Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Solving a Sirius (sic) Streaming Dilemma

I have been an internet streaming radio addict for over a decade. However  “upgrades” in the delivery system posed a “Sirius” (sic) dilemma which called for digital discernment and eventually action.

I love streaming internet radio.  The digital reception is much better than most terrestrial radios. And streaming internet radio provides a cornucopia of listening choices from around the world. 

When relaxing, I found that I liked two stations halfway around the world– one is a jazz station from Paris and the other plays an eclectic melange of music from Spain’s Canary Islands. Streaming internet radio players also offer easy tuning options for subchannels, which are broadcast in the stillborn HD format and are seemingly run commercial free music.

But truth be told, I cherish internet streaming radio mainly to catch talk radio.   No longer was I shut out if a syndicated show was not run locally, as I could find other outlets which may be offered at various time slots.. Some hosts will repeat there show in a loop until the next time they take the airwaves.  For breaking news, such as when people took to the streets in angry protests, I could listen to police scanners to hear reports of rioting unfiltered by the media.  

Streaming internet radio players also offer easy tuning options for subchannels, which are broadcast in the stillborn HD format and are seemingly run commercial free.

For quite a while, I relied upon Applian software like Replay Radio, which served as a “DVR” for internet radio.  Replay Radio was great for time shifting and converting into MP3s for later listening on a portable device. 

Alas, Applian now charges several dollars a month to subscribe to their media listings, thus making convenience costly. But after I discovered set top streaming internet radios, my need for recording programs waned. 

My Logitech Squeezebox is a device that I use every day.  The six preset buttons have a mixture of some local stations, a couple of distant stations which run programs that I enjoy and a couple of Sirius/XM channels (which I pay extra for that privilege).  As one obsessed with absorbing the news, it is not always necessary to see images of talking heads duking it out on camera. Thus I appreciate having a preset button to listen in and if breaking news warrants a visual, then I can turn on the TV.

While I still love the Logitech Squeezebox, the situation was not perfect.  I found that the power connection on my unit was temperamental if the radio was moved and required a power cycling.  The real problem was with Logitech’s strategic direction.  Logitech discountinued manufacturing the network media players in  2012 and was not improving the ecosystem (software and tuning backbone), but it still worked well with ocassional hiccups from third party apps like Sirius/XM. The Squeezebox also had trouble tuning into I-Heart Radio (the Clear Channel media streaming).

At the beginning of September 2015, Sirius warned streaming radio customers that they would be upgrading their player in a month and check with their manufacturer for set top streaming radio devices.  Logitech claimed that everything would be fine.  But as the deadline loomed, I learned that the Squeezebox would be shut out of streaming Sirius/XM.

This was a cyber reveille for me.  While it is possible to listen to SiriusXM on moble devices if one has  a subscription, it would require wearing headphones or dedicating a mobile device as a streaming radio server. The internet and android SiriusXM app can be sluggish and tough to quickly tune. For me, that may be OK when out of pocket but seems unwieldy for desktop usage. It was a deal breaker for me, akin to Amazon Kindle phasing out the text-to-speech option on their e-ink reading devices (but keeping the feature on the Kindle Fire).  This called for an upgrade of sorts. 

While a Thrifty Techie hated to get another toy, making do with a hobbled technology which has already been discontinued seems penny wise and pound foolish.  So I sought out the other major internet radio manufacturer–Grace Digital.

Grace Digital had a similarly designed internet radio to the Logitech Squeezebox–the Mondo.  The Mondo relies fully on WiFi whereas the Squeezebox has an ethernet port. But the Mondo has RCA jacks making it more convenient to plug into a stereo system. The Mondo allows for I-Heart Radio app, which would help in listening to Blaze Radio programming.  But most importantly to me, a software upgrade from Grace Digital makes to Mondo able to stream SiriusXM.

As a Thrifty Techie, I am confortable getting a refurbished unit from a trusted source. So I checked a major online auction site and on line stores to learn more information and price check.  On the Grace Digital webpage, refurbed units were selling for 33% off however there was a 30% off for Logitech customers, hence for a few dollars more, I could get a new unit with the 30 day unconditional return option and one year manufacturer’s warranty. So this time, a new piece of hardware made thrifty sense.  

But my Logitech  Squeezebox won’t collect dust in the technology graveyard.  Now the unit will be moving bedside to act as a clock radio.  Along with the headphone jack, it will make for an excellent network media device for counterprogramming to a spouse vegging out to Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the ilk.