Editors' note: The GDI-IR1000 is nearly identical to the GDI-IR2000, except the GDI-IR1000 lacks a remote and an auxiliary input. Otherwise, the units are identical, and therefore the reviews are very similar.
One of our favorite products of 2008 was the Grace ITC-IR1000 Wi-Fi radio. It was affordable, with an excellent feature set, and its sound quality was top-notch for the price. The Grace GDI-IR1000 is the update to last year's model, keeping things mostly the same except for some evolutionary changes. We love the new "stay connected" feature, which allows the GDI-IR1000 to start playing music faster when you turn it on. There are also EQ controls allowing you to adjust the sound quality to your liking. However, even with the EQ controls, we felt that the GDI-IR1000 was a step backward in terms of sound quality; it's not bad, but it sounded tinny and muffled next to the ITC-IR1000. Also note that the GDI-IR1000 lacks a remote and an auxiliary input--if those features are important to you, you'll want to step up to the GDI-IR2000. If you're not picky about sound quality, the GDI-IR1000 still offers great functionality at a bargain price. If sound quality is important to you, try to hunt down an ITC-IR1000 before they're discontinued or consider stepping up to the excellent (but more expensive) Squeezebox Boom.
The look of the GDI-IR1000 is nearly identical to that of its predecessor. From the front, the left side is dominated by a 5-inch, 5-watt speaker behind a black grille. Toward the center are nine buttons used to load presets, navigate menus, and control playback with digital music. The small knob underneath controls volume and the larger knob is used to navigate menus; you push the menu knob to make selections. The faceplate is all black, with thin silver trimming around the outside. Last year's model had an external Wi-Fi antenna in the back, while the GDI-IR1000's antenna is contained inside the unit. In all, we think it's a stylish look.
On the upper right of the unit is the LCD display, which looks sharper than last year's model. It can display four lines of text, which usually includes the stations you're listening to, the song currently playing, the time, and the date. Our only quibble is that at some extreme angles--like if you're standing over it and it's on a table--the display washes out and becomes unreadable.
Like last year's model, the GDI-IR1000 doesn't include a remote. If it's in the location where it's convenient to use the knobs, like a kitchen counter, it's not a big omission. If it's set up several feet from your couch, you may want to step up to the GDI-IR2000, which includes a remote.
The Grace is a Wi-Fi radio, meaning it tunes into the thousands of free Internet radio stations rather than standard AM/FM fare. If you can't stand what's available on AM/FM (neither can we) and don't want to pay for satellite radio (neither do we), there are plenty of great stations available online for just about everybody.
With so many stations available, the main difficulty is sifting through it all. The main way to do this is using the LCD display, which breaks it down by Location and Genre. While the interface is perfectly fine, we recommend ditching it favor of the online portal, Reciva. This is actually the service that powers the Grace and after you associate your radio with your free account, it's a much easier interface to find and tag your favorite stations for listening. The GDI-IR1000 itself has 10 presets available, but you can save as many stations as you want using Reciva.
You can also add podcasts to your radio as well using Reciva. We plugged in the RSS feed for WNYC's "Radio Lab" on Reciva and almost instantly a list of the recent episodes popped up on our radio. In just a few seconds, we were listening to the recent "Diagnosis" episode--no need to wait for it to download first.
In addition to Internet radio stations and podcasts, the GDI-IR1000 can also access Pandora and Sirius. Pandora creates custom radio stations based on what music you like and finding similar artists; we're fans of the free service and think this is a great added feature. Sirius subscriptions run $13 a month. The online music storage service MP3Tunes is also supported, although we did not test that functionality.
In addition to all the online music services, the GDI-IR1000 can also stream music off a connected PC. File format support is solid, including MP3, WMA, Real Audio, WAV, AAC, and AIFF. It can connect to PCs using a uPNP server, and we had no trouble streaming MP3s bought from Amazon using a laptop with Vista.
One of our favorite added features over last year's model is the GDI-IR1000's ability to stay connected to the wireless network even when you turn it "off." The result is that when you turn the GDI-IR1000 on, it starts playing music in just a couple seconds--most Wi-Fi radios take considerably longer as they reconnect to the network each time. The downside is the GDI-IR1000 sucks up some power while off, but we're guessing most users will appreciate the feature.
You can also set up to five alarms on the GDI-IR1000. The options are flexible, allowing you to set different alarms for the weekends and weekdays, and the ability to tune into basically any music source as your alarm (or a standard beep). The GDI-IR1000 isn't set up as an alarm ergonomically--there's no snooze function or the ability to quickly change the alarm time--but it may work well enough for some buyers.
Additional connectivity is limited to the headphone jack on the back of the unit. If you're only going to use the GDI-IR1000 for Internet radio, that's fine, but we appreciate the auxiliary input available on the step-up GDI-IR2000. With the auxiliary input, it makes it easy to connect other music sources, such as an iPod. There's no Ethernet jack on the GDI-IR1000, but we don't consider that a drawback, as you'll most likely be using the GDI-IR1000 in a room without Ethernet access.
Before we discuss the GDI-IR1000's sound quality, it's important to be realistic about the sound quality of Internet radio. Many of the streams are severely compressed and even the best stations generally top out at a 128Kpbs MP3 stream. It's also worth mentioning that the GDI-IR1000 is a mono tabletop radio, so it's unfair to expect it to sound as good as a component-based sound system.
Even with those caveats, the GDI-IR1000's sound quality is considerably less impressive than the ITC-IR1000. We put the units side by side and synced up the same station, and flipping between them made the differences obvious. The GDI-IR1000 sounded tinnier and a little muffled on just about everything we listened to from jazz, to rock and classical. The GDI-IR1000 features EQ settings, which we tweaked to our liking, but we still preferred the ITC-IR1000. It's certainly not unlistenable, and casual listeners may not even notice, but our picky ears were disappointed with the drop off in sound quality compared with last year's model.
We also tested to see how loud we could push the GDI-IR1000 before it started to break up. For Internet radio, we could get the volume to about two-thirds of max before the distortion started getting too nasty; using the auxiliary input we didn't like to go beyond about halfway. It's plenty loud for most listening situations, but don't expect it to rock out a party.
In terms of stability, the GDI-IR1000 was mostly solid. It streamed Internet radio and Pandora without major glitches, and it always connected to our router quickly after booting it up. We're not sure if the internal antenna is less adept at pulling in signal, but we did have more buffering hiccups than we did on last year's model. If the two units internal "Wi-Fi strength" meters are comparable, the GDI-IR1000 is a little less sensitive; in the same position the GDI-IR1000 would receive 83 percent signal strength, while the older ITC-IR1000 had 97 percent.