Audio

Best internet radio 2020: Stream radio from around the world from £50


In the UK, radio is thriving. Almost nine in ten people in the UK listen to it at least once a week and, despite the rise of podcasts and streaming, we still average nearly 21 hours of listening a week.

But what if you can’t get a good reception, or can’t find a station that suits you? An internet radio could be the perfect answer. These clever devices stream radio over Wi-Fi rather than relying on an old-fashioned aerial, so they’ll work anywhere where you have a decent wireless signal.

What’s more, they can stream stations from all around the world – so you can still listen to BBC Radio, Kiss, Classic FM and the rest, or try out world music from Brazil and Mali, classical broadcasts from Berlin and Vienna, talk radio from New York and country music straight from Nashville.

With a wealth of choice out there, it can be tricky picking the right internet radio for you, but that’s where we come in. Below, you’ll find a list of what we deem the best internet radios around, followed by a buying guide explaining the various types of internet radio and providing you with some tips about what features to look out for.

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Editor’s picks

The best internet radios you can buy

1. Pure Elan IR3: The best budget internet radio

Price: £60 | Buy now from Amazon

Internet radios have tended to be big and bulky, but the Pure Elan IR3 is the lightweight little wonder you can take wherever you go. You can power it from the mains or four AA batteries, and browse for stations using the smooth-moving dial and 2.8in colour screen. As you might expect, setting up your Wi-Fi and searching for channels isn’t always easy using the limited controls, but you can also control the radio using the Undok or Pure Select smartphone apps. What’s more, the Elan IR3 will also work as a Spotify Connect speaker if you have an active subscription, or even as a streaming output for a DLNA-compliant server.

Sound quality is limited by the size and the 3in, 4W speaker, but some clever tuning on Pure’s part means you get more oomph than you might expect. It won’t power a party like a decent Bluetooth speaker, but it’s fine for the kitchen or the bedside table. While Bluetooth isn’t an option on the basic IR3 model, a £10 upgrade to the IR5 adds it to the mix.

Key specs – Type: Portable radio; Output: 4W; Display: 2.8in colour TFT; Controls: Volume/Select dial, Source, 4x Presets/Playback controls, Back, Menu, On/Off; Remote control: No; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi; Ports and sockets: 3.5mm line in; Dimensions: 200 x 115 x 53mm


2. Amazon Echo Dot: Best compact internet radio

Price: £50 | Buy now from Amazon

The Echo Dot doesn’t look much like a radio, but Alexa comes with the ability to play any station in TuneIn’s massive directory, and most of the UK’s biggest broadcasters offer dedicated skills as well. Discovering new stations isn’t all that easy as there’s no screen, but the newer, larger third-generation Dot sounds significantly better than the old model, with more detail and a hint of bass – it’s fine for talk radio and background music. Plus, should you want more presence and volume you can easily connect an external speaker via the 3.5mm line out socket, or over Bluetooth. If you’re just looking for a cheap and easy way into internet radio, the Echo Dot takes some beating – and of course, you also get all the other benefits of the Echo platform, including music streaming from Amazon Music, Spotify and more.

Key specs – Type: Smart speaker; Output: Not specified; Display: None; Controls: Voice, Volume Up/Down, Action, Mic mute; Remote control: No; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth A2DP; Ports and sockets: micro-USB power, 3.5mm line out; Dimensions: 99 x 99 x 43mm


3. Sharp DR-I470 Pro: The best mid-range internet radio

Price: £120 | Buy now from Amazon

The DR-I470 Pro is basically a stereo version of the excellent DR-450 DAB radio, with a few design tweaks and internet streaming. Unsurprisingly, it has the same strengths, including a more solid, wood-heavy construction, good DAB and now Wi-Fi reception, and a big, beefy sound. In fact, it’s even more capable with rock, jazz and classical than its single-speaker cousin, and you’ll struggle to find anything that sounds better for less.

It’ll also double as a Bluetooth speaker – with more power and a wider soundstage this time around – and, with Wi-Fi onboard, it also supports Spotify Connect. You get a headphone out and an auxiliary input at the rear.

