Table Radio Reviews

By: Tara Tuckwiller on October 23, 2017

Editor's Note:
For terrific sound and reliable operation, Sangean radios rise to the top in this year's reviews. If you have the room and the budget, the Sangean WR-50P is a top pick. If you lack one, or both, give the Sangean WR-11 a listen. And if price is no object, the Bose delivers sound quality than few other table radios can match.

Sangean WR-50P Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Tuner -- Digital Clock -- Yes Dimensions (w,h,d) -- 5.04" x 8.39" x 8.27"

Best table radio

Unlike most table radios, the Sangean WR-50P delivers true stereo sound, thanks to its separate companion speaker. It's also crammed with goodies, including Bluetooth audio streaming, remote control, digital tuning with plenty of station presets, and dual alarms with snooze and sleep timer. Still -- and most importantly -- it's beautifully sleek and super-simple to use, reviewers say, with solid signal reception.

Buy for $199.89
Sangean WR-11 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Tuner -- Analog Clock -- No Dimensions (w,h,d) -- 9.45" x 4.69" x 6.61"

Best value table radio

The Sangean WR-11 is a solid AM/FM radio at a hard-to-beat price. Experts and users say it produces excellent sound quality that rivals some of its more expensive competitors. You'll miss out on some frills, but its old-fashioned styling and easy-to-use analog controls are a hit with those put off by radios with complicated settings and controls.

Buy for $83.53
Bose Wave Music System IV Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Tuner -- Digital Clock -- Yes Dimensions (w,h,d) -- 14.6" x 4.2" x 8.7"

Luxury table radio with CD player

The Bose Wave Music System IV is the Cadillac of table radios. It has loads of options for music listening: an AM/FM tuner with RDS, a CD player, and an auxiliary input for your MP3 player or phone. Reviews say the Bose delivers superb room-filling sound, crystal-clear reception, and easy-to-use touch controls. Dual alarms gently wake you with rising volume, and you can snooze by touching the radio's top.

Buy for $499.00

Table radios for every budget

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 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 the best radios can be terrific. One listen to any of the radios highlighted in this report and you'll realize that these aren't your parents' clock radios.

The best radios deliver top-quality sound at a reasonable price

Most tabletop radios are one-piece boxes, so it's hard to achieve the stereo sound separation you can get from two-speaker setups. That's what makes the Sangean WR-50P (Est. $185) so appealing according to radio reviews. It includes a second speaker, and a six-foot cable to connect it with.

"The dual-cabinet design (and its wider soundstage) is what really makes the WR-50 worth the premium," says Dennis Burger at Wirecutter.com, naming it his upgrade pick among table radios. "This makes it a great choice if you're among the rare breed of tabletop radio shoppers primarily interested in music performance."

The WR-50P system consists of two sleek, matte black wood boxes -- the main unit, and the companion speaker -- each 5 inches wide and a bit over 8 inches tall and deep. The main unit includes a dimmable LCD clock/display, two knobs (one tuning, one volume) and two rows of tiny round physical buttons (for radio station presets and other controls). A remote control is included.

Despite its simplicity, it's "utterly packed with features," Burger says -- including Bluetooth with NFC pairing (so you can stream audio from your phone etc.), digital tuning with Radio Data System (RDS) information (such as artist and song title), dual alarms with snooze, and a sleep timer. But really, it's the sound quality that sets this radio apart.

"The best sounding table radio I have heard," declares Jay Allen, a radio producer and lifelong radio hobbyist who blogs at RadioJayAllen.com. "I was instantly impressed by its big, full sound quality and with the stereo speakers the sound was excellent by table radio standards."

A flip-up whip antenna makes for good AM/FM reception (there's also a jack for an external AM antenna). Allen appreciates the easy physical controls on the remote -- no wading through menus. There's even a jack to connect your own subwoofer.

The WR-50P hasn't amassed a huge amount of owner feedback, but what's there is overwhelmingly positive. Nearly 30 owners at Amazon.com award it and the Sangean WR-50 (Est. $130), which is the same radio but without the second speaker, an overall score of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

For a less expensive (and more compact) table radio, consider the Sangean WR-2 (Est. $120). It lacks a second speaker (and there's no way to add one) and Bluetooth audio streaming, but this one-piece radio still offers some of the same conveniences as the WR-50P: auxiliary jack for a phone or MP3 player, digital tuning, remote control, single alarm with snooze and sleep timer, and an external AM antenna jack.

It sounds great and gets good reception, too. "My 'crown jewel' bedside table radio," radio enthusiast Jeff McMahon calls the WR-2 on his blog, Herculodge. At New York's North Country Public Radio, chief engineer "Radio Bob" Sauter recommends the WR-2 as one of the "few great radios out there."

Radio reviewers love the WR-2's handsome, hefty wood-and-metal build (available in walnut, black or white). Lunchbox-sized, it's small enough for a nightstand. The WR-2 brushed-metal face houses a single 3-inch round mono speaker (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), a dimmable digital clock/display and the radio's controls.

Experts and owners that say that the WR-2 is the best radio do so because they claim it produces high-quality sound, with warm, full bass and crisp, clear treble — though it's a little bass-heavy for some users' tastes. It also gets generally high marks for its AM and FM reception in radio reviews. However, a few owners on Amazon.com say that the WR-2's 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 several find frustrating to set (there are five steps, McMahon points out) and ridiculously difficult to snooze (four steps).

The main rival to these Sangean radios, the Tivoli Audio Model One (Est. $140), was once the darling of reviewers -- but lately, owners complain that their Model Ones started sounding terrible or experiencing "tuner drift" (the old-fashioned analog tuner won't stay on the station) within a few years.

