Internet radio to go

Internet radio is all well and good. But wouldn't it be nice to tune in without being trapped in the same room with your PC? The makers of Sonicbox think so. Sonicbox Inc. designed the $99 device to make listening to Internet radio streams around the home or office as easy as listening to AM or FM on a Walkman.

Sonicbox turns the PC into a micro broadcast station. The base unit is a low-power transceiver that rebroadcasts the PC audio to a portable receiver, while receiving commands from a separate remote control. The base unit attaches to a PC via a USB connector. Although the receiver runs on AAA batteries, it also comes with an external AC power supply. This allows a long-term wireless hookup with, say, a stereo located at the other end of the house.

The remote tuner is slightly larger than a TV remote control and has an array of buttons alongside a tuning knob. The buttons toggle through 25 categories. Turning the knob switches between audio streams in these categories. Altogether, there are some 700 pre-set "channels." Each has been selected for both quality and kind of content, as well as reliability of online access. Additional audio-streaming sites not included in the Sonicbox "channels" can be programmed in.

The layout of the remote is obvious and intuitive. Channel surfing here isn't quite like over-the-air radio, because packet-based Internet audio isn't "instant-on." A data buffer is usually gathered before playback to reduce dropouts. The Sonicbox tuner thoughtfully plays a custom clip of pre-recorded music to fill what would otherwise be dead air. As audio kicks in, sound quality is dictated more by the PC's Internet connection of the computer-the higher the bit rate, the better the quality-than by Sonicbox.-