Thursday, December 07, 2006

Internet Radio -- finally ready for prime time?

When web audio started becoming feasible in the late 1990s, there was plenty of hope that an "Internet appliance" could be developed that could be "tuned" like a radio.

Now, with broadband Internet and WiFi networks becoming the norm, it appears the concept of Internet radio has become real; one can get themselves started for as little as $150.

There appear to be two good choices out there -- The Roku Labs SoundBridge and the Acoustic Energy WiFi Radio both appear to provide the capability to use your WiFi connection to access streaming audio services without being tethered to a computer.

The SoundBridge also streams digital audio files from your computer; its biggest detriment is that it can't stream in RealAudio format, one of the more widely used formats in digital audio (and the one most used by the BBC World Service). This week RokuLabs is selling the M1000 for only $149, a verrry temping price.

Meanwhile, the Acoustic Energy (AE) product is designed to be like a radio out of the box -- it is not designed as a gizmo to interface with your MP3 collection. Acoustic Energy appears to be well regarded for its speakers as well, suggesting the AE product may hold the edge in audio quality. Acoustic Energy is based in the UK; I've seen the AE radio priced from $225 - $299 on sites listed at Froogle; C. Crane, a shortwave vendor, sells it for $299.95. The Acoustic Energy radio is compatible with RealMedia formats.

Would I get more enjoyment out of an Eton X1 than one of these? Tough call...I'm not so sure that's the case, primarily because I already have a decent Sony '2010.

So if you see Santa...