At a time when audio equipment is geared towards the future, when wireless speakers, phone docks and surround sound are ubiquitous, you might think that the humble tabletop radio is extinct. Not even close. It’s just evolved, and gotten a lot smarter over time. As terrestrial radio has had to make room for online stations and streaming audio, the tabletop radio makers have adapted. Their flagship lines bear little resemblance to the dinky little clock radios from the past twenty years. And as a bonus, they’re not all that expensive - not compared to other examples of audio equipment, which can cost thousands of dollars. Even the most expensive tabletop radio will cost you well under a grand. It’s worth noting that it’s actually quite rare for manufacturers to release new models; although while some of these units are a few years old, there’s a reason we still think they’re the best available.
 


How We Choose

Like many examples of audio equipment, the answer to this question comes down to sound quality and feature sets. Starting at the very top around $500, our picks cover all budgets - all the way down to $60. 

This year’s top sets feature household brands like Bose, which naturally offer the most advanced features - from liquid crystal displays and equaliser controls, to multiple drivers, high-quality analog circuitry and the latest digital audio mode capabilities, all to be explained in more detail in our Buyer's Advice section below. 

You may not recognize all the brands in the lower price brackets right away, but all the radios we’ve included exhibit great sound and build quality and are great value for the price.

Our lower-priced picks, which stretch down to $60, are perfect for anyone who wants a hassle-free, plug-and-play sound. As is the case with most budget audio equipment, cheaper models may sacrifice advanced features like equalisers, digital audio and streaming music services (such as Spotify or Pandora). If you don’t need all those fancy additions, no need to pay for them.  Since cheaper models aren’t designed to produce audiophile sound quality, they can often exhibit distortion at high volume levels. On the plus side, they are likely to be very simple to operate, and so they are ideal for anyone who just wants to listen to the radio without thinking too much about it... 
 

Our Tabletop Radio Picks

1. Bose Wave Soundtouch Music System IV ($599)

Bose Wave SoundTouch Music System IVWeight: 9.9 lbs
Dimensions: 14.6" x 8.7" x 5.6"
Digital: Yes
HD: Yes
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Superb spec with all the bells and whistles
What We Don't: Upgrade probably a little expensive from the original Wave IV
Best For: Audiophiles, or those who simply want superb sound

At the very top of our selection is the Wave Soundtouch Music System IV - the upgraded version of the original Wave IV which, while a little pricey, is a lighter, still excellent version of the original. Everything is supercharged here, but it’s the sound you’ll notice first. It’s huge - and frankly, a little disconcerting that something this size can make a sound that should come from something ten times larger. You can send audio from any signal source into this radio: AM, FM, streaming, MP3 player and even a CD player. The Waveguide technology is present and correct here, with twin 3” and 4” drivers partnering up to provide that absolutely epic sound. This is still one of the most superb systems money can buy - perfect for audiophiles, or those who simply want superb sound.
See the Bose Wave Music System IV
 

2. Cue Radio Model R1 ($399)

Cue Acoustics Cue Radio Model R1Weight: 6lbs
Dimensions: 10.5" x 6.5" 4.25"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: A serious alternative to the market leading brands
What We Don't: Lack of digital radio and WiFi a disappointment
Best For: Those after a high-end model with excellent sound, but aren’t quite willing to hit the top end of the range.

Cue Acoustics aren’t the most high profile name in tabletop radios, but they’ve created a worthy challenger to the Bose systems in their Model R1. It’s a simple tabletop radio: AM/FM tuner, an iPod/iPhone dock and an alarm clock function. A sleek front end with three dials for control means that it’s at home wherever you put it. It’s the sound that’s the real draw, and the reason that this is actually in the high-end range. Cue pack in a D2Audio DSP (digital signal processing) chip combined with a digital amplifier and pair it with 3/4” tweeter and 3.5” woofer for deep, rich, powerful sound that belies its small size. There’s very little to dislike about the R1. We’d definitely recommend it for those who are looking for a high-end model with excellent sound, but aren’t quite willing to hit the top end of the range.
See the Cue Radio Model R1
 

3. Como Audio Solo ($299)

Como Audio SoloWeight: 4.2lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 5.2" x 4.7"
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: One of the most advanced radios around
What We Don't: Doesn't sound as good as the Bose or Cue
Best For: Something different

Como Audio is a relatively new manufacturer, but they know what they're doing. Although this model has a bigger brother, the Duetto (and a smaller one, the Ambiente) this is our pick. It strikes the perfect balance of price and features, offering excellent value for money as well as a huge range of capabilities - not to mention fantastic design and useability. It's probably better for digital audio than FM, and we think it doesn't sound as good as other models, but it's still a great start for Como Audio.
See the Como Audio Solo

