Name that BluTune: Roberts launch Bluetooth radio range

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Hundreds of stations and not a thing worth listening to: Even the shift from FM to DAB couldn’t help us avoid the nasal, cheesy, over-enthusiastic, often-egotistical tones of presenters playing the same 10 soulless songs every hour.

Sound familiar? Well let’s say goodbye to the fake cheery chat and start taking over the airwaves ourselves!

Don’t worry, Latest Gadgets isn’t suggesting you climb up a high-rise tower block with a ropey aerial and set up a pirate channel. Oh no, we’ve got something much safer and more convenient than that. Besides, we haven’t got a decent collection of jungle records and we’re scared of heights.

Roberts are joining the likes of Sony, Sandstorm and Samsung with BluTune, a range of cool-looking Bluetooth enabled radio devices. No high-rise towers, no law-breaking, no fuss – as long as the radio is within a 10metre range of your laptop, or smart device you can be the DJ and play whatever you like, whenever you like completely wirelessly.

Complete with full FM/DAB/DAB+ functionality, all you need to do is activate the Bluetooth mode, it will recognise your player and will stream the music seamlessly. And in good quality, too.

Other functions in the range include a USB port for smart device charging, auxiliary input for iPod or MP3 playback, station pre-sets, two alarm settings, FM RDS display, mains AC adapter and a headphone socket (in case your family consider your selections to be worse than the professionals!)

Price-wise the range goes from £80 to £199.99, let’s take a quick look at each one:

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Blutune 40: The entry-level, baby model, it’s compact, it’s bijou, it offers all of the functions listed above and it’ll look nice on any work surface or bedside table.

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Blutune 50: The slightly cooler bigger brother of the Blutune 40. Why is it cooler? Because it has a 2.1 speaker system so it sounds better, that’s why.  This one will cost you £99.

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Revival Blutune: In-keeping with the ‘family’ metaphor, the Revival is the stylish yummy mummy of the Blutune clan. She might not sport the 2.1 speaker system but her retro 1950s finish, 120 hours of battery life, classic rotary tuning controls and larger LCD display more than make up for it. Complete with a carry handle, you can pick her up for £199.99.

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Blutune: The daddy, if you will. There’s no retro styling here. Just a timeless beatbox boasting the range’s largest 2.1 speaker system, it offers all of functions we’ve already listed plus a whole load more volume. And a remote control. In case it’s too loud you can’t actually get close enough to switch it off manually. Like the Revival, this flagship model will cost £199.99.

Aves Air DAB Radio Review

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The Aves Air is that rarest of breeds, a pocket-sized DAB radio. The technology may offer crystal clear reception and instant tuning, but DAB has always lent itself more readily to chunky desktop radios rather than units you slip into your coat pocket on the way home from work. The Air is light and smaller than the average mobile phone (102mm x 58mm x 16mm to be precise), and will set you back a penny under £50 if you’re looking to make the switch from your old analogue model. It’s both pocket and wallet-friendly then, and quickly scanned through all the available DAB channels once we’d got it up and running. After a few days’ worth of use, we were impressed with the portability and functionality of the unit.

You won’t find Jonny Ive levels of polish and finish on the Aves Air, but it’s decently designed and put together, especially when you take the price into consideration. Sound is clear and sharp on both DAB and FM, though serious audiophiles will want to invest in a better set of headphones to replace the rather basic pair you get with the radio (which don’t feature in-line remote controls). We had no problems operating the unit and worked out most of its features without recourse to the instruction leaflet — you can configure up to 10 preset channels for both DAB and FM, and there’s a useful sleep function included too, which will automatically switch off the Aves Air after 10-120 minutes of inactivity. Volume rockers are positioned on the right of the unit for making quick adjustments.

Power comes from two supplied AAA batteries which should see you right for 8 hours’ worth of listening (which seemed about right from our experiments) The 128 x 64 pixel LCD screen is functional without being spectacular, managing to squeeze in the time and date alongside details of the station you’re listening to, but it’s the unit’s diminutive size that’s the real selling point here. Miniature DAB radios are often either poorly constructed or a touch on the expensive side, but the Aves Air is neither. While it doesn’t offer a bundle of bells and whistles, and is probably too low-end for serious music lovers, it’s a great choice if you simply want DAB radio access on the go without spending too much.

The Future of Digital Radio: DAB Not Quite Dibs

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I once owned what is now commonly termed a vintage radio. Back then of course it wasn’t vintage, just state of the art and I was very proud of it. It was a Roberts portable, and then just like now, it stood for robust quality; a rich lineage of portable radios since Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead started the company in Britain back in 1932.

