Just like the army of passionate enthusiasts who prefer vinyl records to digital music, there's a segment of the listening population that still enjoys AM and FM radio. And whether they're listening to sports, talk radio, news and weather, or just the local adult contemporary station, these dedicated radiophiles are looking for a radio that looks as good as it sounds--something for which they'd pay a premium and be proud to display on the desk or in the kitchen. It's exactly that sort of person for whom the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 705 was created. The $50 tabletop AM/FM radio doesn't have any bells or whistles to speak of, but it's one of the cooler-looking radios we've seen in a long time--and it sounds pretty good, too.
The Radio 705 is available in three colors: arctic white, silver/white, and onyx (black). Its otherwise straightforward design is highlighted by a tuning knob that takes up nearly the entire right half of the front face. It's what's known as a Vernier dial, a nested mechanism that spins the outer dial at a slower rate than the inside knob so as to allow more refined tuning changes (a similar tuner is found on the competing Tivoli Audio Model One). Three LEDs help you further zero in on a station (you want the green one lit, and the two flanking yellow ones extinguished). Analog vs. digital tuning is a matter of choice, of course, but there's at least one disadvantage to the dial: unlike a digital radio, you can't have any station presets.
Below the tuning knob are the minimalist controls: only a volume knob, a band selector, a tone control, and a power button. The entire left half houses the single 3.25-inch driver; it's magnetically shielded, allowing worry-free placement near CRT TVs and monitors. The entire radio measures just 5 inches high by 8.5 wide by 6.5 deep, but it tips the scales at a somewhat beefy 4.25 pounds, bespeaking its heavy-duty build quality.
Around back, things are similarly ascetic. A down-firing bass port gives a bit of gravitas to low frequencies. Connectivity is limited to one headphone output and one auxiliary input (both are standard 1/8-inch jacks). The input allows the Radio 705 to act as a speaker for virtually any audio device, such as an iPod--all you need is a $5 patch cable. If the built-in AM/FM antenna doesn't pull in your favorite stations, you can snap on the included external FM antenna (essentially just a 3-foot wire); it uses a standard RF coaxial connection, so do-it-yourselfers can rig a longer one if they'd prefer. Unlike some radios, however, there's no separate external AM antenna, nor a jack to add your own.
The Radio 705 lacks any clock or alarm function, but it does offer a 30-minute sleep timer--just depress the power button for a few seconds, and the color will change from green to yellow. Otherwise, that's it. But we're not going to fault the Radio 705 for lacking features, since Cambridge offers a collection of beefed-up sibling products: the $179 Radio 820HD (which adds a more modern design, HD Radio, digital tuning, and stereo speakers); the $199 Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 735 (basically, the older Radio 730 with an external iPod dock); and the $249 Radio CD 745 (an update of the Radio CD 740, also with an iPod dock thrown in).
If there is one thing missing from the Radio 705, it's a rechargeable battery. Rather than have such a small radio always tied down to an electrical outlet, it would've been nice to see it be as easily transportable as the iPAL and the SongBook from Tivoli. And while the control knobs--especially the tuning dial--were a pleasure to use, the rubberized surface looks as if it could get gummed up and dirty pretty quickly, and wouldn't be easy to clean.
The Radio 705 is "just a radio," and, as such, we were a little disappointed with its tuning abilities. FM reception was very good, while AM was merely OK. True, we were testing in Manhattan, which is a veritable Bermuda Triangle for radio signals. But we auditioned the 705 next to a 10th floor window with the antenna wire tacked to a wall and--more importantly--had an identically configured Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio just a couple of feet away. Neither radio had any trouble pulling in the local megapowerful FM stations, but the Boston exhibited a notable advantage with smaller college stations; the Radio 705 exhibited more static, and in a few cases (WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey; WSOU in South Orange; and WBGO in Newark), the Cambridge was barely able to lock on, while the stations were quite listenable on the Recepter. AM reception was similarly average on both radios. The 705's tuning dial was generally accurate and easy to use, with the yellow/green tuning lights offering more assistance on FM than AM. That said, we preferred the precision of the Boston's digital tuner--and its ability to offer station presets--over the old-fashion analog dial.
In terms of sound quality, the difference was less pronounced, though we'd still give the edge to the Boston Recepter. That radio delivered a weightier sound, with a more natural sounding midrange. And while it delivered better sound than the average $30 radio or boom box would, the Radio 705 sounded notably thinner when compared to the Boston model--in short, it sounded more like the small tabletop radio that it is. That said, the Cambridge model was able to get considerably louder than the Boston, so it would have the advantage in noisy environments such as a kitchen. The Radio 705 also offered the tone control knob to emphasize the low or high frequencies, which helped even out the sound when listening to certain radio stations. We didn't mind the monaural sound, since stereo speakers in such a small unit wouldn't offer worthwhile separation anyway; the headphone jack does offer stereo playback, however.
In the final analysis, the Radio 705 has strong competition from the similarly retro Tivoli Audio Model One and the more modern Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio. For many, the decision is likely to come down to aesthetics and personal preference--analog vs. digital tuning, alarm clock or no--more than anything else. But if you're looking for a retro-1960s radio that can double as an iPod speaker, the Cambridge Soundworks Radio 705 won't disappoint.