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Reviewer: Marja Vanderloo & Henk 'Longbeard' Boot
Review Component Retail: € 299

It is not Hifi. Hurray. It's absolute WiFi. It's FunFi!
The power of the Internet lies in its open access to anyone - to read what you want and to publish what you want. The Internet is one of the few global but self-regulating communities where freedom really does -- still -- exist. The fact that you're reading this proves the point. The only constraint to the Internet freedom of speech and image is that you need a computer.

And besides the written word and static images, there's of course movie content and audio. These types of content are the tricky ones as prior copyrights are involved. Fortunately, plenty of content providers have sorted out the legal stuff for you. And thus we can enjoy the benefits of free Internet radio. This makes it possible to listen to stations located around the world that broadcast/stream niche-market audio content. While working on the computer, you can listen to unknown artists and broaden your musical horizons in ways no record store can help you with.

And you did need a PC. A laptop working wirelessly as your broadband modem attached to a WiFi router made this even easier. Still, you had to boot up the system, launch the Internet browser and select the radio station of choice from your list of favorites.

Until Acoustic Energy came along with the WiFi Internet Radio that is. Yes, the Acoustic Energy from Britain that makes metal-cone loudspeakers. The radio comes in an attractive package sized 165mm x 123mm x 120mm with a sloping top. On this top you'll find an LCD display, 10 push buttons, two little indicator lights and a knob. The front hides two miniature loudspeakers for narrow stereo and sprouts a few logos. At the back there's a headphone connector and the receptacle for the 7.5 V DC wall wart.

It gets far much more exciting under the hood. Here we find a Reciva Barracuda Internet Radio module. This is quite some technology packed onto a small 60mm x 45mm x 6mm board. At the heart of the circuit board is an ARM processor that runs an embedded version of the Linux operating system. In fact, Barracuda is a small computer. The board further holds a DAC, an amplifier chip and the connections for the WiFi antenna, the push buttons, the rotary knob and of course the loudspeakers.

From the specs we learn that the radio can make a wireless 802.11b/g connection to a wireless router. It thereafter downloads the station list from Reciva and stores that in memory. At the moment, there are more than 2500 stations listed. Reciva claims that these stations are verified for status every day. Besides accessing Internet radio stations from the list, the radio can also play your own lists when your computer is set up to act as a wireless media server. The Acoustic Energy radio supports a wide range of file codecs including MP3, AIFF, Real Audio and Windows Media Audio. For streaming media content, the RTSP, MMS and HTPP protocols are all supported. And of course WAV files from your PC are played back as well.

Switching the AE radio on is a simple matter of plugging in the power cord. There's no battery aboard. A welcome message appears on the bright blue backlit LCD saying that what you have is a Reciva Radio. Nice to know. Then the radio tries to connect to a network. You are lucky if one of your neighbors has an unprotected WiFi access hub coz then you're already done. If not, you have to select the desired network and with the use of the rotary knob and the select push button as the "Enter" key, provide the WEP password. When the correct password has been entered, the LCD screen displays a "Wireless Network OK" message. The next step is to select a radio station by first pressing the "Select" button so that "Stations" appears on screen. The rotary knob can now be used to dial in "Location" or "Genre". This allows a selection from the downloaded list based on type of station or from a specific location. How about a radio station from Cyprus to get an idea of the musical environment that Srajan and Ivette have chosen? No problem. There's a variety of Cypriot stations on the list. If a station is to your liking, hold one of the 10 preset buttons for a few seconds and the station's address is saved.

Next to normal streaming Internet broadcasts, some stations offer on-demand content. This opens up more selection options and you can dial with the knob for a rebroadcast of past material. This is great for BBC programs that offer the on-demand option.

When the on/off button switches the radio to standby, it becomes a clock. The time is set through the "Configuration" menu which adds alarm function so you can wake to your favorite Internet station. Our radio's LCD was very bright when we received the radio. From the Reciva website however, you can download a software patch that enables you to dim the display.

You simply cannot compare this 21st century radio listening device to those of many decades ago when you were huddled in bed under blankets, hugging your little radio while scanning the ethers for stations. Here there is no static between stations, no limit to your reach..

Even though the AE radio is not intended or claimed to be HiFi, the sound quality for such a small package is quite remarkable. Depending on the broadcast quality, the bit rate and possible disturbances on the worldwide web, the sound quality is plain enjoyable. As long as there's no buffer under-run, you can enjoy sounds from around the globe. This radio is one can of whoopi-ass for the tired-of-my-CD-collection doldrums. It's a kick in the pants. It's perfect for browsing music and discovering new gems. It's... hey, you get the message. Get one and join the fun!
Manufacturer's website