Rich Warren: Internet Wi-Fi music system easy, convenient

Rich Warren: Internet Wi-Fi music system easy, convenient

I work in radio. This year celebrates my 40th year with WFMT in Chicago, even though I create my programming in Champaign County.

When I returned here in 1986, before WFMT moved its transmitter to the Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago, one could sporadically hear WFMT in East Central Illinois with a good antenna and a really good FM tuner, which I tried all for naught.

Then WFMT became available on C-band satellite, the kind requiring the 10-foot dish, which proved rather expensive and cumbersome. An expensive and finicky radio frequency repeater sent the audio to radios in the house.

After being dropped from C-band, WFMT began streaming on the Internet. Initially streaming proved intermittent with frequent buffering and breakdowns along with variable fidelity. During the past five years, streaming evolved into a reliable high-fidelity music source.

Using an iPad with a Bluetooth speaker, I could enjoy WFMT and virtually any radio station in the world using a station's own app or the free, versatile TuneIn Radio app. If you haven't installed TuneIn you should: It's amazing.

Even with these advances, listening online failed to match the ease and convenience of conventional radio. Thanks to a new product from Bose I finally can listen to WFMT as if it was a local station while eating breakfast and reading my morning newspaper.

Those of you who know I work for WFMT also know that Bose underwrites one of my programs, which is administered by WFMT and not in my bailiwick. I prefer to think that this does not influence me when I rave about the Bose SoundTouch Internet Wi-Fi music system.

The SoundTouch is not the first Internet music system, but it certainly wins as the easiest and most convenient to install and operate. First download a small software app to your Mac or Windows PC (sorry Linux fans). Then plug in the SoundTouch to an AC outlet and a USB port on your computer with the supplied cable. Run the app, which asks about a dozen simple setup questions and helps you register for the online music service Pandora if you don't already have a Pandora account.

No slight to my late noncomputer-literate mother, but I'm sure she could have handled this. You can program your six favorite Internet music sources at this time or later. The whole process takes about five minutes.

Unplug the USB cable and move the SoundTouch to wherever in the house you wish to listen. Bose also offers other online music services such as Deezer and iHeartRadio, with more to come. Improvements and updates install invisibly via Bose updates.

As mentioned, six keys atop the SoundTouch (and duplicated on the supplied remote control) instantly select six stations or music sources from an extensive menu of choices. I immediately set one for WFMT, one for WILL-AM so I can listen without noise during low-power hours, and one for a folk music station in Boston, WUMB.

The styling, as with all Bose products, subtly pleases the eye. A small, very clear display on the front shows the program source. The impressive, rich sound quality resembles similar Bose products such as its range of SoundDock iPod speakers.

The SoundTouch Portable and SoundTouch 20 sell for $399; the larger SoundTouch 30 sells for $699. Soon, Bose will introduce Wave Music Systems, Lifestyle home theater systems and VideoWave entertainment systems that integrate with SoundTouch. Ultimate quality and versatility depend somewhat on the quality of your Internet connection and Wi-Fi router.

You simultaneously can use multiple SoundTouch products and listen to the same or different sources on each one. Thus, you can have Deutsche Welle in one room, a hip-hop radio station in another and Pandora in a third. It also works with Apple AirPort as well as with an iPad app.

The cornucopia of Internet music spills effortlessly into your home.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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