At a list price of $99, RCA's Lyra Wireless RD900W is the most economical digital audio receiver (DAR) we've tested to date. Using RF wireless technology, the RD900W streams music files, CD tracks, and Internet radio from a host PC to your home stereo. It's affordable and convenient, but the system has limitations. The RD900W consists of three hardware components: a transmitter, a receiver, and a universal remote. The plastic, lightweight transmitter and receiver units are nearly identical. They have no front-panel controls or display, but their small size (they measure 6.5 by 4 by 0.5 inches) is an asset to those who think bulky electronics clutter the home.
We set the Lyra receiver on our home-theater rack and connected it to our A/V receiver's analog line inputs. In another room, we attached the transmitter's USB cable to our PC and watched Windows install the drivers, , the RCA Lyra Wireless remote control software, and trial versions of three services: Listen Rhapsody, Emusic, and Auditude. All the software comes on an included CD-ROM.
We rebooted our test machine and pressed the remote control's Lyra Wireless button, which launched MusicMatch Jukebox on the PC without a hitch. Since we had installed it over an older Jukebox version, our song directories and playlists had transferred automatically. Conveniently, the three types of playback each have a dedicated button on the remote. The File button plays the most recent track in Jukebox, the Radio button launches Internet-radio playback, and the CD button plays music from the CD drive (useful only if your stereo lacks a CD player). The remote can also control other components if you enter the appropriate configuration codes from the user guide.
You can control most of Jukebox's features from the remote, but the absence of a display complicates matters, although it does enable RCA to price the unit lower than other DARs. Since the sole display is your computer monitor, you have to fly blind if the host PC and the Lyra Receiver are in separate rooms--which is sort of the point of systems such as these. Without a display, searching long lists of MP3 files and Internet radio stations is something of a crapshoot. But organizing music into playlists and albums helps, so this isn't a deal breaker. The RD900W was designed to play anything Jukebox can handle: M3U playlists and MP3, MP3Pro, WMA, and WAV files. The system acts just like a computer sound card, streaming system sounds and audio from virtually any PC application to the receiver unit. However, only Jukebox and Listen Rhapsody are controllable by the remote.
Purchasing the RD900W gets you a free one-month subscription to the extensive Rhapsody online music catalog. To sign up for the trial service, you go to a special section of Listen's Web site and enter a code. If you decide to continue subscribing after the first month, you'll have to pay $5 to $10 per month. The RD900W also comes with access to MusicMatch Internet radio stations, but for higher audio quality, you'll need an MX Gold subscription, which costs $3 per month. Emusic and Auditude ID3Man trials are also supplied, but they, too, are limited until you pay.
The receiver's only audio output is a stereo analog 1/8-inch minijack. We would have liked a digital output as well for a cleaner connection to modern sound systems, but the analog-only connection is one reason this device is so inexpensive. The included 1/8-inch miniplug for a stereo RCA cable enables you to connect the Lyra receiver to your home audio system, but it's a bit perplexing that RCA didn't include its standard stereo audio outputs, which the company introduced ages ago.
Switches on the transmitter and receiver let you toggle between four 900MHz RF stations so that you can dodge interference. A signal-strength indicator on the front of the receiver helps you choose the right station. Using 16-bit National Semiconductor digital-to-analog converters, the Lyra Wireless delivers respectable sound quality with a clean 90dB signal-to-noise ratio. RCA claims that audio streamed from a PC's CD drive retains its full sonic integrity. But when we played the Roots' Do You Want More CD first over the Lyra Wireless and then in our stereo's CD player, it sounded slightly better on the latter.
Our receiver and transmitter were about 40 feet apart, separated by a single wall. Playback glitches were rare, even when we were streaming tracks with high bit rates. RCA claims the transmission range is up to 100 feet, but results vary depending on the obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver. The company cites a one-time test transmission of 600 feet in the product's FAQ.