AE's Wi-Fi radio looks right at home on a bedstand or anywhere you can receive a wireless Internet connection.  The night-cap on the right is strictly optional.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 6/5/2006 2:02:29 PM ET 2006-06-05T18:02:29

If you’ve read my columns, you'll know that I’m a big fan of radio.  And not just listening to but collecting them.

I have AM, FM, long and short wave, HF, VHF, UHF ham, a new HD (AM/FM) and both XM and Sirius satellite radios. They’re portable, console, and clock models of every size and shape you can think of. Both tubes and transistors. If it’s a radio — I want to listen to it.

That’s why when I heard about a new stand-alone Internet radio, I just had to hear it.

Acoustic Energy, a British company known primarily for loudspeakers, have developed a clock radio that delivers hundreds of Internet radio stations and sounds great doing so.

Based on what I’ve heard so far, I predict that AE’s new Wi-Fi Internet receiver is the first of a new breed of terrific Internet radios to hit the marketplace.

AE’s Wi-Fi receiver is the first device capable of accessing more than 99 percent of Internet radio stations broadcast anywhere in the world.  Currently, it’s estimated that this radio can receive something like 2,500 Internet radio stations all around the world. That’s 2,500 different stations for free.

The alarm clock radio can receive and decipher Real Audio, MP3 and Windows Media streams.

I took the radio out of its box — plugged it in and turned it on. About 30 seconds later I saw the main screen. When the radio found my 802.11b/g wireless network I added an encrypted password and was all set to listen.

I was immediately greeted by BBC’s Radio One, which makes sense since AE is a British company. I set it as the first of my 10 available station presets. Then I added some more BBC feeds as well as stations from Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean and Australia. It would take me weeks to audition all the music and talk stations available.

I’m not going to tell you that this little device can fill a large hall with concert-quality sound — but I will say that that for a clock radio — it sounds pretty good. 

AE’s least endearing feature is the internal set-up menu system. Think of programming it as a process akin to dealing with DOS in a Windows/Mac world. During initial set-up you will need the somewhat cryptic instruction sheet in your hand.

Listings for available stations are automatically downloaded and upgraded every day. The radio’s operating software is also fully upgradeable. And since it’s always attached to your network getting and installing the latest software is a snap. There’s also a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack for private listening sessions.

Since it connects to your Wi-Fi network, you can also use it to play MP3 and Windows Media music files from any home PC or Mac hooked-up to your network. Pretty neat!

At $299.95 (available online at C Crane, J&R and others), AE's Internet radio is a bit pricier than your average bedside clock radio but for someone who loves radio, it provides a lot of it.

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