Friday, January 12, 2007
Acoustic Energy Wi-Fi Internet Radio
I got a very generous gift voucher for John Lewis for christmas and decided not to buy new sheets, fluffy white towels or other such sensibles. No I went in for the gadget kill.
Ok so I was limited in choice. Usually JLewis don't have a large variety of each "type" of electronic item apart from DAB radios. The fifth floor Oxford Street is infested with ugly DABS.
But when I saw the Acoustic Energy Internet Radio I was almost instantly convinced. To be honest, I'd been waiting a while for this.
I was aware mainly due to shoutcast that there are literally thousands of streaming advert free radios playing perfectly honed playlists to the discerning listener out here in infranet land.
But to be honest my PC is not my media centre. I like a radio to look like a radio. It should sit in the kitchen and be on while I'm cooking, eating, digesting, crosswording or whatnot. I don't want to be dilly dallying with a mouse whilst cooking up cheap quick wok fodder.
These internet radios mean you don't even need to switch on a PC at all. Just get in from work, dump the coat get the shopping out and press "on". It connects straight to your router/modem. This model is Wi-Fi but there are also ethernet RJ45 versions.
The radio uses a downloaded list of radio stations that it shares with other manufacturers radios at reciva.com. There are several thousand channels that are categorised by country and genre. If you know of a channel that isn't on their lists you can register at reciva and submit your choice of radio channel to either "my streams" a list of your favourites that will only show up on your radio but they show up instantly or you can submit to the overall reciva directory and reciva staff manually add your choice to the overall directory ie for all radios that connect via reciva (I haven't tried this option yet - don't see the point).
I've added shoutcast and live365 radios successfully.
With live365 radio just get the radio to open using winamp, then get file info and copy the URL up to the ID number just after play
For shoutcast the URL should look something like this:
So what else can this baby do?
Well it has links to virtually all the BBC radios and you can choose which programme from the past week you would like to hear and you can scan back and forth and pause it. Wonderful.
I'd done this on the BBC website before, but doing it with this unit just feels so much better (no mouse and keyboard malarkey).
Furthermore if you have a PC switched on in the house you can play all your mp3 albums from the Acoustic Energy radio unit.
It has a built in bit of software which scans for your windows shared folders and it creates a databas file which is placed in that shared folder. You can then choose whole albums or individual songs which are added to a playlist. Choices can be pushed to the front of the list or you can have it repeat or shuffle.
Unfortunately this little gizmo couldn't handle the vast size of my mp3 storehouse.
So I had to try plan B. I upgraded the firmware of my AE unit and the upgrade includes the ability to access a UPNP server on the network. I downloaded a lovely bit of free software called
TVERSITY MEDIA SERVER.
It was able to read my giant store of files and happily connected to my radio. I can see all the files in various different data filters. Album/artist/folders/etc . It includes recently added and view by year of album release. Nice touches.
Unfortunately the playlists that you then build up when accessing the tversity links don't seem to give you the option to put a file to the front of the queue as was possible if you used the built in "window share" option. Hopefully this will be rectified in future firmware upgrades.
Which brings us on to the faults and problems.
1. I find that when accessing the files on my PC you need to press the "select" button s l o w l y. What I mean is that you must wait for it to load up the initial directories fully. If you steam in quickly it will get confused and the unit will just reboot.
A bit niggly and something that probably wouldn't have happened with an ethernet connected, yes wi fi isn't a perfect technology yet. I would have liked an ethernet option.
2. There is no remote control and if there was you wouldn't be able to read what was being played on the radio screen anyhow.
This is something that a rival player SQUEEZEBOX3 does better. It has a clear visible screen and a remote which you can type in a few letters to predict the title of your radio station and then press GO. But I don't think the squeezebox has the same amount of pre-loaded presets (not sure on this one- don't quote me)
Anyhow John Lewis only had AE so my choice was made for me.
3. The AE doesn't work that well with my TVERSITY media server. The media server has the option of adding podcast feeds that it will refresh and download at regular intervals. My radio will not play those files grrrrr.
The Squeezebox has its own designed media server software which you install in your PC thus things like RSS feeds including text RSS feeds work perfectly on the units "visible" screen.
But hell I don't need to read ticker tape blog feeds, I just want easy podcast access. Please acoustic energy add this ability please.
4. Squeezebox with its programmeable flexibility is now able to play your last.fm radio. It can also scrobble the tracks you play.
5. I've saved one of the most fundamental nuisances til last.
In the info about the latest firmware upgrade it says and I quote
'The Radio menu will now display its options and stations in a vertical list which shows 3 stations at a time rather than the old horizontal scrolling single bar display used in the previous firmware versions. This also facilitates "Track Playing" information when listening to some stations using this feature in their data streams (below the chosen station name you will see the information of the current track playing where available).'
Well I've played many many radio stations, the majority of which DO show what track they're playing on my PC, but not one of them will show the track playing when I stream using my lovely new Wi-Fi radio. I hope this is properly implemented ASAP. It really is a fundamental thing that should have been there from the beginning.
If you love radio and you love the idea of not having blasted computers on all the time, with their knack of turning your friendly house-guests into antisocial websurfing fiddlers, then you have to get one of these babies.
Sure, the inbuilt speaker isn't that hot but plug it into yr hi-fi for better sound.
Sure, some of the channels have very low bitrates and thus sound pretty poor.
But for gods sake you can add ANY radio you find out there with better quality sound.
Try searching shoutcast and live365' directories. There is some awesome shit out there to suit all tastes.
The BBC On Demand service is superb - it bares saying twice.
This is the best thing I've owned since my new sony mobile phone (which granted was only a month and a half back).
Just please add the podcasting, name of track playing and if you can be arsed the last.fm capabilities and I'll be happy.
Especially the track playing.
Three Cheers for Acoustic Energy,
I did think of this device about three or four years back,
but I'm glad you finally made it.
P.S. There are already several other manufacturers producing these Internet Radios so if you are going to invest then do your research first.