Imagine if you could have all the best elements of FM radio (decent sound quality, new music, free to use) with none of the worst (annoying ads, jingles, mid-Atlantic DJs) -- plus the ability to skip through songs at will. The Intempo Rebel promises all that and more, sampling FM radio stations to convert analogue tunes into digital MP3s, which it then stores on a memory card to playback or copy. It's available now for around £70.
Recording from the radio is as old as tape decks, but Swedish company PopCatcher is the first to free you from hovering over the record and pause buttons praying that Smashy doesn't chatter over the intro. Its technology, built in to the Rebel, automatically analyses the FM radio station it's tuned to, saving complete songs to its 256MB internal memory without any ads, DJs, news breaks or jingles. The process works very smoothly -- just slot in a Memory Stick, SD card or USB key, wait a few hours (a full day is best) and it will have saved and copied up to 40 tunes.
And that's all there is to it. A single button swaps between radio, MP3 playback and the built-in clock (which doesn't have an alarm). The tuning buttons either skip through the FM spectrum or MP3 tunes, and the Rebel continues to sample even when set to zero volume. Although FM reception is acceptable through the supplied wire aerial, there's a socket for a cable antenna.
Sound quality from the built-in stereo speaker is fine for bedside or kitchen use, although there's little bass and the smooth, crisp tone becomes shrill at higher volumes. You can plug in headphones for a sonic boost -- or simply copy the MP3s over to your computer. Files are stored as unencrypted 192Kbps MP3s.
The Rebel needs time to sample a source thoroughly -- we found about one song an hour a typical record rate. And there's no guarantee that the Rebel will record your one favourite tune: it chooses the 'most popular' music, so tends to collect the latest songs on heavy rotation. Even so, some recorded tunes fade out rapidly or start with just the hint of a vowel or two from the DJ. Only one had the DJ actually talking over the music.
For ripping from an iPod, you're probably best off setting up a playlist that repeats regularly. And unlike DAB radios, the FM-only Rebel doesn't have scrolling text to work with, so doesn't know what it's listening to. This means you'll have to tag artist, title and genre info to the MP3 file yourself later on -- a boring chore, even if you even know what the songs are.
You'll need at least a 256MB card (not supplied, but widely available from £5) to transfer tunes across. If you wait too long and the Rebel's memory fills up, it starts to write over the oldest recorded tunes. Listening to MP3s on the Rebel itself is pretty basic -- the tuning buttons skip through the whole tune, with no pause, fast-forward or rewind options.
If you've given up live radio for 'listen again' Internet shows, this could be the gadget to bring you back. Leave a card in and you'll have a rolling stock of 40 of the latest songs to listen to whenever you want -- and to copy across to your computer for free. It's far from an audiophile device, but for convenience, value and sheer audio fun, it'll top the charts among kids and students.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide