- Review Price: £201.24
Terratec’s Noxon 2 Radio for iPod is a rather unusual looking device. That’s fitting though, as this is a pretty cutting edge piece of kit. It’s more than just a radio with an iPod dock, it’s an internet radio, which means that it can access thousands of online radio stations without any need for a PC. You can access the audio streams of any radio station that is available online, which to be clear is totally separate from DAB. You can also directly browse Podcasts via the Noxon 2, which is something I’ve not seen before. Unfortunately, it can’t access the BBC’s Listen Again service, which was supported by the first internet radio we looked at the Acoustic Energy Wi-Fi. The Acoustic Energy also offered its wireless freedom without an aerial sticking out of the rear, which might or might not be an issue for you.
This is actually the second version of the radio streamer and this new version adds three things over the previous model – an iPod dock, an FM radio, (just for completeness) and an integrated speaker. The radio you see in the picture actually splits into two halves, the radio with LCD display is in the top half and the speaker is the bottom bit. There’s twin phono outputs at the rear of the radio so you can hook it up to your full size amplifier, or there’s a headphone socket located under a flap on the right. Next to this is a USB port and the player will read music from any FAT16 or FAT32 formatted device. It can see files in the root or it can browse folders. It supports MP3, WMA, and AAC files – though not Fairplay DRM wrapped AAC files. It can handle Windows Media DRM infected files however.
As I mentioned at the start, the Noxon is unusual looking especially if you remove it from the speaker base. If you do it rests at an angle on the LCD display that extends down from the front – it’s quite a strange look. It fits snugly on the speaker stand though so I imagine that you’d only take it off it you were transporting it and didn’t need the speaker. Unfortunately, it seems as though you can’t buy the iPod dock equipped radio without the speakers, which would keep the cost down if you didn’t need it. This is surprising considering that the speaker was only available with this new version.
I also had concerns about the build quality. First impressions are good with a mac mini like cream white with silver edging design and finish. However, concerns were raised by the dodgy pattern effect surrounding the blue backlit LCD screen and the plastic feel of the buttons. This seems out of keeping with the rest of the product – they should be metal. Furthermore, the receiver for the infra-red remote control is placed behind the first ‘O’ in the Noxon logo, but it’s misaligned, adding to the poor build quality feel. Next, having both the Terratec and the Noxon logo on the front makes it look too busy. It’s all capped off by the rather cheap remote, which feels too lightweight and has wobbly rubbery buttons. Another issue I had was that at one point it randomly decided not to play music from my iPod anymore and instead switched to the FM Tuner, every time I decided to play a track. It sorted itself but it took two restarts. All in all it doesn’t look or feel like a £200 product, a price that many may baulk at.
That’s not to say the the Noxon 2 is not talented. It can give you access to your music from a impressive array of sources. You can get access to those internet radio stations via wired Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi, the latter which supports both WEP and WPA encrypted routers. You can plonk an iPod down onto it and it can read external USB memory sticks. Once you’re browsing the network you can immediately see any Windows Media Connect shares, a feature built into Windows Media Player 11. I plugged in an Ethernet cable, turned it on and was playing music from my colleague Andy’s PC, in a matter of moments.
You can also pull music from your own music server. The device requires a UPnP enabled server and to that end Terratec has supplied the amusingly named TwonkyMusic server application on CD. It might have funny name but it installed and ran on Vista without issue, and it supports MacOS X and Linux too. Once this was running on my PC I was able to access my music and you can point the software to where you keep your music if it’s not in default locations. For Mac users, Elgato EyeConnect is supplied as well as TwonkyMusic.
The first time you turn on, a Wizard takes you through setting up your network connection, which is straightforward if you’re using a wired connection and are set-up for DHCP. If you’re using wireless and have a password, (you do have a password don’t you) then you will need to contend with the stodgy rubber buttons on the remote to enter the code – fiddly, but possible.
The remote might be a bit poor but it has a good range of features. There’s direct buttons for getting to the main menu, where you can access the list of Internet radio stations, the network set-up and the Favourites list. This is built up by pressing the amusing smiley face and sad face buttons on the remote – the smiley one to add to the list and the sad one to remove it. On the networking side you can enable up to three profiles so you can easily use the device in multiple locations, without having to go through the network set-up process every time.
One thing I was surprised at when I placed my iPod on the dock was that the Noxon takes control of it – you can’t browse your music from your iPod forcing you to use the device itself or the remote. This means that you’re limited to the relatively limited low res six line screen. Press the ‘i’ button the remote and it scrolls between the station name and the time. It works pretty well most of the time, but when you’re scrolling through the contents of a mostly full 80GB iPod, it becomes a limitation and frankly I found navigating something of a chore. The remote has SMS style letters next to the numbers so you can search for things quickly, which ought to ease the pain of going through extensive lists. Alas, I found that when trying this with the iPod, I just got the message, ‘Unsorted list’. However, I could search through radio stations via this method. I appreciated being able to do this, but not being able to do it for the iPod is, for me, a fatal flaw.
What was quite pleasing though was the sound quality, especially considering the size. These days, small speakers don’t have to mean small sound and this proves to be the case here. In particular, the bass response is pleasingly rounded and full, and there was actually more detail and depth than I expected in the sound, though still not quite enough in the mid-range to really satisfy. The main problem though is that the sound stage is just too narrow – even the most average sized iPod speaker docks will give a wider stereo spread than this. And when you do push the volume very loud – and it can go extremely loud – you can hear it start to strain. Fortunately, there’s a master volume knob located at the rear, so you can maintain the maximum level and go within these limits with the volume control on the remote or by pressing the directional pad up and down.
You can use the Noxon 2 as an alarm clock and you can set the alarm via the remote. You can choose between Favourites, a basic buzzer and FM radio, but you can’t choose an internet radio station or your iPod as a source, which is a bit of a shame. And no, you can’ select one of your iPod tracks as a favourite, as you can’t ‘Favourite’ external media.
Overall, I was left with mixed feeling for the Noxon 2. It can do a lot of things but I’m not sure it does them well enough. The internet radio is really its main feature, but I’m not that sold on the concept. The main reason I can see for wanting access to all these internet radio stations is being able to listen to something that you can’t get in your own country. The trouble is that the bit-rates of most stations online streams are just too low. DAB has taken a lot of flack for its relatively low bit-rates but the maximum I could find online is 128k and most are merely 48k. Even DAB is better than that! Of course you can just use the FM tuner, but then if all you want is a iPod dock with a radio why buy this, when you can get something that’s easier to use, better looking and far cheaper, such has this clock radio from Philips?
Certainly if you want PC free internet radio, it’s more talented than the Acoustic Energy, which doesn’t have an iPod dock, but then it’s more expensive. And being a big fan of the BBC’s ‘Listen Again’ service, I’d rather have the Acoustic Energy.
At £200, I’m not convinced by the looks or the build quality of the Noxon Radio 2 for iPod and truth be told, the need for it either. Internet radio makes sense to me if you don’t have a radio to hand and you’re in front of your PC. But if you’re buying a box, I’d rather have DAB. If you happen to want all the Noxon 2’s abilities then you’ll be satisfied, but otherwise it only has limited appeal, at least at this price.
An interesting concoction of music technologies, offering internet radio, FM radio, network audio, and an iPod dock. However, it has fussy looks and minor build issues and the cheap remote disappoints for a £200 product. Browsing large collections on an iPod via the remote and small screen is also something of a chore.
Score in detail