While not uncommon these days, tabletop Web radio players still remain something of a novelty. As such, VTech’s IS9181 Wi-Fi Internet Radio, which streams online broadcasts right to a bookshelf or desk, makes an intriguing curiosity for any audiophile. But at a not inconsiderable price of $199.95, can those tired of the usual AM/FM fare go wrong? That depends entirely on how determined you are to tune in.
Features and Design
Right out of the box, the horribly named IS9181 promises a connection to over 11,000 free Web radio stations, as well as local weather and horoscope content. If that’s not enough, the player will also stream music (MP3, WMA, AAC, Real Audio) from any networked PC or Mac, as well as other external audio sources, via the included auxiliary cable. Of course, the best part about the device is its near unlimited access to digital content. Even better, multimedia is extremely easy to access, with no subscriptions, one-time fees or user accounts necessary.
What’s In the Box
Out of the package, the IS9181 is very slick. In fact, the unit is so shiny, you might be able to style your hair in the reflection that’s coming off the top. It’s also extremely light, which could change depending on whether or not you want exercise the option to pack six AA batteries into the device. Still, beyond the actual radio itself, the lack of extraneous items in the box should clue you in to just how simple this device really is to utilize. There’s a wireless remote, power adapter, quick start guide, user manual, and the aforementioned auxiliary audio cable – in other words, not much to sift through.
Performance and Use
For this review, we tested the device using its power adapter. To get started, simply plug it in and wait a few minutes while the unit initializes. VTech says initial setup could take up to three minutes, which is about accurate, based on our experience. Once completed, the unit prompts you to press “Standby” to begin the configuration process.
The first thing you need to do is connect the IS9181 to your wireless network. The screen says to select “Yes” to proceed, but there is no yes; only “Select.” While this may seem obvious, it would seem slightly more obvious to just make the user choose “Select,” correct? Once you figure out how to move on, you’re given the choice of entering your network name or having the unit search for you. If your network is password-protected, you will have to enter that information as well, via the rotary dial on top. This is a slight tedious process, but you should only have to do it once.
After setup is complete, you can start surfing for radio stations. The Web side allows you to search by genre, location, language or “most popular,” using that same rotary dial. Bear in mind, though: This procedure can be a slog. You can consider spending a chunk of time going through providers, or go to VTech’s IS9181 product page to choose some selections. Once you find a few favorites, you can store them, with options provided for housing up to 100 web stations and another 20 FM stations.
Yes – the unit can actually tune in FM broadcasts too, although it’s not very good at it. Frankly, unless you live close to a radio tower, the IS9181 just doesn’t do a great job with reception. However, it’s easy to find the FM stations that it does pick up thanks to a built-in seek feature.
Assuming thousands of local stations or broadcasts from around the globe aren’t enough to keep you entertained, you can always fall back on your personal digital collection. Translation: The IS9181 can tap into music on one or more networked computers. This would be a potentially awesome feature to have access to at your place of business. However, you will need to create a user account on each computer to take advantage of the option, which could mean a lot of sneaking around on your lunch hour. Also, we had a few problems finding our two computers, but once our firewall was down, matters improved significantly.
As far as sound quality goes, the IS9181 doesn’t hold any surprises, which is both a good and bad thing. The unit features built-in 3-watt front-facing stereo speakers, as well as a 10-watt subwoofer with class D amplifiers. As such, don’t expect to rock the house, or even the hallway. Nonetheless, audio performance is extremely respectable for use in an office or kitchen setting.
While many households may not be ready to take Web radio beyond the computer, the IS9181 does make the prospect somewhat more enticing. Slick design notwithstanding, there’s no arguing with the endless entertainment options the unit provides. However, given a $200 price (not awful, but nothing to scoff at these days either), it’s strictly an optional purchase by any stretch.
- Easy network setup
- Works for Mac and PC users
- 11,000 web stations to keep you busy
- 100 web presets
- Can access FM broadcasts
- Tedious scrolling process
- Firewall gets in the way of PC sharing
- Unremarkable audio quality
- Few standout features