Livio Radio streams Pandora for your fave tunes

We're big fans of Pandora, the free Internet music streaming service that lets you pick a song, artist, or musical genre, and then it'll play more music just like that. The Livio Radio integrates beautifully with this free web service, picking up its uncanny musical choices via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It also lets you listen to any Internet radio station. Livio sent us one of its Internet-connected clock radios to check out, and were both impressed and disappointed.

The Livio Radio's styling reminds us of our Tivoli Satellite radio: clean and straightforward with simple controls. Setting it up with our Pandora account was a cinch, and after entering the unit's serial number, a secret alphanumeric code, and our account information, our Pandora stations showed up right away. It's also easy to set up a new Pandora account.

The Livio's single forward-facing speaker sounds decidedly mediocre. We were relieved to see a stereo Line Out jack in the back, into which we plugged some decent powered speakers. Only then did we begin to enjoy the wonders of Pandora, perfectly received via our Wi-Fi network with nary a drop-out to be heard. We were also able to enjoy any of the thousands of Internet radio stations, and appreciated the way we could designate any as a favorite for an easy return there later.

Unfortunately, this radio's single-button volume and selection control is maddeningly difficult to use. To select an item in its menus, you must push on this control so hard that the only way to get it to engage is to hold the back of the radio. [UPDATE: Livio's tech support people helped us fix this knob, which must have been damaged in shipment. Removing it and then re-seating it made it easier to use.] The other smaller buttons are similar — way too hard to push. Did any of the designers actually put their hands on this unit?

The saving grace is the excellent remote, giving you control of all its functions without the need to deal with those cheap plastic knobs or buttons. Even so, if you want to use its alarm function, you have to go through so many menus that it's hardly worth it. And, the backlighted clock is way too bright for a bedroom, even on its dimmest setting — but you can turn that backlight off altogether if you'd like, even when the unit is on.

Beyond those awkward menus and too-firm controls, once we got this radio set the way we wanted, it let us bask in the joy that is Pandora and those Internet stations. After we placed our five favorites in the quintet of presets, we ended up never touching the radio again, always reaching for its slim white remote control instead. When we did that, and connected our own external speakers, the Livio Radio was a satisfying experience. There's even the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons so you can teach the service about your preferences, just like on the Pandora website.

You'd think for $160, though, its creators would design its controls to be much more user-friendly, and make it sound halfway listenable without external help. If you can deal with those glaring issues, this radio is a delight.

Via Livio Radio