Wi-Fi radios would seem to be a perfect bedside companion, but surprisingly few of them are designed to work as an alarm clock.
The Acoustic Research ARIR200 is one of few that is designed to (at least try to) wake you up in the morning, with a big snooze button on top and easy access to the alarm via buttons on the top. In addition, the ARIR200 is packed with many features not seen even on more expensive radios, including the ability to record stations to its internal memory, Slacker streaming, and weather updates--all for a very reasonable street price of about $100.
So why the half-hearted praise? Unfortunately we ran into some connectivity problems (although only at the office) and the ARIR200 tends to emit a hissing sound that's annoying even at this price. We were also disappointed that Acoustic Research didn't throw in dual alarm functionality, especially because it's available on the competing Aluratek Internet Radio.
The Acoustic Research ARIR200 doesn't have any deal-breaking flaws and the price is right, but a few critical improvements would have made us like it a lot more.
The exterior design of a product is always subjective, but we'd be surprised if anyone considered the ARIR200 better than average. It has an unusual trapezoidal shape that tapers toward the top, and the majority of the unit is covered in glossy black plastic that attracts fingerprints very easily. That's more of a problem than usual, since you're likely to be groping the ARIR200 in a sleepy daze to hit the snooze button. Aside from smudges, there's no denying that the ARIR200 has a "cheap" look and feel, but it's worth noting that it doesn't affect the usability of the product.
Like the competing Aluratek Internet Radio, the ARIR200 is designed to function as an alarm clock, rather than a Wi-Fi radio with alarm functionality as an afterthought. The silver wheel on the far right is for volume. We also appreciated the easy access buttons that bring up weather and change sources.
The USB port can be used with USB memory drive filled with MP3, WMA, or Real Audio files; unfortunately that means songs purchased from iTunes (the AAC format) won't work. There's also a battery compartment in the bottom; the batteries act as a backup in case you lose power. If you're looking for compatibility with your
iPod, Acoustic Research also offers the step-up ARIR600i ($200 list price), which adds an iPod dock to the ARIR200's feature set.
Also somewhat unique on the ARIR200 is the fact that it includes both AM and FM tuners. As much as we like to rail on the current state of terrestrial radio, we actually did appreciate the functionality on the ARIR200. There are still some content that you can't get via Internet radio, most notably sports broadcasts. Likewise, if your Internet connection is flaky, you'll still be able to get your local stations.