Respected loudspeaker manufacturer, Monitor Audio, has been trading in hi-fi boxes for over three decades but its first ever radio, the AirStream 10, shows the company daring to break free from rigid audio tradition with an audacious design.
It’s clear the AirStream rebels against the Radio-3-loving retro cabinets of close rivals like the Pure Evoke Flow and the Tivoli Network, flaunting a striking wave design that can’t escape comparison with a curvaceous Tetris-block.
The purpose of the kinked chassis isn’t just aesthetic; it’s been carefully calibrated so you can rest it on its front and use it as a bedside radio alarm or fit it into a tight spot on the designer shelving unit.
Monitor Audio has also paid a lot of attention to the AirStream’s build quality. The bomb-proof aluminium shell not only gives it a luxury heft but has low-resonant qualities to cut out unwanted vibrations that might colour the sound. Elsewhere, the wood grain edging is the only trace of a retro vibe.
DAB, internet and FM
While the AirStream could easily live off its awesome build quality, flexibility and retina-pleasing looks, its modern design is nicely complimented by a thoroughly modern radio set-up.
The AirStream is very intuitive to use with a sturdy click dial central to navigating through the user-interface and responsive touch-sensitive controls to summon modes, menus and alarm functions. The white backlit six-line display is also nicely sized for skimming through the endless lists of internet radio stations.
While there’s no automatic scanning features when you initially fire up the internet radio, hooking up to your wireless home network is nevertheless straightforward. You will need to give-up your security key but input is super-quick via the lucid dial.
Exploring the vast internet radio ether is made easier by the standard search criteria; you can quickly find stations via name, country, genre, popularity or new additions, easily adding to your favourite list along the way. Podcasts also gets their own section for instant access.
Unlike Pure’s online radio gateway, The Lounge, there’s no way to manage your content via the PC. This won’t be a massive problem for some, but sniffing out on-demand shows and podcasts and then synchronising with your radio can be a little more relaxing on the desktop than via the radio.
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For a mono set-up, the AirStream sounds dynamic and punchy. Monitor Audio’s loudspeaker expertise has obviously helped to coax the best high fidelity from the 3.5in driver but while DAB and FM broadcasts manage to fill the room, listening to internet radio can vary in quality and only stations sampling at high bit rates have real presence at low volume.
If you decide to plonk the AirStream on its front, then sound quality will be compromised with the down-firing speaker. Volume is affected more than the clarity, but it won’t spoil the listening experience.
A 3.5mm input means you can tether your MP3 player or alternatively you can wirelessly stream your tunes from your PC, but its mono sound means it’s probably not good enough to take the place of a top-quality dedicated iPod dock.
When you consider you can get the similarly specced Pure Evoke Flow for £75 cheaper, the AirStream does feel overpriced. But then you’re paying extra for the privilege of owning a slice of great design and superb radio to boot.