Review: MagicBox Imp Radio

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Not to be confused with the BBC’s iMP initiative, or any of the iRiver media players, or tiny black sweets, the IMP is a standalone internet radio that can browse RealPlayer (well, RealOne if you’re being pedantic) streams from all over the world and deliver over 2000 radio stations to your kitchen.

With a 2 line LCD display you would be forgiven for assuming that setup would be a tricky affair but in fact the procedure for dialling in a WEP code to connect the IMP to your broadband router takes less than a minute and once that’s done you could be listening to stations from halfway around the world in perfect clarity.

The IMP is perhaps a trifle smaller than the pictures suggest, standing around six inches high, but is pleasingly weighty and has a comforting air of solidity. There’s an array of small function buttons but in normal use the large rotary volume/data entry dial and select button are all you need. You can browse stations by genre or, most conveniently, by location giving expatriates of any flavour an instant taste of home.

Stations seem to be collated and re-shared by Reciva’s gateway, meaning that there are probably some streams that the IMP can’t receive: If your interest is particularly niche it might be worth checking with them before splashing out the pretty reasonable £150 for one.

There’s also a media player mode, which by contrast to the user-friendliness of the radio function is something of a fiddle, requiring you to share out the Music folder on your main PC in order for the IMP to browse it. Clear instructions are given for both Windows and Apple machines in the manual, but in practice it took me a couple of goes to get XP behaving and I’m ashamed to report that I gave up trying to get OSX to play ball. I couldn’t help thinking that the addition of a USB socket might have given the IMP a significant boost in the versatility stakes.

That one minor issue aside, the IMP performs its main function brilliantly, even pausing and fast-forwarding on-demand streams in a way that my Powerbook generally refuses to do. The sound is of course variable depending on the bandwidth of the station selected but is certainly acceptable: A shade better than a Freeplay, not quite a Roberts. There’s a stereo headphone/line out if you want to bypass the lone internal speaker. Certainly if you’re always balancing a laptop on the kitchen worktop to listen to something funny on the radio, or if you’re living abroad and longing for the sound of home the IMP is a technically brilliant and strangely loveable little item

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