Forget FM, long wave, medium wave, digital and just about any other form of traditional radio. When it comes to providing dizzying levels of choice, there really is only one option: Internet radio. The Terratec Noxon iRadio follows in the footsteps of the Noxon 2 Audio, using your broadband connection and Wi-Fi to pick up thousands of Internet radio stations, but it also brings a built-in speaker to the party.
The Noxon iRadio looks as if it has come straight off the Apple production line. Not only does it have a lower-case 'i' in the product name, but its white finish, curved edges and large circular speaker give it the look of an enormous iPod turned on its side. Is Terratec paying homage or stealing Apple's design cues? We'll let you be the judge.
The Noxon iRadio can connect to the Internet via wired or wireless connections. Round the back you'll find a screw-on Wi-Fi aerial as well as an Ethernet port. Both connection methods can exist simultaneously if required -- the iRadio is clever enough to choose whichever method is faster at any given moment. Both WEP and WPA wireless encryption is supported.
Once you're hooked up, getting the device to play is simple. The built-in configuration wizard lets you connect to your wireless network fairly painlessly (we did it in under a minute) and the iRadio automatically goes online when an Internet-enabled Ethernet connection is detected.
Unlike the Noxon 2 Audio, the iRadio can be controlled with or without its accompanying remote control. There are five shortcut buttons running down the middle of the front panel, providing easy access to your favourite stations. These are a nice addition, but you'll have to choose your favourites wisely given there are over 2,500 stations available.
Navigating through the menu system can be done using the remote or via the rocker buttons on the front panel, and it's all very intuitive. The directory of podcasts and Internet radio stations are easily located, and there's an option for a sleep timer function and a list of your favourites -- which can be chosen by pressing the smiley-face button on the remote, or discarded with the unhappy face.
The iRadio can access MP3 and WMA music files stored on your PC. You'll need to install the included (and elegantly named) TwonkyVision TonkyMusic uPnP software (for PC) or elgato EyeConnect software (for Mac) to do so, but it's a useful feature. Once configured, a 'MyServer' option is added to the main menu -- from here you can navigate through your music collection. ID3 tags are supported so you can see the name of the artist or album that's being played.
Within the podcasts and Internet radio menu options it's possible to select audio streams by genre or country, so to find the Crave Podcast, for example, you'd navigate to Podcasts > Genre > Technology.
We found the audio quality on the built-in mono speaker more than acceptable for such a small unit. It's loud enough to fill a moderately sized bedroom, and the sound is surprisingly well-balanced. If you feel the need to entertain the neighbours as well as yourself, it's possible to connect the iRadio to your existing amplifier and speaker setup via the speaker-out and line-out sockets at the rear.
The iRadio uses the same display as the Noxon 2 Audio, which isn't a good thing. It's only really viewable if you're within a metre of it and your eyes are at the same height as the display. Expect to do much squatting or squinting when using it.
Our second gripe has more to do with the nature of Internet radio than anything else. The device supports very high quality audio encoded at up to 320Kbps, but audio quality depends very much on individual stations. We found streams averaged at about 128Kbps, which provides good sound quality, but there are several streams that dip into the realms of 64Kbps or lower. These sound awful.
Finally, switching between channels can take some time. This is unavoidable, since the device is only as effective as the data streams it receives, but you should be aware that going from one channel to another can take several seconds.
The Noxon iRadio is great for anyone who's bored with the choice of stations available on ordinary FM or even DAB radios. It's not as easy to use and configure as an ordinary radio, but you don't need to be an expert, and the ability to listen to over 2,500 stations as well as podcasts and your own MP3s streamed from your PC make it worth the investment.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide