Table radios can be great audio solutions for smaller rooms such as a bedroom or kitchen. These all-in one units put a radio receiver and speakers in one compact package that doesn't take up too much space on a night table or kitchen countertop. Some have added features, such as a CD player, music player input and the ability to add an external speaker for true stereo sound.
We only considered table radios that incorporate an FM tuner for this report. Some table radios also incorporate an AM tuner -good for news, weather, talk and sports, but not-so-hot for music. A handful of table radios have a tuner for HD Radio -- a technology that broadcasts content in digital format to deliver better sound quality and increased content.
Table radios aren't the same thing as portable radios, such as boom boxes, which are designed to run off batteries. While some of the table radios covered in this report can run on battery power in a pinch, they're mainly designed to sit in one spot, plugged into the wall, and pump out sound.
While cheap, and cheap-sounding, table radios are still plentiful, the sound quality of better models can be terrific. One listen to any of the table radios highlighted in this report and you'll realize that these aren't your parents' clock radios.
If you're looking for a good, basic table radio that delivers high-quality sound without a lot of frills, reviewers say you can't do better than the Tivoli Audio Model One (Est. $150). This radio is definitely old-school, both in style and in function. With its handmade wood cabinet and analog tuning, it looks like it dropped straight through a time warp from the 1960s. Its features are old-fashioned, too. It has only a single speaker, delivering sound in mono — which actually makes perfect sense for a radio this size, since there's no way to get meaningful stereo separation from two speakers that are only a few inches apart. Likewise, its simple dial controls are pretty bare-bones: one knob to change the frequency, one to adjust the volume, and one to switch from AM to FM or "aux." The only modern feature is an auxiliary input through which you can plug in your MP3 player or phone.
What's definitely not old-fashioned, though, is the Model One's sound quality. Experts and home users agree that this little radio — just 8.375 by 5.25 inches — produces amazingly big sound. Reviews consistently describe the sound as warm, rich, and room-filling, with full bass and clear treble. Most reviewers also say that the single speaker does a good job of balancing the sound across the whole musical spectrum. However, some owners find it a little bass-heavy, particularly for talk radio, and lament the lack of a knob to adjust the bass/treble balance.
The other feature that really impresses reviewers about the Model One is its incredibly sensitive FM tuner. Reviews say that even distant stations come in crystal clear and static-free. Owners like the fact that the tuning is analog rather than digital, saying any small sacrifice of convenience is more than balanced out by the ability to fine-tune the knob and pinpoint the exact station you want. And even if there's a channel you can't pick up with the built-in antenna, you can always plug in an external antenna to boost the signal. The only problem users note with the tuner is that in many cases, the numbering on the dial doesn't quite match the actual frequency; for instance, you might have to tune to 106 to pick up a station on 105.
If you like the Model One's good sound and classic styling, but you're looking for something with a few more features, the Sangean WR-2 (Est. $115) is a good choice. Like the Tivoli, it has a wooden case (available in white, black, or walnut), a mono speaker, an aux input, and an easy-to-use tuning dial. However, the Sangean also offers a range of extras not found on the simpler Model One. For starters, it uses digital rather than analog tuning, making it possible to add five AM and five FM preset stations that you can select with the push of a button. It also has a large LCD screen with three brightness levels that displays Radio Data System (RDS) information from station broadcasts, such as song or artist titles. There's also a built-in clock radio, a remote control, and dedicated bass and treble controls — the one feature users were most frustrated not to see on the Model One.
Experts and owners say the WR-2 produces high-quality sound, with warm, full bass and crisp, clear treble — though like the Tivoli, it's a little bass-heavy for some users' tastes. It also gets generally high marks for its AM and FM reception. However, a few owners on Amazon.com say that the WR-2's FM reception can be a bit persnickety and it works much better with the addition of an external antenna. The other feature owners complain about is the alarm clock, which many find frustrating to set or disable.
