If high-end luxury and excellent sound are your top priorities, and price and a long list of built-in features aren't a big concern, the Bose Wave Music System (*Est. $500) is hard to beat. Bose helped define this luxury radio market segment with its original Wave Radio. The Wave Music System is similar but adds a front-loading CD player. To achieve the sleekest look possible, designers removed all buttons; the unit is controlled entirely through the remote. Many reviewers suggest purchasing an extra remote (starting at *Est. $10) in case one gets misplaced or stops working.
The Wave Music System has 12 AM/FM station presets, and the alarm can be set to wake up to radio or CD. The tuner is much better than average, with reviewers saying it can pull in stations that elude other radios. You can add extra features at a price with one of the many available upgrade kits. These include the Bose Wave SoundLink adapter (*Est. $150), which adds the ability to stream music files from your computer; the kit and Bose Wave Music System are also sold in a bundle (*Est. $600) . Other options include an iPod dock (*Est. $100) and a multi-CD changer (*Est. $250).
If you leave value out of the picture, the Bose Wave Music System rates well with most reviewers and owners. For example, many of the nearly 300 users altogether who post comments about the three color varieties listed separately at Amazon.com give the Bose system 4 or 5 stars out of 5, most often citing sound quality and ease of use as pluses. However, a significant number of owners are less happy. The most frequent consumer complaints include the inability to access controls except through the remote and problems with the CD player over time. Reviewers also seem puzzled that the Bose doesn't include treble and bass controls, and a number say the system is overpriced.
Among professional reviews, CNET's evaluation seems typical. John Falcone gives the Bose Wave Music System high scores for performance and design, and says its sound has improved over earlier models. He adds that despite its compact size, the Bose "can fill fairly large rooms with sound," and the AM/FM tuner can pull in even hard-to-reach stations.
If you don't need or want a CD player, the Bose Wave Radio II (*Est. $350) is otherwise similar to the Wave Music System. User reviews are much the same, as well. While professional reviews aren't plentiful, the PC World (Australia) Good Gear Guide says that although the Radio II's sound is terrific, you'd have to be "mad" to pay its asking price.
The most expensive Bose offering is the all-in-one Acoustic Wave Music System II (*Est. $1,100) that features an AM/FM radio with digital tuning, a CD player, 12 station presets, headphone jack and Bose Link port. It's marketed as more of a replacement for a stereo system than as a table radio, with Bose trumpeting its performance in larger spaces and even outdoors. Experts, however, say it misses the mark. For example, CNET's Matthew Moskovciak calls the Acoustic Wave II's performance mixed: While it does fine with some types of music, it struggles with others, particularly rock and pop tracks. Design issues are also noted, such as the inconvenient location of the top LCD screen. User reviews are generally positive, although a number of owners echo Moskovciak's sentiments about this system's value and performance.
For those who want sonic performance approaching what's available from a Bose system but at a more wallet-friendly price, there are a number of alternatives -- although some have their own downsides. One option is the Cambridge SoundWorks i765 (*Est. $380) , which reviews say boasts comparable sound quality to the Bose Wave and offers a front-loading CD/MP3/DVD player, iPod dock, 32-character radio station/CD/MP3 display for song titles and artists, automatic nighttime dimmer and 24 station presets. If you don't need a CD/DVD player, the i755 (*Est. $290) is the same radio minus that feature.
Experts at CNET and iLounge.com give the Cambridge SoundWorks i765 generally good grades, but user reviews are more mixed. While many are quite pleased with the sound quality and value, a large number of owners complain about questionable build quality, reliability and a balky CD/DVD player mechanism. Reviews for the i755 are more limited, but users posting at Amazon.com give it nearly as many 1- and 2-star ratings as 4 or 5 stars.
The Cue Radio Model r1 (*Est. $400) draws limited but largely positive feedback. It lacks a CD/DVD player but does sport a fully integrated iPod/iPhone dock, a digital AM/FM tuner with 24 presets and a dual alarm clock. For users who want stereo sound, an available Model r1 bundle (*Est. $480) pairs the radio with the Model s1 Satellite Speaker (*Est. $100 when purchased separately). The similar Outlaw Audio Signature Edition offers custom equalization settings not available in the regular Model r1, although both radios cost the same. CNET's Steve Guttenberg says the added equalization settings work as intended in certain situations -- such as compensating for whether the radio is placed at the center of a table or against a wall -- but aren't essential to the listener's enjoyment.
Guttenberg's highly complimentary review is one of the only ones we spotted, and he calls the Cue Radio Model r1 Outlaw Audio Signature Edition "the new benchmark" for table radios. He does lament the lack of a headphone jack, and says he found the FM reception weaker than expected. Yet on most measures of sound quality, he says the Model r1 is way ahead of its rivals in this price range. The addition of the second speaker only widens that gap, according to his review. User feedback is spotty but similarly positive, with the majority of owners giving the Model r1 high marks for performance and aesthetics. Many even praise its FM reception.
