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
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 (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 (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 (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
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
The main rival to these Sangean
radios, the (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
Cheap table radios provide decent sound on a budget
Among budget table radios
— models priced at $100 or less — the (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
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 (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 (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
Bose is the choice among high-end table radios
For those who want the very
best of everything -- including the best radio -- the (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
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
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.