Category Archives: Web Radio

Radio Garden: An addictive way to scan online radio stations

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors David and Monti who share a link to Radio Garden, a new web-based interface for exploring online radio stations across the globe.

[…]Radio Garden, which launched today, is a similar concept—a way to know humanity through its sounds, through its music. It’s an interactive map that lets you tune into any one of thousands of radio stations all over the world in real time. Exploring the site is both immersive and a bit disorienting—it offers the sense of lurking near Earth as an outsider. In an instant, you can click to any dot on the map and hear what’s playing on the radio there, from Miami to Lahore to Berlin to Sulaymaniyah and beyond.

The project, created for the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision by the interactive design firms Studio Puckey and Moniker, was built using an open-source WebGL globe that draws from thousands of radio stations—terrestrial and online-only streams—overlaid with Bing satellite imagery.

The result is the best kind of internet rabbit hole: Engrossing, perspective shifting, provocative, and delightful. […]

Read the full article at The Atlantic.

Click here to use Radio Garden.

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Bob recommends Radio Tray

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bob Chandler (VE3SRE), who leaves the following reply to our WiFi Radio Primer:

radiotrayI have been streaming online radio using a PC for a number of years using a really simple programme for the GNU/Linux operating system called “Radio Tray“.   Radio Tray is a tiny programme written in Python that uses the Gstreamer “back end”.

This programme is so small, that you can turn that old 1990’s vintage Pentium II laptop that’ gathering dust in a broom closet into an internet radio.   Just choose a very “lightweight” distribution of GNU/Linux.

For instance, on an old “original” Asus EeePC netbook, with a 900 MHz. Celeron processor, 512 MB RAM and a little 4 GB solid state hard drive, I installed the “Debian” distribution but used the lightweight “JWM” window manager for the GUI.   JWM isn’t pretty, but it works great!

You can get “Radio Tray” using the package management system of just about any GNU/Linux distribution.   I know for sure it’s in the “repos” for Ubuntu, Debian, Arch and Fedora along with all of the derivatives.    Unfortunately, it’s not available for Windows and MacOS.   But, the GNU/Linux OS is “free as in freedom and free as in free beer” as they say!

All of your radio station “bookmarks” are stored in a simple “bookmarks.xml” file that makes it a breeze to copy your bookmarks from computer to computer.    Over the years I’ve accumulated a thousand or more (I’ve lost count) internetradio stations in Radio Tray.

Radio Tray is capable of handling just about any streaming format.

My online “dx challenge” is finding the “real” stream URL of the station that’s often buried inside of browser based “Flash” players.    But, since these days most radio stations outsource their audio streaming to one of about half a dozen streaming audio providers, once you’ve figured out the provider’s URL pattern for one station, you’ve figured them all out.

I’m able to figure out the “real” stream URL about 90% of the time.   Some are easy, while some require a bit of detective work.

That also means that I don’t depend on streaming aggregators, since stream URL’s are changing all the time and sometimes it takes the aggregator a while to do an update.   I can just update a station that I’m interested in myself.

Here’s the website for “Radio Tray

http://radiotray.sourceforge.net/

I also wrote a blurb about radio tray on my own (very much neglected) website a couple of years ago.

http://ve3sre.com/wordpress/radiotraysoftware/

Thanks, Bob! I was not familiar with this app–seems like a simple addition to any PC.

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Internet Radio: Mark wants to know about your listening habits!

comoaudiosolo-internetradio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares the following reply to our Como Audio Solo review:

I am a heavy user of internet radios and have a few scatted around the home, the one most frequently used is the Grace in the kitchen. What stations do people listen to?

I listen to lots of different things while cooking, what I do is tune to a station local to whatever I am preparing. So that means a lot of Asian stations; Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Japan, China, Laos etc! A few months ago spending time in Southern California put me in the mood for Mexican food, so there has been a lot of Mexican radio playing in the kitchen lately. On the special occasions when cooking Grits for breakfast I usually listen to 103.3 AshevilleFM.

[Note to Mark: I’d like to think I have something to do with the fact you’re one of the only guys cooking grits in Australia! -Thomas]

The Logitech in the bedroom is usually tuned into European stations late a night as I drift off, and as I wake up and dress I’m usually listening to Japanese community radio stations.

In the main living area mostly USA alternative and indi rock, NPR or college radio is on.

