Wi-Fi radios come in many shapes and sizes, but the Oxx Digital Tube is in a class of its own with its jumbo, hollow-bodied design. The Tube's unique look accommodates its built-in subwoofer, and yes, we found that the radio delivers much more bass than is common on a tabletop radio, although the overall sound quality is just about average. Like virtually all Wi-Fi radios, the Tube offers up thousands of free Internet radio stations, but it isn't exactly easy to sort through them all on the unit's skimpy two-line LCD display. We were also disappointed that the Tube lacked any additional streaming services, like Pandora or Slacker, which are offered on competitors such as the Grace GDI-IR2000 or Acoustic Research ARIR200. If you've got plenty of room and listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, the Tube does offer up a glitch-free experience at an attractive price. However, in most situations, we think buyers will be better off with more compact competitors that offer up additional streaming services.
True to its name, the Oxx Digital Tube really does look like a long, metal tube, coming in at 15.5 inches long, 4.9 inches high, and 5.1 inches deep. That's a big footprint--much bigger than most Wi-Fi radios we test--and you'll need plenty of counter or shelf space to fit it. The Tube is a 2.1 system, with a couple of tiny speakers on the front of the unit, plus a subwoofer on the side with a bass port opposite it. The silver portions of the Tube are actually made of aluminum, which give it a solid feel that's lacking on other Wi-Fi radios. The contrast between the aluminum tube and black faceplate looks better in photos than it does in person, and our review sample had some built quality issues, with the corners of the plastic speaker grilles pulling away from the unit slightly. Overall, it definitely has a unique look, but its relatively large footprint makes it a struggle to fit it in many places.
Navigating the thousands of stations is handled on the LCD screen. Unfortunately, it's only capable of showing two lines of text at a time. That's not enough to handle navigation duties, and the situation is only made worse by the fact that only one line of text is usually doing the navigating; the other line provides additional info, like how many stations are in a particular genre. The display also doesn't provide any song or artist info, which limits its usefulness as a music "discovery" device.
We liked the navigation wheel on the front, which made it easy to quickly blaze by stations if you know what you're looking for. The rest of the front panel buttons are a little confusing--they double as playback controls and assigning presets--and we also really would have liked a dedicated mute button. The Tube also includes a small credit-card-style remote; we'd prefer a full-size remote, but it's fine for making volume adjustments from the couch.
Luckily, you can mostly ditch the hassle of using the LCD screen by using Reciva's online interface instead. The Tube's list of Internet radio stations is actually provided by Reciva's database, and if you register your Tube on the Reciva Web site (using a free account), you can save your favorite stations online and they'll sync with your radio--showing up under "My Stations." Unfortunately, Oxx Digital doesn't make this apparent in the included (useless) manual and the company's Web site incorrectly says the radio is powered by vTuner. We've used a lot of these radios before, so we figured it out on our own, but it would be nearly impossible for a regular consumer to realize this functionality exists.
The Tube 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. As we mentioned before, the Tube uses 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.
In addition to Internet radio stations, the Tube is also capable of playing back podcasts using the Reciva interface. Simply add the RSS feed to your Reciva account and you'll be able to browse through recent podcasts on your radio and stream them directly, without downloading them first. We had no trouble listening to the latest episode of WNYC's Radio Lab.
The Tube also is capable of streaming music off a connected PC sharing folders or running a uPNP server. We've tested several similar radios that offer this functionality, but we can never get it to reliably work, even in different testing locations. At best, consider it a bonus if it works, but don't count on it.
Unlike competing Wi-Fi radios like the Grace GDI-IR2000, Livio Radio, and Squeezebox Boom, the Tube doesn't offer access to any additional online streaming services such as Pandora. That's a big drawback in our book, because although the options for Internet radio are almost infinitely varied, we still like to mix it up with the personalized radio services like Pandora.
Connectivity is basic on the Tube. Around back, there's a stereo analog output if you'd prefer to use the Tube with a stereo system. There's also an Ethernet port if you'd rather use a more stable wired connection instead of the built-in Wi-Fi. The built-in Wi-Fi radio is 801.11b/g compatible, and we had no trouble logging into WEP and WPA networks. The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by the headphone jack on the front panel. Those ports will probably be plenty for average users, but we would have liked at least an auxiliary input for connecting an iPod in a pinch.
Wi-Fi radios, as a breed, typically aren't concerned with high-performance audio. They're small, the stations they tune into are often low bit rate, and the majority of them are limited to a single speaker--mono. That being said, there are significant differences in the sound quality between radios and the Oxx Digital Tube's large footprint and 2.1 design make it better suited than most of its competitors to deliver some fidelity.
To test the sound quality of the Tube, we listened to a variety of Internet radio stations, ranging from classical to rock to jazz, and we paired it up with the Grace Digital GDI-IRD4400M ($250), which is another large footprint Wi-Fi radio. As you'd expect from a unit with sub, the Tube definitely put out more bass than your standard tabletop radio, and its stereo design made for a wider sound than its mono counterparts. That being said, the overall sound quality of the Tube wasn't outstanding. Yes, there was lots of bass, but it sometimes it got in the way more than adding to the mix. Flipping between the Tube and the Grace GDI-IRD4400M, there was no doubt that the Tube had way more low-end, but its scooped sound (little midrange) occasionally sounded more muffled; electric guitars hummed without enough satisfying growl. If you're going to be listening to a lot of hip-hop or electronic-heavy pop music, the Tube can sound big, but those with other musical tastes will find its sound to be more average.
Like virtually all Wi-Fi radios we test these days, the Tube's Wi-Fi performance was excellent, as we had very few 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, so it may be worth buying from a retailer with a solid return policy in case you don't get acceptable performance.