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...


ralph said...

I have to tell you, Rich, the E1XM is just a phenomenal radio. I, too, am a big fan of the 2010; I even bought a second one shortly before they went out of production because I could tell that my first one, bought in 1987, was probably not long for the world and I couldn't bear the thought of not having a working 2010.

The E1XM blows the 2010 out of the water. Seriously. It's the first radio I've used with a better sync detector than the 2010. I took the E1XM to Cape Cod last month when Laura and I went there so she could attend a dance weekend. I took the radio to the beach one day and with just its whip antenna, I was able to hear over a dozen mediumwave stations from Europe at between 3:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon. I had tried something similar from Cape Ann in Massachusetts several years ago and heard diddly.

I like the E1XM so much that I find I'm not turning on my 7030 most of the time. About 80% of my listening now is done on the E1XM. It's that good. It can handle a serious antenna in a way that the 2010 never could because of that dodgy FET in the antenna circuit.

That Roku Soundbridge sure is tempting at that price, but like you, the lack of Real support troubles me, and I note in their FAQ that they also don't support the variant of Windows Media that the BBC uses, so you're S.O.L. on both counts there.

Ed said...

I tell you Rich, one of these days someone is going to come out with one of these devices that is user friendly with a BOSE quality sound. I too find the Roku Soundbridge sure is tempting at that price, but like you, the lack of Real Player support troubles me and one thing that is really starting to torque me off in ITunes... I paid good money for my ITunes collection, but maybe before I bought an iPod I should have looked in to it's proprietary features. The way I see it, once I pay for a song I should be able to listen to it anyway I see's not as if i pirated the songs.