The advent of internet or net radio has freed us from the shackles of terrestrial services and opened up the possibility of listening to broadcasts from almost anywhere on the globe. Not every station is online but the vast majority are and the ability to find that suits your taste is quite a boon. But finding the good stations becomes a bit of a needle/haystack scenario so this piece is an attempt to illuminate some of the more interesting options. It’s not always about maximum fidelity of course, most are broadcast in medium bit rate MP3 but with a decent ‘receiver’ (see end of piece) it’s possible to get sound quality that is more than adequate for casual listening. The following are a few that we at the Ear enjoy on a regular basis but it would be interesting to hear your recommendations as well.
196 kbps AAC
This French public station is truly catholic in the variety of music it plays with everything from rock to jazz to classical and beyond getting an airing. You will be hard pressed to find a station that matches it for sheer range of musical styles, there is some talk with hourly news bulletins but not so much as to interrupt your listening pleasure, even if you do speak French. FIP’s appeal is that it plays unusual but not too obscure music and manages to find artists that you might not hear elsewhere, and these are not necessarily French, in fact they only appear to play the mandated amount of French music which is probably one track in ten at the most. They pick from different eras and genres and tend to put say half a dozen tracks of a similar style together before moving onto something new. Sound quality is higher than average thanks to both the 196 kbps bit rate and the use of AAC compression.
WFMU/Sheena’s Jungle Room
128 kbps AAC & MP3
This New Jersey based public radio station broadcasts on FM (91.1) and the net with no advertising and not very much speech, just enough to give you some idea of what the tracks being played are called but only after half a dozen or more have been broadcast. There are not news bulletins for a start, which is always a bonus. The minimalist DJ element means that you sometimes need to look at the app or screen to see what something is but that beats constant intros hands down. WFMU has a subchannel called Sheena’s Jungle Room (Do or DIY on many streamers) that is more niche and has very little speech at all, this plays largely older material with an emphasis on the 50s and 60s but sometimes drops something recent and this is what I have been enjoying of late. They don’t use volume normalizing which is good for sound quality less good for background listening but a rare luxury nonetheless. More important is that the music is not very familiar yet often appealing, if you like to hear something new every time you turn on it’s very entertaining.
320 kbps MP3 & FLAC
A long time favourite of the audiophile community Radio Paradise plays classic rock in the broadest possible sense, or to put it in their words: “modern and classic rock, world music, electronica, even a bit of classical and jazz”. It doesn’t stick to well known material but it’s unusual to hear something that’s totally different, so it’s not too challenging but often inspiring and I’ve been through phases of having to look up bands or acts that I’ve heard on this station just to see what the rest of their music is like. There is very little speech and no attempt at itemising what has been played, with net radio this information is usually displayed on your control device or PC screen. Ad free Radio Paradise is listener supported so there are occasional requests on this front.
Fluid Radio Experimental Frequencies
128 kbps MP3
This is a dedicated ambient station that’s based in the UK and can be relied upon to play a musical wallpaper of the interesting and often excellent variety. There is no speech to disturb the listeners revelry and very little repetition although there was a time when the same Hans Zimmer track would come up nearly every day. Fluid is perfect for working to or relaxing with and a great source of top notch ambient gubbins.
BBC Radio 6 Music
BBC Sounds app
Available via terrestrial services in the UK but also online is the BBC’s most interesting music station for the non classical listener. The variety of material is not terribly inspiring for much of the time but there are a couple of shows that warrant attention, for me they are Gilles Peterson on Saturday afternoons between 3 and 6pm and Cerys Matthews on Sunday from 10 till 1pm. Peterson plays music from the clubbier side of jazz, soul, latin and electronica with an emphasis on the contemporary while Matthews goes in for a broader range of styles that is described as “Eclectic music from blues to beats” and largely avoids the usual suspects of pop and indy that can usually be heard on this station.
How to get internet radio
I tend to use a Naim Mu-So for this purpose but pretty well all streaming audio devices can access a huge variety of stations, I also use an Auralic Aries G1 whose Lightning control app is great for finding net radio stations. If you don’t have one of these devices they can be found on a PC or Mac via outlets suchas TuneIn and vTuner or on iTunes and any of the music player options for Windows. Roon, which is the most reliable and informative streaming control app is probably the least net radio friendly system around, you can access stations but not without a bit of effort. An easier option is to use a station’s app on your mobile phone and either cable or Bluetooth the output to a suitable speaker. Sound quality is generally limited by the bit rates offered but the better the playback chain the more you will get out of net radio.