The MagicBox Beam is primarily an iPod dock and in this role it performs admirably. Plug your device in and it’ll kick in straight away. You can then control it using either the screen, remote or the iDevice itself. The readout while tracks are playing is also easy to read. The one surprise let down here is that it doesn’t charge an iPhone 4S, though it does work with all other iDevices that will fit in the dock.
Switch to DAB radio and the limitations of the resistive touchscreen are highlighted when trying to scroll through the dozens of stations on offer. But it’s only a bit slow rather than downright annoying. Otherwise, the interface is easy to use with one-touch access to your 10 presets, storing a new preset, changing stations and station info. Reception was as good as most other equivalents we’ve tested.
Using FM is similarly easy, with the touchscreen proving a particularly good way of adjusting tuning. Again, you have quick access to your presets, while flipping between auto tuning and manual tuning requires just a single tap. Moreover, you can grab the virtual frequency marker and drag it to the spot you want. It’s not the most accurate way of tuning but for quickly getting to the right ball park, it’s a neat trick.
Internet radio suffers from the same slow scrolling as DAB but we’re yet to find an Internet radio that isn’t somewhat of a chore to setup, simply because there are so many stations on offer. Once you’ve found the ones you like, it’s again easy to add up to 10 favourites. Networking setup is also surprisingly easy, due to the neat interface.
Alarm functionality is the main extra function of this device, with no other esoteric games, calendar apps or other such nonsense on offer. You get two alarms that can be set to go off once, daily, at the weekend, or during weekdays with a choice of DAB, FM, Internet radio, iPod or a buzzer to wake you up. You can also choose the volume.
Other settings include setting the alarm snooze and idle timeout times, on and standby backlight brightness, and at what point the display turns off when in standby. Essentially there’s enough that you should be able to set the machine up to just your liking.
But, but, but, but, but… All this will be for nought if the MagicBox Beam doesn’t sound any good. And it’s a pretty close call.
Now, considering the Beam is only 220 x 280 x 172mm, it’s clearly not going to blow your socks off but we have heard some audio devices considerably smaller and cheaper than this that sound impressive. Here though, there’s a distinct lack of real bass, giving it a slightly weedy tone. It’s a real shame there isn’t either a stereo line output or a sub output, as adding a decent sub could easily transform this into a much more powerful unit.
As for clarity, it’s okay. It’s fine for casual listening – rocking along while cooking your dinner or getting dressed in the morning – but doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. It’s somewhat on a par with Pure’s Evoke range in terms of power and range, though Pure actually has it beat, with a fuller tone and less noise at high volumes. All told, we’d expect better for a £170 device.
However, it’s clear you’re paying a premium for all those features and that touchscreen – few devices offer as much at this price. Is it a premium worth paying? That depends on how discerning a listener you are. If you’re happy with something to just pump out a few pop hits and listen to spoken word radio then it’ll pass muster but if you’re looking for something with a bit more finesse then there are many much more accomplished units for the same money – you’ll just have to sacrifice the extra features.
The MagicBox Beam is almost a surprise hit. Its combination of an iPod dock, FM, DAB and internet radios and a great touchscreen interface to manage them all makes for a pleasingly easy to use all-in-one music system. However, its sound quality is a bit disappointing and really only suited to casual listening – one for the kitchen and bedroom but not one to call upon for party duty in the living room.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 6