The XDR-S1 is an interesting machine. Replete with every major radio band, Sony is obviously aiming to ‘do digital radio’ more comprehensively than any other manufacturer.
At £150 it has some stiff competition from the similarly priced Bug from PURE. While PURE’s champion attracts with its outrageous looks, the XDR-S1 seems more the quietly confident type.
Sony has perfected the art of sleak styling, and with the XDR-S1 they’ve created a good looking machine. It’s a long, brushed metal speaker with a very neat tuck-away aerial and clearly marked silver buttons across the top..
Almost every feature has its own button. Alongside the usual controls for Power, Volume and Station there are Sleep, Timer, Standby, EQ, Auto Tune, Noise Reduction, and Mega Bass buttons. This fortunately doesn’t clutter up the XDR-S1, and means less fiddling around with menus.
The screen is a two-line blue LCD. On each side of the text there’s plenty of room for icons to show when the features like Noise Reduction and Mega Bass are on, but noticeably there are no permanent graphics to show essentials like signal strength.
When the power is off the screen shows the time almost as an afterthought, tucked away to the side. If you wake up and want to know the time there’s no button to turn on the backlight.
The back is devoted to the power lead, a line-in/out and a digital-out, while the side has a neatly hidden headphone output.
When switching on the XDR-S1 for the first time we were asked to press the Auto Tune button. It took a full three minutes after we did so to find all the channels. It's annoying that if you leave it unplugged for more than five minutes you have to do it all again, including setting the clock and the presets.
With tuning out of the way, using the XDR-S1 was easy as most of the functions have their own dedicated buttons. The few exceptions are setting up the clock and options such as backlighting and contrast for the screen.
The presets were easy to store by holding down the Station button. There are ten for every radio band giving a total of 40.
While the XDR-S1 doesn’t dazzle with features, there are some nice touches. The most obvious is the remote control. This isn’t just a basic volume and station changer -- it does everything you can do on the unit itself. When switching between the radio and line-in it’s actually easier to use the remote.
Thanks also to the line-in, users can hook up their iPod, minidisk or discman. This is perfect if you’re using the radio in a room that doesn’t have a hi-fi setup or where space is at a premium, like your desk. This is both simple and useful.
Other useful functions include RDS on FM to get your local traffic news, and the text memo function for the times when you can’t find a pen fast enough to take down a number. Navigating through the menu to get to it is potentially more trouble than its worth, but the remote control makes things easier with its own button.
A Sleep function is also included, but there are no alarm or wake-up modes.
The XDR-S1 works well, with good enough reception around the house not to need the aerial extended (except in the basement). We found that text occasionally came up one figure short, which could be infuriating if you’re trying to find out a phone number. This usually made little difference, however.
The screen was often sluggish when flicking between stations, coming up with ‘Waiting’ instead of the name. This is frustrating when combined with the time it takes for the XDR-S1 to tune in the stations.
The six EQ settings and the Mega Bass button allow listeners plenty of audio options, and the Digital Noise Reduction for FM/MW/LW works very well.
Unfortunately there’s no battery option here, but given that the unit weighs in at a hefty 2.5kg it’s not really made for taking down to the park.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Tom Espiner