DennisBeaverMarch 05, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

“We are two U.S. Navy officers at the Naval Weapons Station in Lemoore. We have both been fortunate indeed in being married to the most wonderful women in the world – who are from Japan,” their e-mail began.

“They miss being able to easily listen to radio broadcasts from home. While it was always possible to sit in front of the computer and listen online, that meant that you were stuck in one room.

“Recently, we were in England and purchased Internet radios, allowing Wi-Fi connections to your home Internet and the ability of listening to radio stations from all over the world. When they arrived, the sound was really poor, as if damaged during shipment, and unlistenable. We contacted the seller in London, but they refused to do anything for us.

“They were charged to our American Express credit cards. Is there anything we can do, or are we going to be out close to $400? Also, we know that you occasionally test products and report your findings in You and the Law. In terms of Internet radios on the market, what’s out there that you could recommend? Thanks for the advice, Two Navy Guys.”

Lucky guys indeed

My Navy readers aren’t just lucky in having found wonderful wives, but in their choice of credit cards. American Express is one of the few with “purchase protection.” I checked with them, and was told that, as the radios may have been damaged during shipment to Lemoore from London, they would “buy them back from our cardholder,” up to a maximum of $1,000 per purchase, if a claim was made within 90 days of the purchase.

As it had only been two months, they were fine and have filed claims. We are confident they will obtain refunds and then can buy an Internet Radio which sounds absolutely great. And, yes, they do exist, and we have recently tested several of them. Here are our findings and recommendations. But first, what is Internet Radio?

What is Internet radio?

Today, radio and television stations – over 16,000 – from all over the world “stream” their broadcasts over the net, and anyone with a computer and speakers can access these broadcasts in stunning clarity, completely free. All you have to do is to just sit in front of your computer and you’re there.

But who wants to just sit in front of the computer for hours, listening to radio? I don’t, and now, every morning, as I am shaving, I’m also listening to the news on NPR, Radio France or Radio Sweden, from a tabletop radio in my bathroom that is wirelessly connected to our Wi-Fi. A little music to accompany a shower?How about Classic FM from the UK? It is all cool beyond description, and truly a new era for radio.

“Most people have never heard of Internet Radio,” Brad Pittman, product marketing manager at V-Tech told me. “These radios are ideal for people who have moved throughout their lives, immigrants who want to listen to their hometown radio station, or music lovers who wants to listen to music of a particular type. You go in, pick the type of music of you want, and will have tons of stations to choose from, from every corner of the planet,” he enthusiastically points out.

What to buy?

If you are primarily interested in music and looking for knock-your-socks-off deep bass, then you’ll want a stereo Internet Radio. The best ones we reviewed were the absolutely beautiful Sangean WFR-1 and the V-Tech IS9181. In terms of general listenability between the two, my vote goes to the V-Tech, as I am more interested in news and voice as opposed to music.

While you can adjust “tone” to a certain extent, the Sangean still tends to be a bit bassy – fine for music, but to my ears, not so hot for speech. Yes, you certainly can listen to news on it, but it just seems to sound better with music.

The V-Tech IS9181 is a real gem. Loads of clean sound, and it can be battery operated, which makes it unique. When I tell clients they are listening to jazz from Korea in CD quality, I get a “What? You mean like shortwave?”

“Yes, same idea, only it’s not shortwave, it’s Internet radio,” I explain.

There are a lot of companies who sell these radios, and it’s really important to do your homework online. Read reviews. Only buy if you can get a complete refund. I must stress that.

So, what would I buy? Of the radios I tested, only three: the V-Tech IS9181, the Grace Innovator III or Grace Pandora Internet Radio, or the Livio radios featuring Pandora or NPR. The Grace products remind me of my grandfather’s old Grundig radio, which just sounded good on everything.

We’ll revisit these evolving new consumer products at a later time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.