I am looking for a wireless speaker system with good audio quality and an affordable price tag.
Let me explain: All my music—my collection of CDs and the desktop where I’ve stored music—is in a room that is my work-cum-playstation. It’s where I sit and read, trawl the Net—and also listen to music and watch movies. When I’m home, I spend most of my day in this room. Depending on my mood, I choose an Internet radio station—WBGO for jazz, Absolute Radio for classic rock, NPR for music, books, news and more, Radiolab for science podcasts, and so on. If I feel like listening to a particular track, I open Grooveshark. I use a pair of small Bose speakers and the sound is nice and soft.
But when friends come over, we sit in the living room, and there are moments when I long for some music in the background. My problem is I don’t have an audio system to play CDs, or a dock for my ancient, first-generation iPod. I could invest in one, but increasingly, the music I listen to is mostly from online radio stations. And ideally, I would like a system on which I can access online radio as well as the music stored on my PC wirelessly.
Tuned in: Get a plug-and-play device that has an online radio tuner.
These days, many hi-fi systems (an amplifier and speakers) have a slot for a USB drive: You can load your music on a pen drive, and plug it into the system. But to listen to streaming music from your PC you need a wireless audio device. These gadgets go by many names: streaming audio receiver, digital audio streamer, wireless music system, Wi-Fi music player/streamer and network music player.
You have two broad choices: Get a wireless attachment capable of picking up the signal from the other room and plug it into your existing audio system; or get a stand-alone, plug-and-play device (with or without a speaker) that has an online radio tuner and can also pick up the music stored on your PC wirelessly. In short, get a network music player. There are more options but broadly, they fall within these categories.
For option one, I have seen an interesting device made by NAD Electronics. It’s a wireless USB digital to analogue converter called NAD DAC 1 and costs Rs 23,000 in Delhi. It comes in two parts—a USB-type transmitter that you attach to your PC, and a receiver that you plug into your hi-fi system. But, as I said, I am looking for a gadget with a built-in speaker.
I’ve seen a Bose SoundDock 10 Digital Music System, a compact speaker system with superb sound and a minimalist design. It’s a dock for your iPod or iPhone and if you attach a Bose Bluetooth adaptor, it picks up music from your PC or Mac. It streams on Bluetooth, and not Wi-Fi, and with the Bluetooth adaptor it costs Rs 57,000 at the Bose dealership in Connaught Place, New Delhi, but that is beyond my budget.
I can take the Apple route—get an Apple AirPort Express (a wireless router) to stream audio, but I would still need a hi-fi system, and with Apple there are also compatibility issues. Brands like Sony and Samsung have home theatre systems with Wi-Fi options, but I’m not looking for an elaborate 5.1 stereo system; I want something more compact.
I’ve read excellent reviews of the Sonos system: A single wireless speaker that gives you complete sound experience (it has a subwoofer built in). You can control it from a smartphone or iPad, and, if you wish, add speakers for every room in your house. Depending on the model, the price ranges from $280-400 (Rs 13,955-19,936), plus of course there will be the grey-market profit.
The system that fits into my budget as well as meets my requirements is the Logitech Squeezebox Radio. It’s a compact radio with a digital display and built-in speaker. I used to have a Logitech speaker system for many years, and I was quite happy with the sound quality. Audiophiles may look down upon the Squeezebox but it suits my purpose: You can access hundreds of online radio stations, and it also picks up music from your PC. The Amazon price for the base model is $140, and shipping to India is extra.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at firstname.lastname@example.org