It’s hard to imagine a middle-class American’s bedroom that’s not equipped with a clock radio. Millions of us rely on these inexpensive devices to wake us from our slumber. Roku’s SoundBridge Radio takes this low-fi concept into the Wi-Fi age.
There’s just one big problem: Integrating this audio-streaming device into your wireless network will severely compromise your ability to keep intruders out of it. The only wireless security the SoundBridge Radio supports is the easily cracked WEP. (If you think cracking WEP is difficult, just Google “How to crack WEP.”) And you can’t get around the security hole by hard-wiring the radio into your network; unlike Roku’s other boxes, this one doesn’t have an Ethernet jack.
But before we go into full Bam Bam mode, let’s examine this product’s positive attributes, which include a terrific 280x32 vacuum fluorescent display, an equally good browser, and an above-average remote control. Unlike other streaming boxes we’ve seen, you can operate nearly all of the SoundBridge Radio’s functions using buttons on the device itself.
A 20-watt digital amplifier drives two full-range speakers, while a second 30-watt digital amp enables a small subwoofer to deliver generous bass. The multipurpose 400MHz Blackfin embedded processor Roku chose for the SoundBridge Radio doesn’t sound as luscious as the 24-bit Burr-Brown DAC that Slim Devices uses for the Squeezebox; and it’s nowhere near the quality of a Sonos system. You can’t use an outboard converter because Roku doesn’t provide a digital-audio output.
Despite these shortcomings, we were pleasantly surprised by the broad dynamic range with which the Roku delivered the Lossless WMA-encoded version of Afro Celt Sound System’s “Seed.” But we’re talking about a strictly near-field listening experience—the only way to connect external powered speakers is via the headphone jack.
Roku doesn’t provide server software to run on your host PC, but the SoundBridge Radio is compatible with Windows Media Connect, Rhapsody, and iTunes. It can stream Internet radio and DRM-encrusted PlaysForSure music, but not similarly-encumbered songs purchased from iTunes. And like any good clock radio, it has a snooze bar.