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The iPad Makes a Great Radio

by on December 11th, 2010

TuneIn Radio gives you access to thousands of stations for a low price.

Your iPad also makes a great radio, thanks to the multitasking and airplay functionality that iOS 4.2 brings. And if you have an Apple Airport Express wifi base station or Apple TV you’ll never lack for music again.

The Airport Express or Apple TV isn’t necessary, of course. There are other ways to pump music out of your iPad, such as the tablet’s built-in speakers, headphones and portable speakers. But hooking up an Airport Express to your stereo system allows a much richer (and louder) musical experience.

Before I upgraded to iOS 4.2 I used to listen to internet radio through my MacBook Pro. But there were major disadvantages. Finding and playing internet radio through iTunes is not a pleasant experience — you get little station information and the interface is pathetic. You can always stream directly from a station’s website, but it’s far too easy to accidentally close your browser, stopping the music, and finding stations or switching from one station to another on the web isn’t as easy as twiddling a dial on an old-fashioned radio.

Enter the iPad. You can get your music going and then switch to another app and it still plays, smoothly streaming over your wifi network to your Airport Express or Apple TV. (Though watch out — if you’re using Airplay to stream to your stereo and you switch to playing a game on the iPad, you’ll hear the game’s sound effects coming through your stereo speaker, which may be a good thing or a bad thing.)

Making things even better, there are a number of free and inexpensive internet radio apps specially designed for the iPad. These generally fall into two types, individual station and network apps and station aggregator apps:

Station and Network Apps

A number of radio stations and networks now stream both traditional over-the-airwaves shows as well as internet-only channels through iPad apps. The CBC, for example, has an app that gives you access to its local Radio One and Radio Two stations, as well as its internet-only channels and music on demand shows. Toronto’s Jazz FM also has an app, as do many other stations and networks. Internet-only stations such as AccuRadio and Ministry of Sound also offer free apps. The MoS app though is a “lite” version: you need to shell out $6.99 to get full access to all Ministry of Sound channels, which seems like a waste since the MoS channels are available on other apps, such as Spark Radio and TuneIn Radio, which I review below.

Aggregator Apps

Much more versatile are the apps that aggregate stations and music streams from a wide variety of sources. These range in price from free (Spark Radio Lite, Desi Radio) to $6.99 (Wunder Radio, Pocket Tunes Radio).

The Spark Radio app includes built-in screen effects.

I’ve tried out both Spark Radio and TuneIn Radio (both $1.99) and like them both. They both give us access to thousands of stations, allowing you to search by genre, location or station name. They’re location aware and will present you with a list of local radio stations. Both have access to internet radio networks such as Digitally Imported, Soma FM, Sky FM, AccuRadio, RadioIO and Ministry of Sound. You can save favourite stations or go back to previous selections with both.

Each has its own advantages — Spark has a built-in web browser and stunning visual effects, while TuneIn allows you to record your favourite stations either in advance or on the fly. I find TuneIn’s interface is more intuitive and it seems to be able to access more stations than Spark (all the BBC stations, instead of just BBC World Service, for example), but I would recommend either of these apps.

If your tastes are more specialized, there are aggregators for specific types of music, such as classical, country, jazz, Indian and Persian. The classical and jazz ones I’ve tried (Classical Music Shows and Jazz Music Shows) aren’t worth the $1.99 price tag — you’re better off getting TuneIn or Spark and selecting the Classical or Jazz genre. However, the free Desi Radio is worth installing if you have an interest in music from the subcontinent. It’s ad supported, but the ads are not intrusive. Stations are organized by language (Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, English, etc.) and include NRI stations such as Vancouver’s Red FM.
Happy listening.

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Posted under: App Store, Reviews

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulvalkama Paul Valkama

    While nowadays there are large number of radio Apps you don’t need to buy or download an App to listen to radio on your iPad. If a station is streaming in .mp3 / .m3u / .aac or .pls format then you can listen with the Browser which can play HTML 5 audio natively (no plugins or add ons needed). Here’s a list of stations you can play right away: http://www.radiotower.com/ipadradio.html