"We also found the Model One's imprecise radial tuning dial a bit frustrating," Wirecutter.com's Burger says. "Tuning to 95.1-FM, a popular classic rock station, required us to situate the dial between 94 and 95. Likewise, 95.5-FM, another local classic rock station, was located at precisely 95 on the Tivoli's dial." Throughout the weeklong test, the Model One's tuner "ended up drifting significantly," so users would have to fiddle with the dial every day to regain their favorite station.

It's too bad, some unhappy owners say, because the Tivoli Model One absolutely nails it in most other ways. With its handmade wood cabinet and analog tuning, it looks like it dropped straight through a time warp from the 1960s. The only modern feature is an auxiliary input through which you can plug in your MP3 player or phone. Otherwise, it's pretty bare-bones: one knob to change the frequency, one to adjust the volume, and one to switch from AM to FM or "aux."

Reviewers rave about the sound quality -- at least at first. Listeners consistently describe the Model One's out-of-the-box sound as warm, rich, and room-filling, with clear treble and full bass (though a little too much bass for some owners, and there's no knob to adjust the bass/treble balance). But after a few years, several owners complain that the Model One's sound disintegrates, in some cases with a recurring thumping noise.

Some owners also 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. However, several -- like Burger -- say the numbering on the dial doesn't quite match the actual frequency; for instance, they have to tune to 106 to pick up a station on 105. Bottom line: The Tivoli takes a back seat to the more reliable Sangean based on the most recent expert and owner feedback.

Cheap table radios provide decent sound on a budget

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 an LCD screen, alarm clock, and bass/treble control. It does have a stereo headphone jack, an auxiliary audio input jack for use with a portable device, and a connector for an external antenna.

That said, simpler can actually be better: The WR-11 beats fancier radios to win Wirecutter.com's test. "The Sangean WR-11 was an easy pick for our favorite tabletop radio," Burger writes. "Friends and family members who dropped by during testing couldn't keep their hands off of it. Nearly everyone felt an instantaneous affinity for the look and feel of the WR-11."

In terms of sound quality, this bare-bones radio is rated almost, but not quite, as good as pricier Sangean radios. Reviewers describe the sound as crisp, clear, and rich, if perhaps a touch heavy on the bass. However, some radio 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. "Many radios suffer from frequency drift, which causes them to go out of tune over time, but the WR-11 stood its ground," Burger says.

What users like most about this 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 WR-11 is a horizontally-shaped radio: "Imagine three small flat-rate Priority Mail boxes in a stack and you'll get a good mental image of its size," Burger says. If you prefer a vertical shape, try the Sangean WR-15 (Est. $80). "Basically, turn the WR-11 on its side, reposition the controls a bit, and you've got the WR-15. The latter features a semicircular tuning dial and larger tuning knob, but otherwise, it's pretty much an exact clone of our top pick," Burger says. The only real difference? The WR-15 has a dedicated aux input selector (so you can switch over to radio while leaving your auxiliary device plugged in), while the WR-11 doesn't (plugging in an auxiliary device instantly mutes the radio).

Even cheaper, the Crosley Solo (Est. $60) is Wirecutter.com's budget pick. "This ultra-affordable little radio looks like it was nabbed straight off the set of Happy Days," Burger says. The design is pure midcentury modern: The wood case sports its speaker on top, and the sleek silver-tone front includes just three unadorned knobs and a round chromed tuner dial that looks like the altimeter from a 1950s airplane.

A pop-up whip antenna helps with FM reception, although "we noticed a tendency for the Solo to sound a little hissy with all but the strongest FM signals," Burger says. "But we loved the accuracy of its tuning dial; like the Sangean, a little light lets you know when you've locked onto a station at full strength." Most owners agree, awarding it 4 out of 5 stars over nearly 200 reviews at Amazon.com -- although some owners do complain that the Crosley Solo doesn't pick up stations well or hold its tuner position. The Crosley does have a dedicated auxiliary input selector, so you can leave your phone plugged in and still listen to the radio. 

Bose is the choice among high-end table radios

For those who want the very best of everything -- including the best radio -- the Bose Wave Music System IV (Est. $500) lives up to its luxury price tag, reviews say. "Its modus operandi: a one piece system to play your CDs, the radio and wake you up in the morning … for £600," writes Gordon Kelly in his review of the previous Bose Wave Music System III for Britain's TrustedReviews.com. (The System IV is identical to the System III, except for a slightly different-looking front panel; Bose says it "has the same acclaimed performance, now updated with a contemporary design.")

With the Bose, you'll suffer none of the annoyances of cheaper table radios. AM/FM reception is superb. And yes, the relatively compact Bose (about the size of a big dictionary) really can fill a whole room with sound. Even the alarm clock is fabulous, owners say: Independent dual alarms wake you gently, with rising volume, and you can snooze simply by touching the radio's top.

Auxiliary input for MP3 players, RDS capability, a built-in CD player -- all are included. The big thing that's missing is Bluetooth connectivity, and a Bluetooth adapter, which was a $100 add-on appears to no longer be available. Other than that, the main downside is the "eye watering" price tag, Kelly says. He points out several luxury phone/MP3 docks that sound better and cost less -- although none include a CD player or AM/FM radio receiver.

If you want AM/FM radio, and you want the best, Bose is the only game in town. Luckily, owners say, it doesn't disappoint.

Expert & User Review Sources

Wirecutter.com does the best radio review, pitting six top-rated radios against each other in a weeklong test. We also found hands-on radio reviews at the Herculodge blog (by radio enthusiast Jeff McMahon), RadioJayAllen.com (by enthusiast Jay Allen) and TrustedReviews.com. Public radio stations, including New York's North Country Public Radio and WKHR near Cleveland, sometimes recommend good table radios. But most table radio reviews are written by radio owners themselves: Popular radios get hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of reviews at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.

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