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DAB/Internet radios

Roku SoundBridge Radio review

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The Roku SoundBridge Radio is an all-in-one wireless music box offers good sound and more listening options than you can shake a stick at.

Two types of audio products have become popular over the past few years: wireless audio players and table radios. The former — such as Slim Devices' Squeezebox 2 and 3 and Roku's SoundBridge models — let you listen, wirelessly, to music stored on a computer or network drive or streamed via the internet. The latter — which include products from such companies as Tivoli Audio, Cambridge SoundWorks, Boston Acoustics, and Bose — provide surprisingly good sound and radio reception in a small package; some include additional features such as CD playback, clocks, and multiple alarms.

Roku's SoundBridge Radio is the first product we've seen that combines these two product categories. The SoundBridge Radio puts the functionality of Roku's SoundBridge players, along with an AM/FM radio and dual-alarm clock, into an 279x152x165mm cabinet that includes left and right stereo speakers as well as a small lower-frequency speaker in the rear. The system is compact enough to fit on a desk, a kitchen counter, or even a nightstand, but gives you the functionality of a standalone wireless player combined with a separate speaker system.

Included with the Roku SoundBridge Radio is a wireless remote control, power cable, FM wire antenna, AM antenna, and AM antenna adaptor (to be used with AM antennae that connect via two wires rather than the Radio's 1/8in minijack).

Although you don't need a wireless network to use the Roku SoundBridge Radio — you can still listen to AM and FM radio and use its alarm clock — it doesn't make much sense to spend £299 on the Radio unless you take advantage of its wireless playback features. And setting up the Radio for such use is fairly simple. When the system first starts up, you're asked several questions, which you answer using the included wireless remote: language preference, time zone and geographic region.

The Roku SoundBridge Radio then looks for open wireless networks. If it finds any, you're asked which to use, and the Radio then automatically connects to it; if your network is closed, the Radio walks you through the connection process.

The only two hiccups in the latter case are that the Roku SoundBridge Radio doesn't work with WPA-encrypted networks — only the less secure WEP — and that the Roku SoundBridge Radio requires that you enter a 26-character hex password, rather than the simpler ASCII password used by many wireless routers. (Roku notes on the company's website that WPA support will be added in a future update.)

Once you've connected to a wireless network, the Roku SoundBridge Radio automatically sets its clock via the internet and you gain full access to its streaming audio features. You can use the System Configuration menu, accessible via the Radio's main onscreen menu, to change system settings —such as the wireless network and UPnP (universal plug-and-play access) — as well as to check wireless network status and settings, to reset or restart the Radio, and to check for software updates. (The Roku SoundBridge Radio automatically checks for updates at period intervals; if it finds one, it asks if you'd like to install it.)

You can also use the Adjust Display (aka, Bright) button on the remote to adjust the brightness of the display and the size of the onscreen font; the larger the font, the easier it is to read but the less information that can be displayed. For example, at the largest font size, the Roku SoundBridge Radio's display can easily be read across a room, but only one menu item is displayed at a time; at the smallest size you can view four lines.

Whichever font you choose, the Roku SoundBridge Radio uses an easy-to-read, 280x32-pixel, monochrome, vacuum fluorescent display, similar to the one used by Slim Devices' Squeezebox models. (The Roku SoundBridge Radio has a built-in light sensor that automatically dims the display at night; you can also turn the display off completely.)

Another set of options—for display scrolling and information, the onscreen visualiser that kicks in when you're not scrolling through menus, and a few others — is available via the Settings item in the main menu for each audio source. Finally, the Roku SoundBridge Radio includes its own built-in web server for configuration options that require text entry, more obscure options, and advanced settings. Windows users can access these web pages via a short procedure explained in the Roku SoundBridge Radio's manual; Mac OS X users can access it directly from Safari's Bonjour (nee, Rendezvous) bookmarks item.

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