Q I'm looking to bring music into my kitchen and family room. I'd like a tabletop system that can connect to Internet radio and my iPad. What do you suggest?
A The last time I wrote about tabletop music systems, I mentioned a 20 percent off sale for the Cambridge SoundWorks i765, which promptly sold out. You can now use a "Notify Me When Available" link at www.cambridgesoundworks.com to receive the discount when the radio is back in stock. It's at this website that you'll also find my recommendation for you.
The great-sounding Cambridge SoundWorks Ambiance Touch World Radio ($399) sports an attractive design with a color touchscreen.
I compared the Ambiance Touch with the i765 but quickly came to realize that it was apples and oranges. As good as the i765 is, it represents the past, while the Ambiance Touch embraces the Internet and wireless technology. (A wired Ethernet connection is also provided.)
Music can be streamed from PCs directly to the Ambiance. If you want to stream from a Mac and iTunes, you can do so with an Airport Express unit connected to the auxiliary input. Although the unit features AM/FM radio, an integrated iPod dock and a host of choices to optimize sound quality, what I found to be most exciting is the way it effortlessly brings in the nearly endless variety of Internet radio (more than 65,000 stations).
The touchscreen menus quickly connected the Ambiance Touch to my wireless network, and I decided to see how easy it was to tune news radio in Japan. The answer: startlingly easy.
With just a few taps of the touchscreen, I was listening to news from Japan. A few more taps and I was listening to dance music from Finland. A few taps after that, I was listening to a station in Indiana broadcasting local sports news.
I can see the Ambiance Touch becoming a big hit with sports fans who can't listen to their favorite team because they are in another city.
If you have a Pandora Internet radio account, it can be linked and multiple user accounts are supported. The Pandora screen shows album art and track information, a nice touch.
The only downside I found was that the Ambiance offers perhaps too many choices for adjusting the sound quality. I had to adjust a good bit to get things to sound just the way I liked it. Most users will probably be happy with one of the preset modes, but audiophiles should count on tweaking.
After listening to music from all around the world with the Ambiance, when I went to the AM, FM and iPod sources, it seemed, well, rather quaint.
At $399, the Ambiance isn't cheap, but the quality and all of the free content you receive make it worth it. I don't know of a better way to enjoy Internet radio.