore the VTuner aggregator, however it will be covered in the upcoming review of the Como Audio Solo.

Following is a list of the most popular aggregators with a brief description of each.

Radio-dependent Aggregators

Reciva (https://radios.reciva.com/)

Reciva's station search function is more functional than that of Frontier Silicon. I can typically find a station by searching by call sign. When that doesn't work--as in this case when I searched for CKUT--I simply searched by city.

Reciva’s station search function is more functional than that of Frontier Silicon. I can typically find a station by searching by call sign. When that doesn’t work–as in this case when I searched for CKUT–I simply searched by city.

The Reciva aggregator has been around for many years. At one point, it was the most user-friendly and most actively curated aggregator on the market. Today, Reciva is still the most popular choice in a WiFi radio aggregator.

I find the Reciva website easy to use, even if its design and user-interface are slightly outdated. Reciva also seems to be relatively quick to respond to stream-server changes. When my favorite Internet radio station changed streaming servers last year, Reciva was quick to update the link. Reciva also allows you to build folders of favorite stations that make it easy for you to navigate with your radio. Moreover, Reciva has an advanced search function that also makes finding particular stations relatively easy.

Frontier Silicon (http://www.wifiradiofrontier.com/)

Frontier Silicon's website is clean, simple and responsive. Their "My Favourites" page makes organizing your many station memories an intuitive process.

Frontier Silicon’s website is clean, simple and responsive. Their “My Favourites” page makes organizing your many station memories an intuitive process.

As far as I can tell, Sangean is the only WiFi radio manufacturer using the Frontier Silicon aggregator. The Frontier Silicon interface is very basic, but gets the job done. Adding stations to a playlist also seems to be very straightforward.

With that said, however, if you chose the option of browsing stations by category––say, by language or genre––Frontier Silicon doesn’t allow you to search within the category’s results for specificity. For example, I recently wanted to search for new French language stations in a certain town in France. Once I had chosen the French language, then the country, I was presented with a list of over 1700 stations arranged alphabetically with twenty results per page, and with no way to search among them. It was frustratingly imprecise. Not only could I not find the town, but the station list was simply too broad, too unwieldy, to navigate.

Frontier Silicon’s database of information can be incomplete––and inconsistent.  Nonetheless, there are some tricks to help you find stations; for example, an online search by call sign and name may lead you to the desired result (then searching Frontier Silicon for other station keywords). A quick Internet search can also help you find regional broadcasters.

Frontier Silicon provides an easy means by which to submit new stations and provide updated information, should your station change server locations, but one must be patient. For example, I submitted a station’s updated URL to Frontier Silicon; it took them almost a week to update the stream, whereas Reciva took only a day or so to do the same.

All in all, the Frontier Silicon platform, though more bare-bones than its competitors, does the trick and seems to work quite well.

Pure (http://www.pure.com/) (Untested)

purelogoThe manufacturer, Pure, also has their own aggregator for their radio product line. Since I didn’t test a Pure WiFi radio for this review, I haven’t tried their system. I do have two friends that tout the virtues of Pure’s radios as well as Pure’s aggregator, claiming superb customer service and overall product quality.

As Pure is a “closed” ecosystem, I suppose there could be concerns about their products should the company ever close its doors.  But the company’s strong consumer following makes this relatively unlikely. One pleased user of my acquaintance claimed that Pure is to WiFi radio what Apple is to computers––in other words, it’s a company that provides a quality product, excellent design, as well as a user-friendly interface. I can’t speak to this comparison.  But I do know that, also like Apple, Pure’s products top the market in terms of price:  their Pure Evoke F4 (without extra speaker or battery) retails for $225 – 250 US. To put this in perspective, the priciest radio I reviewed was purchased for $170.  So, clearly, Pure’s products can double the cost of their competitor’s.

Open Aggregators

TuneIn (http://tunein.com)

You don't have to own a WiFi radio to begin organizing your favorite streaming broadcasters. Simply create a free account at TuneIn Radio (http://TuneIn.com), search for and organize your favorites and changes will propagate to all of your TuneIn connected devices and apps.

Create a free account at TuneIn Radio (http://TuneIn.com), search for/organize your favorites and changes will propagate to all of your TuneIn connected devices and apps.

I have been using the TuneIn system for at least four years. It is, without doubt, the most user-friendly database of radio stations I’ve tested. TuneIn’s search functionality is exceptionally powerful; I’ve found that I can almost always locate a station in a matter of seconds. And of course, you can hone in on a favorite station by region and genre.

The TuneIn search screen.

The TuneIn search screen.

The great thing about Tunein is that you don’t have to own an Internet device to use it. You can use a free account to organize your favorite stations, which will then propagate to the TuneIn app on your phone or tablet––as well as to your web browser, should you decide to listen on your computer.

