No point looking at me like that; you're on your way out. My kitchen radio, occupying the most important music position in the house for leisure or work, is going to some other place. Sorry Maureen, it was a great Christmas present four years ago but DAB radio has had its chance and internet radio, courtesy of Logitech, is in.
Techmas came early in 2009. You know, that time of year when the PR push is on for seasonal purchases that might just be useful for work too. Events by Logitech, Asus and journalist poacher-turned-PR-gamekeeper David Fanning (Digital Winter) turned up treats. Like Elgato's incredibly clever Eye TV devices that bring TV to Apple computers (watch out for Windows versions) Logitech's Squeezebox Radio and the sensationally good value Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170i/220vi (best value hands-free yet for iPhone/iPod Touch), and cool new mobile computing courtesy of Asus.
Logitech is already well-known for its accessories, but the products on show at its show at the Getty Images Gallery in London's West End had to be strong to compete for the attention of guests who were also severely tempted by the excellent, then-current "Spirit of Jazz" photography exhibition. Computer users had a range of mouses (apparently the plural is not 'mice'), including those for presentations, to pick from, with useful laptop stands with extra USB connectors and a range of excellent active speakers – the new Z520s looked particularly interesting for anyone wanting to bring rich sounds to their PC, laptop and digital devices.
There were also remote-control services (Harmony 900/1100) that could tame a home a/v set-up made up of the most disparate constituent parts, and gamers had add-ons aplenty to ramp up their thrill factors. But the two elements that had my credit cards twitching with fear were the Logitech Squeezebox Radio (the entry level model) and the range of headphones from US manufacturer Ultimate Ears.
DAB radio has generally failed to catch the imagination – whether its functionality, sound quality or the broadcasters' generally lame strategies. It looks like internet radio's time has come, and although the models on show aren't exactly cheap (the Squeezebox Radio is around £130) they are certainly well on their way to becoming consumer items now that so many householders have their own wifi networks.
My clincher was talking to that doyenne of technology writers, Barry Fox, who was describing how his internet radio has been permanently turned into his favourite US west coast jazz station, serving up some of the best music ever recorded 24/7/365. And the memory of discovering, while on holiday, the late, wonderful Shirley Horn on a local San Francisco station (and subsequently buying all of her CDs) was enough to make certain the migration of my long-serving but ultimately unsatisfying Roberts DAB radio from its perch on the microwave. The proof was in the Christmas pudding.
And yes, I know this can all be done with a computer (and there are other products), but what some hard-wired technologists forget is that tools designed for specific purposes and places can simply more appropriate - and better. Logitech has produced one of them.
Within half an hour of turning on the review Logitech Squeezebox Radio, tuning into my wireless network (could have used Ethernet connector) and sorting out a MySqueezebox account I was heading back to the comfort of San Francisco courtesy of KCSM Jazz Radio San Mateo. OK, it was a circuitous route, via the grunge of Seattle, a Miles Davis station, and some distinctive Australian pop, but there hasn't been much reason to leave San Francisco ever since, apart from some ventures into R&B (reggae next).
There have been temptations. Some over in Paris, and others in my iTunes collections which stream into the Squeezebox Radio via the domestic wifi. There's even a perfectly adequate little LCD screen (great for date and time too when not in use) that lets you check up on your Facebook and Twitter feeds without having to go to the PC (for music recommendations of course). And when you have worked out your favourites there are more than enough presets to store them in.
Interestingly, Logitech is majoring on open source software and is making sure its devices remain open for new developments (you just update the firmware over the network). Its own staff and community of listeners are already building up excellent libraries of links so you don't have to spend any time searching when you get started - the pre-selected favourites stand in their own right.
What's remarkable for such a small device is the quality of the mono sound - the bass goes down and the treble goes up. Yes, that's supposed to happen, I know. But in my experience it usually doesn't, and it hasn't in my kitchen since Inclusive Technology's Roger Bates gave me a wonderful Hacker valve FM radio – which disintegrated as us elderly things eventually do. But even that radio couldn't hope to deliver music from the range of sound sources that the Logitech can handle.
'What about when you get excitable and want to whack up the volume?' I hear you ask. Yes, this does sometimes happen, and on those rare occasions when the Logitech can't satisfy those primitive urges, you just run a phono lead from the headphones socket to your personal 'phones or, better still, active speakers to .
Ultimate Ears. This company has already all but cornered the market for personalised high-end 'phones for the music and recording industry. Now it has brought that understanding of the technology to its range for personal listening. The sample pair for iPhone/iPod Touch (or any other device using the same socket) were a revelation. After years of shelling out on the likes of Etymotic, Shure and Sennheiser for my shell-like, this respresented the best bang for bucks so far and trumped the just-purchased Apple in-ear headset and are considerably cheaper. And they fit perfectly – in-ear comfort at long last. Of course it's a personal choice, but Ultimate Ears products deserve a full audition by any music lover or iPhone/iPod Touch user (they might even be the same person!).Talking about 'phones, Logitech was proudly showing off its latest assets, a line-up from prestigious US manufacturer
Elgato delivers broadcast material for multimedia editing
Ex-journalist David Fanning follows the digital seasons – well, summer and winter – but bringing a range of suppliers and their products for a press outing, and his Digital Winter, at London Wall, was as interesting as ever in 2009. Elgato stole the show for innovation, but this company usually does – its popular little plug-in devices that bring television to Macs also come with innovative software that allows all sorts of media trickery.
If you think this has little to do with learning then you're making a serious mistake, as a visit to the excellent DigMo! website, which majors on media for learning and is based in Northern Ireland, will quickly demonstrate. This technology can give teachers and learners extremely powerful tools for manipulating moving media.
Also attractive for teachers and schools were the various storage products on display. Most interesting were those from Buffalo and Western Digital. These companies showed a range of extremely compact, portable hard drives which, increasingly, now have encryption built in. Just take a look at the Becta guidelines for schools and teachers for taking digital information out of school. They are severe, as they are for other government-funded organisation. So encryption is here to stay, even for memory sticks like the YuuWaa from Gemalto (and the first UK teacher to email me requesting one via this website can have my unopened 4Gb sample to write a review).
The most polished pre-festive performance came from Asus. No longer content to be the brand that builds other companies' computers, Asus burst into education at the end of 2007 with its Asus Eee PC, the first netbook. And RM went on to sell thousands to schools as the RM miniBook. The Asus fashion show showed some of the coolest portable computers to have been manufactured outside of Apple Inc. But unlike Apple, Asus feels oh so much more affordable.
The good news is that the Asus brand is here to stay and has even made it into education market-share figures. The new netbook range on show at the end of 2009 exhibited tremendous value for money, but there are those who will avoid the compromise and hold out for models with full-size keyboards (see BETT netbook articles on this website by Mike Herrity and Gerald Haigh). There is certainly plenty of choice from Asus. (Apparently some education customers are still unhappy that Asus couldn't make the prices continue to fall – too much to hope for it seems.) However, the three models from the UL range on show in December (£599-£799) exhibited an impressive blend of capability and lifestyle design.
Almost up there with the Logitech Squeezebox Radio in fact, but nowhere near as cool as my near-daily trip to San Francisco for America's greatest ever creation.