Although it turns out a number of SWLing Post readers were familiar with Ocean Digital and had purchased some of their radios, I hadn’t heard of them until an SWLing Post contributor encouraged the company to contact me.
I must say: all of my communications with Ocean Digital have been very positive and the company has also been very receptive to my frank feedback. All good things.
Ocean Digital reached out to me last month and asked if I would like to test their WR-23D portable radio. Why not? They dispatched on immediately from their Amazon stock here in the USA.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Ocean Digital sent this review sample to me at no cost and as soon as this review has been published (as in, right now), I’m sending it to one of our SWLing Post Patreon supporters I pick at random.
The Ocean Digital WR-23D sports an ABS plastic body that feels very solid in the hand. Indeed, some shortwave portable manufacturers should take note–the ABS structure is so solid, there’s no give when I press into the middle of the speaker grill, for example. I feel like this radio would survive falling off of a table or shelf with no problems.
The backlit 2.4″ color display is very easy to read with crisp graphics, text, and ample contrast.
The top of the radio features a power button and three dedicated memory preset buttons. The volume control is also mounted on the top of the radio and protrudes out of the front slightly so your thumb can move it.
On the front of the radio, there are dedicated buttons for the Home screen, EQ/Local button, Favorites, and Sleep Timer.
In the center, there’s a circular navigation control and selection button.
On the back of the unit, you’ll find the telescoping whip antenna for FM, DAB/DAB+, an LED indicator for charging, a 3.5mm earphone jack, and (yes!) a USB-C charging port. I’m so happy to see a USB-C port rather than the older Micro USB variety.
The front-facing speaker delivers balanced audio. There has obviously been some attention given to the speaker enclosure because it produces a bit more bass than I would have anticipated. There are 12 EQ presets you can use to tailor the audio as well. The WR-3D is not an audio powerhouse–in fact, the audio level stops short of allowing the speaker to splatter–do don’t expect a “boom box” response.
For listening to music or voice in your office, bedroom, or living room? Yeah, it’ll work a charm!
What I love about these Ocean Digital units is that they have a built-in rechargeable battery.
In my household, this is huge.
I often carry my WiFi radios around the house, moving from the kitchen, to my office, to outdoors near the wood shed (it’s the time of year I start splitting firewood again!).
I’ve found that not only does the battery power the WR-23D for many hours at a time, but the WiFi receiver in the unit is also robust enough that the radio can communicate with our router outside the house. With that said, the WiFi reception is not as good as it is with the recently reviewed CC WiFi 3 which actually sports an external WiFi RX antenna. Then again, the CCWiFi 3 doesn’t have a rechargeable battery either.
The Ocean Digital WR-23D uses the Skytune radio station aggregator to search for Internet radio station streams.
In short: I like Skytune. It’s easy to search, they’ll add streams if they’re missing any, and it’s well-organized. Instead of reviewing the aggregator again, I’ll point you to the Ocean Digital WR-26 review for more detail as the navigation is identical other than the WR-23D has a nice color screen to display information.
Of course, I’m sure a number of readers have been put off by the whole idea of a dedicated Internet appliance for listening to radio in the wake of Reciva’s announced closure. For more on this topic, I’d strongly encourage you to read my thoughts in the CC WiFi 3 review (note that the CC WiFi 3 also uses the Skytune aggregator).
On Internet appliances like the WR-23D, one does worry about WiFi radio functionality failing if the station aggregator disappears. We recently posted a way you can hack some Grace Digital and C.Crane radios that use Reciva.
In the case of the WR-23D, WR-26, and CC WiFi 3 (basically all of the Skytune receivers I’ve reviewed) you can actually program your favorite radio stations manually. In fact, it’s very easy. You simply find the radio’s IP address on your network (the manual describes how to find this in the Configuration menu selection). Then, enter the radio’s IP address in a browser on a computer or device that is connected to the same WiFi network. You’ll get a window that looks like this where you can add your own streams, organize memories, and even perform basic control of the radio:
But, again, if the whole idea of an aggregator-tied device like the WR-23D is unappealing, I get it. You might simply pair your smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth speaker and use a system like Radio Garden or TuneIn to cruise the world of online radio stations.
Speaking of Bluetooth speaker, yes, the WR-23D is one of those, too! Simply select “Bluetooth” from the home menu and pair it with your favorite device. Couldn’t be easier!
The WR-23D has a very capable FM radio. I had it scan my local FM dial and it automatically picked up all of the stations I would have expected. The radio has both auto and manual tuning.
In addition, the WR-23D displays RDS information on the screen. This is a feature I love especially when travelling as it helps me ID the station I’m tuned to.
Unfortunately, we have no DAB/DAB+ stations in the US, so I was unable to test this functionality.
As I mentioned, I really appreciate the matte finish ABS chassis. I like to know that my portables can survive a fall.
I’ve been using the WR-23D here at SWLing Post HQ for about one month and only have a few minor/personal complaints. For example, I wish the headphone jack was on the side of the radio instead of the back. Also, I wish the telescoping whip antenna fit into a recess on the chassis rather than being fully mounted on the outside. I would like to see a fold out tilt stand on the back of the unit (I’ve actually used the antenna to prop this radio at an angle, but that’s not ideal).
A few weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by a company I’d never heard of: Ocean Digital. They asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their radios.