Roberts has never shunned the old school look, and as retro is trending well these days, that gambit seems to have paid off; but as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover, particularly when it comes to technology. Fortunately for Roberts, it has always stayed one step ahead of the game using reliable and quality electronics and the advent of Digital Audio broadcasting or DAB as it is more commonly known, giving Roberts an opportunity to get a real stranglehold on the DAB market.

The future for DAB looked very rosy initially and we were promised an array of goodies from eclipsing FM with higher quality, to a far greater choice of stations and music.

Absolute-SportsDAB

The reality hasn’t fulfilled the promise yet. Yes, there are benefits; there is a bigger choice of music, stations get auto tuned, I can read information about the station, the artist and the song, and there is no annoying interference or hiss when the signal is weak. However, the sound quality can actually be worse than FM in some areas (all about bad error correction) and there is generally a delay in delivering the music, particularly annoying if you are watching a live TV concert and listening to it in DAB. There are also rumours about broadcasters, including the BBC, squeezing bandwidth to cram as many stations as they can another factor in reducing sound quality.

The fact of the matter is, until there is a wholesale overhaul of digital broadcasting, it pays to have a decent DAB receiver to ensure you get the maximum benefit from a system still in its relative infancy.

Roberts continues to produce consistent products and has just released a DAB/ FM RDS digital all weather, water resistant radio called Splash!. This all white model features a swivel handle and a wall mounting plate, 8 station presets, auto scan tuning, a handy LED torch, alarm and a carrying strap for £100.

Sports DAB3 is another new release for sports enthusiasts on the go who want to keep up to date with all the latest scores. This pocket sized DAB has a built in speaker as well as earphone mode, 20 presets and RDS station name display. Yours for £90.

www.robertsradio.co.uk

Onkyo CR-555DAB Hi-Fi Mini Receiver: Not too shabby

Home audio manufacturing monster Onkyo has introduced its boss new CR-555DAB Hi-Fi Mini Receiver, a quality personal audio player packed to the brim with some tasty high-end technology offered up at a not-too-shabby price (see below) with a nice black or silver finish fit for the office, living room or bedroom. Bow chicka wow wow!

CR-555DAB

Offering a wide selection of audio inputs, as well as the requisite top-mounted iPod/iPhone dock, front-loading CD tray, and FM tuner, the receiver features a USB port to accept flash-memory devices, playback is easily controlled using the system remote. Super-sweet, so far, then.

Audio enthusiasts (most of you, then?) can enjoy decent high-resolution playback, with a 96 kHz/24-bit optical or coaxial input directing the signal to the receiver’s 192 kHz/24-bit DAC. These inputs offer a convenient way to connect a PC and enjoy iTunes libraries, online audio streams, or movie downloads with sexy immersive sound.

Three analogue sockets enable connection of practically any electronic audio device, but the coolest feature here is the DAB/DAB+ tuner. With a big 40-station preset memory, the digital radio function opens up a great wide world of programming entertainment for the user to enjoy at the simple touch of a button (are you excited yet? Are you!). Naturally, there is also a dedicated subwoofer pre-out should the user wish to add ground-shaking impact – we here at LatestGadgets HQ full endorse this, of course!

As well as adding a DAB/DAB+ radio tuner to its feature set, the CR-555DAB boosts core audio performance by incorporating the same three-stage amplification technology currently driving Onkyo’s top-shelf A/V receivers and hi-fi separates. The delightful “inverted” Darlington circuit design uses proprietary technology to amplify the incoming signal in three distinct stages, reducing distortion and faithfully preserving the natural character of the recording.

Just like its high-end siblings, both channels on the CR-555DAB are symmetrically laid out, with short signal paths between amplifier and power supply to reduce interference. This uniformity eliminates errors between channels, cuts noise levels, and improves the unit’s ability to deliver well-separated stereo sound. Love it!

Another advance comes in the form of a Phase-Matching Bass Boost system (it’s as useful as it sounds, folks). While most mini systems offer some form of bass enhancement, most are prone to the effects of phase-shifting, which can overwhelm mid-range frequencies and muddy the sound. Onkyo’s phase-matching bass solution preserves that all-important mid-range clarity – allowing vocals and strings to shine, while maintaining a powerful low-frequency presence at all volumes.

Onkyo will also be offering the receiver in a complete system, partnered with its D-055 speakers (CS-555DAB). Using N-OMF (New Onkyo Micro Fibre) speaker cones made of moulded layers of aramid and lightweight non-woven cotton, these provide the stiffness for a faster, more accurate response. This durable material combines with a bullet-shaped equaliser to absorb vibrations and enable very precise audio reproduction. What a beast!

