Tag Archives: WiFi Radios

A review of the Ocean Digital WR-26 FM, DAB, Internet and Bluetooth radio

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:

  • On/Off
  • Home
  • Favorites
  • 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.

Audio

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.

FM Radio/DAB

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.

Bluetooth

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.

WiFi Radio

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.

Summary

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!

Click here to check out Ocean Digital’s website.

Click here to purchase the WR-26 and here to check out their other products on Amazon (these affiliate links support the SWLing Post).

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Aggregation aggravation update: Frontier Silicon working on Favorites and Personal Streams

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio is one of many popular models affected

One of the hottest topics here on the SWLing Post this month is regarding Frontier Silicon and vTuner “aggregation aggravation.”

Let me explain. Earlier this month, Frontier Silicon abruptly dropped vTuner as its radio stream aggregator after vTuner CEO Peter Johnson shut off the service. Johnson stated here on the SWLing Post that he:

“[T]urned off the frontier service just for a couple hours after they backstabbed me.”

One of vTuner’s business clients (a client of Frontier) informed me that Johnson wanted to change the terms of their financial agreement thus used a service blackout to force Frontier’s hand. That seems to be supported by Johnson’s comment.  In the end, we know Frontier dropped vTuner a few days later and has now partnered with Airable.

Regardless of what might have really happened, end-users of the Frontier Silicon service have had to cope with frustrating changes (I own a Sangean WFR-28 and Como Audio Solo which have both been affected).

Without warning, we lost our curated collection of station favorites/bookmarks. Personally, this was a collection of stations I had refined over the better part of three years. To lose them without warning was a bit of a blow to say the least.

To Frontier’s credit, they did implement the new aggregator quickly, but in the process lost some important functionality that was apparently a part of the vTuner service including the ability to save/organize favorites and personal streams. Fortunately, it appears Frontier will address this in the future.

An update from Frontier Silicon

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Dogmatix and Bob Faucett who note the following announcements on Frontier Silicon’s website:

“We are currently experiencing a large volume of support queries. We are prioritising adding missing stations and podcasts, and will be responding to all other queries as quickly as possible. Please accept our apologies for the delay in response.”

“Based on customer feedback we are working to add Favourites and Personal Streams into the new service. Please bear with us for a few weeks while we develop and test this functionality.”

This is good news, although it sounds like it might be some time before functionality is in place.

Feeling vulnerable

I’ve received numerous comments and emails from readers regarding this “aggregation aggravation”–the common thread being a sense of vulnerability.

After the service changes, we realized the degree to which our WiFi radio devices are dependent on Frontier Silicon. When service was cut earlier this month, most of our radios couldn’t even connect to streams that were programmed into front panel memory presets. For a while, our WiFi radios became expensive internet appliances that were unable to function as advertised. Those without a traditional FM/AM receiver were essentially useless.

I imagine this could be the case for Internet radios that rely on other aggregators—in other words, the radio is only as good as its online service.

UNDOK App

A number of readers have been sharing positive comments about the Frontier Silicon UNDOK app as a work-around for storing favorites, etc.

I’ve been on the road the past few weeks and have not had time to explore this app myself, so I would certainly appreciate UNDOK experience/advice from readers.

Please comment!

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Frontier Silicon and vTuner aggregation aggravation continues

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who’ve contacted me regarding the ongoing issues with WiFi radios that rely on the Frontier Silicon/vTuner aggregator partnership. Two days ago, we mentioned this in a post about the service outage that affected Sangean and Como Audio WiFi radio devices.

Turns out, the outage was a sign of deeper troubles that will affect any Internet radio device using the Frontier Silicon aggregator. I know that at least Sangean and Como Audio use the service, but I image there are many more, especially in some automobiles. Indeed, this might also affect devices which use the vTuner service.

At present, I am unable to use my Como Audio Solo or the Sangean WFR-28 WiFi radio. Both require re-saving all of the presets.

Sangean posted a short message on their devices yesterday. Dennis Dura notes:

I have the Sangean WFR-28 and just came home to find a message on every preset saying “due to recent changes to our internet radio service, you will need to save your presents again”.

Not only that, but many of the menus of the radio have changed.

And most bizarre, in the Genre setting, they have eliminated “Jazz” as a category, and have added many I’ve never before or heard off. How does a company eliminate a category that is understood across the world?

