Back in March 2008 we were blown away by the original Vita Audio R1. This DAB and FM bedside radio combined great styling and build quality, superb sound quality, and a decent level of usability at a price that was just right. Now back with in an MkII guise, it packs in a better screen, even better styling and is compatible with new battery pack and carry case accessories.
What always set Vita Audio's products apart from the masses was their superb styling and build quality, and it's no different here. A beautiful wooden curved-cornered rectangle of wood wraps around a largely metal chassis faced with sandblasted steel sections. It looks superb, and feels even better with excellent fit and finish – it may be pricey but on first impressions it certainly feels worth it. Piano black and gloss white versions are also available, and if past experience is anything to go by they're just as superbly built.
Up top is the control cluster that consists of 12 buttons surrounding a central rotary dial, while the front is home to an LCD display, ambient light sensor and the 3.5in speaker. Round the back is a socket for an aerial connection – a decent telescopic aerial is provided but you could use a different one if required – a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack, a 3.5mm line out, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the power socket and a service socket for upgrading the firmware. Flip the radio over and you'll find four soft rubber feet that provide a good purchase on most surfaces and a bass port.
The controls all feel very well put together however, they aren't backlit (though there is a ring of blue light around the central dial), which for a bedside radio is a big failing – you simply can't see what you're doing in the dark. You can at least distinguish between the buttons to some degree simply by feel alone.
We're also not so keen on the central dial. As we stated in our review of the original R1, the circular control layout suggests that the dial in middle should rotate freely and act as a universal control, switching between controlling volume, tuning, and menu options. However, instead it only controls volume and moves only about 30 degrees to either side (right for volume up, left for volume down) and, once released, springs back to the middle.
It's perhaps a bit harsh to judge a radio because it doesn't conform to expectation, especially as it does get the job done reasonably well, but we really feel a rethink of the controls could change this from a good product to a great one.
As for the other controls, up front is an OK button flanked by up and down controls. These are used for controlling tuning and other menu items. Next up are Alarm, Menu, Sleep, and Source buttons. You can set two separate alarms with choices of radio, auxiliary input or a beep and there are presets for weekend, weekdays, once, and everyday. Source, meanwhile, cycles through the choice of DAB, FM and auxiliary sound sources. Finally there are five buttons for quickly accessing the five presets each for FM and DAB.