Acoustic Energy WiFiInternet Radio review
Digital radio is a wonderful thing. Standalone bookshelf radios have been enjoying a well-deserved revival on the back of DAB, and now Acoustic Energy has joined the fray. But its digital radio is actually an IP radio with an 802.11b WLAN adaptor, designed to connect to Internet radio stations via your wireless broadband router.
The Internet side of things is handled by Reciva (www.reciva.com). This hosts the radio-feed list, which aggregates Internet radio station data. RealPlayer, MP3 and Windows Media feeds are all supported. This is great in theory, but disappointing in practice.
One of the benefits of a good standalone FM or DAB radio is its intimacy, and a small shelf-mounted box is great for a feeling of involvement. But the intimacy is dependent on decent audio quality, which is largely lost with the Acoustic Energy device. In testing, it connected to almost every station at 36-44Kb/sec, which isn’t enough for good, crisp speech. There was bass aplenty, but when it came to the upper registers speech and music sounded muffled. And despite our 4Mb broadband connection, the vagaries of IP delivery meant occasional but annoying audio dropouts and digital warbling effects.
The two-line LCD is austere and unhelpful, especially when it comes to more complicated tasks. For example, entering a network SSID and 26-digit WEP key has to be done with the selector knob, scrolling back and forth to select the character you want. A far more sensible method would be to partner a wired Ethernet connection with an integrated web server for setup.
To its credit, the Acoustic Energy device isn’t just an Internet radio – it’s UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) capable, so it will connect to any UPnP media server on your network and play Windows Media 9, unprotected AAC and MP3 tracks. Again, the two-line interface with slow update times makes it a less-than-perfect experience, but it works. There’s also a 3.5mm analog audio output jack for attaching the unit to an external amplifier (or headphones), but no digital audio output.
The idea of being able to listen to thousands of Internet radio stations appeals, but the Internet Radio doesn’t: it’s clumsier to set up, more expensive and with markedly lower audio quality than a real DAB radio. It’s a good idea, but one that we don’t feel comes off.