I used to listen to shortwave radio at the cottage on a nice little Panasonic portable, the supplied antenna strung around the cottage’s Douglas Fir beams. It was fun more than a few years back to tune into other cultures and their music and news. But along the way to this century something changed, even evolved, and the shortwave cultures became a babble of propaganda, Jesus, and jabberwocky, not to mention increasing new kinds of interference. The Sanyo R227 internet radio took me back to those earlier times in a way that surprised me, but more on that later.
The listening alternatives have never been greater in what we still call “radio”, which I’ll define as the organized, hosted presentation of information, music and other verbal data, disseminated through airborne or other electronic means. In other words, the definition has broadened beyond broadcast wavelengths to satellite, and now, wired internet distribution.
In fact, both wired and wireless means of transmission are employed in most of today’s radio, insofar as many current home computer systems use wireless dissemination within each home or workplace, and most broadcast outlets are also wired online. We have gone from shortwave, AM and FM to Sirius and XM (as well as their international counterparts), and now, perhaps paradoxically, to wired distribution that is more comprehensive and international than any previous wireless means known as broadcasting. It also has developed its own community of new “radio” stations and networks. Roll over, Marconi!
So, this is how I come to this product. Yesterday I came across an excellent brief description of the R227 online at www.slashgear.com: “The R227 connects to the Internet by means of a Wi-Fi module or an Ethernet connection. It can also access wireless networks that are secure by entering in a passkey. You can search for radio stations online from all over the world to pinpoint the tunes you want to hear.”
“Since there are no fees, this device makes for a comparable alternative to satellite radio stations. It supports all sorts of formats including AIFF, MP3, AAC, WMA and WAV. Plus, with 8 pre-set stations, you can keep track of your favorites. And for those times a Wi-Fi signal or an Internet connection in general is not available, the device includes a digital FM stereo receiver and you can connect an MP3 player to it for output over a home theater system. Other features include the ability to share music over a network, an alarm clock, a web interface, and two speakers with 2W RMS.”
Also online, I encountered the Magnum Dynalab web site, where you can look at a “World Source Platform”, the MD-109 tuner at a mere 7990 British Pounds (according to the review quoted from Britain’s Hi-fi+ magazine). And the MD-109 is also upgradeable at additional cost, and has to be so augmented for internet reception! I think I’ll take this little Sanyo for only 200 bucks instead, complete with its 2 watts rms.
The R227 readout also shows the type of coding of the signal, such as Real[Audio] Enabled, WMA, or MP3, and, in general, stations broadcasting at low rates sound various shades of crappy, even on voice. The low-bit signals are also more prone to dropout and nasty-sounding glitches. For those still interested in the “Corpse”, the CBC internet Classical station broadcasts at 139 kbps MP3 Real Enabled, which is barely tolerable, while Radio 2 online is at 64 WMA Real Enabled, and also sounds pretty terrible. Here are more examples of what you can find on the “World Source Platform” of the Sanyo R227.
Why not start with Almighty Metal Radio, at 31 kilobytes per second, if you want low-rez hardcore bizarre faith - the name says it all. ABC Classic FM, the Aussie equivalent of the wreck that was once CBC Radio 2, sounds quite good at 96 kbps, but strings do take on some steely shrillness on this signal that is WMA Real Enabled. A French station, Accent Quatre is fairly good at 128 kbps Real Enabled, while Amadeus 103.7 sounds quite awful at 20 kbps, the sound muddy and thick. I tended to use the Classical music stations for evaluation because sound quality was easier to get a fix on with largely acoustic music.
Other listening stops in this genre included Ancient FM (128 kbps Real Enabled), which had quite low levels, and Apollo Radio (96 kbps), which was Jazz, and quite loud, Appassionata For Organ (56 kbps, Real), which sounded quite passable to me (and I’ve become a specialist in organ recordings in recent years, it seems), and one of the best sounding stations turned out to be AVRO Baroque (256 kbps, MP3 Real Enabled), though the top end still seemed a bit screechy at times. Bartok Radio (320 kbps, MP3 Real Enabled) was also a standout sonically.
Another not-so-pleasant surprise was Chicago’s famous WFMT (48 kbps Real): for a station that does much program syndication and music recording, I wished for much higher online resolution, but heard only a pale shadow of the legendary FM signal. That’s a pity, because it’s a truly great radio station in terms of programming and quality of presentation.
But I should get back to the R227 radio itself. It’s easy to navigate with its slightly-larger-than-credit-card remote, which allows selection of the 8 presets (there should be more), as well as scrolling through the thousands of stations that are increased almost daily by the hundreds as the world’s radio goes online. The system the radio uses for compiling and cataloguing these is called Reciva. You can choose to browse either by musical genre (of which there are many) or by location, countries and territories being listed alphabetically in a menu. I preferred the genre route, which at least gives one an idea of what you’ll run into, programming-wise. These include, again alphabetically, 60s to 90s, Adult, Ambient, Folk, Jungle, and just about everything else you could imagine, to World Caribbean, with no Z categories.
In most cases, the sound is consistent in stereo or mono, if not exceptional, as I’ve noted, certainly more reliable than AM or FM, and always better than shortwave. For most listeners, this will be a high recommendation for this little radio, which sounds even better used as I did (and do, since I bought the review sample), into a bigger audio system through its mini-jack line output. And I might as well conclude by trying to pin down the particular sound quality of this bit-starved medium with its almost infinite variety.
For those who might wish to build a system around this cute little radio, the R227 also has its mini-jack Aux input, as well as a quite average FM tuner that is not connectible to an outdoor FM antenna, having only a short permanently attached wire aerial. Sanyo does not seem to want you to listen to FM. That’s OK with me, but why did they offer it at all?
Seldom broadcast at anywhere near the potential sound quality possible, which itself is well below CD resolution, internet radio will never astound nor excite an audiophile. The highest bit rate I encountered was 320, and that’s pretty poor. But radio is as much an information as music medium, and as we have discovered, radio has outgrown the air. Perhaps, as the online version matures, so too will its sound quality increase. I certainly hope so.
I came to the conclusion that I had to follow this trend, as broadcaster and writer, as well as music lover, and so I bought the Sanyo R227 radio, which is absurdly affordable. Coming back to FM, with such great tuners as the Sony ST-5130 and Accuphase T-101 and their incredible fidelity available, is always a joy after listening to internet radio, but there is also so much to discover through the high-speed online path that it simply cannot be ignored. And there is much beauty and joy to be encountered there. Everyone who has similar feelings about broadcasting will want to buy this pretty little box, and go exploring the netwaves.
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