What the best table radio has
- Good sound quality. You shouldn't expect the same huge, room-filling sound from a table radio as from a full-fledged stereo unit with separate speakers. However, the best radios produce ample bass and clear treble, with no muddiness or distortion.
- Consistent AM/FM reception. Most table radios will pull in strong AM and FM stations with no problem, though it's still a good idea to pay attention to expert and user opinions about how well a model receives signals. If you live in an area where radio reception isn't always solid or you want to listen to a station that's distant and weak, look for a radio that has an above-average tuner or one that lets you plug in an external antenna to boost the reception.
- Ease of use. Even the most elaborate table radio should be simple to use. You should be able to switch it on and off, change stations, find your presets, and adjust the volume with ease. Ease of use is particularly important for table radios with clocks; some models suffer from convoluted alarm controls.
- Compact size. Table radios can be surprisingly large, so much so that they crowd out everything else on a typical nightstand or take up too much space on a busy kitchen countertop. Keep the amount of available space in mind and consider the size of a radio's footprint.
- Input and output ports. Most modern table radios have an auxiliary input so that you can stream tunes from your MP3 player or phone. Some newer models allow you to dock your phone directly in the unit or stream your music via Bluetooth. Many table radios also have headphone jacks for private listening, and some can be connected to an external speaker for bigger sound with better stereo separation.
Know before you go
Choose between digital and analog. Some table radios use old-school analog tuning. Reviewers say this type of tuning is more flexible, allowing you to dial in a hard-to-capture station that might elude a digital tuner. However, digital tuning, though less flexible, offers some perks in terms of convenience. You can scroll through stations with the click of a button, rather than having to precisely turn a knob until you pinpoint a specific frequency. Once you choose a station, a digital tuner will stay there (analog tuners sometimes suffer from "tuner drift"). With digital tuners, you can also store favorite channels in presets that can be instantly recalled. If that feature's important to you, make sure your radio has enough presets to hold all your AM and FM favorites.
Check for compatibility. If you're looking for a table radio that has a dock for your phone or music player, make sure it's compatible with the model you have. Many table radios have auxiliary audio inputs that can connect to your device via its headphone jack for music playback.
Keep an eye on the clock. If you're planning to use your table radio as an alarm clock, make sure to check out the clock features as well as the performance of the radio. Some otherwise great radios get poor overall ratings because the clock is so inconvenient to use. One important feature to check is the LCD display; on some clock radios, it's bright enough to be distracting in a bedroom. Most, but not all, table radios have displays that can be made dimmer or brighter as needed.
Check the warranty policy. Some table radio makers have restrictive policies regarding who can or can't sell their products. For example, if you purchase a Bose radio from an unauthorized dealer either online or in a store, the company says you won't be covered by the manufacturer's warranty.