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Psion Wavefinder USB 9/10

FM radio has been the best way to listen to radio for the past forty years. Recently there has been the advent of digital radio, either through a satellite, the internet or recently through an antenna. Satellite radio requires a receiver and also a satellite, consequently it requires a pro to set it up and it is not portable. Internet radio has a wide range of stations, but unless you have a broadband connection, the quality is poor.

Getting digital radio (DAB) through an antenna is new. It is through an antenna that the Psion radio receives digital radio. There's no surprise that Psion are one of the first manufacturers to bring this new technology to a mass market, being one of Britain's most innovative companies. Setting up the radio is not too difficult. Firstly you must place the blue unit, near a window and screw on to antennas included in the package. I could not get a signal away from a window. Then you install the software and attach the radio through a USB port to your computer. Windows promptly recognises it and you are nearly ready to go. After completing the reception wizard, you can start using the Wavefinder software. The blue unit flashes green and red, depending on the quality of a signal. A sustained green light indicates a good quality connection.

The software loads up quite quickly, as it searches through the available stations. The interface resembles the Windows desktop with radio icons placed around the screen. Clicking on an icon brings up the appropriate radio station. It takes about thirty seconds to a minute to change the channel. On some channels there is also a text readout, giving information about the station or the song. Also the software loads up the internet site of the radio station so you can send them e-mails and comments.

The range of stations currently available is better than that on analogue radio. In the London, where I am using it, you get all the BBC channels, Virgin, Kiss, Capital and many more channels, many of which are digital only. The choice is not as broad as on internet radio though. The quality however, is far better than an internet radio on a 56K connection or ISDN (which is generally limited to 32 Kbit or 64 Kbit). This is because the bandwidth is so large being 256 Kbit. There is absolutely no interference which you regularly get on analogue radio. It is strange listening to DJs talking without any noise or hiss. It's as if they are sitting next to you. The quality is slightly less than CD audio being 16 bit 32 kHz. Even through an average portable soundcard and a mini hi-fi the quality is better than a very expensive hi-fi separate analogue radio deck. Through a decent soundcard like a Roland UA100, the sound quality is even better. It must be noted though that on slower computers, like a 300 MHz (which Psion don't recommend you use Wavefinder on), the radio just about works, but it occasionally cuts out and you can't use the computer at the same time. On faster computers, 600 MHz and upwards, you can comfortably multitask and listen to the Wavefinder radio at the same time. Being a computer based device, you benefit from being able to record any broadcast digitally to MP2 or MP3 just by the touch of a single button. This feature would probably be the main reason I would get this instead of a hi-fi separate DAB receiver. I can't see the Napster police liking this feature - consequently there is a disclaimer pointing out that you should not record copyrighted material (which is basically everything on radio), however there is no copyright protection!

This product is one of the first on the market. Psion should be applauded for bringing down the price (albeit to a still expensive £300) of DAB. If you like to listen to radio whilst you use your computer, this is fine solution, since you can quickly record any broadcast you want and change channels through your computer. However, if you listen to your radio in the living room, it is probably better to spend a bit more on a hi-fi separate DAB receiver. I suspect the Wavefinder will come down in price soon and when it does I think I'll have to change my rating to 10/10.