This affordable, standalone Web radio offers full access to Pandora and lets you listen to standard Internet radio stations
There is no shortage of ways to enjoy music—from old-school CDs to conventional radio stations, Sirius XM (SIRI) satellite radio to MP3 players. There's also Internet radio—a category that includes streams provided by radio broadcasters and standalone streaming music services like Accuradio.com.
Then there's the increasingly wide array of Web-based "music discovery" engines such as iLike, CBS's (CBS) Last.fm, Slacker Radio, and Pandora. I especially like Pandora, a service that customizes streams based on a user's preferences. I use Pandora for listening to music at home or in the office, though the free service also runs on wireless devices like the iPhone, Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry, and phones running Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile.
Built-In Pandora Support
It's that affinity for Pandora that turned me on to Livio Radio, a simple, standalone Internet radio that connects to Web radio stations and is designed to work specifically with Pandora. Made by Livio, the $149 Livio Radio comes with support for Pandora built in, and connects to some 11,000 other Internet streams via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. The compact, table-top unit has a single speaker and a large round knob that controls the volume and activates an on-screen menu.
Setup was surprisingly simple. With other radios, I have struggled to get the radio to give the network password in the correct format. But I had practically no difficulty getting the Livio Radio on my Wi-Fi network. I did encounter a hiccup pairing the radio with my Pandora account, however. To do this you must sign in at the Livio Web site, give your Pandora account information, the serial number of the radio, and a unique string of characters called a registration ID. The first weekend I had the radio, I was unable to register and was told to try later. I set it aside for a week and was ultimately successful. Livio says the Web site used for pairing the radio with Pandora may have been down the first day I tried.
Once the pairing was accomplished, I was impressed with the Pandora implementation on the Livio. During tests, I set up the radio on my desk in my home office. Having paired the radio with my existing Pandora account, all my stations were available for instant playing on the Livio unit. On one occasion, as the radio played one Pandora station, I turned to my computer and created another, a Miles Davis station. Within seconds the Miles Davis station was ready for use on the Livio. The process works well in reverse, too. This time I created a Bob Dylan channel on the Livio using a remote control, and found it on the Pandora Web site moments later.
Other Radio Streams
Be advised that the Livio is not a traditional radio. It won't tune in FM or AM stations over radio airwaves. To hear a station, be it in your hometown or halfway across the planet, you'll need to locate the desired station's stream. This is relatively easy to do with the remote control.
As with most other Internet radio products, the standard approach is to tune geographically, by working your way through a menu. First you select region, then country, then—in the U.S.—the state. If you want to quickly return to a particular station in the future, bookmark it as a favorite. This is a fairly standard method of navigating to stations on similar products including the Aluratek Internet Radio and the Tivoli Web Radio.
Sound quality was generally very good, though the high quality of the speaker occasionally revealed limitations of the source stream. There was a faint background hiss on the Pandora streams. Meanwhile, MP3 streams from radio stations can only sound as good as their bit rate. If the station streams at 64 kilobits per second, it's simply not going to sound as good as a station streaming at 128 kbps.
But if you're a fan of Internet radio and have been looking for a simple piece of hardware for casual listening away from the computer and the cell phone—perhaps for listening to a station that broadcasts from your hometown or country—the Livio is a fine device that's easy to use. And if you like Pandora, and don't mind the occasional midstream ads—a small price to pay for free streaming music, in my view—then having it in so low-priced and easy-to-use a device as this is a real pleasure.