I almost deleted their message out of habit because (no kidding) I get at least one or two messages like this from retailers and manufacturers per week–often more. I checked out their website and could quickly see that they specialize in a variety of digital WiFi radios with Bluetooth, FM, and DAB. A quick search on Amazon and I could see a number of Ocean Digital models. I replied back and the company representative mentioned that it was one of my trusted friends and SWLing Post contributor who recommended that they reach out to me. So I read through their catalog of radios and selected their most affordable model: the WR-26. Ocean Digital sent a sample WR-26 at no cost to me.
I picked the WR-26 because, in terms of features, it packs a lot for a $75-80 US radio. I also love the portable size and built-in rechargeable battery.
WIth that said, it’s also a very simple radio. There was no need to reference the owner’s manual for basic operation.
Look & Feel
The WR-26 is compact, lightweight and sports an internal rechargeable battery pack with a Micro USB connection.
It has a front-facing internal speaker, and on top a small backlit display and eight function buttons:
Left/Right arrows (for selecting and backing out of menu items)
Up/Down arrows (for tuning, and stepping through selections)
OK button for making selections
On the back of the radio, there’s a telescoping antenna, Micro USB charging port, and a headphones jack.
Overall, I really like the clean and simple design. If I could change one thing, I would move the telescoping antenna to the top of the radio and make it recessed to better protect it when packed in a travel bag, for example. But in the end, this is a very minor criticism.
The WR-26’s built-in speaker provides well-balanced audio. In fact, readers who own late-model compact shortwave portables (like the XHDATA D-808) will recognize the audio characteristics of this small internal speaker that I assume uses an acoustic chamber to provide a better bass response. I’m always pleased to find compact radios that implement this type of speaker.
One interesting note: when you tune to an audio source–a stream or FM station for example–the volume fades in slowly after making the selection.
The WR-26 has a built-in FM tuner that functions quite well. It received all of my local radio stations and even a few further afield. The first time you turn on the FM radio, it will ask if you want to scan the band. If you initiate a scan, it will search for signals and auto store found stations in memory locations that you can shuffle through with the up/down arrows.
The WR-26 also displays RDS information on the screen–very nice!
To manually tune the WR-26, press and hold the ‘OK’ button until ‘Tuning’ appears on the bottom right corner of the display. Then use the left /right arrow buttons to adjust the frequency. Press and hold the OK when done to exit manual tuning.
I did not test DAB reception. I’m located in North America where there are no DAB stations on the air to test this functionality.
Not much to say about Bluetooth other than it works. You can wirelessly connect your smart phone, tablet, or PC to the WR-26 and use it as an external speaker. If you’ve ever used a bluetooth device, you’ll find pairing a straight-forward, easy process.
Ocean Digital radios use an Internet radio station aggregator (click here to learn about aggregators) called Skytune. I don’t know if Skytune manages their own database of Internet radio stations, or if they rely on a larger, more established aggregator in the background. I suspect the latter.
To use WiFi radio, you must first connect to your local WiFi network. I connected to my smart phone’s personal hotspot without any problems. If you have a long WiFi password, you’ll need a little patience to enter it the first time. Entering the password requires scrolling through a long list of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
Like most WiFi radios, you can tune the station of your choice by selecting the WiFi radio function, then searching stations by location/region, popularity, genre, etc. Once you’ve selected a station, the radio connects and if you wish to save it to your favorites list, simple press and hold the heart button.
On devices like this, I always worry about WiFi radio functionality failing if the station aggregator disappears. In the case of the WR-26, you can actually program your favorite radio stations manually. You simply find the radio’s IP address on your network (the manual describes how to find this in the Configuration menu selection) then enter the radio’s IP address in a browser on a computer or device that is connected to the same WiFi network.
I took the screenshot above by connecting my laptop to my phone’s personal hotspot and directing it to the radio’s IP address.
I like this functionality because it means I can even connect to streaming sources not found in the Skytune directory like more obscure internet stations, LiveATC and scanner feeds.
I’ve reviewed a lot of WiFi radios and I find the WR-26 to be rather easy to use. So far, I’ve found all of the stations I normally listen to via their aggregator.
All-in-all, I really like the WR-26. For the price, it’s a very capable little WiFi radio and a good value.
What I really love is the portability of the WR-26. After charging the battery with a standard USB charger, you can listen to FM, DAB, Bluetooth or WiFi radio for hours. The audio is respectable and volume can be increased to be almost room-filling.
The WR-26 is small enough that you could actually pack it and take it on travels. If your phone has a personal hotspot, you’ll be able to use all of the WiFi radio functionality on the road. Since I’ve no experience with Ocean Digital devices, I always question product longevity so we’ll have to see how that plays out. It’s comforting, though, knowing that a trusted friend in the radio industry made the recommendation–he’s never lead me astray!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan (NO2CW), who writes:
Hello, I posted on YouTube my review of the Sangean WFR-28 FM and Wifi Internet radio receiver.
In particular I was able to sideload my directory of English Language broadcast stations from over 100 countries using their “Favorites” menu. It now sounds like the good old days of shortwave …almost. I can listen to the morning traffic report in Singapore, local news from Guam, afternoon talk show from Gibraltar and a nighttime DJ from Uganda – all in English.
Of course, a number of personal assistant device like the Amazon Echo also stream radio via the TuneIn Radio aggregator, but since these devices rely on voice commands, some stations can be difficult to call up. I still prefer a proper WiFi radio/Internet appliance like the Sangean WFR-28 or Como Audio Solo.
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.
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––?”
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 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.
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.
[Important Update: Reciva has announced that they are closing for business on April 30, 2021. Do not buy a new or used WiFi radio that relies on the Reciva aggregator as it will not function properly without the service.]
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’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.
The 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.
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 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.
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.
“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: 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
There 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
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.
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.
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.