Besides providing access to the seemingly infinite amount of premium NPR content, the NPR Radio also functions as a standard Wi-Fi radio, meaning it can tune in to the thousands of free Internet radio stations rather than standard AM/FM fare. If you can't stand what's available on AM or FM--we know we can't--and you don't want to pay for satellite radio (neither do we), there are plenty of great stations available online for just about everybody. The Livio uses
Unlike the competing Grace GDI-IR2000, the NPR Radio can't access podcasts or stream music off a connected PC. According to a FAQ on Livio's Web site, the lack of podcast access is to "keep the device simple." However, we don't think adding a Podcasts menu option--that streams podcasts that you save on Reciva--would make the device more complicated. We have yet to find a Reciva-powered radio that offers reliable music streaming off a PC, so the lack of this function isn't a huge loss.
The Livio's connectivity package is generous. There's a headphone jack on the front panel, and an auxiliary input (so you can connect an iPod in a pinch) and an analog stereo line out on its back. The stereo line out is actually a minijack connector, but Livio includes a minijack-to-RCA adapter that makes it easier to connect to a home theater receiver. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet jack, if you prefer a more stable wired connection. Even better, Livio provides a 6-foot patch cable to get you going right out of the box.
Before we talk about how the Livio sounds, it's important to get the caveats out of the way. It's a tabletop radio with only a single speaker (mono sound) and many Internet radio stations offer up low-bit-rate streams. Wi-Fi radios are really for casual listening, not an audiophile experience.
That being said, the NPR Radio's sound quality is passable. Because a lot of NPR's content is talk, you probably won't miss the lack of high fidelity. That said, dialogue sounds very rich and smooth on the radio. Our Internet radio stations played us a variety of music from rock and jazz to classical, and while the Livio never sounds bad, it never sounds great, either. There's minimal bass and the sound isn't particularly detailed, but it doesn't easily distort or sound harsh. If you compare it with higher-priced alternatives such as the Logitech Squeezebox Boom or the , the Livio doesn't compare. However, it's "good enough" for most people, especially for a $150 radio. We really would have liked some EQ controls to dial in the sound quality to our tastes, but most users won't miss them anyway. The included thin remote control features all of the functionality also found on the front of the radio and works well.
Connecting to a wireless router was simple and took about 2 minutes. Like virtually all Wi-Fi radios we test these days, the NPR Radio's Wi-Fi performance was excellent, as we had absolutely no dropouts over our hours of listening. Of course, it's largely dependent on your Wi-Fi signal strength, as well as the speed and reliability of your Internet connection. Luckily, if you don't get acceptable performance in your home, Livio's FAQ states that consumers can get a full refund if they're unhappy with the purchase.