I am a very serious flight-simmer and love exploring around the world this virtual way. I’m very serious about this so preflight and route planning takes up to an hour, so in the hours before a flight I quite typically listen to a station in the city my Cessna-404 twin turbo happens to be at that particular time.

I’m kind of interested – what are you guys listening to on internet radios?

PS. Oh and the Como Solo looks great – Im ordering one!

Your query is timely, Mark, as someone recently asked me the same question.

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio

I primarily use Internet radio to listen to music and local news outlets.

In terms of music, I love almost everything, but especially Jazz, Classic Rock, Big Band, Brazilian music, French, Mambo, Zydeco, Electronica, and, frankly, anything a little eclectic and musically interesting.

Some of my favorite music stations are: The UK 1940s Radio Station, RFI Musique, FIP, Radio Bossa Nova, KBON, Espace Musique (various outlets), CBC Ambient Lounge, Kanal Jazz, Radio Swiss Jazz, WNMB, RadioNostalgia, Celtic Music Radio 1530, WNCW, Radio 6 and Fréquence 2 to name a few.

In terms of news and talk, I listen to: CBC Radio 1 (Toronto, Montreal, St. Johns, Charlottetown), WFAE, WCQS, Alaska Public Media, Vermont Public Radio, France Inter, Radio Canada, ABC Radio Australia, ABC Northern Tasmania, Radio New Zealand National, BBC World Service, 7RPH, Federal News Radio, ABC Radio Perth and many, many more.

I especially love finding some random, local radio station and eavesdropping on their community news!

I have well over 100 stations/favorites organized in various folders on my WiFi radios.

Honestly, this 2016 election season in the States has so heavily dominated domestic news, I’ve focused almost exclusively on stations outside of the US to seek a little refuge.

Of course, I’m also a heavy shortwave listener. While using a WiFi radio lacks the “fun factor” and skill of SWLing, it certainly serves up a world of diversity and is the perfect compliment to shortwave listening.

elecraft-kx3-radioaustralia

Radio Australia serving up a blowtorch signal into North America this morning–a steady S9+20db on my Elecraft KX3.

As I type this post this morning, for example, I’ve been listening to the CBC and France Inter on my WiFi radio (the audio actually emanates from my vintage Scott Marine SLR-M via an SStran AM transmitter). I’ve been muting the WiFi radio from time to time to listen to the ABC top of the hour news and music programming on Radio Australia with my Elecraft KX3 (above).

Now…back to Mark’s question…

What do you, dear Post reader, listen to on your WiFi radio, mobile device or computer? Please comment!

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A review of the Como Audio Solo

como-audio-solo-table

Regular SWLing Post readers might remember that this past summer, I made an impulse purchase–and in doing so, backed a Kickstarter campaign for the new Como Audio Solo.

But exactly why did I buy this small, self-contained digital music device–? Having just completed an in-depth review of several WiFi radios, I certainly didn’t need another.  But the good-looking Solo, with its clean design and walnut casing really caught my attention…I couldn’t resist checking it out.  Plus, in backing the radio via Kickstarter, I was able to purchase it for $100 less than the predicted future retail of $299 US.

The Kickstarter campaign funding Como Audio was prompt in communicating updates with backers and providing even more product options during the wait for production and delivery. Although several other snazzy finishes for the Solo were brandished before me, I stuck firmly by the walnut veneer I’d originally chosen.

Fast forward to the present. I finally received my Como Audio Solo a few weeks ago, and have had time to play with it. While I haven’t had time to explore every nuance of this radio, of course, I have had an opportunity to form some opinions.

Design

I don’t often comment on the design of radios I review, but in this case it’s worth noting.

The Como Audio Solo, in wood, is elegant and simple. Love it:

img_20161003_163200127

The only element of the design I’m not typically keen on?  I’m not the biggest fan of devices that sport colored backlit displays; to me they appear a bit flash and faddish, undermining a radio’s overall aesthetic.

But I must say, the Solo pulls it off.  The color display in this case is somehow not too distracting–it’s soft yet crisp, and easy to read even at a distance.

In short, the Solo is a stunning piece of kit, especially with that warm walnut casing, and looks right at home in any setting–office, living area, kitchen, or at the bedside.

