Internet radios are the ideal combination of new tech and old-school convenience.
Today, many people stream music from the web directly to smartphones, but let's be honest nothing quite matches having the convenience of a true music streamer that plays without interruption.
Whether you’re looking for a casual stereo speaker you can leave on to broadcast your favourite tunes in your home or a web-connected device that connects to your existing stereo; an internet radio is an perfect option.
At BuyCleverStuff, we’ve made it our goal to give you all the background information on internet radios, so you can make a conscious decision when it comes to getting the right audio products you are looking for.
In this guide for internet radios, get the lowdown on the features, drawbacks, and what to expect from different price points of a range of internet radios.
Most internet radios support both paid and free "ad-supported" streaming services.
While paid services offer features like higher fidelity and wider selection (and of course no ads!), there are thousands of free stations available from all over the world, so you don't necessarily have to pay any monthly fees.
Internet radio interfaces
On paper, most internet radios have the same basic feature set: the ability to stream music from the web (either in the format of an online radio station or a streaming music service like Spotify).
And that’s pretty much where the similarities end, because each internet radio brings its own interface to the table.
As you’re shopping around for an internet radio, consider how you want to interact with your device, because your decision defines the experience you’ll have.
There are four main types of internet radio interfaces:
Pretty much all internet radios now include remote controls, however, some of them can only be controlled through their remote.
Using a remote as the main way of interacting with your internet radio may not be as quick, but for anyone who is used to older systems with such control akin to their hi-fi system, then it is perfect.
Some internet radios are compatible with universal remotes. Check your universal remote manual to learn more about which internet radio models you can control with it.
We've seen at BuyCleverStuff a surge in smart home digital assistant devices - and questions as to whether our products will work with them.
Some internet radios have this ability built-in as standard, with voice control, and support other cloud-based digital assistant services - the most common you will have heard of are Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa service or Apple's Siri.
While models with built-in digital assistants are some of the most expensive on the market, to have that simplicity of asking for what they want to hear is worth the price tag alone.
Many internet radios will have built-in touchscreens with interfaces similar to a smartphone. A lot are similar in design to Google’s Android operating system.
Touchscreen controls are simple enough to handle, especially for those a little concerned at taking the leap with technology, but much like smartphones, any bad apps that aren't exactly user-friendly, it can spoil the experience completely. Touchscreens are ideal for those who want simplicity.
The likelihood will be that those models on a budget will have a small LCD screen that can be operated with buttons and knobs. Probably the best step up from digital DAB radios, they can be a little more clunky to work with, however as we say, these internet radios are much more affordable than their touchscreen comrades.
Internet radios with LCD screens are ideal for people who like to stay with a certain station, and certainly not for station hoppers!
Internet radios and music formats
Internet radios can be a lot more versatile and feature packed than their name lets on – most, but not all, models can play a range of different audio sources.
As you’re shopping for an internet radio, consider what else you have in terms of your own personal collection of music and what you’ll want to access:
This may seem an obvious one, but it’s important to know if any internet radio you buy can access free online radio stations!
Beyond internet radio, you may find that certain units also include FM and DAB radio too. This is useful if certain stations are not yet available with online streams that you may want to listen to.
Music streaming services
If you also plan on streaming music from services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, Google Play, or TIDAL directly to your internet radio, check ahead of time to ensure they’re supported. Some products may need paid subscriptions to work, so again check the details of the unit beforehand.
Compact discs (CDs)
Many will still remember when compact discs were the first real steps into digital audio (of a sort), and some internet radios will include compact disc players.
CD-quality audio in terms of playback, is seen to be far superior compared to streaming audio, so if you’re a budding audiophile, or have a collection stashed away, you may want to grab one that can also play your discs.
Any Bluetooth source
We mentioned about streaming and getting music through your smartphone or tablet; you'll find that many internet radios support Bluetooth, so you can connect those devices and play any audio through the radio’s speakers.
Built in storage
Some internet radios also have built-in file storage, to load music and then play it without streaming. Built-in storage is perfect for taking your music with you or having backup tunes if you ever lose internet connectivity.
