Myine Ira Wi-Fi Internet Radio Tuner
SRP: $149 (but available online for much less)
We recently reviewed the Livio Pandora Wi-Fi Radio. While it is the least expensive way to conveniently get Pandora.com programming, and also has a small amp and speaker in it, the makers of the Livio wanted to provide a more basic, lower cost Wi-Fi tuner for those who would be feeding the huge variety of Internet audio signals directly into their home audio or AV systems and didn’t need the speaker or the Pandora programming feature. The Ira is it.
The tuner is very small (only 5.5” by 3/5”), with only a display screen centered on it. Its operation must be entirely controlled from a very tiny remote. There is a wall wart, plus a stereo RCA patch cable to attach to the rear of the Ira with the other end going to the input on your home audio system. It is thoughtful of Myine to include RCA jacks at the back of the unit. (The Livio has only a stereo mini-plug.) You need a router feeding a home network in order to use any Wi-Fi radio, but the idea of a separate radio is that you don’t need a computer or laptop. It’s much more convenient and flexible with both radios than listening to Internet webcasters via your computer. You can even connect the tuner to your boombox if it has stereo RCA inputs. You can then enjoy free music, news and sports from all over the world – Ira comes loaded with over 11,000 Internet stations from just about every country, organized clearly by genre, location, country, etc. There are also hundreds of podcasts on a variety of subjects. (Of course you can’t save them on your computer and listen to them later, you have to listen at the time you access them on the Ira.)
The small size of the Ira makes it easy to fit into any shelves of components. However, the problem is that the remote is so tiny and the screen rather small as well, so that there is no way you can sit down in your sweet spot and operate the Ira from a distance – you need to be very close to it. Perhaps those used to punching things into their iPods and smartphones will find operating the Ira to go smoothly, but frankly I found the buttons very tiny and that they had to be pressed extremely hard to navigate thru the options on the Ira screen. It has the usual joystick layout of top/bottom/left/right arrows, plus Enter in the center, but reduced to a very small size. The volume goes from 0 to 20 and I left it at the 20 setting for feeding my audio system.
One hurdle to get over when you first use the Ira is accessing your home network and storing its password (if you have one, and you should). Fortunately, I used the all-digits number of my emergency cellphone (Myine suggested using my regular phone number, which seems like a bad choice for a secure password.) I say fortunately, because entering the password one character at a time using two tiny screens on the display, is simplified by only using numbers. But it’s still cumbersome.
If you listen to a lot of Internet stations, the Ira might be just the thing for you. You select Internet Radio, then Station List. The next display has a number of options: Location, Genre, Search Stations (which requires entering everything one character at time again), Popular stations, and New Stations. Using the last-named, I discovered a new French ambient station I liked, Zen Net. When you hear a station you would like to return to as a favorite, you press and hold the Star button and it goes on an easily-accessed list of up to 40 favorites with a star appearing next to it on the display. Using the Info button on the remote you get several screens of useful information on each station, including who owns it, sometimes a bit of its history, its codec (MP3 or WMA), its sampling rate and frequency and even its reliability. I found it frustrating that so many stations use extremely low sampling rates such as 54 Kbps. It’s OK for talk and news but for music it is disasterous. I was listening to a fine interview with guitarist John Williams on BBC Three, but being only at 54 Kbps, when he played some selections on his guitar the sound was horrible – not even like a guitar! I only wanted to listen to those stations using at least 128 Kbps and 44.1K but there are not that many of them. I found only one station using 192 Kbps sampling – the Art Institute of Chicago – but unfortunately it was the final edition of their podcast series which they have discontinued! I found a few different stations loaded into the Ira than the Livio Pandora, but generally they were similar. One other problem with certain stations (as well as Pandora) is a lack of constant levels between some selections; there seem to be more variations between loud and soft tracks than with terrestrial broadcast stations (but those likely use even more compression).
I compared some of our local public radio stations on standard FM with their signals on HD Radio as well as on both Wi-Fi radios. I found that both standard FM and HD Radio were superior to the Internet transmissions of the same stations – cleaner and wider range. In fact our local jazz station was better via HD Radio than FM; it’s been proven that the in-band HD Radio technology compromises the sonic quality of the FM in order to broadcast digitally on the same frequency. However, some of the netcasters who use higher sampling rates sound very good, at least for background music listening. They have almost infinite bandwidth, which aids fidelity even though the sampling rate may be low. And of course there is no static or multipath.
I found no difference in sonics between the Livio Radio and the MYINE Ira; both use 24-bit DACs to enhance their audio output over that of many computers. I did find the Livio much easier to operate than the Ira due to its knob which quickly cycles thru options on its screen and is depressed to select options, as well as controlling volume thru the built-in speaker. I also missed the Livio’s Pandora.com access, which brings me programming from nine different personal stations for which I have specifically selected programming, with no announcements, and better fidelity than most of the Internet stations.
Still, the MYINE Ira would be a good choice for those wanting to add Internet station reception to their home audio or AV system, without spending much and with only a minimum of space taken up. Just don’t misplace the miniscule remote or you’ll be out of business!
– John Sunier