Review: Roku SoundBridge Radio

June 10th, 2009

On the advice of several comments here, I bought a Roku SoundBridge Radio as a birthday gift for Terah.

It arrived today, so here’s a first impressions review.

The Hardware

It’s very nice. A touch bigger than I expected, but still quite small. There’s a subwoofer aimed up at the back of it, which helps it produce quite rich sound. It feels solid and well-designed throughout. My only gripe is that the bundled FM antenna is a loose flimsy wire type instead of a telescoping rod type, but it plugs into a coax jack, so I figure I can replace it if I want.

Initial Setup

It was really pretty easy. Select country, timezone, wireless network, enter password. After that, it rebooted and immediately saw my Firefly server, which I had set up over the weekend. It Just Worked on the very first try. Played music like a pro. Radio works. It was great.

User Interface

They obviously put a lot of thought into it. It has selectable font sizes, to help you either see things across the room, or fit more onto the screen. It will let you browse albums, artists, streming radio stations, playlists, genres, composers, etc. from a DAAP/UPNP server. It also has a large streaming radio directory that I haven’t looked at.

The browser works pretty well, even if you have thousands of albums. The left and right arrow keys select a letter of the alphabet to skip to albums starting with that letter, and the up/down keys scroll through it. You can assign any FM or AM radio station, track, album, streaming source, playlist, or arbitrary queue of songs to one of the physical preset buttons on the unit (so far I’ve only done that with FM stations).

It syncs time over the Internet — I presume via NTP — so there is no need to ever adjust the time on the device. It has two built-in alarms, which can wake you to music or a buzzer — and will sound through the speakers even if headphones are plugged in.

The sound quality was excellent as well.

Openness and geek factors

This is amazing for a $200 appliance, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I count no less than three ways to remotely control and interrogate the device: via telnet to port 4444, with the SoundBridge Remote Control Protocol (RCP), and via the UPNP control protocol (I forget its name). With RCP it is even possible to write clients that completely duplicate its interface. All of these, plus even the IR signaling used by its remote, are conspicuously documented on the Roku website. The users manual that comes with it even has a “Geeks — read this” section documenting port 4444.

I haven’t looked, but the firmware itself doesn’t seem to be Free Software, which is the only drawback to it.

gupnp-tools discovered the SoundBridge right off and showed the stuff I can control via UPnP/RCP.

Annoyances

There are only a few. One I already mentioned (the FM antenna). Another is that there appears to be no way to seek within a track. I don’t know if this is a limitation of UPNP/DAAP or a firmware limitation on the device. The bright/dim room light sensor also doesn’t seem to do anything. But these are pretty minor.

Conclusion

Overall, a very nice device, and well worth $200. Yes, Terah likes it too, of course! Thanks to Julien Blache and Dead Sas for recommending it to me!

Categories: Music, Reviews

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Comments Feed4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    As I understand it, the various local music-sharing protocols work more like streams than like file-shares, and thus without caching the file locally, you’d have to simulate seeking by starting a new stream. Certainly possible, but hard enough that I could believe a small embedded device wouldn’t.

    (By no means an expert on these technologies, though.)

    Reply

    Julien BLACHE Reply:

    Both RSP and DAAP are built on standard HTTP and both support the HTTP Range header. So seeking is possible, but the client has to specify the byte range, it can’t just ask the server to seek to 132 seconds into the stream.

    You’ll see the SoundBridge actually makes use of that when playing an M4A file that is not stream-optimized. It’ll seek through the file to find the metadata (stream-optimized files have the metadata at the very start of the file).

    As far as streaming goes, both protocols just throw the file out without further processing (except when decoding, of course, but then it’s just a WAV file you’re getting). If you know the proper URL, you can just wget whatever your want from the server. Doesn’t work if the server is iTunes given the number of authentication measures they’ve added to DAAP, with signatures and all.

    Reply

  2. Dean Sas

    “Thanks to Julien Blache and Dead Sas for recommending it to me!”

    Glad you like it. However do you know something I don’t? :p

    I don’t use the FM radio because all of the stations I listen to can be found online. If the FM antenna is annoying it may be worth checking to see if your stations can.

    Reply

  3. Julien BLACHE

    Hi John,

    I’m glad you like the SoundBridge Radio :)

    Just a note about the streaming protocol; the SoundBridge favors RSP (Roku Streaming Protocol) over DAAP. Firefly supports both and advertises both.

    Reply

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