One of the most important things to think about before you buy an internet radio is how you plan on getting music to it and playing music that’s on it. As you’re shopping, consider how you’ll need to connect your internet radio to your WiFi network or other devices. The most common connectivity options on internet radios are the following.
As you’d expect, most internet radios connect to your existing WiFi network to access online stations from across the globe.
Many internet radios also feature Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream music directly from your phone.
If you buy an internet radio that supports FM radio, you can upgrade the antenna with a third-party antenna. With a more powerful antenna, you can often receive more stations and broadcasts.
Despite attempts to consign headphone/3.5mm jacks to the scrapheap, they are still very much used and very much a standard feature for internet radios.
Similar to a 3.5mm cable, some internet radios have USB ports for connecting directly to audio sources with USB output, but there may be a big likelihood that your device might have Bluetooth but just check to be sure.
While it’s typically found on high-end units, some internet radios have Ethernet ports for establishing hard-wired connections to your network instead of wireless ones. Wired connections are more stable, reduce buffering, and create a faster, more stable experience overall.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some internet radios are made for use in specific situations. For example, some internet radios are designed to be mounted under kitchen cabinets, while others are waterproof and designed for use in the shower.
Internet radio prices
As you’re shopping for internet radios, keep these primary price points in mind.
In the £50 to £99 range, you’ll find internet radio models that are either dedicated to one setting (like one for the shower) or models that only have the bare minimum of features. If you just want a simple, cheap option and don’t need your audio to sound better than an FM radio, stay in this price range.
If you’re buying a portable internet radio, check to see what type of batteries it uses before you buy. Make sure you buy a model that uses affordable, readily available battery types like AA or 9-volt.
In the £100 to £399 range, expect to see a wide variety of options that range from good to great. If you need a long list of additional features (like an FM tuner, support for high-resolution audio formats, or a built-in CD player), expect to be on the high end of the range.
In the £400 to £500 range, a handful of manufacturers make premium devices that deliver audiophile-quality sound, every feature under the sun, and luxury product designs. If you want every feature there is, expect to pay top dollar.
Before you buy an internet radio, consider these tips.
If you’re new to internet radio, try it out on your smartphone first
There’s never a bad time to explore the vast, near-endless number of radio stations out there, and you can start picking your favorites today with your smartphone. By picking out your favorites ahead of time, you’ll have a much better idea of which stations and apps you’ll need your internet radio to access, and you can rule out any models that don’t meet your needs.
Don’t just compare models; compare remotes.
A poorly designed remote control can sour your experience with an internet radio, so pay special attention to what comes with each internet radio. Look for remotes that aren’t easily lost and those that offer one-touch access to a specific audio source. The remote control may be the primary way you access your internet radio, so don’t be afraid to rule out options with remotes that don’t feel right to you.
Pick your music subscription services before you buy
Not every internet radio supports every streaming audio service, so it’s important to know which ones you like before you shell out any money. Keep a list of your requirements of both the services (like Pandora, Spotify, or Google Music) and the individual stations (like your favorite IHeartRadio channel), and limit your search to radios that meet those needs.
Some internet radios can be powered by batteries, so you can take them with you wherever you go. If you need your radio with you at all times, be sure to pick one that doesn’t always have to be plugged into a wall.
Q. Can I use my satellite radio subscription with an internet radio?
A. Sort of. Most internet radios don’t include the necessary hardware for receiving satellite radio broadcasts, but they do include connectivity options to use additional third-party hardware. If you already own a portable satellite radio receiver, look for an internet radio with an auxiliary 3.5mm jack – then use a 3.5mm cable to connect it to your satellite radio receiver.
Q. Can I get my local FM radio stations with an internet radio?
A. More than likely, yes. While some internet radios include built-in FM radio antennas, most terrestrial broadcast stations also broadcast their signal online. If you’re worried about being able to hear your favorite local radio station online, visit their website to learn about their digital broadcasts.
Q. Can I connect an internet radio to my existing stereo?
A. Most internet radios can be connected to, or accessed by, an existing stereo. You can connect them together with a 3.5mm auxiliary cable.