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Livio Radio review: Livio Radio

Livio Radio

Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

6 min read

OVR
7.3

Livio Radio

The Good

Wi-Fi radio optimized for listening to Pandora without a PC; provides access to thousands of Internet radio stations; stylish exterior design; supports 802.11g Wi-Fi with both WEP and WPA security; hiccup-free wireless connectivity for Internet radio; headphone jack on front panel; auxiliary input for connecting an iPod.

The Bad

Average sound quality; doesn't support podcasts or stream music from a PC.

The Bottom Line

Despite some missing features and average sonics, the Livio Radio's beautiful design, simple controls, and affordable price make it an excellent Wi-Fi radio for Pandora fans.

The iPod may have killed AM/FM radio for the latest generation of music fans, but the classic version of Apple's ubergadget only lets you listen to your own music collection; there's no hipster DJ introducing you to your new favorite band. Music fans still crave new sounds and personalized Internet radio services such as Pandora and Last.fm have filled the "music discovery" gap by taking note of your music preferences and playing songs they'll think you'll like. Pandora's a great service, but--portable devices notwithstanding--it's not easy to listen to away from your PC, which is where the Livio Radio ($150) comes in. The Livio Radio is the first Wi-Fi radio we've tested that is designed completely around the Pandora service, offering all the standard functions--like "thumbs up/down"--right on the front panel. The gorgeous design is outstanding for the price; it's easy to use and you won't find anything that looks this good until you spend about twice as much. Its competitors will better serve audiophiles and feature-junkies, but the Livio Radio hits the sweet spot for those looking for a simple, great-looking way to add Pandora to a bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Design
The overall design ethos is a mix between Apple and Tivoli, and even though we're not generally fans of the Apple whitewash look, the Livio Radio pulls it off. The cabinet is made of thick, black textured plastic that gives it a quality feel and doesn't smudge. The front panel is off-white and accented by a layer of clear plastic that gives it a classy glass-like look. The single speaker is behind a silver grille and the right half is dominated by the blue LCD screen with playback controls underneath. The only element that doesn't quite have that high-end feel is the plastic menu/volume knob, but that's our only nitpick on an otherwise outstanding design.


Even at its budget price, the Livio has a high-end look.
We've reviewed other Wi-Fi radios that can stream Pandora (such as the Grace GDI-IR2000 or Squeezebox Boom), but the Livio Radio is unique in that the design really centers on the streaming music service. The front panel controls include the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" buttons that let you tell Pandora what songs you like, as well as the "skip forward" button to skip to the next song. Most other radios include preset buttons on the front for standard Internet radio stations, but the Livio makes it clear its main function is Pandora. There's even a Pandora logo in the lower left hand corner.


The Livio Radio's controls are simple and geared toward Pandora fans.

The included remote control is the slim credit-card-style variety; we prefer full-size remotes, but they're not common at this price point. The remote mostly duplicates the front panel controls, although there are some additional functions; we really appreciate the dedicated mute button and the five dedicated preset buttons for quick access to your favorite stations.

Features
The Livio Radio's main functionality is playing back Pandora radio stations. Pandora is a streaming music service that creates a personalized radio station based on your musical tastes, letting you fine-tune your music taste by giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to the songs playing and the station adjusts accordingly. We find that the service actually works really well, especially as a way of finding new music. Since Pandora is a free service and you can listen to it on your PC or portable device (it's also accessible on BlackBerry, iPhone/iPod Touch, and Windows Mobile devices), you can try it out to see if it appeals to you. Because the Livio is so tightly integrated with Pandora, we would have liked to see some unique features--like the capability to switch between Pandora accounts--but we're not aware of any other radios that offers that feature either.

In addition to Pandora, the Livio Radio also functions like 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/FM (neither can we) and don't want to pay for satellite radio (neither do we), there's plenty of great stations available online for just about everybody. The Livio uses cnet:link ext="http://www.reciva.com">Reciva's database of stations, so it's easy to check out the available stations online to see if there's enough content that appeals to you.

Because there are so many Internet radio stations, a major difficulty is sifting through it all. The main way to do this is using the LCD screen, which breaks it down by location and genre. While the interface is perfectly fine, we recommend ditching it favor of the Reciva online portal. This is actually the service that powers the Livio 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. When you go back to your Livio Radio, your favorite stations will show up after you hit the "Fav" button. (You may need to cycle the power on the radio before new stations show up.)

Unlike the competing Grace GDI-IR2000, the Livio Radio can't access podcasts or stream music off a connected PC. Livio explains on its FAQ that the lack of podcast access is to "keep the device simple." However, we don't think adding a "Podcasts" menu option--that streams podcasts you save on Reciva--would make the device much 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 auxiliary input on the back panel is nice in case you want to connect an iPod in a pinch.

The Livio's connectivity package is generous. There's a headphone jack on the front panel, and around back there's also an auxiliary input (so you can connect an iPod in a pinch) and an analog stereo line out. The stereo line out is actually a minijack connector, but Livio includes a minijack-to-RCA adapter, making 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.

Performance
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. (Pandora streams at 128Kpbs.) Wi-Fi radios are really for casual listening, not the audiophile experience.

That being said, the Livio Radio's sound quality is passable. Our Pandora 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 Philips NP2900, sure, 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.

Like virtually all Wi-Fi radios we test these days, the Livio Radio's Wi-Fi performance was excellent, as we had no dropouts over our hours of listening. Of course, it's largely dependent on your Wi-Fi 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.

OVR
7.3

Livio Radio

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 6
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