I’ve only one gripe with the Solo’s ergonomics: the front control knobs are a little too close to the bottom of the recessed controls area. When I try to turn a knob–for example, attempt to tune the FM band–I find my fingertips won’t fit between the knob and lower edge of the recessed panel, making the knobs a little hard to turn in one fluid motion. (Of course,this is also due to the fact that I have big fingers; my wife doesn’t seem to have this problem).

But this isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m finding I don’t often need to reach for the front controls, anyway.  Why? Because the rig’s IR remote–or better yet, its smartphone app–control the radio effectively at any convenient distance from the radio.  Sweet.

Audio

como-audio-solo-speaker

I’m a sucker for quality audio fidelity, and I must admit that this was one of the biggest deciding factors in purchasing the Solo: it touted extraordinary audio in a modest package, being designed around an acoustic chamber/chassis containing a 3″ woofer and 3/4″ dome tweeter fueled by a 2 X 30 watt RMS amplifier. I was very curious whether it could live up to its initial claim.

After turning on the Solo for the first time, I immediately wanted to hear audio, so I put it in Bluetooth mode and played a few songs, ranging from Jazz to Electronica.

In a nutshell:  Wow.

The audio is strikingly reminiscent of my Tivoli Audio Model One…which is to say, it’s excellent. It packs more audio punch than any of the radios I reviewed in my WiFi radio comparison.

Out of the box, the audio is fairly well-balanced, too. But you can tweak the equalizer, and I did, drawing in a little more bass and treble.  My wife (also a bit of an audiophile) was impressed. And yes, the sound is all the more remarkable considering the radio’s relatively small form-factor:  little box, big voice.

FM Reception

como-audio-solo

The Como Audio Solo is one of the few Wifi radios on the market that has a built-in analog FM and DAB receiver (save the $120 Sangean WFR-28, which has analog FM reviewed here).

Since I live in the US, I can’t comment on DAB reception.  I have, however, had an opportunity to test the FM analog reception.  Keep in mind, I live in a rural area and require a decent FM receiver with telescopic antenna fully extended just to listen to my favorite regional programming.

When I tune the Solo to my benchmark FM stations, it can receive them–but not as effectively as many of my other radios, including the WFR-28. Even when forced to use the Mono setting only, the stations it receives carry too much static for good listening.  So obviously the Solo isn’t as sensitive as some of my other radios, at least in this setting. Indeed, few stations it receives in this area are able to lock in to the point that there’s no static in the received audio. For out-of-towners, this is a bit of a disappointment.

With this said, I imagine if you live in an urban area, the FM receiver should more than please you. I’ve no doubt it can faithfully reproduce beautiful audio from local FM outlets.

I should add that, while FM reception isn’t stellar for distant stations, the RDS information does convey even when the audio isn’t full fidelity.

WiFi radio

comoaudiosolo-internetradio

Of course, the main reason I purchased the Como Audio Solo was to use and review it as a WiFi radio…nothing at all to do with that sharp walnut chassis, or audio power.

As I outlined in my WiFi Radio primer, WiFi radios rely on station aggregators–extensive curated databases of radio stations–to surf and serve up the tens of thousands of streaming stations around the globe.

Based on feedback from Como Audio shortly after the Kickstarter launch, I was under the impression that the station aggregator of choice was vTuner. This concerned me, as vTuner’s reputation as an aggregator is somewhat maligned due to a series of documented faults and weaknesses.  Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case: after the initial confusion, I soon discovered Como had adopted the more robust Frontier Silicon aggregator, instead–a better choice.

Click here to read our primer on setting up your Como Audio product on the Frontier Silicon radio portal.

Since I’m a pretty big fan of Frontier Silicon and since I’ve already been using their service with my Sangean WFR-28, once I connected my radio to my user account, the WiFi portion of the radio felt identical to that of my WFR-28. Simply brilliant, as the Frontier Silicon radio portal gives the user flexibility to create station lists and folders with ease–all of which readily convey to the radio itself.

The Solo also features six dedicated memory buttons on the front panel for quick access to favorites.

Turns out, there’s also a comprehensive manual available online for download (click here).

Summary

 

como-audio-solo-bluetooth

And am I please with the Solo so far?

I’ll reply with a resounding “Yes!”