Overall, the TuneIn user interface is pleasant and responsive; in short, it’s my favorite among the aggregators I tested.

Live365_logoLive365

Live 365––an aggregator with some history, which may very well have been in existence longer than any other––specializes in Internet stations rather than radio broadcasters who also happen to stream on the Internet.

[Update] Sadly, on February 1 st , 2016, Live365 closed for business. It is unlikely another company will pick up the reigns.

Why did Live365 close shop? Here’s what Forbes.com suggests:

“It is rumored that the service is being forced into early retirement because of new royalty rates that digital radio producers now need to adhere to. Late in 2015, the Copyright Royalty Board handed down its decision about what internet radio services will need to pay per stream, and it apparently hurt Live365 so much that it can no longer afford for the rights to play music.”

Among WiFi radios, Live 365 functions as an “add on” rather than sole default aggregator. If your radio has Live 365 functionality, the loss of service will have no effect on other radio functions.

Network-Specific Aggregators and services

iHeart-Radio-LogoiHeart Radio: iHeartRadio is an Internet radio platform owned by iHeartMedia, Inc. The iHeart radio app functions as both a radio network for the 800+ iHeart radio stations around the world and also as a music recommendation system. There are no WiFi radios that use iHeart as a default aggregator, but there are several that include iHeart as a featured app.

SiriusXM (paid): SiriusXM is a satellite radio subscription service; subscribers at a certain subscription level can also stream 130 channels over the Internet.

Music and other internet radio services

Spotify-LogoThere are a number of Internet radio services that are not curated.  Many of these services are adaptive platforms that create impromptu radio “stations” based on your preferences. These services may be included with a WiFi radio, but most are used in conjunction with smartphone apps, among them, Pandora, Slacker, LastFM, Spotify, and Aupeo. Note these services are outside the scope of this review for the simple reason that, as a content DXer, my interest is on actual radio stations rather than music services.

A final note about aggregators

There are likely other aggregators and services in existence that I’ve omitted from this review. Again, I focused on the better-known aggregators and services, most of which are considered relatively stable and well-supported by both manufacturers and WiFi radio enthusiasts.

In conclusion, I’ll say once more:  it’s important to check whether a particular aggregator supports your favorite radio station(s) and broadcast network(s) prior to purchasing the adjunct radio. And if it doesn’t, you need not necessarily rule out the system altogether; often an aggregator will have the capability to add the preferred station(s), so this is also worth investigating. The obvious exceptions are stations using streaming formats not supported by your radio or your aggregator (or both). In short, do check before you buy.

I’ve been testing WiFi radios supported by Reciva, Frontier Silicon, and TuneIn, and can say that I haven’t been displeased with any of them. All seem to support my favorite stations and networks.

Alternatives to WiFi radios

The Roku 3

The Roku 3

Before we look at the WiFi radios on the market in Part 2 and 3 of this feature––coming up in the coming weeks––I should note that there are certainly cheaper alternatives to a dedicated WiFi Radio, especially if you already own a device that can play Internet radio content. By and large, smartphones, tablets, as well as PCs offer the most convenient access to online broadcast streaming, though even some TVs and video streaming devices (Roku, AppleTV, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, Google’s Chromecast, and so forth) contain basic audio streaming apps.

Smartphones

Since the majority of us have a smartphone or tablet, you’ll find this provides a convenient and readily accessible means by which to enjoy the functionality of a portable WiFi radio.  If you haven’t already done so, the process couldn’t be easier:  simply download the TuneIn app (Android: http://bit.ly/1gB1DAh and iOS: http://apple.co/1O9aZxI).

Though TuneIn offers a monthly premium plan (primarily for those who want coverage of sporting events), even the free plan unlocks the full database of radio stations across the globe.

With the app installed, you can plug in headphones and tune in thousands of stations. If you want improved audio, simply plug in an external amplified speaker, or connect a speaker via BlueTooth.

iPodTouch-TuneIn

The app is lightweight and doesn’t rob you of much of your device’s resources. And of course, it can play in the background as you do other things.  As a bonus, TuneIn can stream thousands of podcasts––including those from the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. There’s a curious pleasure in riding a train or subway while listening to an archived off-air recording of Radio Moscow from the 1970s!

While we’re talking about apps, there’s also an excellent one written by shortwave listener, Steven Clift, called the 1 Radio News app. At the moment, it’s only available for Android devices. There’s also a free version with some banner ads and a Pro version ($.99) with no ads and more stations.

