Tag Archives: Como Audio Solo

Radios: What are your daily drivers?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John C., who writes:

“Hi Thomas, I love [the SWLing Post] and have been meaning to thank you for all of the amazing reviews. Truly a treasure trove. But as I contemplate my next radio purchase I would like to know what radio you use more than any other. In other words…what’s your daily driver??? Enquiring minds want to know! Thank you. – JC”

Thanks for your question and the kind compliment, John.

Your inquiry is one I get quite a bit, so I hope you don’t mind if I share my response here publicly.

First of all, I should state that I don’t have a single “daily driver.”

Since I evaluate, test, and review radios I spend a lot of time with a variety of new receivers and transceivers.

I’m currently evaluating the Radiwow R-108, so it goes with me pretty much everywhere since I like to test receivers in a variety of settings. I’m also packing the Tecsun PL-310ET and the CC Skywave so I have units to compare with the R-108.

My Daily Drivers

Still, there are a number of radios in my life that get heavy use. Here’s my current list based on activity:

For Travel

When I travel, I reach for my favorite multi-function ultra-compact shortwave portable. In the past, I would have reached for the Grundig G6, the Sony ICF-SW100, the Tecsun PL-310ET, the Digitech AR-1780, or the C. Crane CC Skywave, Currently, I reach for the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB.

When I travel, I try to pack as lightly as I can–perhaps some would even call me a borderline travel minimalist. For example, when I fly to Philadelphia later this month for the Winter SWL Fest, I will take only one piece of luggage, a “personal carry-on” item: the Tom Bihn Stowaway, a pack the size of a small laptop bag. The Stowaway will contain my iPad, cords/accessories, and all of my clothes and toiletries for about 5 days of travel. As you can imagine, there’s not a lot of spare room in there for radio gear (quite the understatement).

I’ll still have room in my bag for the CC Skywave SSB, though, because the receiver is so compact. In addition, it’s a little “Swiss Army Knife” of a radio which covers the AM/MW, Shortwave, WX, and AIR bands.  It also has SSB mode and uses common AA batteries. The Skywave SSB is a welcome travel companion.

For Portable Shortwave DX

When I head to a park or go on a camping trip with the goal of doing a little weak signal DXing, I reach for a full-featured portable. In the past, I’ve relied heavily on the Tecsun PL-660 or PL-680, the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, and the Tecsun PL-880.

After acquiring the amazing Panasonic RF-B65 last year, it has become my choice full-featured portable. Of course, the RF-65B hasn’t been in production for ages, but thanks to a number of friends/enablers (including Dan Robinson and Troy Riedel) I finally found one for an acceptable price on eBay.

I’ve been incredibly pleased with the RF-B65’s performance and feel like I got a decent deal snagging one in great shape for less than $200. Only a few months prior to my purchase, it was hard to find good units under $300. Click here to check current prices, if interested.

For Morning News and Music

Since my staple morning news source, Radio Australia, went off the air, I spend a lot more time in the mornings listening to Internet radio mainly because I like listening to news sources that no longer, or never have, broadcast on the shortwaves.

Without a doubt, my favorite WiFi radio is the Como Audio Solo. I use it to listen to the CBC in St. John’s Newfoundland, The UK 1940s Radio Station, RFI MusiqueABC Radio Sydney, and a number of other news and music outlets.

The Como Audio Solo also serves as an audio feed for my SSTran AM Transmitter which then allows me to listen to all of this excellent content on 1570 kHz with vintage tube radios such as my Scott Marine SLR-M, my BC-348-Q, and my Minerva Tropicmaster.

For Mediumwave DXing

Without a doubt, my favorite radio for mediumwave/AM broadcast band DXing is the Panasonic RF-2200.

I mentioned in a previous post that my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) recently repaired, cleaned, and calibrated one of my RF-2200s.

Let’s just say that Vlado worked his magic and my RF-2200 now operates and performs like a brand new unit. Seriously. It’s simply unbelievable.

Not only does the Panny ‘2200 provide benchmark MW performance, it’s simply a pleasure to operate. It also produces some of the richest AM audio you’ll ever hear from a portable radio.

Of course, the ‘2200 hasn’t been produced in decades, so you’ll have to search for used ones on eBay, at hamfests, or through your favorite radio classifieds.

And, yes, I still need to finish a Part 2 blog-post about the ‘2200 repair–once I get a few details and photos from Vlado, I’ll post it!

Your Daily Drivers? Please comment!

Keep in mind that my “daily drivers” change quite a bit–the ones listed above are my current favorites and have been for a year or more.

So now that I’ve shared my daily drivers, I hope you will, too!

Is there a particular radio you reach for more than any other?  Please comment and tell us why it’s your favorite!


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John responds to the Wired.com review of the Como Audio Solo

como-audio-soloMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Figliozzi, author of The Worldwide Listening Guide, who comments with this critique of the Wired.com review of the Como Audio Solo:

I wonder how experienced this reviewer is with this class of audio devices.

First he states that the Solo receives AM. I doesn’t. (Unless you count receiving AM stations via their Internet streams.)

It does receive FM, although its sensitivity to fringe signals is a bit substandard comparatively, even with the built-on rod antenna. He notes a disappointing audio performance at higher volumes, but fails to distinguish between sources. Lower bit rate digital audio does reveal its insufficiencies with increased volume, but that would be true regardless of the speaker ratings.

A 30 watt RMS driver/tweeter speaker combo in a box this compact bespeaks a pretty efficient and powerful digital amplifier that would shine if fed audio of sufficient “heft”. With so much compressed digital audio out there–especially on Internet radio–it’s hard to judge what the objective limits of this unit aurally truly are.

He also doesn’t seem to be conversant with the set-up process, which is quite intuitive, or the fact that the unit comes with a remote.

At $300 MSRP, it is premium priced and will be too rich for the blood of some. Furthermore, its Internet station list as provided by Frontier Silicon seems a bit more limited than others I’ve experienced. But it is beautifully designed and presented and is quite versatile. Then again, as much as I like it, I can’t see myself populating my home with one in every room. There are other products out there that do this more efficiently and affordably.

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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

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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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