 

4. Revo Super Signal ($250)

Revo Super SignalWeight: 6.7lbs
Dimensions: 8.3" x 5.5" x 5.3"
Digital: Yes
HD: Yes
WiFi: No
What We Like: OLED display, audio quality and channel variety
What We Don't: Mono speaker only
Best For: Enthusiasts searching for new music 

If you want that increase in sound quality without sacrificing features, try out the Revo Super Signal. This unusual, gorgeous-looking radio offers not only superb sound quality, including bass that’s surprisingly rich for a unit of its size, but also a full complement of features. There’s digital audio, a FM tuner, plus Bluetooth streaming if you want to play your own music. It not only offers a full remote, but also has an innovative joystick control method on the front of the unit, which actually makes it a lot of fun to use. The digital display itself is OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode), a technology more commonly seen on TVs. The advantage of the OLED display is that it's much easier on the eyes in dark environments, like a bedroom. This is a fantastic, feature-packed midrange tabletop radio, ideal for anyone who demands a lot of functionality. Be warned, though: the speaker is only in mono, not stereo, so a few nuances of the sound may be lost. Also: it’s worth mentioning that while we like the bigger brother of this model, the Super System, it’s massively expensive, and we prefer this one, which we think is better value.
See the Revo Super Signal
 

5. Tivoli Audio Music System Three ($249)

Tivoli Audio Music System ThreeWeight: 3.6 lbs
Dimensions: 11.5" x 4.4" x 4.4"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Bluetooth, alarm clock and even a remote control
What We Don't: Again, no HD or digital radio
Best For: Bluetooth users

Tivoli Audio's venerable Model Two has finally been retired. Its successor is the Model Three, but for our money we'd pick something slightly older: the Music System Three. It's a gorgeous, simple-to-use radio that you'll fall in love with immediately. It offers Bluetooth, an alarm clock and a remote control, and although we do wish it gave us access to digital radio it's still a fantastic set. The design is clever, and the all-black colour scheme (which you can customise with a wooden frame) lends itself to any room. Tivoli Audio have been doing this for a while, and it really shows. If you don't like this particular pick, rest assured - the company has several models to choose from, and they'll all get the job done.
See the Tivoli Audio Music System Three
 

6. Grace Digital Mondo ($150)

Grace DigitalWeight: 1.6 lbs
Dimensions: 10.1" x 6.1" x 4.2"
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Super connectivity and huge choice of channels
What We Don't: No Bluetooth
Best For: Smart music within a home network

One company who continue to impress are Grace Digital. Their Wifi Music Player is a revelation, a major upgrade to the old GDI-IR2600 Innovator X. You get massive functionality, including HD radio and Wifi (obviously) as well as access to thousands of streaming stations. Plus, you can even plug a USB stick preloaded with music in, and enjoy the fantastic audio quality. No Bluetooth, but it's cracking value for money - and there are plenty of other Grace Digital models available, if the ones on this list don’t take your fancy. All good, but this one is the best, in our opinion. Be aware, though, that it's 100% an internet radio - no AM or FM here.
See the Grace Digital Mondo


7. Pure ONE Flow ($139)

Pure ONE FlowWeight: 1.43 lbs
Dimensions: 8.1" x 5.8" x 3.1"
Digital: Yes
HD: Yes
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Feature set
What We Don't: Sometimes hard to find
Best For: Those with wide radio tastes

Pure is a bit of a boutique manufactuer - only a few of their models are available stateside, which can be a bit annoying. But the ONE Flow is pure magic, with excellent sound quality and a massive wealth of features, including digital radio, HD audio and WiFi capability. Sound is crisp and exciting, with a decent low-end, and this is the ideal radio for those who like to listen to stations from all over the world. If you do want a more advanced version, not yet on Amazon, try the excellent Evoke H6 - currently only available in the UK.
See the Pure ONE Flow
 

8. Sangean WR-2 ($109)

Sangean WR-2Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 7.6" x 4.4"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Sound quality and ease of use 
What We Don't: Analog radio only
Best For: Audiophiles on a budget

It’s unusual to see a model in this range without digital audio, but the Sangean WR-2 more than makes up for it. The answer is the sound. Sangean have produced a crystal-clear tabletop radio, with effortless, warm bass and crisp highs, even at high volumes. There are plenty of opportunity, unlike cheaper models, to adjust the sound, with bass and treble controls readily available. It’s wood-finished, with a digital tuning set-up, the ability to store preset stations, and a clock and timer system. We’d pick this one for those who want audiophile sound quality but aren’t on an audiophile budget.
See the Sangean WR-2
 

9. Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2 ($70)

Insinia Tabletop HD Radio NS-HDRAD2Weight: 1.3 lbs 
Dimensions: 8.3" x 5.2" x 2.4"
Digital: No
HD: Yes
WiFi: No
What We Like: Artist Experience (the display of song/artist details)
What We Don't: No Bluetooth/MP3 connectivity 
Best For: Checking out the details of the song/artist currently playing

The original NS was a real crowd pleaser, and although Insignisa aren't the most high-profile company, the HDRAD2 is a gem. HD Radio is a fairly new technology, allowing listeners to hear stations at a higher sound quality with less noise. One of the few budget models to offer this feature is the Insignia HD NS-HDRAD. It’s strictly a radio device, and doesn’t offer MP3 connectivity. But you’ll get an excellent radio experience here, as there are station presets, and a digital display which displays artist and track names. For the music lover who wants both good sound and a little more info about what they’re listening to, the Insignia is perfect.
See the Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2
 

10. Sangean WR-11 ($72)

 Sangean WR-11 Tabletop RadioWeight: 5.2 lbs
Dimensions: 9.4" x 6.7" x 4.6"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Big sound
What We Don't: Really basic - AM/FM only
Best For: Good-sounding radio experience 

If you’re looking to fill a medium-sized room with sound but you want to stick to your budget, check out the Sangean WR-11. For an office, bathroom, garage, or just about anywhere else, the WR-11 produces clear and crisp audio that can be turned up to reasonably high levels of volume without breaking up. It’s extremely simple, with basic AM/FM connectivity, but if you’re prepared to sacrifice features like station presets you’ll be picking up a really good model. 
See the Sangean WR-11
 

11. Crosley Ranchero ($66)

Crosley CR3022A-BK RancheroWeight: 5.5 lbs
Dimensions: 13" x 6" x 5.5"
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No 
What We Like: Loud and crisp audio performance, MP3 input
What We Don't: Again, this is quite a barebones system
Best For: Stylish sound and looks on a budget

The Crosley Ranchero is an update of Crosley’s classic Solo. It’s extremely simple: AM/FM tuner, input for MP3 player, headphone jack. Like the Solo, the sound is great, with the smooth cabinet providing some surprising detail, particularly in the highs. It can also pump out some seriously loud audio if you care to crank it up. While there’s an argument that you may not want to pay this much for something so simple, the Ranchero is such a good model that we strongly recommend it - particularly for those who are looking for stylish sound and looks at a budget price. And by the way, if you like retro stylings, check out some of Crosley's other radios. They are utterly tubular.
See the Crosley Ranchero
 

12. SPARC SHD-BT1 HD Radio ($68)

SparcWeight: 2.4 lbs
Dimensions: 8” x 4.5” x 4.5”
Digital: No
HD: Yes
WiFi: No
What We Like: Bluetooth, great design, good sound
What We Don't: A little underpowered
Best For: The bedroom

SPARC make some surprisingly good products, and the SHD-BT1 is currently at the top of their range. Its small stature and friendly design make it an ideal bedroom model, and the control scheme is easy to get to grips with. Plus, it does have at least one ver nifty trick: if HD is available when you're looking for an FM station, it'll automatically tune to that channel. Sweet! It's a tad underpowered, but perfect if you're not pumping the volume too high. 
See the SPARC SHD-BT1 HD Radio


13. August SE55 Radio ($56)

August SE55 Weight: 1.1 lbs
Dimensions: 7.3” x 4.1” x 3.5”
Digital: No
HD: No
WiFi: No
What We Like: Bluetooth Speakers, EQ, Hands Free
What We Don't: Sound quality could be better
Best For: Listening to radio and even answering a phone call without reaching for your handset

Not only does the August SE55 shine as a regular tabletop set, it can also be used with your smartphone and tablet, since it features built-in Bluetooth speakers. Audio quality is not great, especially compared to other models, but it’s still OK. The built in EQ (with four presets) and the inclusion of a passive radiator speaker, should help in dialling up the perfect background music ambiance. Speaking of dialling up, the Bluetooth option is not only good for playing music from your phone, but also for using the August as a hands-free, since it has a built-in microphone. Yep, you can answer a call through the radio, without even reaching for your handset.
See the August SE55 Radio


