When you hear 'Internet radio', don't just think of the oddities found inside iTunes' rather rococo radio list. A decent tabletop Internet radio, however, will give you access to major British broadcasts from the likes of the BBC, along with thousands of channels from around the world.
That's what Tangent's Quattro MKII offers -- mainstream radio, worldwide broadcasts and podcasts delivered to your table or bedside, either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. But with a price of £170, would you be better off with a DAB radio by your bed and podcasts on your iPod? Before you answer, let's see what Tangent is offering.
This attractive, weighty offering is housed inside a wooden enclosure, finished in a choice of colours. To the top sits a single 76mm (3-inch) dynamic driver, capable of driving 5W RMS. You may miss it at first, but there's also a tiny snooze button for telling Chris Moyles to shut up. You'll certainly miss the infrared remote control, because there isn't one -- a big shame.
Independent volume and tuning knobs sit on the front, accompanying a plethora of function buttons and a two-line backlit LCD display. Around the back are Ethernet, line-in, line-out and headphone sockets. Why is the headphone socket around the back? Lines in and out, fair enough. But headphones?
Despite the headphone-related oversight, the Quattro's feature list impresses. At the time of writing, it lists just over 10,000 radio stations from 270 countries. This gives you access to fascinating international talk and music radio -- excellent if you're interested in foreign languages and cultures. You can further sub-catagorise stations by genre and assign any station to one of six presets.
There's plenty of on-demand content on offer from traditional broadcasters, and any BBC Radio fan will be impressed with being able to access the last seven days' worth of broadcasts from many stations, including Radio 1, 6 Music and Radio 4. Missed Edith Bowman's show last Wednesday? Fancy a catch-up of The Archers? No worries -- they're here in their entirety. The database of stations is pulled from the Reciva Web site every time the Quattro is used, so you've always got an up-to-date directory. Podcast support is extremely intuitive and utilises the Web site too. We'll come to this shortly.
You can also access media stored on PCs hooked up to your home network, either by setting up a UPnP server or by configuring Windows Media Player to grant access to files in its library to associated devices on the network. The Quattro will play MP3, AAC, OGG, WAV, WMA, Real Audio and AIFF formats -- an excellent offering, but where's FLAC?
Also nowhere to be seen is support for DRMed Windows Media files -- not that we recommend buying music with DRM, but support for it wouldn't have gone unappreciated. And we would have loved an SD card slot for recording purposes -- PURE Digital's one-touch SD card recording on the Legato II, for example, was a very useful feature.
We initially had problems with streaming audio along our local networks, possibly as a result of using our corporate LAN. We had various permissions errors, and unpredictable and sporadic success at even accessing our media-filled PC. After giving up trying to use Windows Media Player, as advised by the Quattro's manual (we don't like having to resort to looking at manuals by the way), we created a simple folder of music on the PC's desktop, set it as a shared folder and things finally worked.
But it's only a half-hearted working, and not for technophobes -- having to set folder permissions in a Windows environment is not what we call painless operation. To listen to music, you must add tracks to a 'queue' -- you can't simply tell a single song to play. There's no gapless playback either, so expect 2 seconds between tracks in the queue.
Our problems finished here, however. After mastering the slightly convoluted local streaming functions, we went back to Internet radio, and great fun it was too. Browsing broadcasts from country after country was very simple, as was finding on-demand content from the likes of the BBC. You do have to scroll all the way through the alphabetised list of countries to find the UK though, rather than going backwards from 'A' listings.
Using podcasts was simpler still. After pasting in a podcast's RSS feed into the Reciva Web site (you need to sign up for a free account there first), it was available immediately on the Quattro. You can choose individual episodes to listen to, the titles of which are pulled from the RSS feed and scrolled across the screen. Unfortunately you can only assign individual episodes to preset keys. We would have much prefered to assign certain shows to presets.
Finally, sound quality is excellent from the single speaker. It's no stereo alternative, but for a tabletop radio it's superb. Decent bass, very clear mids for vocals and it's bright enough in tone to satisfy most people.
So after the problematic start, the Quattro clawed its way back into our good books. It has decent looks, great sound and plenty of features for radio and podcast fans.
But for anyone with a passion for radio and a love of international broadcasts, Tangent's Quattro MKII puts all these and more next to your bed in an attractive package and for a decent price. If you want to sacrifice the looks, style and podcasts, consider Intempo's cheaper GX01 option.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide