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Roku SoundBridge Radio WiFi Music SystemGreat-sounding WiFi clock radio draws from a variety of sound sources
The Roku SoundBridge Radio WiFi music system ($400) is much more than just a clock radio. Besides receiving FM and AM broadcasts, it also has WiFi capability. If you have a wireless network, the SoundBridge radio can access music files on any Mac or PC connected to the network. It can also play Internet radio stations, waking you up in the morning with your choice of sound source and dual alarms, too. It does all that with tremendous sound quality. We took a listen, and here's our review.
The radio has considerable heft, weighing more than 3 pounds, and that's because of the heavy magnets inside that make its substantial subwoofer quite powerful. Driving that 2.36-inch sub is 30 watts of power, along with 20 watts per channel driving the two 1.65 inch drivers handling the mid and high range. That's a lot of power for a radio this small, measuring 11 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep by 6 inches tall. It's just the right size for bedside use.
This is one of those devices that is extremely easy to set up, especially if you already have a WiFi network in your home. You simply plug the radio in and it finds any of the Macs or PCs on your network that are running iTunes, Windows Media Connect, MusicMatch Jukebox or Rhapsody, any of which can serve as a music server to share your files. It's amazing how quickly it cues up a song even if you're reaching for it over the network. In a matter of a second or less, you select a song and it begins playing.
It's a self-contained unit, and you won't be able to plug any other devices into it, either, because there aren't any inputs on the back at all. That means, no plugging in an iPod or a CD player, a slight disadvantage. Making up for that is an SD card slot, so at least there is one way to physically bring music files to the player. That self-contained philosophy can come in handy, though -- for instance, if you've turned off all your computers for the night and you still want to be awakened by music, the FM and AM radio still works without using the computer network.
You control the radio with the included remote, or with buttons that are on the top of the case. It has an intuitive user interface that lets you select the sound source from which you'd like to listen, and then it immediately begins playing. I did notice that while music was playing, the Back button wouldn't take you back to the previous step as it would on a Web browser -- you must go back to the home button and start over again, but that was easy to get used to after a minute or two and was of little consequence. There are six buttons on top which can each control three presets, for a total of 18 presets that can include Internet radio stations, AM or FM radio stations, songs from an SD card you inserted, or any song on any computer on your network.
We did run into a slight problem with iTunes compatibility with this product. It was immediately able to link up with PCs running older versions of iTunes, but we noticed it wasn't able to connect with the two PCs here that we had recently upgraded to iTunes 7.01. A quick check at the Roku website revealed that the new version of iTunes has broken the compatibility with the SoundBridge, so Roku suggested downloading the Firefly music server software, and that fixed the problem right away. This open-source Firefly software grabs the directory structure of iTunes and lets you use an upgraded iTunes installation without incident. It even goes one better than iTunes, too, not requiring iTunes to be running for to communicate with the SoundBridge radio. Even so, we're still hoping Apple and Roku will solve this incompatibility problem soon.
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