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Computerized Investing > March 2011

Livio Radio Featuring Pandora

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Internet radio has grown by leaps and bounds since 1994, when the first radio stations began streaming their broadcasts over the Internet. Today, according to some surveys, as many as 20% of all people who listen to radio are doing so online. With a number of free services available, it is easy to listen to radio stations from around the globe; all you need is an Internet connection.

Arguably the most popular Internet radio service is Pandora. Started in 2000, Pandora is a free, personalized Internet radio service based on the Music Genome Project. The Music Genome Project is the most thorough analysis of popular music ever undertaken; each song is analyzed using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics. Listeners can enter in the name of a song, artist or genre, and Pandora scans its database of analyzed music to find songs with matching musical similarities. Users can create up to 100 “stations” based on a song title, artist or genre and refine the songs played to improve their listening experience.

Traditionally, you needed to use a computer to listen to Pandora. But companies are beginning to introduce radios that will stream Internet radio content without needing a PC (all you need is an Internet connection). One of these is the Livio Radio featuring Pandora. For the last few weeks I have been using one on loan from the company.

Radio Setup

Out of the box, the Livio Radio featuring Pandora has a retro look to it. The case is black with a white face and silver speaker, buttons, and volume/control knob. The radio doesn’t take up a lot of room, measuring 11.5 x 7 x 9.5 inches and weighing just over 5.3 pounds.

Set up was very simple and easy—I was listening in less than 10 minutes. After plugging in the radio and turning it on, its built-in Wi-Fi receiver identified the local Wi-Fi networks. The model I received, LV001, also has an Ethernet connection for a wired Internet connection.

The available Wi-Fi connections will appear on the radio’s display and you can use the Menu/Volume knob to scroll down the list and then push the knob to select a network. If the Wi-Fi connection requires a password, you will need to enter in the key. Again you use the knob (or the up/down arrows on the remote control) to go from character to character and push the knob to select the desired character when it appears in the center of screen. Once you have entered the password, turn the knob until [END] is selected and push the knob to finish. Once the Livio Radio is connected to the Internet, it will automatically download any software and firmware updates.

You can use the Livio Radio as a stand-alone device, or you can use the fixed-level stereo line out and included adapter to hook your Livio Radio up to your home audio system or portable media player. There is also an auxiliary input to accommodate another mp3 player or audio device, as well as a headphone jack on the front of the radio.

Pandora Setup

After you are connected to the Internet with your Livio Radio, the final step is to connect to your Pandora account. To create a new Pandora account or log into an existing account with your Livio Radio, go to www.livioradio.com/pandora. Currently Pandora is free. To pay for this, online listeners are subjected to an occasional commercial (a premium fee-based service, Pandora One, allows you to listen online without commercial interruption). A pleasant surprise when listening to Pandora over the Livio Radio is that there are no commercials, even though I have only the free subscription. It remains to be seen if this will continue, but if it does, this is a definitely an added bonus over listening with your computer.

At the Livio site you will be asked to enter the radio’s serial number and registration ID/key, both of which are found by navigating the radio’s menu using the Menu/Volume knob. Once you have registered the radio, you are ready to go.

Listening

With the Livio Radio featuring Pandora you can listen to any of your Pandora stations or access over 20,000 AM/FM and Internet radio stations from around the world.

For those of you familiar with Pandora, you can give a song a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to “teach” Pandora the songs you like or dislike. According to Livio, the Livio Radio featuring Pandora is the first and only dedicated device to offer Pandora’s “thumbs up, thumbs down” functionality on both the front panel of the radio and on the remote control.

An added bonus with the Livio is the ability to listen to radio stations from around the globe. You can search for stations by location, genre or keyword using the menu knob. If you find an Internet radio station you like, you can save it as a favorite using the remote (up to five stations in all). This saves you from having to search for it the next time.

Sound Quality

While you should be prepared to be wowed by the features available with the Livio Radio featuring Pandora, don’t expect to be too impressed with the sound quality. Listening to the radio in my office, the single speaker provided adequate sound quality. However, it is only one speaker, with a maximum output of seven watts. If you are looking for better sound, expect to attach the Livio Radio to a home audio system. This is probably why it comes with a 3.5mm-to-RCA Y-cable adapter.

Cost

Given its suggested price of $200, some may balk at the cost of the Livio Radio, especially to listen to radio stations that are already free through your computer. I can, to some extent, agree with that argument. However, it is nice to have a device that allows me to listen to Pandora radio—and 20,000 other radio stations—without a computer. With the ability to connect the Livio Radio to a home stereo system, I am more inclined to pay the $200.

My biggest worry would be what happens if Pandora decides to move to a fee-only subscription structure for devices such as Livio radio. Last.fm, another Internet radio service, recently announced it was going fee-only on mobile and home entertainment devices. If Pandora were to follow suit, you are tied to the cost of the service or be out the cost of your Livio Radio. However, you would, in theory, still be able to listen to the 20,000+ other radio stations.

Alarms & Sleep Timer

The Livio Radio also has five alarm clocks. For each you can set the frequency—once, daily, weekly, weekday, or weekend. You then choose whether the alarm is a buzzer, the current station, or comes from a device attached via the Aux In jack. It would be nice to be able to indicate a specific radio station for each alarm. As it stands, the alarm is the station to which the radio is currently tuned.

When the alarm goes off, you can hit the “Back” button on the radio front or on the remote to trigger a five-minute snooze, after which the alarm will sound again.

Lastly, you can also fall asleep to your Livio Radio using the Sleep Timer. You can set this timer to turn off the radio after a set period of time.

Overall

Having been a long-time listener of Pandora, I am excited by devices such as the Livio Radio Featuring Pandora. It is nice to be able to listen to Pandora without the need for a computer, as well as to have access to an additional 20,000+ Internet radio stations. For small spaces, the radio’s single speaker performs adequately. If you are looking to use the radio in a larger space, you will want to think about attaching it to a speaker system. At $200, I think the Livio radio is a worthwhile investment given its line-up and flexibility. However, Last.fm’s recent move to a fee-only structure for home entertainment devices tempers my recommendation.

Livio Radio Featuring Pandora

www.livioradio.com

$199.99 MSRP (currently $129 at www.Amazon.com)

Pros

  • Thousands of stations to listen to
  • Commercial-free listening to Pandora, even with a free account
  • Easy set up

Cons

  • Mediocre sound quality
  • Expensive
  • Possible Internet radio industry trend toward fee-only subscriptions

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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