Como Audio actually sent an email message regarding the lapse of service yesterday evening.

The Como Audio message described, in some detail, what had actually taken place. Much of Como’s message was based on the following message Frontier Silicon posted on their website:

Why did the service change on 7th May 2019?

On 1st May 2019 we experienced a major outage of the Internet Radio & Podcast service used by our customers’ Internet Radio devices. This was caused by issues with a third-party service provider that were outside our control.  The service provider has also informed us that they are unable to ensure service provision beyond week commencing 6th May.  Any such failure to provide the service would have caused the Internet Radio functionality on all our customers’ devices to stop working unless we had taken this remedial action.

As a result, we have made some changes to the way the service is delivered, and you may notice the following changes:

  • We have deployed a replacement service, and configured all devices to use it.  It may take several hours for your device to see the new service.  Older devices may need to be powered off and back on again to force them to see the new service.
  • We are using a new provider for the Internet Radio and Podcast directory.  You may discover some new stations and podcasts that were not previously available, and you may find some stations and podcasts are missing.  If you notice a station or podcast that you think is missing from the database then please raise a support ticket and we will aim to get it added within 2 business days.
  • You may see some slight changes to the menu structure on your devices due to the change of provider.
  • The previous customer portal is no longer available, and so you can no longer use it to add your own stations.  If you would like a station adding to the database then please raise a support ticket and we will aim to get it added within 2 business days.
  • It is no longer possible to recall Favourites.  Depending on your device, we recommend using the Device Presets or Last Listened functionality to recall your favourite stations instead.
  • Any Device Presets that you have previously saved will no longer work and so you will need to resave them.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused as a result of these changes, which we have made in order to provide continuity of service for customers and users.  This is a large and complex migration and whilst we have tested and rehearsed this scenario in advance there may be an initial period of reduced service stability.  We will be monitoring the service closely during this time and will communicate any issues via the status page at https://status.frontiersmart.com/.

If you have any further comments or questions about the service then please browse the Knowledge Base, and submit a support ticket if you cannot find the information you are looking for.

Of course, we all know that the “third party” is the vTuner aggregator. I’m curious who Frontier Silicon will use now as an aggregator, or if they’ll self-host the database.

A number of readers have reported issues saving their front panel presets and other favorites. My guess is that this functionality will return after the new service is fully implemented. I also assume Frontier Silicon could implement any missing music genres (like the Jazz genre Dennis mentioned). At least, I hope so.

One thing we’ve learned is how very little is actually stored locally in these WiFi radios. It seems everything down to the front panel presets rely on the aggregator functioning properly.

If you have one of the affected WiFi radios, please comment about your experience getting it back online and loaded with station presets. Please report any quirks you encounter during the process. I’ve gotten mixed reports about the Como and Sangean mobile phone applications working properly.

I shall now go about re-saving all of the presets in my family’s WiFi radios.

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WiFi Radio: Dave experiences “aggregation aggravation”

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Dave Mackie, who writes:

I have a Sangean WFR-28 that just stopped working recently and through a bit of internet spelunking I happened across your site and explanation about Frontier Silicon as ‘aggregator’ for Sangean. A phone call to Sangean confirmed that Frontier Silicon was having a problem with the aggregation service.

First off, thanks for the three part series on internet radio; it gave me just enough of a hint that the problem with be something other than the radio despite the fact that other wifi things were working properly.

[After contacting Frontier Silicon, I received] this unhelpful reply:

Unfortunately, we are having some difficulties with the internet radio service provided to us by a third party, which causes products not to be able to tune to any internet radio stations.

We are working on addressing the issue, and should have it up and running, hopefully within the next 12 hours.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

On one hand we’re getting a service that’s ‘free’ in that we don’t send a check directly to Frontier or the 3rd Party

We press a button and the radio just works.

On the other hand, the radio can inexplicably just stop working and we have absolutely no way to fix it.

Again as you mentioned, perhaps ‘closed’ vs. ‘open’ aggregator could (should?) be more well-known and more of a factor when choosing a radio.

I’d like more preset buttons on my Sangean WFR-28, but way more than that, I want it to work!

Many thanks to Dave for sharing this experience with us–I imagine other readers may have caught this lapse in service as well. Fortunately, the problem Dave referred to was fixed within a 24 hour window.

