Home radio replacement?
July 16, 2018 7:43 AM   Subscribe

We have a small radio in our kitchen. It is not new (it has an iPod dock!) but it plays radio and has decent sound. My wife would like to have something that plays music in more than just our kitchen. Recommendation?

My ideal setup would be radio + speakers that can be placed through the house, with option to play music from a device via Bluetooth. We do not stream music from any internet service. We DO listen to a local public radio station daily, and I don't want to change from FM to streaming service for this (if we lived out of the area, I'd stream it - but FM works and we're already paying for membership, I don't need streaming fees on top of that!)

It looks as if nearly all the Bluetooth speakers I see are portable items geared towards streaming from one device, or are tied to an always-on service like Alexa etc. - if they worked with FM input they'd be great, but none of them seem to do so. (I'm also not super thrilled about an always-on service listening to every word I say!) FM radios look to either be massive shelf units or clock radios, without the more modern form factor that the internet-enabled speakers are adopting.

Is there still a good, basic, system aimed at someone like me? Small, unobtrusive FM unit that works with a decent Bluetooth speaker set? Or will I have to pull wires through the house to get what I am looking for?
posted by caution live frogs to Technology (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you google "bluetooth speaker fm radio", you'll find a number of options that fit your requirements, depending on your styling requirements. This one is the "bookshelf" style. This one is a little more "rugged." Or, really, take your pick.

Just FYI: if you decide you're OK with the "always on" nature of the smart speakers (and I can totally understand if you're not), the Amazon Echo (at least - I assume the other ones do this too) provides free access to TuneIn, which streams FM radio stations from around the country. If your station is one they stream, my experience is that it's dead simple to listen to local FM radio; it's how I listen to our local radio stations. And, you know, the Echos will be on sale later today as part of "Prime Day."I promise I'm not an Amazon shill.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:10 AM on July 16, 2018

Perhaps I am railing against the death of FM broadcast but I really am unhappy with the idea of trading in an FM radio for a speaker that needs to be connected to the internet to play anything. I have a "smart TV" that can stream directly... or I can plug in an OTA antenna and pick up the local stations. I'm really quite surprised that none of the smart speakers have a similar dual nature - streaming + an FM tuner, or even an attachment that enables FM.

I've used TuneIn in the past for streaming sports broadcasts that were not available in my area. My experience was not that impressive ... buffering, stuttering, availability issues, and interruptions, on a wired home network with more than sufficient bandwidth (I can stream 4k video but not a radio broadcast??). It was better than not being able to listen but not nearly as clear or convenient as I would have wished. The station I do listen to regularly is commercial free. I'm not clear on whether streams are broadcast uninterrupted or if the streaming service throws in ads or pitches (how else do they make income from the stream?)
posted by caution live frogs at 8:35 AM on July 16, 2018

Sonos devices have a line-in port, where you can plug an existing FM tuner. They will then, wirelessly, allow you to play content from that port, on any or many Sonos device on the network. They are not inexpensive, but they are the best at what they do. If you want to send a single signal to multiple rooms in your house, and have it sound good, and not have to run wires, there really is no better answer.

Tunein (tries to?) make money from the broadcasters, and via advertising on their apps (and maybe a preroll sometimes?). For the most part, their streams are identical to the same content heard over-the-air. They do not interrupt your public radio station to insert their own ads.

I agree that if I had access to a station via FM vs via Tunein, I'd use FM every single time. It will sound better and be more reliable. If I knew that all I ever wanted was FM, I'd probably put a few Tivoli units around, or I'd be on the hunt for well-preserved examples of models from the heyday of FM.
posted by toxic at 9:09 AM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear, the speakers I linked to in the first paragraph of my answer have built-in FM tuners. Lots of these exist. Take your pick. You don't need to go to a smart speaker.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:44 AM on July 16, 2018

Amazon appears to have a lot of dedicated FM radios, or multi-purpose units that include an FM radio.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:12 AM on July 16, 2018

The problem with radios that do both DAB and FM is that they use much much more power. Over time it is easily possible to spend more on electricity/batteries than the initial cost of the radio.
Tivoli are good but expensive, there does seem to be a gap in the market for a reasonably priced FM only radio with decent sound.
posted by Lanark at 1:13 PM on July 16, 2018

I'll also recommend Sangean radios. If you select one with 3.5mm line in/out ports like this one you could then attach a Bluetooth transmitter. The radio can then send the FM broadcast to a standard bluetooth speaker of your choice, wherever it is.

We use similar equipment to stream podcasts to other speakers; when I upgraded my old Airport wifi network I lost the Airplay protocol to connect to remote speakers, and so replaced Airplay by attaching Bluetooth adapters to the speakers.

In other posts I've recommended the SoundRise radio, which can only receive Bluetooth from another source. it's more of a bedroom radio though....
posted by TDIpod at 3:35 PM on July 16, 2018

A Tivoli might work. They are more expensive, but I’ve had one running every day for 10 years without a hiccup.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2018

You probably do not need to pay any fees to listen to streams from public radio stations if you have internet access. Here's MPR News, for example, which plays in my web browser, and I believe will play in any internet-connected device that can play .mp3 files.

If you can find internet-based sources for the content you want and you have a wireless network there's the Chromecast Audio device, which would connect to a speaker or stereo system of your choice and be controlled from your smartphones and computers.
posted by XMLicious at 4:59 AM on July 17, 2018

You probably do not need to pay any fees to listen to streams from public radio stations if you have internet access.
This is correct: I listen to my local public radio stations using my Google Home and it's completely free.
posted by kdar at 5:59 AM on July 17, 2018

I don’t need to pay fees for public radio, no - I choose to pay a membership to keep the station alive because I appreciate the content.

Seems as if the Sonos units are the most flexible (except for the whole “stream via app or you’ll also need an FM tuner plugged into it so there goes the whole modern aesthetic” bit). Amazon units are cheap but won’t play as nice with our Apple ecosystem (no drop-dead easy way to share our music library). Apple units work great with the ecosystem but don’t do any sort of streaming of local radio, and are a lot more expensive. Sonos will handle both but falls near the Apple price range.

Ugh. At this point I’m considering trying to convince my wife that it’s worth just buying one of the Yamaha micro units. Need to take a closer look at the other options.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:07 AM on July 18, 2018

I was referring to your statement in the original post “we're already paying for membership, I don't need streaming fees on top of that” but perhaps I'm misunderstanding something.
posted by XMLicious at 7:13 AM on July 18, 2018

Oh makes sense. Was originally thinking “do I need to pay something to get rid of the preroll ads” because half the reason I listen to the station is that it’s ad-free...
posted by caution live frogs at 5:25 AM on July 19, 2018

That link above and other .mp3 files that just contain pointers to streams appear to be a direct re-broadcast of whatever is going out over FM. When they edit and repackage the shows as .mp3s of individual episodes you can browse through and pick from they generally do add in some extra sponsorship messages and promotions of other shows. (But even then every public radio show I've come across has provided its podcast as a free RSS feed in addition to whatever terms the shows are put out on iTunes et al.)

There's lots of great stuff from all over the world too, of course, in English because we are heir to the sins of empire: Deutsche Welle podcasts, Radio New Zealand, streaming BBC World Service, Radio Sweden... in days of yore https://radio-locator.com/ was the way to find them, but it seems to have come under new ownership.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2018

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