I love the Solo’s design–this certainly is a handsome product. Moreover, I love the audio, and am pleased that it delivers the fidelity promised by its Kickstarter campaign. The Solo and Duet are loaded with features, connections, Aux In and Aux Out audio and digital ports–more, in fact, than any similar device with which I’m familiar. I regret that the rig’s FM isn’t suited for country life, but the audio coupled with its stylish exterior do make up for this somewhat.

como-audio-solo-back

I do wish the Solo had an internal rechargeable battery option. Being able to move the receiver to different locations within a home or building could be a major plus for rural FM reception. As my friend John pointed out, however, the audio amplifier is robust enough, it might have been a challenge to implement an affordable-but-effective internal battery without compromising the audio amplifier’s needs.

In truth, I favor audio fidelity over portability for a tabletop radio.

 

In conclusion…do I have any backer’s remorse?  Absolutely not–!

In short, the Como Audio Solo is a keeper.  I’m still marvelling at this classy and dynamic radio that fills our home with rich beautiful audio. A few weeks in, the Solo has already become a permanent feature in our abode. It’s one of the few radios I have that meets my artist wife’s approval in terms of both design and audio.comoaudiosolo-fm

Great job, Como Audio!  If the Solo is any indication of radios to come, I’ll certainly be looking for your future innovations.

Click here to order the Como Audio Solo and Como Audio Duetto.

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Como Audio Solo and Duet: How to add and organize Internet radio stations

como-audio-solo-close-up

This weekend, I received the Como Audio Solo that I backed in a summer Kickstarter campaign. I’m pleased the Solo not only met delivery expectations, but I’m happy with the overall quality of this radio. I will post a preliminary review soon.

One of the main reasons I purchased the Solo was to use and review it as a WiFi radio. In the Kickstarter campaign, Como Audio didn’t give details about the radio station aggregator the Solo or Duetto would use (click here to read a primer about aggregators).  I contacted Como Audio asking for more information and received a reply from Tom DeVesto himself:

Hi Thomas.
Very sorry for the delayed reply.
[…]Our products use Vtuner for the Internet radio stations and Podcasts.

I was a little bummed to have received this information because I’ve heard very little praise for vTuner among WiFi radio enthusiasts.

To make a long story short, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way to pair my Solo with the vTuner aggregator. The owner’s manual has no information about using the aggregator nor how to manage and organize stored stations. The only help Como has published thus far is a short video which shows how to add favorites via the radio itself–not via a web portal.

When taking a closer look at the back panel of the Solo, though, I noticed a Frontier Silicon logo.

como-audio-solo-back

Wait…what?

My Sangean WFR-28 uses the Frontier Silicon aggregator! This explains why the Solo’s WiFI radio interface looks exactly like that of my WFR-28!

Obviously, somewhere along the way, Como Audio changed aggregators. I’m not at all disappointed as I give Frontier Silicon positive marks in the WFR-28 review.

Via Frontier Silicon, you can pair your Como Audio radio to the aggregator database, thus allowing much easier control of memories and station categories through their Radio Portal page!  Since this isn’t documented (yet) by Como Audio, here’s how you can easily pair the two:

How to pair your Como Audio device with Frontier Silicon

  1. First, if you don’t already have an account with Frontier Silicon, you’ll need to create one by clicking here.fullscreen-capture-1032016-112429-pm
  2. The form firsts asks for your “Access code” before you enter any other credentials. Here’s how to find the access code from your Como Audio device:
    1. From the Main Menu on your radio, select ‘Internet radio’ as the source
    2. Select “Station list”img_20161003_202200751
    3. Select the “Help” directoryimg_20161003_202218488
    4. Select the “Get access code” itemimg_20161003_202227970
  3. The access code is 7 digits long–simply enter it in the dialog box on the Frontier Silicon web page and proceed with creating your account.

If you already have a Frontier Silicon account…

  1. Login to My Account > My Preferences page, then click Add another Wi-Fi radio to the account.fullscreen-capture-1032016-110249-pm
  2. Next, you’ll need to enter the Access code for your Como Audio device. Here are the steps you take to find your unique access code (see images above–same process):
    1. From the Main Menu on your radio, select ‘Internet radio’,
    2. Select “Station list”
    3. Select the “Help” directory
    4. Select the “Get access code” item
  3. The access code is 7 digits long, simply add it in the Access Code field on the Frontier Silicon web page.

Start searching and organizing

fullscreen-capture-1042016-11713-am

Once your radio is paired, managing station memories is very easy via the Frontier Silicon Radio Portal

Preliminary review soon

I’ve been testing the Como Solo and plan to post a preliminary review soon. Follow the Como Audio tag for updates!

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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.

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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.

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