I believe the “third party” Frontier Silicon relies on is vTuner. If I understand correctly, Frontier Silicon actually pulls all of the station linking information from vTuner’s database.

So you can see why aggregation aggravation could occur: there are no less than three companies involved when you “tune” your Sangean WiFi radio.

Sangean makes the radio which has software that links to Frontier Silicon’s portal. You log into Frontier Silicon’s portal to create a user account and manage your station favorites. But in the end, Frontier Silicon uses vTuner as a station database.

If any one of these links fail, the result may be a dead WiFi radio.

On the positive side, I listen to a Como Audio Solo radio most mornings. The Solo relies on the same aggregator chain as Sangean radios and I have never experienced an outage. I might be lucky, but I don’t think outages are all that common.

It would be great if there was a community-powered aggregator–something akin to a Wikipedia of Wifi radio–that would serve as a database for our Internet receivers. I could see a model where radio stations manage their own stream data and coordinates and listeners could even be approved to help manage link integrity. Sadly, I know of no such aggregator at present (readers, please correct me if I’m wrong about this).

Aggregators used by OEMs (like Sangean) are backed by a company (Frontier Silicon, vTuner, TuneIn, iHeartMedia, Reciva, etc.) that have a financial interest in serving up-to-date station information to its customers. In the end, it still takes a human to physically add, delete or alter station information.

Since there’s money involved, it’s in the aggregator’s best interest to take care of problems quickly and efficiently. In truth, I worry less about the time it takes to fix problems or add stations–I worry about the aggregator going out of business. This happened in the early days of WiFi radio when some smaller manufacturers chose to run their own aggregators. If their company closed shop, their products were essentially useless.

Post readers: Have you ever owned a Wifi radio that stopped working due to aggregator failure? Have I missed a point here? Please share your thoughts!

Click here to read our WiFi Radio Primer.


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Grace Digital Mondo+ Kickstarter

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tom Ally, who writes:

I remember that article you wrote about Wi-fi radios and just saw this Kickstarter on Facebook that may interest you:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1209003580/mondo

[T]hey are saying it is supposed to ship out sometime next month. [S]ome of the things it has –over the old Mondo–is Bluetooth 4.1 and Chromecast built in.

Thank you, Tom! Here’s the product description from Kickstarter:

The home audio market is evolving, and Grace Digital is leading the way. We combined the latest Wi-Fi audio streaming technologies from Google, added Bluetooth audio streaming, and over 30,000 AM/FM/HD radio stations from around the corner to across the globe. The Grace Mondo+ can even be controlled by the Google Assistant on devices like Google Home, the front panel controls, free smartphone apps, or the included remote control. We wrapped the technology in a beautifully crafted cabinet, and drive the audio with custom made speaker drivers and high performance class D digital amplification, ensuring the best possible listening experience in a perfectly compact design. We hope you love the Mondo+ as much as we do!

This is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning it’ll have to be fully funded for the production run to become reality.

As a Kickstarter supporter, the pricing is in line with the Grace Digital Mondo (we reviewed last year).

I am still quite happy with my Como Audio Solo, so will not plan to back the Mondo+ at this time. If I was interested, I would splurge for the $174 Early Bird package which includes a Lithium Ion battery pack. Shipping could be as early as April 2017.

Check out full details and a video on Kickstarter.

Thanks, Tom, for the tip! I would certainly welcome a review of the Mondo+ from any Kickstarter backers!

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Guest Post: Richard builds a WiFi radio with the Raspberry Pi

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF), who shares the following guest post:


Yet Another Internet Radio!

by Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF)

After deciding that an internet radio could be an important source of entertainment in our household, we formulated a few general guidelines:

  • We opted not to use an aggregator but would pick and choose stations we enjoyed and discover the URL’s ourselves. Also would be satisfied with a couple of dozen stations. Based on a recent decision to pare down the number of TV channels we were paying for, having access to hundreds of stations seemed impractical and unnecessary.
  • The price had to be affordable, thus eliminating many stand-alone, commercially available internet radios.
  • We already owned a quality portable speaker (Bose SoundLink Mini) so the internet radio didn’t need to duplicate that component.
  • Didn’t want to tie up nor be tethered to a laptop, tablet, or netbook. We predicted that would eventually lead to less and less use of the radio.