The price you pay to get a decent tone at this price point is that ease of use isn’t great. Neither the onboard controls nor the bundled remote seem intuitive, while entering the Wi-Fi password is unnecessarily slow and onerous. More seriously, searching and browsing for internet radio stations is a drag, even using the accompanying smartphone app. This awkward interface takes a little shine off the Sharp, but set some presets and you can sit back and enjoy that sound.

Key specs – Type: Compact radio; Output: 30W; Display: 2.4in TFT display; Controls: Volume dial, Mode, Menu, Standby, Sleep, Dimmer, Preset, left and right; Remote control: Yes; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR; Ports and sockets: 3.5mm headphone, 3.5mm line in; Dimensions: 354 x 185 x 145mm


4. Roberts Revival iStream 3: The best portable internet radio

Price: £196 | Buy now from Amazon

The Roberts Revival iStream 3 might be the manufacturer’s perfect combination of vintage looks and high-tech features, putting internet radio, DAB+ and Bluetooth into the leather-clad body of the classic Revival. The old dog is packed with new tricks, including built-in charging for the six AA batteries, plus built-in streaming for Deezer, Amazon Music, Tidal and Spotify Connect. It’ll even take voice control if you have an Echo device. The interface can be slightly fiddly at times, despite the twin dials and straightforward buttons, but you can also browse stations and set presets using the Undok smartphone app. And if the range of gorgeous colours doesn’t get you, Robert’s trademark warm and detailed sound should. Voices have authority and music sounds punchy and dynamic, making it a great listen whether you like podcasts, drama, stripped-back Americana or spacey electronica. You won’t find anything that looks or sounds better without splashing out much more cash.

Key specs – Type: Portable radio; Output: Not specified; Display: 2.4in colour TFT; Controls: Volume and Select/Snooze dials, Source, Mode, Menu, Info, Preset, Skip back/forward, Alarm; Remote control: No; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Ports and sockets: 3.5mm line in, 3.5mm line out; Dimensions: 255 x 160 x 110mm


5. Revo SuperConnect: Most stylish internet radio

Price: £300 | Buy now from Amazon

This high-end internet radio boasts an eye-catching vintage style. The black, white and walnut versions all look beautiful, and they don’t sound bad either, thanks to a single balanced-mode radiator driver that dishes out a warm sound with crisp highs and lashings of bass. The controls are nicely straightforward: you can either use a small joystick-style control to make your way around the sumptuous OLED display, or use the supplied remote control. The SuperConnect also makes a great Bluetooth speaker, complete with high-quality aptX streaming, and you can stream from Spotify and your own music library via DLNA. It’s an expensive bit of kit, but the marriage of sound and style is hard to resist.

Key specs – Type: Compact radio; Output: 15W; Display: 2.7in OLED display; Controls: Volume dial, Mode, Menu, Info, Alarm, 3x playback controls, 8x preset buttons; Remote control: Yes; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX; Ports and sockets: Stereo phono outputs, optical digital output, 3.5mm headphone, 3.5mm line in; Dimensions: 270 x 180 x 120mm


6. Ruark R2 Mk3: The best audiophile internet radio

Price: £419 | Buy now from Amazon

Audiophiles love Ruark’s kit, both for its superb style and excellent performance – and the R2 Mk3 makes an instant impression, with its stunning handcrafted wooden cabinet and curvy lines. The text-only OLED display shows a clock when you’re not using it to select sources or find a new station, and the multi-function RotoDial makes it easy to track down and pick new online stations or switch to a DLNA or Bluetooth source. You can also stream Spotify playlists directly to the R2 Mk3 via Spotify Connect. The sound is superb, with much more space, volume and richness than you’d expect from a relatively compact tabletop unit, lending real presence to just about any kind of music. It comes in walnut, white and soft black, and if you’re feeling flush, you can even pair multiple units for a multi-room system.

