Worldwide reviews for a worldwide audience
Battle of the Radios
Boston Acoustic MicroSystem CD
The Bose Wave
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Opera is a medium to be seen and heard, and while live performances and high-definition theater and TV broadcasts satisfy our full senses, much of what we hear of opera comes from a radio or a radio-CD player. It’s what we hear when we’re listening from the quiet of our homes that conjures all the rest; and what we hear depends on what device we’re using to receive the sound.
This month we thought we’d take a look at three contenders for the “Best Sound” in radios to determine what actually sounds best when listening to classical/operatic music.
We listened to a Bose Wave, a Cambridge Soundworks and a Boston Acoustic MicroSystem CD radio and feel pretty comfortable rating them accordingly. Remember, we're not rating the radio as much as the sound system in each.
These high performance radios can be pricey, with Bose and Boston Accoustic hovering near $500 and Cambridge Soundworks hovering over the $350 mark. We note as an aside, if you don't need the CD, Boston Accoustics does have a nice clock radio with great sound (The Receptor) that weighs in at a very reasonable $120. We really like that radio.
All three radios are available with CD, MP3 and iPod capability built in; a feature that offers an advantage when what you want to listen to is a CD. All three operate reliably, although Cambridge Soundworks has a problem with its AM circuitry (a problem that I have brought to their attention on multiple occasions to no avail, where the sound level falls off suddenly and becomes muffled. There is definitely a part or design problem here, as I have experienced it on three different C.S. radios I owned. No such problem on FM, though). All come in different colors ranging from charcoal, platinum to pearl white, and each has a well-designed website with particulars.
All three radios function equally as far as the technical aspects are concerned. All have digital displays and all store stations for ease of use -- and as noted the newer versions have access for iPod and MP3. Bose Wave, on table models, locates its function buttons and CD changer on top of the radio; Cambridge Soundworks locates these buttons and a turn-knob on the front panel with a front loading CD changer, and Boston Acoustic, with a drop down digital readout, has a hidden CD slot located on the front behind the display which also holds a remote device, a nice touch, espacially if you are prone to misplacing the remote.
As for sensitivity, this is a curious problem with both Bose Wave and Cambridge Soundworks. Both radios seems to be overly sensitive, making some signal reception even in major markets (around Boston anyway) difficult. Signals can overlap and be muffled. Regardless of whether you use the wire antenna that is supplied with the units or the internal antenna, reception is sometimes very tricky, if not impossible, as the radios pull in some stations almost on top of one another. On both radios we found ourselves constantly having to move the antenna to receive the FM channel we wanted. In fairness, this only occurred on one or two stations ( the ones we wanted, of course), while the rest came in just fine. But, for $350 - $500+ this problem should not be a problem at all. We found that the Boston Acoustic MicroSystem brought in the most reliable, crisp and clear signal wherever it was placed, and we never even unrolled the wire antenna.
All three are very basic designed radios with no special attention given to jazzing things up a bit, which suits us just fine. They’re basic; they’re solid; they’re functional, although Boston Acoustic’s MicrosSystem did have a slightly more sleek design.
Well, this is what it’s all about – the sound.
We found both the Bose Wave and Cambridge Soundworks radios too heavy on the bass end with an almost non-existent reach on the higher frequencies. This is a problem, especially if you play the radio or CD at low levels. Forget about hearing cymbals, castanets, or any other instrument that is clearly present when you listen to a live performance. These radios miss that sound and need some serious retooling on the higher end to really be classified as “tops” in the field. The Cambridge Soundworks radio did seem to edge out the Bose Wave on the higher end, but not significantly. But, then, any improvement over the overpowering bass of Bose Wave is a plus.
The best overall sound for radio was not the Bose Wave, nor even the better performing Cambridge Soundworks (even with its AM problems), but the Boston Acoustic MicroSystem, that seemed to have a better balance between high, mid-range and low frequencies and, thus, made listening a far greater pleasure. Boston Acoustic gets our “Best Bet” in this category, even if it, too, could use a tweak on its higher end sound. A sub-woofer is nice, but tweeters are a vital range in the listening experience, and need more emphasis in all designs.
Oddly, when listening to CD, I get a much better sound from a$50 speaker combination purchased in a regular retail store. The sub-woofer always comes with tweeters, and the sound is always complete. Why can't the high end radios figure this out without being told. They're nice radios, but way overrated and all in need of sound retooling.