The Wi-Fi radio category has grown steadily over the last two years, thanks to greater consumer awareness and the popularity of streaming music services like Pandora. Grace Digital Audio was one of the early entrants to this product category, and the Bravado (model number GDI-IRD4400M) represents a different direction for the company. The Bravado ditches the standard tabletop radio look, instead placing a pair of stereo speakers on top of the unit and giving the faceplate the feel of an old-school stereo component. The rest of the unit will feel familiar to Grace Digital fans, as the radio supports streaming services like Pandora and Sirius, and has access to Reciva's large database of Internet radio stations. We were originally put off by the Bravado's $250 price tag, since that put it into direct competition with the excellent Logitech Squeezebox Boom, which offers more features and better sound. But Grace recently dropped the asking price to a more palatable $200, making it worth consideration over the other models in the company's line.
Most Wi-Fi radios have a fairly generic look, with a single speaker on the left and controls on the right. By contrast, the Grace Bravado looks more like a classic stereo component: it has a square look with sharp corners that makes it feel like it could be rack mounted (it can't). There are six silver buttons on the front panel, and each button serves two functions, depending on whether you're listening to Internet radio or streaming your own music. The large metal knob has a nice brushed=metal feel and it's used to both control volume and navigate menus.
While the faceplate is made of plastic and has a glossy black look, the rest of the unit features a wooden cabinet, with a matte black finish. The build quality of our review sample was technically fine, but it doesn't quite have that high-end feel, like you'd expect from, say, a Tivoli radio. The stereo speakers are positioned on the top of the unit, behind a rectangular speaker grille.
The four-line LCD display is mostly the same as on other Grace radios and as always we appreciate that it shows artist and track information on Internet radio stations that support that feature. The major difference is that while the displays on the step-down models easily wash out when you move off-axis, we had no problem reading the Bravado from any angle. The background color is also brighter, giving it more contrast with the black text, which makes it easier to read from far away. It's a nice step up, but the Squeezebox Boom's display trumps it in size and brightness.
The included remote is another welcome improvement over step-down Grace radios. The little silver clicker has more heft than a standard credit-card-style remote and the button layout is better than average, with a nicely separated volume rocker and directional pad. The mute buttons also has a prominent position in the upper right-hand corner, which is helpful when you want to quickly shut off the sound.
Editors' note: The GDI-IRD4400's feature set is very similar to the step-down GDI-IR2000, therefore much of this section is virtually identical.
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's 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 in 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-IRD4400M itself has only 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.