And For Next Time You Visit The UK:

14. Ruark R2 MK3 ($500)

Weight: 8lbs
Dimensions: 13.4” x 7.3” x 4.7”
Digital: Yes
HD: No
WiFi: Yes
What We Like: Great audio and design
What We Don't: Only available in the UK
Best For: Brits - or tourists in London

It is magnificently annoying that the Ruark R2 MK3 is only available, right now, in the UK. One of the best radios around, with impeccable design credentials and stellar sound, and North Americans can't get hold of it. Right now, you can only buy it from the Ruark website (UK delivery only) and assorted British retailers. Not very cricket. Still, if you find yourself in London, and have a bit of extra cash to spend, this is an excellent buy.
See the Ruark R2 MK3


Breaking Down The Specs:

Radio Price Weight Dimensions Digital WiFi HD
August SE55 Radio $56 1.1lbs 7.3” x 4.1” x 3.5” No No No
SPARC SHD-BT1 $68 2.4lbs 8” x 4.5” x 4.5” No No Yes
Crosley Ranchero $70 5.5lbs 13" x 6" x 5.5" No No No
Sangean WR-11 $72 5.2lbs 9.4" x 6.7" x 4.6" No No No
Insignia HD NS-HDRAD2 $70 1.3lbs 8.3" x 4.5" x 2.2" No No No
Sangean WR-2 $109 5lbs 9.4" x 7.6" x 4.4" No No No
Pure ONE Flow $139 1.43lbs 8.1" x 5.8" x 3.1" Yes Yes Yes
Grace Digital Mondo $150 1.6lbs 10.1" x 6.1" x 4.2" Yes Yes No
Tivoli Audio Music System 3 $249 3.6lbs 11.5" x 4.4" x 4.4" No No No
Revo Supersignal $300 6.7lbs 8.3" x 5.5" x 5.3" Yes No Yes
Como Audio Solo $299 4.2lbs 9.4" x 5.2" x 4.7" Yes No Yes
Cue Radio Model R1 $399 6lbs 10.5" x 6.5" 4.25" No No No
Bose Wave Soundtouch IV $599 9.9lbs 14.6" x 8.7" x 5.6" Yes Yes Yes
Ruark R2 MK3 $500 8lbs 13.4” x 7.3” x 4.7” Yes Yes No

Tivoli Audio Music System Three (Photo: Kelly Teague, Flickr)


Buying Advice 

What Is A Tabletop Radio?

At its most simple, a tabletop radio is a small model music station designed to fit unobtrusively on a desk, bookshelf, or bedside table. It is distinct from other radios, which may be part of a larger sound system. A tabletop radio will be a fully self-contained unit, with speakers, receiver and power source all packed into one box (or two, in the case of the Tivoli Model 2 we mention above - the old bugger had two separate boxes, which was a surprisingly fun design feature). Unlike portable radios, it’s actually quite rare to have a tabletop radio that runs off a battery. They almost always require mains power, so factor that in when you buy.

It might be a little surprising to see us doing a breakdown of radios in this day and age. Maybe even a little bit old-fashioned. The fact is, radio is stronger than ever, particularly digital radio, and with the growth of things like podcasts, more and more people are looking to get a self-contained unit specifically designed, or at least predominantly designed, for radio. All these models still sell incredibly well, and plenty of new companies and trying to get in on the market. What was saying is, if you're looking for a radio, you have a huge amount of choice.

And of course, these are often way more than simple radios. Several models come with the ability to tune into Internet stations, play music wirelessly and connect with larger systems. What is excellent about them is that they offer good sound quality and good feature sets for a very reasonable price. It's also worth noting that you do occasionally see CD players on these models, although none of our picks above have this feature. It's getting much less common these days, when so much music is listened to on a streaming media rather than a physical one. Kind of a shame, but not a deal breaker for the majority of people.

It's also worth mentioning that tabletop radios are occasionally known by different names. We've seen them called bedside radios, and even clock radios, which is a term we thought had died out in the mid-90s. What was saying is, these aren't different products; they are one and the same, and you shouldn't let names distract you when you're shopping for one.

Don't forget: sometimes just because you want to listen to the radio doesn't mean everybody else does. You might also want to check out a pair of headphones, too.

Sangean WR-II (Photo: James Case, Flickr)

What Are Digital/HD Radio?

Digital radio is a method of transmitting the audio by digital means, as opposed to analog FM or AM signals. It can be transmitted on cable channels, as a podcast, or by satellite. Any streaming station you find online can also be called internet radio. Tabletop radios that offer this require a wifi connection.

