The idea is simple: provide a PC-based radio with TiVo-like time shifting of live radio, scheduled recording, and on-the-fly recording. Then market it to iPod and MP3 player owners. What a great idea! That’s the Griffin radioSHARK. MP3 player add-ons are always a hot seller, and at $69.95 MSRP, the price point is just right. We were deeply disappointed by the actual execution, though.
Features and Design
The radioSHARK itself is a combination of glassy iPod-esque white and reflective chrome. It gets its name from the shark fin shape of the hardware. Three increasingly large semicircles adorn the sides and indicate the status of the recording software. During regular operation and while simply plugged in, the arcs emit a soft blue glow. When recording, they are red. The radioSHARK is powered over the USB bus, so no external power supplies are needed. In addition, there is an antenna port on the back that allows for better reception through an optional external antenna. The thin white USB cord measures four feet, so the radioSHARK can be placed far away from interference-emitting computer components. A nice addition is the included four foot-long extension cord, allowing the radioSHARK to be placed a full eight feet away. In our testing, we experienced too much static at anything less than six feet.
Where the radioSHARK fails miserably is in the software on the Windows side. We had to reinstall the latest version of the software several times to get semi-complete functionality (“semi-complete” because it was the most functional install we were able to get.) We had issues with saving channels to memory, scheduling being recognized, actual recording to files, and device initialization. Thankfully, the software never corrupted our entire system, but at version 1.1.7 we find the current software barely usable. We are still unable to specify a recording location besides the My Documents folder. This makes it difficult and annoying to organize manually. Ideally, we would have a folder in the My Music folder for each show, but that was not possible with our version of the software. These are just some of the issues we had that were not part of the design of the software.
The software has several design flaws:
- First, the radioSHARK cannot record to MP3! That’s right; this is sold in the iPod section of stores everywhere, yet it cannot record to the most popular music format in the world. Only WMA and WAV are supported for Windows, and AAC and AIFF for Macs. That means all recordings will have to be converted by iTunes for Windows users.
- Second, the Windows version lacks any iTunes integration. Unlike other content-providing technologies like Podcasts, the radioSHARK does not create a playlist, does not automatically sync, and does not add recordings to the iTunes library. Is it possible? Yes. Was it implemented? No.
- Next, you must select whether the recording is played as it is recorded at the time of scheduling. So, if you decided to actually try to listen to the show on the spur of the moment, you’re out of luck if you set the radioSHARK to mute during recording.
- There’s no way to step frequencies using the keyboard. You can go from one preset to the next, and search for frequencies, but we found the radioSHARK missed almost half of the available frequencies. There is a setting for the sensitivity of searching, but this occurred at all levels. Also, many times it would pick a station close to, but not exactly, the desired one. The user then has to adjust the setting by dragging a two pixel-wide indicator a few pixels over to the next frequency jump. In a word, annoying.
- The radioSHARK software must be running at the start of the event or the program will not be recorded. The software has no “load at Windows startup” option, which means it must be manually launched. (Although can cause the radioSHARK software to load at startup by placing a shortcut in the Startup folder under the Start menu, not all users know that.) If you realize the software is not loaded and it is one minute into the show, you will not be able to use the scheduled recording feature for that show.
- The scheduling of recordings is an attempt at simplicity, but it only adds complexity. The repeat settings lock users into one of five options: Hourly, Daily, Daily-Weekdays, Weekly, and Monthly. Duration has to be 30 minutes, one hour, or two hours. We wanted to record Coast to Coast AM, which in our market is on Monday at 1 am-4 am and Tuesday through Saturday at 12 am-3 am. The first problem: you can’t record for three or four hours at a time. The next problem: no matter what option outside of programming each individual day, we will end up recording at least one day where the show isn’t actually playing. Our most simple solution required four separate scheduled recordings.
Radio reception was very good on the FM side. We were able to place the radioSHARK as close as four feet from our computer and still get good reception. On the AM side, which is much more prone to interference, we had to place the unit over six feet away. We also experienced strange volume fluctuation during AM listening. There appeared to be two levels of volume that are chosen between, or some sort of filter that is kicked into gear when the signal-to-noise ratio reaches a certain level. In any case, we would be listening to a show and suddenly have the volume adjust to almost an inaudible level. Shutting down the application and relaunching it reset the volume to the higher level, but this would be a serious annoyance if it were to happen in the middle of a recording. Keeping in mind this one minor flaw, we were very pleased with the sound quality and reception of radio programming.
The time shifting functionality uses a “circular buffer,” meaning if you record past the end of the buffer, the newly recorded portion is recorded over the beginning of the old audio. It takes a couple of seconds for time shifting to kick into action, but works very well. On our three GHz system, it only took up three percent of the CPU while active. When not active, the radioSHARK only takes up one percent of the CPU.
One nice little feature is the ability to stream the audio over your home network. This requires very little bandwidth and worked flawlessly. Just point your favorite streaming audio application to the designated port on the computer the radioSHARK is connected to. We used Windows Media Player on a local PC and had no troubles.
With the way it was designed, we had to make several compromises to use the radioSHARK. It pains us to knock this great gadget so much, but the truth of the matter is that the software supplied is barely worthy of beta testing status.
The Griffin radioSHARK is a great gadget in its design and concept, but requires a nearly full software rewrite to make it truly functional. When poor software design qualities are taken into account, the promise of simple radio recording with time shifting and scheduled recording is barely kept. We greatly look forward to future software revisions that will help the radioSHARK realize its full potential.
- Excellent concept;
- Clear sound quality;
- Stylish design
- Frustratingly poor software
- Poor PC integration