Key specs – Type: Tabletop radio; Output: 20W; Display: 3 line OLED display; Controls: RotoDial controller, power; Remote control: Yes; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX; Ports and sockets: 2 x stereo phono in, 3.5mm headphone, 3.5mm line-in, USB; Dimensions: 340 x 185 x 120mm


7. Roberts Stream 67: The best high-end internet radio

Price: £600 | Buy now from Amazon

The Stream 67 is less an internet radio than an all-in-one audio system, packing DAB+, streaming services, Bluetooth and even a CD player into one rather lovely looking wooden box. It’s a big unit, almost half a metre wide and satisfyingly weighty too, with well-designed controls on top and a square 3.5in OLED display front and centre. Connectivity’s covered by 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a 100Mbits/sec Ethernet port, and Roberts throws in a chunky remote for armchair listening, though you can also use the Undok app. It’s a fantastic radio for exploring the huge, global range of internet stations – not to mention Podcasts – and brilliant for streaming songs from Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer and Spotify, making the most of Tidal’s higher-resolution streams. However, while the sound is fabulous the bass can be overpowering and there’s a slight lack of space and treble detail – areas where the cheaper Ruark R2 comes out on top. It’s a superb luxury audio system with enough power to replace your hi-fi, as long as you don’t expect the last word in audiophile tone.

Key specs – Type: Portable radio; Output: Not specified; Display: 3.5in OLED; Controls: Volume and Select dials, Alarm, Mode, Menu, Info, Preset, Playback controls, Mode; Remote control: Yes; Wireless connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Ports and sockets: 100Mbits/sec Ethernet, 3.5mm line in, 3.5mm line out; Dimensions: 455 x 285 x 160mm


8. Ruark R5: The best-sounding all-in-one system with internet radio

Price: £995 | Buy now from Amazon

If you like the look of the Roberts Stream 67 above but are craving Ruark’s renowned audio quality, then the R5 is the all-in-one system for you. Its internet radio tuner provides access to a huge array of stations worldwide and you can set up to 10 presets to give you quick access to your favourites. There’s also a DAB, DAB+ and FM tuner if you want to access the radio that way and a huge selection of physical ports, including an Ethernet port, optical input and USB input port that supports a variety of codecs. If you own a turntable you can hook that up to the R5 via its phone inputs and there’s even a slot-loading CD player.

Sonically, the R5 is superb. Two 75mm full-range drivers combine with an integrated subwoofer to deliver detailed audio no matter what you’re listening to. Ruark calls the R5 a “high fidelity music system” and it’s exactly that: no other entry on this list can compete with how well it reproduces sound. If you’re looking for a simple internet radio, then the R5 is undoubtedly expensive overkill, but if you want internet radio as part of a well-connected, great-looking and fantastic-sounding package, this is the system for you.

Read our full Ruark R5 review for details

Key specs – Type: All-in-one system; Output: 90W; Display: High contrast OLED display; Controls: RotoDial controller, power; Remote control: Yes; Wireless connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi , Bluetooth aptX HD; Ports and sockets: phono input (RCA), digital optical (TOSLINK), line input and line out (RCA), ethernet, USB-A, 3.5mm stereo jack headphone output; Dimensions: 520 x 140 x 300mm


How to choose the best internet radio for you

What types of internet radio are there?

You don’t actually need a dedicated internet radio receiver to tune into your favourite stations over the internet. There are plenty of apps and websites that let you listen on your smartphone, tablet or computer. However, a dedicated internet radio is more intuitive and convenient to use, and may well have better sound quality.

The units themselves come in a range of different form factors. There are smaller units with built-in clocks for the bedroom, as well as portable and tabletop designs, and larger stereo systems. Naturally, different designs have different strengths. The smaller units tend to be mono rather than stereo, although sound quality can still be very good – let’s face it, we frequently listen to music through mono Bluetooth speakers these days.

Portable models also tend to be more compact and able to run off batteries, while larger units have the potential for a bigger, warmer sound. Whether you want something you can carry around the house or a static unit to slot into an existing hi-fi system, there’s an internet radio to suit.

The other key question is how you control the device. Does it use buttons, a dial or a touchscreen to switch stations or adjust the volume? How easy is it to browse through the available streams and find new music? How many preset favourites can you store, and how are they accessed?

What other features should I look out for?

Many internet radios can double up as a standard Bluetooth speaker, which is useful if you don’t already own one. A growing number now support other streaming services as well, either through Spotify Connect or a direct connection to Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and others. Some even stream tracks from an iTunes or DLNA-compliant NAS or media server in the home.

Finally, remember to check the physical connections. A USB port or SD card slot gives you the option of streaming tracks from your own media collection. Phono or jack outputs let you hook up to an external amplifier for extra volume or quality – and a headphone output can be handy for late-night listening.

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