WiFi radio?  We’re hooked

For many––myself included––this was my WiFI set-up for many years:  a smartphone and headphones, plus a tablet hooked up to a powered portable speaker. I never felt the need to have a dedicated Internet appliance for tuning radios stations…until, that is, my family needed something more, launching this investigation into the world of WiFi radio.

Now, having experienced the benefits of dedicated WiFi radio, I don’t think I’d choose to be without one. It’s just incredibly convenient to tune in a station on a simple device which has as its sole purpose streaming audio. All of the units I reviewed have excellent audio via the internal speaker, too.

Best yet, I’ve now found a radio that my entire family––yes, even my wife––enjoys. With the touch of a button or a voice command, they now tune to favorite stations in Brazil, Africa, Europe, or Canada.  And our house is now full of their music choices, too.

Coming up in the next two issues: Parts 2 and 3 which include reviews of four popular WiFi radios.

I will post each part of this three part series with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer.

Check out the new web-based KiwiSDR in New Zealand

Kiwi-SDR-1

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andrea Borgnino, who shares a link to a new web SDR in New Zealand: The KiwiSDR installation.

Andrea posted the following on Twitter:

I agree with Andrea: this WebSDR has an amazing display and user interface. It even includes both a spectrum and full-color waterfall.

I’ve enjoyed tuning around the mediumwave band in New Zealand this morning. My Internet connection is terribly slow (and unreliable) but I was still able to view the full display while streaming audio with only a few hiccups.  With a moderately robust Internet connection, I believe you’ll be pleased with the KiwiSDR.

Click here to visit the KiwiSDR online.

Many thanks, Andrea, for the tip!

World Radio Network cuts some services and “refocuses”

WRN-Logo-BlueMany SWLs like listening to the World Radio Network.  It appears WRN will be cutting some of their services including their web-based audio player and podcast.

WRN mentioned this in their weekly newsletter this morning:

“WRN Broadcast has announced that as part of the company’s continued growth strategy it will be refocusing its seven international radio networks to concentrate on the core service regions.  As a result the French and German Networks will cease broadcasting from midnight 31 December 2013, and the wrn.org web-based stations audio on-demand and podcasting service will cease on 16 December 2013. This Newsletter will also close with the last edition published on20 December 2013.”

See WRN’s full press release below:


WRN Broadcast refocuses World Radio Network services

WRN Broadcast today announced that as part of the company’s continued growth strategy it will be refocusing its 7 international radio networks to concentrate on the core service regions.

David Treadway, CEO, WRN Broadcast, said: “As a business we’re in fantastic shape, with significant growth year-on-year from our comprehensive range of services across TV, Radio and Digital, but as a longstanding broadcast service company we are always evolving services to better meet the needs of our clients. With this development of The Networks, we’re future-proofing the service for all of the international listening community and our broadcast partners. We look forward to continuing our working relationship with all those existing network broadcasters as well as the clients in our core areas of broadcast distribution and managed services.”

The World Radio Network was created to aggregate news and current affairs from leading worldwide public and private broadcasters and content producers, including NHK, VoR and KBS. The network developed to include Arabic, Russian, French, and German whilst evolving the original English network into 3 specific networks covering Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. Both the French and German services will cease broadcasting as part of this development.

The move will increase partner opportunities for the network of channels and allow further development of key areas of business growth, which centre around the company’s first-class broadcast distribution and managed services across TV, Radio and Digital.

The WRN French and German Networks will cease broadcasting from midnight 31 December 2013, with the web-based radio on-demand and podcasting service terminating on 16 December 2013.

WRN Broadcast contacts:

Email: info@wrnbroadcast.com

Dave’s FM station empire

FMMegaplexDave Schmarder (N2DS) enjoys making radios and featuring them on his website, http://makearadio.com. What you may not know is that he also runs his own FM stations empire…and you can too:

I thought your visitors might be interested in my FM stations empire. I bought a bunch of mp3 players with built in fm transmitters that are usually used in a car and adapted them for home use. They all cost me under $4 each, plus a TF card for a couple bucks for each music transmitter.

At the moment I have 8 transmitters running, mostly with usb sticks looping music, but also a transmitter hooked to my tv cable box and another one to my internet radio.

This allows me to be anywhere in my little house and listen to these audio sources using a small Tecsun FM radio. During the summer I could sit on my porch and listen without dragging my radios or iPad outside.

Perhaps some of your visitors might be interested in having their own fm radio megaplex. Here is the link: http://www.n2ds.com/musiccenter/musiccenter.htm

73, Dave
N2DS

Thanks, Dave!

I’ve often thought of broadcasting 1930’s and 40’s music over a micro shortwave transmitter in my house. I would love to know if any readers have done this. Admittedly, it would take a pretty committed shortwave radio geek. Anyone? Anyone?