The God Radio

“If Apple Built A Bluetooth Speaker, This Would Be It” wrote the International Business Times in a recent review of the Hidden Radio.

Arthur C. Clarke declared “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” as Clarke’s First Law.

The Hidden Radio first popped up on my radar in 2008 via the excellent Jason Kottke.

Then it became a Kickstarter project.

Now it’s here.

A quick review

  • Design
  • Audio
  • Connectivity
  • Build and ergonomics
  • To dos

If good design is about taking away, not adding, then this device should be simply superb. Which it is.
Minimalistic to the max (if that’s not an oxymoron), elegant, tactile.
Twist one way for more volume, twist the other way for less. Switch for mode  selection (radio:line in:Bluetooth speaker) in the base.
It’s everything I thought it would be. From a design perspective…

“Listen to brilliant hifi audio“. That’s what it says on the box, anyway.
Let’s be honest – anyone who expects HiFi from a device the size of a beer can needs their head examining.
Some of the first impressions from Kickstarter investors were that it sounds muddy, there’s no bass and it distorts when you crank it right up.
Now, I’m the sort of person who – even in a rental car – sets bass to -1, treble to +1 and isn’t much of a fan of  the drum and bass genre.
So it’s fine with me.
And if you crank ANY HiFi system under $1000 to max, you’ll get distortion.

The first track I played was Rod Stewart’s “Every picture tells a story” (one of the truly great songs – [Listen]) which certainly dates me and probably tells you something about the likelihood (or lack of..) of my being able to hear high frequencies. Paired it with my iPhone, twisted the Hidden Radio to about 75% and adjusted the volume from the iPhone.

Is it as clear as my Denon/Bose combination? No. (No surprises there..)
Do my iHome speakers (here’s the successor model) sound crisper. Yes, but then they’ve got metres of cable that you have to contend with and they’re nowhere near as elegant.
Would I like the crispness of the iHome speakers with the design and portability of the Hidden Radio? Absolutely!

But is the trade-off of design and elegance and portability against a marginally better sound worth it.
No question about it.
The Hidden Radio is EXACTLY what I expected and EXACTLY why I invested in the Kickstarter project in the first place.

The true test is going to be a technical review by an independent audio lab against other Bluetooth speakers. I suggested it to the project owners months back. I guess they had their reasons for not doing it.

Connectivity.

Bluetooth works like a dream. Twist Hidden Radio to turn it on, scan from iPhone/MacBook Air/iMac/iPad and it’s right there. “Beepbeep” tells you’re you’re connected.

Turn Hidden Radio upside down and you’ll find the radio controls and if you look REALLY HARD, you’ll see a micro-USB slot and a line in jack.

Good luck with those. Unless you’re a neurosurgeon, of course. Bloody hell, they’re tight, especially the micro-USB . Which you need every 15 hours to recharge. Brute force doesn’t help – gentle wiggling does.

I’d be lying if I said I’m happy about the build quality.
I have monogrammed Limited Edition unit – #049. You get one of those if you were one of 100 serious Kickstarter backers. Cool that it’s the international prefix for Germany (where I’m based) and I’d like to think that 044 went to the UK and 064 to New Zealand etc, but it’s probably a coincidence.

I would have really liked it NOT to have had a chip out of the cap at the base,

It would have been cool not have had dents on the speaker grill.

And not having it extremely off-centre would have made twisting the cap possible – not easy, possible – on normal surfaces.
(I have 2 – the other one works like a dream. Except it’s not a Limited Edition)

The sticky base is terrific on my smoked glass desktop – I can press down while twisting and it works just fine. Any other surface (wooden table, kitchen bench) doesn’t have a coefficient of friction of 1 and the only way to twist (in other words: to make it work at all…) is to pick it up, hold the base and twist.
Then again, Sod’s Law decreed that I should get one that’s off-centre…

And why it twists in the opposite direction to the convention for everything from bathtub taps to bottles, I have no idea. You get used to it, but I don’t see why I should have to think counter-intuitively. Not even for Hidden Radio.
Ergonomics is something else and not what the doctor ordered designers had in mind, I’m sure.

To Dos

Look for it in your local Apple Store sometime within the next year. And if the guys who designed it are clued up, they’ll have sent Sir Johnny Ives a white one with his name engraved on it.

But they have some stuff to do first.

Get the quality right. I don’t think I should have to tolerate this sort of sloppiness. If I’d bought it in a store, I’d take it back for one in pristine condition. And works.

The packaging looks great – a cube with 3 different stages of speaker exposure. Excellent!
But.
The packaging  says “LIFT to hear”. No, it’s “TWIST to hear”!
You can’t open it easily without tearing the lid, because the fold-over flap hasn’t been cut away to allow for the tongue of the cover to fit easily.
When you open it tear it open, you’re confronted with an array of nasty-looking generic connector cables in tacky plastic bags.

Look at how Apple does it. With style. Copy them shamelessly. This is stuff people notice and you you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.And get a new fulfillment provider.
These people are useless.
I don’t want to get a bent box.I don’t want it sent to house number 123 instead of 12.

And I would have liked my clearly defined shipping instructions followed.

But I’m sure the people in the Netherlands (NL) are even unhappier about seeing their Hidden Radios heading off to Niger (NE)……

Do I like my Hidden Radio?

No, I LOVE it.

And I’m off to my local Apple Authorised Retailer to make them BEG me to leave it there……

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9 Responses to The God Radio

  1. Frank Walsh says:

    Did the speakerphone capability work for you? It didn’t for me on my iphone 4.

    • jb says:

      As far as I’m aware, a speakerphone functionality was never in scope

      • frankbwalsh says:

        Never in scope??? It’s was advertised and the front page shows an image of people using it as such!? That’s totally inacurate.

      • jb says:

        Frank Walsh is quite right, of course. The speakerphone function wasn’t on my radar, but it’s definitely promoted as a function on Kickstarter

      • Frank Walsh says:

        I spoke with the team, turns out they just simply decided they’d upgrade the bluetooth module…which prevents them from offering the speakerphone capability…I have no facts to back up this supposition, but I have a feeling based on my knowledge of product development, that the founders did everything they could to keep the margin as high as possible, in some cases removing features from the product design. I’m not happy with the way they ran the kickstarter campaign. Feel like I should have just ordered a JamBox.

  2. Daniel says:

    I was expecting much more, may be my fault. Some stupid mistakes (charge slot), but okay, it’s not apple or sony or whatever, it’s the first project of two nice guys. So I’m still happy that I backed them.

  3. Alan says:

    I just want mine to arrive in NZ

  4. Charles says:

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