Road warriors who like the familiarity of their home radio stations, as well as fans of the international music scene, will find the Aluratek USB Internet Radio Jukebox a compelling entertainment option. While this $40 plug-and-play device doesn't offer the customization options available in free services like Pandora or Slacker, it tunes into music and talk programming from more than 13,000 radio stations using any Web-connected PC.
Setup and Interface
Setup was as simple as plugging the small USB stick into an available port on our Vista machine. (Sorry Mac OS X users, the Jukebox is PC-only). The simple interface--a list of categories and genres on the left used to open menus in the main window--launched automatically, and after selecting a language, within seconds we were listening to music that we had filtered based on continent, country, or genre.
For example, when browsing for a station by region, a world map appears in the main window. When we clicked on the U.S., the software allowed us to scroll through a list of states; selecting New York opened a list of AM and FM radio stations including WFAN (sports talk), WOR (news talk), and WSBU (alternative music). There's far more audio variety here than on the primarily music-oriented Pandora and Slacker. The device lists stations from more than 150 countries (we even were able to tune into Kenya's Capital FM to listen to Kenyan pop tunes), and new content is added daily as more radio stations begin streaming online. If you're looking for a station that isn't available, you can contact Aluratek and request that it be added.
We could even vote on our favorite stations, which improves their ranking when other users search a particular genre. A history section let us browse through all of the stations we'd tuned into, and in Settings we were able to customize what the device would automatically play when we plugged it into a notebook, such as the Top 100 stations or a station that we marked as a favorite.
Unfortunately, sound quality on the Jukebox wasn't quite as sharp as on Pandora or Slacker, which has more to do with the stations themselves than the actual player. Some stations broadcast at a higher bitrate (measured in kilobytes per second) than others, which resulted in one program sounding loud and fairly clear but another sounding low and dull (bitrates ranged from 21 Kbps to 128 Kbps). Although stations with a higher bitrate sounded better than those with lower bitrates, all sounded like typical radio broadcasts, complete with the occasional pop and hiss (although AM stations tended to sound slightly better than FM).
Three things irked us about the Jukebox: The sound dropped out enough to be annoying (stations would fail to load or volume would vanish a few times per hour); current artist and song info are not provided; and the banner ads located at the bottom of the interface are shameless plugs for other Aluratek products.
Ultimately, the $39.99 Aluratek USB Internet Radio Jukebox will be a tough sell for Pandora or Slacker diehards who revel in the ability able to create and tweak their own stations at absolutely no cost (or those who stream stations for free through iTunes). However, the music stick may find a place among those who want to tune into music, news, and talk from all over the globe without having to scour the Web for international radio stations.