After some research, coupled with the fact I already had some experience with Raspberry Pi computers, that small device appeared to be our best choice. I had recently purchased the newer 2 B model, which has plenty of computing power, and had installed Ubuntu Linaro as the OS. (As an aside, this OS has not to my knowledge been upgraded for the latest Raspberry Pi 3). There are several other operating systems that will work just as well including the official Raspbian OS available through the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

I installed the MPD music player daemon and its client MPC, which is used to add to and delete station URL’s from the playlist, control volume, etc. An important find was the iPhone app called MPod which provides remote wireless access to the features of MPC. At the moment it is a free app for the iPhone (in my case the iPod Touch).

For portability, my Raspberry Pi is being used “headless”, meaning it is not connected to a monitor, keyboard or mouse. If maintenance is required you can use PuTTY, a SSH and telnet client, wirelessly from a Windows (or MAC?) PC, using a command-line interface. Mainly this is needed to shut down the Raspberry Pi properly before turning off the power, but it boots completely on its own when powered up. The MPod app will then load the playlist of stations and let you start playing the radio without direct access to the Raspberry Pi.

The sound output of my Raspberry Pi is connected to the auxiliary port of our Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker. But instead of trying to implement Bluetooth on the Raspberry Pi, I took the easy way out and use a direct connection. The sound reproduction from this setup is very good, though audiophiles might be somewhat more critical.

The above represents a minimal investment if you already have a good speaker on hand. It does require some on-line research and learning at least enough to install the OS and software. The good news is that there are many websites and forums providing step-by-step instructions and helpful hobbyists willing to explain some of the more cryptic aspects. A few of the websites that I found to be helpful:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Raspberry-Pi-Internet

http://cagewebdev.com/raspberry-pi-playing-internet-radio

https://learn.adafruit.com/raspberry-pi-radio-player-with-touchscreen

A couple of these also explain how to add a display to your Raspberry Pi internet radio.

Our Raspberry Pi radio is on each evening and has been trouble free. It is worth mentioning that this is a very portable setup, and can even be powered by a battery pack (the kind used for recharging tablets and cell phones) for a few hours. Of course you need to be near a wifi hotspot.


Thank you, Richard! What a great way to use the inexpensive Raspberry Pi. I have a spare Pi2 and an amplified speaker here at the house. Though I don’t need another WiFi radio, it would be fun putting this little system together. 

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Muzen Audio handcrafted radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Figliozzi, who writes:

This [company] was mentioned in regard to the CES show out in Las Vegas:

http://www.airsmartaudio.com/

It’s a Chinese company with a rather novel approach to the design of modern radios — AM/FM/Internet Bluetooth, along with the use of tube amplifiers in some models. The web site is almost all in Chinese but the pictures are cool.

Air Smart Audio is the parent company; Muzen Audio the subsidiary.

John also shared the following item from Radio World:

Muzen Audio Group’s founder Dejun Zeng, referred to as the “Father of the Tube Amplifier” in China, is looking forward to the new challenge, saying in a statement: “It is my greatest desire to build a legacy with this organization that will lead customers to say, ‘I am proud to have a Muzen radio.’”

The company received a 2017 CES Innovation Award for their new AM/FM/internet radio and Bluetooth speaker lines, the fifth CES Innovation Award received by Zeng. Muzen Audio also designs a series of vintage-style tube amplifier radios and what the company calls “on-the-road” radios.

(Source: Air Smart Audio)

Thank you, John!

From what I gather, Muzen radios are very much “boutique” radios, thus come with a “boutique” price tag–some models costing as much as $500 US.

Still: it’s refreshing to see a Chinese radio manufacturer marching to their own beat, making handcrafted products in small batches.

According to Twice.com, Muzen recently introduced the  “Classic 1” AM/FM radio with Bluetooth speaker that is powered by a “fluorescent display tube amplifier.” Twice notes:

The Classic 1 is handmade and crafted with real rosewood, and every unit comes with a unique code verifying its hand craftsmanship.

Frequency response of the speaker is 75Hz to 16KHz, of the amplifier, 30Hz to 20KHz.

Pricing and availability will be announced during CES 2017.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Muzen radios! I do love the designs.

Click here to view the Air Smart Audio website (in Chinese). 

Post readers: Anyone familiar with Muzen Audio or own one of their products? Please comment!

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