Monitor Audio AirStream 10 £225
7th Oct 2009 | 10:00
The new Monitor Audio AirStream 10's performance reaches the stratosphere
The smart and compact Monitor Audio AirStream 10 looks futuristic and classic in appearance, is actually one of the most all-round capable audio devices we've come across in quite some time.
It receives DAB and FM radio and thanks to the wonders of wi-fi (or, if you prefer, a wired Ethernet connection), it receives Internet radio and accesses music on your home network, via any suitable router – we used a BT Home Hub for review purposes.
If that's all a bit too new-fangled for you, you can always plug in a portable music player or other source via the auxiliary input.
Some of this is easier to set up than other bits, but if your computer has at some point in its life been set up to belong to a network, then it should be pretty straightforward to get the AirStream to connect and recognise music files.
Connecting to Internet radio is effortless, though the delay in 'tuning' in to a station can be a bit trying – this isn't a function of the AirStream though, it's caused by the need for buffering data which takes some time.
The AirStream 10 can sit on the long thin face opposite the control buttons, or on the largest face so that the speaker faces downwards, about 2cm from the supporting surface. In the case of the latter, treble is bound to suffer a bit, but the buttons are more accessible – certainly if you are using the unit as a bedside alarm or radio.
Operation is simple and, in fact, the automatic sorting of Internet radio stations by genre, location, and name, is just about the best way we've found yet of trawling through them. Some of them have a distinctly ropey quality and 24kbps MP3 is obviously nothing remotely to do with hi-fi, but we did find some perfectly sonically acceptable examples from Azerbaijan and The Philippines, to name but two.
The fun is, pretty much literally, endless! Given the point already made about treble with the speaker facing downwards, we did most of our listening with it facing out, on or reasonably close to its axis.
Under such conditions the sound is fairly clear, though not quite as neutral or punchy as the best Tivoli and Vita Audio radios can offer.
On the other hand, there's a decent amount of power on hand and the lack of rattles within the unit makes it a good choice for playing loud. The mono loudspeaker is not such a huge drawback as the stereo of most one-box units is nothing to get excited about and headphone and auxiliary outputs are stereo.
With the speaker facing downwards, the most obvious drawback is in the reduced comprehensibility of the spoken voice. Music is a little dulled, but one still gets the gist. It's tempting to compare FM, DAB and Internet versions of the same station.
FM performance is a bit so-so, tending to sound rather grainy, however meticulously one fiddles with the antenna, but Internet radio is catching up fast with DAB – in some cases sounding noticeably better.
Interestingly, the AirStream's display tells you what bitrate and codec is in use for each station. Internet radio is still in its infancy, but has taken off like a rocket.
Dedicated hardware like this lags a little, but we look forward to more appearing. The attraction of Internet listening without needing a computer to be switched on is obvious and this product fills the need well.
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