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Grace GDI-IR1000 review: Grace GDI-IR1000

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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.

We found the alarm options to be refreshingly flexible.

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.

There's a headphone jack on the back; it would have been more convenient if it was located up front.

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.

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