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Reviewer: Ken Micallef
Review Component Retail: $199

Face it. At times, even well-heeled audio-fools like you, me and everyone reading this sentence just want to turn off the heavy artillery and turn up the radio. The radio? You heard me right. For those with probing fingers, the FM or AM audio band can still provide easy access to music formats of all breeds. Whether it's that college indie rock station, the public- funded jazz zone, classic rock or Ivy League classical, radio still offers respite and relaxation.

But if you live in a crowded urban environment as I do, the radio can also be a source of annoyance with its banal Clear Channel stations and typically lousy reception. Well, count your blessings and dump that boom box. Ever since Henry Kloss revealed his Tivoli Audio Model One radio to an ignorant public, tabletop radios with great sound, killer reception and gorgeously retro looks have seen a surge in sales. Kloss' mighty little tabletop produced super bang for the buck and sounded simply smashing. Forget that Bose Wave Radio you've been eyeballing (can you say "suckers"?) and check out this new era of 21st century tabletops. Roy Hall of Music Hall Audio is the latest -- and perhaps greatest -- distributor to push the tabletop product to the public. And he has a serious winner in the Music Hall RDR-1 tabletop radio.

Music Hall Audio is renowned for its bottom line of offering exceptional value-for-dollar lines like Epos speakers and Creek amps along with their own brand of turntables, amplifiers and CD players. And even if you can't spend a month's salary on a turntable cartridge (though $250 for a Denon DL-103 lights my fire), Music Hall's $199 RDR-1 'Synthesized Tuner' delivers serious sound at a budget price. Says Roy Hall, "I started music hall because I love good sound and good value. Thousands of companies sell average sounding equipment for a ridiculous price. My goal is simple; to bring you great sound at a great price. That said, I love listening to the radio and I also love complete control. I want to listen to the station of my choosing in the office, in the kitchen, in the garage, and yes, in the bedroom. Shopping around, I discovered the only way to achieve this goal and meet my high standards was to make my own radio. I'm pleased to announce the release of the music hall rdr-1. Radio Done Right."

Designed for home, garage, bath, men's room or illicit boudoirs (and it's kid friendly!), the RDR-1 features a very large and well-lit silver-tinted LCD display, dandy remote control AM/FM tuning (via a Star Trek-looking remote no bigger than a credit card), clock/alarm, multi-stepped bass and treble controls, inputs for iPod or CD player and innumerable station presets, all housed in a handsome 5.5 lb wooden cabinet (which aids the radio's full rich sound).

Other features include a touchy-feely manual tuning knob, a 3-inch wide-band speaker with oversized magnet, a record output jack for recording to an external device, and a stereo headphone jack.

All this for only $200? Gotta be something outa whack. Right? Read on, my suspicious friend.

First up, I loved the Music Hall's tiny remote. It was so small and easy to operate (though I could imagine it easily getting lost), scanning for new stations was almost as fun as listening to them. And with the unit's stepped treble and bass controls ranging from -7 to +7, it was very easy to set EQ for every style of music. Too much bass on that hip-hop, Igor? Just grab the remote and step it down. Need more bass from Paul Chambers? Crank it up. And if you can't quite make out the profanity on that Missy Elliot track, well, the treble contour will clean up the audio if not her big mouth.

A word about reception. I currently own a boom box, an old '70s Sansui tuner, and many small portable radios. The Music Hall not only surpassed these for sensitivity, it picked up stations I have never been able to even locate on my devices. Here in New York, I had heard about Fordham's killer college station - now I can hear it for myself. Ditto for WBGO out of Newark. Never mind listening to streaming jazz audio online... the Music Hall pulled in WBGO clear as a bell.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about the Music Hall RDR-1, besides its extraordinary reception, is its bass response. The Music Hall delivers great frequency range with a tactile, warm, human quality that is rather engaging. On tunes featuring walking bass, I had to turn the bass down! The RDR-1 also excelled in its delicious, silvery treble extension. Acoustic piano, guitar, snare drum and cymbals spoke with clarity and pizzazz. Bass could occasionally become a little overzealous, so I simply adjusted the level from a maniacal +7 to +5. Acoustic bass solos were crunchy, sharp and surprisingly full-bodied.

Sitting on my kitchen sink blasting out sounds over and through my ears, the RDR-1 presented a wide and deep if not particularly succinct or detailed soundstage yet it -- and the music it produced -- pulsed with life. The essence of music was fully revealed by this mighty mite and toe tapping, air guitar and serious late night listening were all accommodated. Like many of you reading this, I own a rig costing in the tens of thousands but while listening to the RDR-1, I never once thought, "Hmmm, it could use more resolution" or "I need to clean up my power." No, the Music Hall RDR-1 got on with the business of music, plain and simple. And in doing so, it allowed me to get on with the business of living - uncomplicated, unconcerned, not serious and simply fun.
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