WiFi and Internet Radio (Network Radio)

Posted on December 1, 2011 by admin

A WiFi radio enables you to listen to radio stations from all over the world without being tied to your computer and without even switching it on. All the mainstream broadcasters are available, as well as a huge range of stations carrying content in just about every music style.

First published in the Radio Listener's Guide 2012 edition


There are two main ways of listening to internet radio - via a PC or by using a WiFi radio. You can also listen via a portable device such as a tablet or smartphone. We have covered these elsewhere in the guide.

WiFi radios usually connect to the internet wirelessly (typically via a domestic wireless broadband router) although a wired connection is also an option for some.


WiFi radio - what do you need?

To listen, you need a broadband connection for your computer and a wireless router, as well as the WiFi radio itself. Broadband costs around £10-£15 per month.


Station choices

One of the attractions of internet radio is the range of channels. Thousands are available, ranging from streams from national broadcasters to internet-only channels broadcast from a bedroom.

Specialist musical genres are well served and a further advantage is the ability to pick up stations from all round the world (or from your home country if you are travelling, or live abroad). 


Finding stations - Portal sites

As well as listening from a station’s website a popular way to find content is from a portal site. These collect audio content such as live feeds, on-demand recordings and podcasts in one location or website. BBC iPlayer carries all the BBC content, and Radioplayer brings almost all UK stations, both BBC and commercial, together in one place. 
www.radiofeeds.co.uk is also a good source on non-BBC radio stations.

If you purchase a WiFi radio you’ll find that the manufacturer will provide a link to a portal site that lists stations and audio content. You’ll find details of portal sites in the following pages.

 

On-demand streams and podcasts

As well as live stations you can also access on-demand (programme recordings) content and podcasts. You’ll find further information about this elsewhere in the guide.


Sound quality

Sound quality can be an issue, with some stations broadcasting below an acceptable level. Having said that the quality of many of the ‘mainstream’ stations has improved in recent years, with higher bit rates being used, and faster broadband cutting out the problem of the audio stopping and starting.


Using a WiFi radio

Part of the attraction of WiFi radios is that once they are set-up, you don’t have to have your computer turned on to run them - unless you want to access the audio files stored on your PC.

If you’re listening on WiFi, you’ll be able to move the radio around, as long as it is within range of the WiFi router - typically 30-100 feet, but this varies according to the construction of your house and the location of the wireless router.

Some, but not all, WiFi radios also enable a direct Ethernet connection to your network, but we will focus here on the wireless option, for which wireless broadband is needed. In practice this means a wireless router; most people installing a home network will go for this option anyway, and the cost differences are not great. My connection runs at 2Mbps, which is fine for radio, but 500kbps would probably be sufficient.

The choice of WiFi radios is increasing with products, ranging from simple portable products, to expensive hifi equipment. Prices are starting to fall with basic models available from £60.


Pure One Flow, £90 - Pure has added a WiFi capability to its popular Pue One model


WiFi radios - ease of use

More important though is the ease of use, or rather the lack of it! WiFi radios take time to set up. In general use internet radio is more complex than traditional radio, even with your favourites programmed in - this is particularly true if you use the radio to access audio content from your personal computer. Graphical interfaces and touch-screens are starting to appear, though, and improve ease of use. Certainly a development to watch.

Electronic Programme Guides have solved many of the problems associated with accessing channels on digital TV, but this is not feasible (commercially or technically) when you have thousands of radio stations available.


Use of your bandwidth

Internet bandwidth use can also be an issue if you listen for many hours. Radio listening uses nowhere near as much as TV viewing but, at around 25MB per hour for radio, you could reach the monthly limit that most contracts impose and then you will have to start paying additional fees for the data downloaded. 


Network Addressable Storage (NAS)

Stand-alone disk storage that can be accessed without your computer being switched on is recommended for those who want to stream their own stored music files to their WiFi radio. Check however that your NAS actually works with your chosen WiFi radio (Pure Flow radio, Sonos system, Squeezebox Duet etc). Most manufacturers will tell you what does and doesn’t work with their products.


Products

The number of internet radios available continues to grow, partly driven by manufacturers feeling compelled to have the latest technology in their ranges. The functionality they deliver is developing. Pure, for example, has launched ‘Pure Music’, a service that enables users of its internet radios to search for music online, and pay for tracks to download.

Touchscreen devices are increasingly popular, with models from the main manufacturers supporting touchscreen controls to varying degrees.

Another key development is the growing acceptance of computers into mainstream audio. Media streaming has made the breakthrough into the audiophile world, with a growing number of this finicky band adopting the technology. The high-end market is not huge, but does tend to influence the mainstream.


 

 logitech squeezebox touch copy  view quest wifi

Logitech Squeezebox Touch, £200.

ViewQuest WiFi Radio, £85

 

Subscription services

Not strictly radio - WiFi products sometimes give access to music streaming services - like Napster. Some Roberts WiFi radios, for example, offer links to last.fm and Pure offers Pure Music. These are usually subscription services charging up to £10 a month.

Spotify offers a free version funded by advertising. The subscription service costs £10 per month, and enables you to download tracks to a portable device such as a phone.


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