The CR-555DAB CD Hi-Fi Mini Receiver is out in August priced £250 while the CS-555DAB – CD Hi-Fi Mini System with FM/DAB+ tuner, and D-055 2-way speakers (black or silver) has a price to be confirmed but will see light in August.

For more information visit the Onkyo website: http://www.onkyo.com.

CES Unveiled – Pure Sensia 200D music system

At last night’s CES Unveiled press event, we were given a demonstration of the forthcoming Sensia 200D music system from the guys over at Pure. The 200D is the follow-up to the original Sensia and the primary enhancements are the ability to record audio (such as DAB radio) to an external USB hard drive / memory stick as well as the ability to ‘tag’ and identify a song.

The tagging feature utilises Shazam to quickly identify the song you’re listening to and then stores the result in the user’s area of the Pure Lounge (thelounge.com) site. The track can then either be purchased and downloaded, through their tie-up with 7Digital, or simply used to find similar songs or other tracks by the same artist.

In addition to tagging and recording (which works via an instant record button or manually setting a start date/time and duration), the Sensia 200D also provides access to ‘Pure Music’. This is a cloud-based on-demand music service which costs £4.99 per month and keeps any purchases synchronised between your other Pure music systems, your PC/Mac as well as via an Andriod or iOS app.

Sensia users can also use the colour touchscreen to view weather reports or station slideshows (dependant on broadcaster), engage with Twitter and Facebook, keep up to date with selected RSS feeds or view photos stored locally or via Picasa. The unit provides 30W RMS of digital sound and additional features include an input for an iPod/MP3 player; two fully featured alarms; countdown timer; sleep timer and a headphone socket.

The 200D continues to build on its predecessor’s user friendly approach to digital radio and streaming music – a world which can be quite bewildering for newcomers. We felt one area for future improvement would be to provide an EPG (electronic programme guide) for the DAB side of the product – which would make better use of the unit’s new recording ability.

The Sensia 200D Connect will be available in the UK during the first quarter of 2012 with a recommend retail price of £249.99.

Robert’s Radio Messenger, Record R and Fusion

Robert’s Radio have been around for 80 years and over time have become a staple of well to do kitchens and living rooms across the land. Unlike some traditional brands however, they haven’t hidden behind their classic status as a reason to stagnate and they invited us down to have a hands on with some of their latest innovations in radio.

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The most eye-catching radio on offer (with the possible exception of the Union Jack Revival radio) was the Messenger DAB/FM, affectionately dubbed the “egg timer radio” by everyone in the room. Asides from the basic DAB and FM radio functionality, the Messenger packed a host of kitchen-based innovations. There’s a little button on the top that allows you to record simple voice memos – “dinner’s in the oven”, “microwave this for 5 minutes” etc. It’s a neat touch to a sleek unit that is clearly designed to blend in with a modern kitchen. There is of course also an egg timer. RRP £100.

Ever been in the middle of listening to a fascinating debate on the wireless and had to answer the doorbell (or the call of nature)? The Robert’s Record R brings PVR like functionality to DAB and FM radio and enables you to pause or rewind live radio (for up to 60 minutes, after which you can head to the iPlayer). As the name suggests you can also record DAB and FM radio onto an SD card, which records in DRM-free mp3 format that you can playback on any compatible device without restrictions. RRP£100

The ubiquity of iDevices has not escaped Robert’s and they continue to develop their range of dock offerings, fanciest of which was the Fusion, a DAB/FM which has a hidden iPod dock that, at the press of a button, flips out and holds your iPod in either portrait or landscape. Nifty.

For more see www.robertsradio.co.uk

Father’s Day: Gifts for gadget geek dads

Father’s Day is on June 21, and the good news is that gone are the days when you poor dads had to look delighted when you unwrapped yet another tie, pair of socks or cufflinks. In these high-tech times, there are loads of ideas for dads, whatever your budget. So, if you’re looking for your own dad, or are a dad hoping to drop a few heavy hints, we hope we have something for everyone.

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Feature packed and compact, the X-HM50 Micro Hi-Fi system from Pioneer has a CD slot, if Dad has not managed to upgrade to digital music just yet, but if he’s a bit more ‘down with the kids’, the built-in iPod Dock will let him listen to his tunes from his iPod or iPhone and control them from the comfort of his sofa with the remote control. The system also has two powerful 50-watt speakers and a DAB/FM radio tuner for listening to the football. The price? £299. More at http://www.pioneer.eu/uk/products/42/202/227/X-HM50-K/index.html

If he loves his car and his iPhone, Oxygen Audio is offering a chance to integrate the phone with the car stereo with its O-Car, which makes the phone the central control unit for the stereo system. The integrated head unit lets you control functions through the iPhone’s touch-screen. The iPhone fits directly into the system and offers four 55W amp links to the car’s speakers so that you can listen to music via the phone’s iPod, and make and receive hands-free calls or pair with a Bluetooth headset. Find out more at www.oxygenaudio.com.

