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Fin Mac Cool
Reg review Griffin Technology has been offering a nice line in Mac accessories for over ten years now, but it's only in the iPod era that its add-ons have become seriously cool. Its iTrip - a beautifully designed, AA battery-sized FM radio transmitter - has become one of the key accessories every iPod user should own.
But Griffin hasn't ignored the Mac - or, now the iPod is cross-platform, Windows machines - and radioShark sees the company bringing its new-found design savvy and product nous to the desktop.
The 'radio' part of the name gives away the device's function. As for 'shark', well, it's fin-shaped. You've got to sculpt a casing one way or another, and the curvy, 18cm high, 1.5cm thick fin is a darn sight more interesting to look at than an oblong box.
Oh, and 'radioShark' sounds a bit like 'radioShack', geddit?!?
Said fin is stylishly cast in shiny (great?) white iMac/iPod-friendly plastic, mounted on a shiny chrome base. Each side sports a cool-blue backlit wave design. The look may be iPod-inspired, but Griffin hasn't shown any less attention to detail. There's a rubber pad on the base, for instance, so it doesn't slide around or fall over. The unit has its own earphone socket and, best of all, it's bus-powered, so you only need one cable.
But the hardware's job is simply to look good and suck down signals - the real work is done by radioShark's desktop software. It has a suitable iTunes-esque brushed metal look with LED-style buttons on either side of the main tuner display.
The software will scan up and down the frequencies - both odd and even FM, ensuring support out of the box for North American and European stations - in the AM and FM bands. Or you can drag the slider to your chosen station's frequency if you know it. Any station can be saved as a preset. You have to add the name - alas there's no support for station ID data, but that's presumably because Europe and North America use different specifications, RDS and RDBS, respectively.
There's a ten-band equaliser too, but radioShark's real joy is its TiVo-style time-shift and scheduled recording features. Time-shifting, as anyone with a PVR knows, allows you to suspend live programming. radioShark starts recording as soon as you hit the Pause button. Push Play when the interruption's over, and you carry on listening from where you left off. Click the track-skip button and you'll zip straight to where the broadcast is really at.
You can buffer as much programming as you wish - it all depends on how much free hard drive space you have - and record to uncompressed AIFF or iTunes-friendly compressed AAC formats. It's simple and it works. Windows users' recordings are saved as WAV files.
So does the scheduled recording option. Pick start and end times, on the same or different days, select your station and recording format, and you're away. Regular programming is catered for with hourly, daily or weekly repeat-recording options. You can line up a whole series of scheduled recordings, and the software is smart enough to check through the list and warn you of timing clashes.
The same window provides a second pane, which lists and allows you to play recordings you've made, but you can play the files back in any other audio app if you wish. You can even add files to the list, including MP3s and AACs (non-DRM), if you care to.
My initial verdict of the radioShark was great looks, shame about the sound. Listening in on my PowerBook G4, the sound coming through the speakers was distorted, as if the device wasn't quite tuned into the station. Poor reception? Well, a Sony transistor radio right next to the radioShark tuned to exactly the same frequency sounded just fine.
But so did the fin when I plugged in a pair of earphones into its own audio port. The sound was great: crisp, clear and distortion free.
What I'd done was set the radioShark's own software-implemented volume control to maximum to allow me to use the Mac's master volume control. Turned up too high, the radioShark's output was breaking up. Knocking back the volume fixed the problem, but I'd prefer not have to juggle two volume controls to get the best results - radioShark should simply provide sufficient output to sound fine at whatever level the Mac's output is set to.
radioShark's other drawback is that appears to be a mono device - it doesn't pick up stereo broadcasts. Stereo reception requires a good, dedicated antenna, and it's obviously proved to tricky to build into the fin.
Update Griffin's UK distributor AM Micro tells me production units do provide stereo support, and only an initial batch of review models lack this feature.
There's no doubt radioShark offers better sound quality than web-based transmissions, and it's far better looking than any standalone receiver. A transistor radio would be cheaper, but you wouldn't get the timeshift and scheduled recording facilities, which earned their spurs keeping me up to date with the new Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy series.
The radioShark is now a firm fixture on my desktop. I can't wait for a digital edition. ®
|Griffin Technologies radioShark
|— Time-shift and scheduled radio recording. Great attention to detail. Stylish looks.
|— Doesn't record to MP3. No support for station ID data.
|The Griffin radioShark site
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