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CONSUMER WATCH

Sanyo R277 delivers Internet radio without a computer

The table-top box provides access to thousands of stations and will wake you up in the morning.

January 04, 2009|David Colker

Online radio, which can pick up thousands of stations from around the world, is one of the wonders of the Internet.

Except that it isn't very convenient, mostly because it's generally tied to a computer. That means listening in the same room as the computer, unless you have some kind of audio network in the house.

The dream of an online radio that works sans computer goes back at least as far as the snazzy-looking Kerbango, a free-standing unit that caused a stir at electronics trade shows in 2000. But that also was the year the tech bubble burst, and Kerbango went kaput before it made it to market.

Numerous online radios did make it onto retail shelves in the years that followed, but they tended to be complicated to use and clunky, and some were crazy expensive.

Now comes the latest, from Sanyo, a company that hasn't produced anything very snazzy in consumer products of late, at least for the U.S. market.

But its R227 online radio -- complete with alarm clock for bedside use -- is quite impressive.

As I wrote this, it was bringing in Bartok Radio, a mostly classical station based in Budapest that segued from an operatic aria (I can't tell you which one because the announcements were in Hungarian) to a lovely a cappella rendition of the Beatles' "Blackbird" sung by the King's Singers.

Sanyo, which announced last month that it was being acquired by Panasonic, has the right heritage for this sort of product. Founded in 1947, it brought some of the early pocket-sized transistor radios into the United States, often under the Channel Master name.

The R227 -- with its black plastic case reminiscent of the Bakelite used to make classic radios from the 1930s to '50s -- has a bit of a retro look without being cute about it.

Its one large dial is used to scroll among digital choices that appear in a tastefully sized window. Small buttons are included for various functions, but it's usually easier to use the remote control that comes with the radio.

Speakers on the left and right side panels provide stereo sound that isn't going to bowl over an audiophile but is quite good coming from a unit about the size of half a loaf of bread.

When I first plugged in the R227, it found my home Wi-Fi signal and tuned into the network in less than a minute. (It also features an ethernet jack.)

After that, every time I turned on the radio, it took only about five seconds for it to get on the home network and be ready for online radio surfing.

The R227 came preloaded with several thousand stations that could be searched by location or genre.

There are 2,163 stations on the U.S. roster alone. Also, 1,246 in Britain, 123 in Japan, 103 in China, 33 in India and two in Kazakhstan, one of which was inexplicably playing "Santa Baby" (and not by Eartha Kitt) when I tuned in Wednesday afternoon.

The genre list was extensive, including news, kids, public, oldies, hip hop, pop, Bollywood, gospel and ambient.

I looked for one of my favorite classical stations, BBC 3. Not only did the R227 have it available, but it also allowed me to tune into archived shows on the channel. The NPR channel likewise allowed for archive listening.

The choices included the ultra-niche. There was "Psychic on Air," the "Saturday Night Knife and Gun Show" (a QVC-type program selling weapons) and a police-band radio scanner in Las Vegas. But that's part of what online radio is about.

Although numerous public stations were listed, including many in Southern California that one of the best known -- KCRW-FM (89.9) -- was left out. I fixed that by signing on to a programming site that Sanyo uses. Registering this particular unit's serial and Media Access Control numbers, I was able to wirelessly add a listing for KCRW to the radio.

The R227 also could pick up regular local FM stations, with outstanding sound quality, and it was possible to add links to music stored on a computer media player (PC only).

Because it's a clock radio, it could be set to wake up the user from any of these sound sources, or a built-in buzzer.

The R227 is scheduled to become available in the U.S. this month. Online retailers taking pre-orders have priced it at about $150.

That is a lot pricier than most run-of-the-mill clock radios. But they can't find Radio Bartok.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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