Among budget table radios — models priced at $100 or less — the Sangean WR-11 (Est. $75) earns the highest ratings. This basic table radio is much like a stripped-down version of the pricier Sangean WR-2. It has the same wooden cabinet and retro styling, but the tuning is analog rather than digital, so there are no preset stations or RDS support. It also lacks the WR-2's LCD screen, alarm clock, and bass/treble control. What it does have is a stereo headphone jack, an auxiliary audio input jack for use with a portable device, and a connector for an external antenna.
In terms of sound quality, this bare-bones radio is rated almost, but not quite, as good as the WR-2. Reviewers describe the sound as crisp, clear, and rich, if perhaps a touch heavy on the bass. However, some reviews note that the sound tends to distort a bit at high volumes. Owners say the analog tuner makes it easy to fine-tune a station and get a clear, static-free signal.
What users like most about this inexpensive table radio, aside from the price, is its ease of use. In fact, several owners at Amazon.com say they bought the WR-11 as a gift for older, technophobic relatives, who were thrilled with its simple, intuitive dial controls. The only quirk reviewers complained about is that the volume control knob is a bit loose and has a tendency to slip slightly under its own weight, even when you're not touching it.
We also found positive feedback for the Insignia HD NS-HDRAD (Est. $50). Unlike most of the table radios in this report, the Insignia offers HD Radio reception, a technology that works by broadcasting a digital signal over the airwaves. In addition to delivering higher sound quality with less static and hiss, this method makes it possible for the same station to broadcast multiple programs at the same time over the same frequency, each using a different digital signal. The catch is that receive these HD Radio signals, you need an HD Radio tuner, and the Insignia is the only table radio we've seen in this price range that includes one.
The NS-HDRAD also includes a variety of other features not usually seen on a budget-priced radio. It has digital tuning, 10 station presets, and RDS support, so you can see title and artist information for the song you're listening to. Other features include an auxiliary audio input, a headphone jack, and two antennas -- a built-in extending antenna and a separate pigtail antenna you can connect if signals are weak. Also, unlike most of the table radios covered in this report, it can run on 4 AA batteries as well as on AC power, so it doubles as a portable radio.
Reviewers at BestBuy.com (Insignia is Best Buy's house brand) say the Insignia radio's sound is good, but not exactly great. Users generally describe the sound as fairly even and well balanced — not powerfully full, but at least not tinny. Some users find it a little too heavy on the bass, while others complain that the low-frequency response is mediocre. Owners typically say the HD technology makes no real difference in sound quality, but it is helpful for finding the additional sub-channels broadcasting over their local airwaves. Owners are also impressed with the FM reception, which they describe as crystal clear, but some of them wish this radio could pick up AM signals as well.
Though value was often panned, the Bose Wave Music System III was widely praised by reviewers and users for its excellent FM reception, superb sound quality, easy-to-use controls, and integrated CD player. However, Bose recently discontinued the Wave Music System III and replaced it with the Wave Music System IV (Est. $500). Feedback on this new Bose table radio is scant -- and exclusively from users, not experts, but initial indications are that it's a worthy successor.
The new Wave Music System IV comes with loads of features. It has an AM/FM tuner with RDS, a built-in CD player, and an auxiliary input for other sources. For an extra $100, you can also add the optional Bluetooth music adapter to stream music wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet.
To date, the Bose Wave Music System IV has only received about 40 reviews on Amazon.com, but they're generally very positive. Owners say the sound is superb, with rich bass and clean midrange, and FM reception is crystal clear. They also love its touch controls, which switch the radio on and off — or trigger the snooze setting when it's in alarm clock mode — with just a touch anywhere on the top of the case. Unlike many table radios that double as alarm clocks, users generally find this one easy to set up. We found similar comments for the Bose Wave Radio IV (Est. $350) which is basically just like the Wave Music System IV but without the CD player.
Overall, both these Bose table radios look like winners for anyone who doesn't mind their high price tags.
Expert reviews -- at least current ones from credible sources -- are hard to come by when it comes to table radios. As a result, to find the best models in all price ranges we turned to user opinions, which are plentiful. Most of the table radios profiled in this report get hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of reviews at sites such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Crutchfield.com and elsewhere. We did find one recent and helpful round up of table radios at TheMasterSwitch.com; it's short on details regarding any testing done, but it had enough useful, credible information that we considered the author's feedback as well.