SQOOM

If you think dad should start taking care of his appearance, perhaps he’ll be persuaded by this latest techno-beauty product, which comes from Germany. SQOOM is a skin treatment system that is being sold online at Harrods and claims to make the skin look, brighter, tighter and more radiant. The handheld sonic device delivers specially developed gels into the skin, using a mixture of ultrasound and ionisation to massage deep into the skin. A number of gels are available to treat problems such as sports injuries, acnes, dry flaky skin, and scars. The device comesi n black or silver and costs a rather eye-watering £529 for a set including two gels. But hey, surely your dad is worth it? Buy online at www.harrods.com

For anyone who has an iPad a chance to turn it into an 80s arcade machine must be tempting. Step up the iCade, which lets you choose from 200 original Atari games – nostalgia-tastic! The price? £79.99 from www.firebox.com. Another goodie from the same site is Vertical Vinyl. It will play all of dad’s old records, and this record player will also save valuable space in the living room. Again, it comes in at £79.99.

If you’ve got considerably more to spend – just short of four grand to be exact – how about treating a cycle-mad dad to the latest in bike technology? Just released is the a new range of high performance electric bikes, including a special model called the Storck Cosworth EFV – the result of an ongoing partnership between Cosworth and the German bike manufacturer. This carbon-fibre bicycle sports a Shimano Deore XT groupset and hydraulic disc brakes alongside a high performance 250W motor, which produces 60Nm of torque, powered by a 25.5V Lithium polymer battery. Ian Hughes, UK distributor for Storck Bicycle said the product launch was hugely exciting for Britain’s bicycle industry. “The timing is perfect for this innovative product to be launched to the market. There has been enormous growth in the use of electric bikes in mainland Europe, and the time is right for the product to take off in the UK,” he said. Find out more at www.cosworth.com

Cycling is always fun, but the good thing is that some big boys’ toys can make rather tedious jobs more enjoyable too. That’s why Karcher has come up with The Beast, its most powerful pressure washer to date, which will have dad itching to clean the car, the patio, anything at all in fact – don’t stand still too long, that’s all we can say! The K6 features Karcher’s famed “Plug ‘n’ Clean” system with in-built regulation for the quickest and most practical way to apply detergents. Simply select the right detergent for the job, slot it in and get cleaning. “The Beast” can deliver a huge 150 Bar maximum pressure, which is approximately 40 times as powerful as a garden hose, and costs £499. See www.karcher.co.uk for more

Parabola DAB radio: Stylish, portable and cheap

Anything that advertises itself as being “too hot to handle” whips up a certain degree of intrigue and interest. When, therefore, an email titled, ‘a DAB that is too hot to handle’ arrives in your inbox, you feel compelled to take a further look. At a first glimpse at a picture of Magicbox’s Parabola, this DAB Radio looks unquestionably modern and stylish, although it has to be said, its spec remains comparatively mediocre, a far cry from being “too hot to handle”.

Parabola-DAB

Having said this, if you are after a portable, stylish and affordable radio, you are reading the write review, as with the Parabola portability, affordability and being ‘pleasing to the eye’, is at its core. Its most remarkable feature is its unique rounded shape which cleverly doubles up as a handle. The Parabola’s large and sturdy handle makes it ideal for carrying, which together with its optional battery feature, means Magicbox’s latest radio is tremendously portable.

Simplicity and ‘un-complication’ is also another component of the Parabola, offering a desirable alternative to many of the complicated and ‘too technical’ radios currently littering the DAB radio market. An uncomplicated set up means users can start enjoying a vast choice of national and local DAB/FM stations within seconds, whilst displaying the station’s name rather than frequency supports the Parabola’s notion of being user-friendly.

All the usual features we have grown accustomed to in a modern radio apply with the Parabola, which benefits from a headphone socket, a fully functioning clock and a dual alarm with ‘snooze’ option.

Being available in a range of five colours including silver, gold, green, red and blue, the Parabola DAB radio would make a stylish addition to a number of different rooms within a house, to suit the different tastes of each family member.

But the best thing about the Parabola radio is most definitely its price. Costing just £49.99, radio listeners can enjoy the usual features of a radio, but with a greater sense of style, freedom and uncomplicatedness. Whether it’s ‘too hot to handle’ remains to be seen.