Roberts Radio is one of the stalwarts of the British radio industry. It has been making portables since 1932, with the emphasis on products that express the owner's personal style. Its digital radios continue in the same vein -- as long as your style is somewhat retro.
The Gemini 11 combines an old-school wooden and leatherette case with digital innards. It picks up both DAB and FM broadcasts, enabling you to keep a foot in both worlds, and has some high-tech features, including the ability to pause and rewind digital radio.
Viewed from the front, the Gemini 11 could be a conventional AM/FM radio, or even an old-fashioned valve radio. A silvery metal grill covers the stereo speakers and is surrounded by a blue leatherette fascia. The end panels are wooden and the handle completes the materials catalogue by being part plastic and part leatherette.
Viewed from above, it looks like an oversized car stereo in a leatherette box. All the controls are on the top, surrounding the generously sized 97 x 22mm LCD. They are clearly labelled using silver text that stands out from the jet-black background.
On the back you'll find a telescopic aerial that extends to 0.8m, Line Out and Headphone sockets, and a socket for the standard 'figure eight' mains cable. We like the fact that the transformer is tucked away inside, rather than built into the plug. Hiding underneath is a battery compartment that accepts six D-size batteries. Roberts recommends you use mains power "whenever possible", but at least you have the option to take it on a picnic.
When you switch on the radio for the first time, it automatically scans the UK Band III DAB channels. Scanning takes around 30 seconds and a bar chart keeps you informed of the radio's progress. Once the autotune is complete, the stations are sorted into order and it selects the first station on the list -- probably 1Xtra.
You can scroll through the list of stations by turning the Tuning knob, which clicks round in one-station increments, or by pressing the Up and Down buttons. Holding down one of the buttons lets you zip through the list so quickly that you can barely make out the names. Once you've found your station, press the Select button to switch to it (if you find the two-step process annoying, you can configure the radio so it automatically switches to the selected station).
The Gemini 11 can also receive FM broadcasts. To change bands, you simply press the FM/DAB button, then find the stations using the Tuning knob or the Up/Down buttons. Each click or press changes the frequency by 0.05MHz, so you'll find yourself flicking up and down to find the clearest broadcast. You can also scan by holding down one of the buttons. On the plus side, the Gemini 11 supports RDS, so once you've found a station, you can check the display to find out its name.
There are five preset buttons that do double duty over the two bands, enabling you to store five DAB stations and five FM stations. Saving the current station is easy: you just hold down one of the buttons until the display tells you the preset has been stored. Given that we can receive over 50 DAB stations, we'd have liked more presets. If you have wide-ranging tastes or a large family, you may find yourself selecting stations by hand.
The orange LCD display is 16 characters wide and two lines deep. It's easy to read when you're directly over the radio, but the contrast decreases when you view it from an angle. Ideally you'll want to put the radio on a low table or work surface, so you can look down on it. Placing it on a bookshelf makes it hard to see the screen and access the controls.
The top line of the LCD displays the station name and the current mode (DAB or FM). The bottom line can be cycled through six display modes by pressing the Info button. The default mode is scrolling text; the other options are programme type, multiplex name, signal strength, time and date, and the maximum delay available using PausePlus (see below). Scrolling text shudders across the screen, but it doesn't flash on and off, it just shifts one character to the left. We found it easier to read than the scrolling text on Pure Digital's Sonus-1XT.
The PausePlus enables you to put a station on hold for up to 35 minutes while you answer the door or fend off yet another call about double glazing, new kitchens or better deals on your mortgage. Pressing the orange PausePlus button pauses the broadcast and starts the clock. The display also shows you the maximum pause time available for the station in question, which is typically 12 to 18 minutes. Once you've dealt with your cold caller, pressing PausePlus a second time restarts the broadcast at the point where you left off. You can remain in your alternative time zone for as long as you like and even extend the delay by pressing PausePlus again (assuming you haven't reached the delay limit). To return to real-time broadcasting, press Select.
PausePlus is constantly working in the background, buffering the material you've already heard. This means you can also use it to rewind live radio. To hear a news item again, for example, you press PausePlus twice, then turn the Tuning knob anticlockwise to wind back time. The display tells you how far you've gone, in minutes and seconds. You can only rewind the current station, but it's still a nifty function.
We found the PausePlus features very easy to use. There's only one button to press, it's orange, and the display tells you what's happening, making the whole thing almost idiot-proof. There's probably some way to get it wrong, but you'd have to work at it.
Initially we had problems with bursts of static whenever we turned the volume knob. The problem was clearly mechanical and a good squirt of lubricant sorted it out. However, along with a poorly finished corner on the leatherette, it did raise questions about the build quality.
The Gemini 11 outputs in stereo and has treble and bass controls, so you can adjust the sound to suit your taste. We thought it had a richer sound than some of the radios we've tested, although that might have been because we could fine-tune the output. Some members of the team had a slight preference for the cleaner sound of the PURE Digital Sonus-1XT, but there wasn't much in it. If you're an audiophile, you'll hear differences, but we doubt the average radio listener could tell them apart in a blind test. Like all good digital radios, it provides clear, interference-free audio that's much easier on the ear than many FM broadcasts.