As of 2015 tabletop radios can feature different chipsets, allowing the decoding of several types of digital audio. We all want to just press ‘play’, but it is good to know what we are getting, right? What you could be listening to is one of the following types: HD Radio, DAB, DAB+, DRM30, DRM+ - and of course you have the analog FM and AM types of broadcast. 

Then there’s HD radio. In effect, HD Radio broadcasts analog and digital material simultaneously, but the name “HD Radio" stands neither for "High Definition" nor for "Hybrid Digital". It is in fact a trademarked term for an in-band on-channel (IBOC) - a digital radio technology that can be used both by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data simultaneously. 

By using a digital signal embedded “on-frequency” immediately above and below a station's standard analog signal, the same program can be broadcast in either HD (digitized audio and with less noise, as the FM HD mode uses a high quality codec called MPEG-4 HE-AAC standard), or as a standard broadcast analog radio with standard sound quality). 

Not only are the two (analog and digital) beamed at the same time, the HD format allows a single radio station to simultaneously broadcast one or more different programs in addition to the program being transmitted on the radio station's analog channel. 

We are not only talking of audio transmission, when it comes to the above-mentioned additional embedded digital material, as this could be data as well. For instance, HD Radio offers a service called Artist Experience. This allows playbacks to include the transmission of artist and track name, album art, logos and other artwork, which can be displayed on (the optional) radio screen.
 

What About DAB, DAB+, FM…

Don’t be put off if you see DAB offered, without any mention of digital radio. This is because they’re the same thing. In Europe or Asia, digital radio is called DAB, and it refers to Digital Audio Broadcasting. It’s functionally the same as digital radio, with a bunch of preset channels you can switch to without having to tune. 

Often when speaking of DAB, this is a reference to digital radio’s original or first generation. The typical digital quality, or bit rate to be precise, for DAB programs is somewhat lower than your average Amazon or iTunes download. It is in fact a mp2 codec sampling music at 128 kbit/s and as a result, most radio stations on (1st gen) DAB have a lower sound quality even than what analog FM has (under optimal circumstances). Not only, due to this severe quality compression, digital broadcasts may further ‘downgrade’ the original audio’s stereophonic sound to mono, which is far from cool for audio material designed to be listened to in stereo.

Such audio quality issues have lead to a DAB update, called DAB+, which uses a different way of digitizing analog audio which uses a higher resolution (with the AAC+ codec).

You may also see DRM (also known as Digital Radio Mondiale or DRM 30). It’s similar to AM HD Radio, and is designed primarily for digital shortwave (HF) radio programs for compatible radios already available for sale. 

Just like HD Radio, DRM also allows for the transmission of analog signals combined with digital data (also known as hybrid digital-analog broadcasts) or of course, of pure digital broadcasts.

DRM+ (confused yet?) is another digital radio system, but closely based on the DRM30. Instead of operating in HF digital shortwave though, it uses the VHF band. Although reception can be problematic, DRM+ allows for fairly high quality digital broadcasts as it has a high streaming capacity (up to 700 kbit/s data rate).

Then there’s good old FM and AM. FM refers to an analog method of broadcasting audio on a particular band of the frequency spectrum. What that means, in practice, is that you have to be in the transmission area to hear it, with a receiver tuned to the correct FM signal. Until Digital Radio became a reality, FM was your best bet for a quality radio playback, not only because of the more powerful and clearer signal, but also because its transmission were universally in stereo (only select AM broadcasts could do that - as the majority could only do mono)! 

Yes, some radios still carry the option for you to listen to analog AM stations. Are there even AM stations? Do they exist any more? At any rate, it stands for Advanced Modulation, and is used to refer to signals in the broadcast range of 535-1605 kHz. These stations are usually crackly, sometimes inaudible, and almost exclusively local programming, as any station can afford it will be on the more powerful FM band.

Como Audio Solo

Pros and Cons of Digital Radio 

Interestingly, DAB and digital are likely to become to dominant method of broadcasting worldwide within the next ten years, as many countries contemplate an FM switch-off.

Unfortunately there are many flaws shared by all digital radio systems. DAB, HD Radio and DRM technologies can have poor reception (especially when on the move), when used inside vehicles, or inside buildings

The advantages of digital radio are numerous, though, and some of the obvious ones are: cleaner-sounding audio, steadier signal and the huge program variety on offer. Since broadcasts are no longer dependant (only) on analog transmitters, which by design have a limited range, you could easily enjoy your favorite evening LA radio show, while having breakfast in Australia.

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