Those with more modest budgets also have some great-sounding options. The Cambridge SoundWorks i525 (*Est. $150) has a built-in iPod dock and digital AM/FM tuning with 16 presets per bandwidth, but no CD player. It also features Smart Volume technology that automatically adjusts system volume based on the broadcast signal. An interesting plus is the Creative brand X-Fi feature, designed to enhance audio through different settings. In writing about the X-Fi's Crystallize setting -- which is said to improve compressed files by restoring information lost in the compression process -- CNET's Jeff Bakalar says, "We certainly could hear an immediate difference using the setting, and for the most part we enjoyed the change." Other X-Fi settings include Virtual Surround and Smart Volume. Bakalar likes that features can be turned on and off, and mixed and matched.
Jeremy Horwitz at iLounge.com says the i525 comes with pluses and minuses. He finds that it provides better sound than some popular table radios with an iPod dock, and in a smaller footprint. Clock features get some criticism, however, and while the FM reception is pretty good, "AM radio performance is nothing to write home about."
A similar but even less expensive option is the Sangean WR-5 Table-Top AM/FM Radio (*Est. $120) , which boasts an integrated iPod dock, digital AM/FM tuning with 12 presets and a passive reflex speaker. This radio isn't as widely reviewed as the Cambridge SoundWorks i525, but feedback from several dozen owners indicates that most are pleased with the Sangean's quality and performance. The majority says the WR-5's sound quality is excellent for the price, and that it's hard to find a better value in terms of features. A smattering of lower ratings come from owners who say their radios arrived with parts missing, but we saw few complaints about reliability or durability.
The Boston Acoustics Duo-i plus (*Est. $250) is a full-featured table radio that mostly scores well on sound quality, usability and value, but recent reports call long-term reliability into question. It's a direct descendant of the much-acclaimed Boston Acoustics Receptor radio, which is now discontinued. The Duo-i plus adds stereo speakers, an iPod dock with video output capability and some new audio technology. It also has some nice features that work especially well for a bedside radio. The easy-to-read LCD screen automatically adjusts to ambient light and starting brightness can be adjusted on a scale of zero to 20. A metal strip atop the dual-alarm clock acts as the snooze bar. Macworld reviewer Dan Frakes says the two alarms, one of which can be set for weekdays and the other for the weekend, "aren't as full-featured as those on some iPod clock radios we've tested -- for example, you can't set each alarm to sound at different times on weekdays and weekends -- but you can choose to wake up to an alarm tone, the radio or your iPod."
FM radio reception on the Duo-i plus rates high with reviewers. Frakes calls it "excellent," and says he's "able to receive both distant stations and weak local stations clearly, rarely hearing hiss or static." He adds that the Duo-i is his "favorite iPod alarm clock," noting that its audio quality and ease of use are worth the relatively high price. CNET's Jeff Bakalar agrees that the Duo-i sets itself apart from competitors with its "incredible ease of use." Owners, however -- especially those who have used the radio for a while -- aren't as pleased. Many complaints about reliability have pulled down the ratings at sites like Amazon.com, where the Duo-i plus gets only 3.3 out of 5 stars.
Essentially a high-performance monaural auxiliary speaker with a built-in analog AM/FM tuner, the Tivoli Audio iPAL (*Est. $220) spans a couple of categories. This repackaged version of the Tivoli Audio PAL (*Est. $220) has identical features and updated -- but still retro -- styling. Users can plug in any number of devices such as an iPod or CD player for audio playback. This versatile unit also sports a single 2.5-inch speaker, a headphone jack and a unique rotary tuning dial that allows for quick and accurate selection of radio stations.
While somewhat pricey for the features and difficult to classify, the iPAL (which stands for Portable Audio Lab) gets high marks from experts and owners. Reviews praise its retro styling, intuitive controls and sound quality. Editors at CNET say its strong points include audio performance and AM/FM reception, going so far as to say, "We almost forgot we were listening to a mono-only speaker." iLounge's team of experts is just as complimentary, awarding the iPAL a "recommended" label. One drawback they note, however, is that its monaural design isn't ideal for stereo devices like an iPod. While this may be a concern for audiophiles, most owners don't seem bothered by the inherent limitations of the iPAL's single speaker; after all, few table radios offer much in the way of meaningful stereo separation. Well over 100 users at Amazon.com give the iPAL a solid 4.3 stars, with most complimenting its rich sound and compact footprint. A few owners say it's a good buy as a stand-alone radio, even if you don't want to limit your iPod to a monaural output.