Q: You recently reviewed a small speaker that can play FM, but without the ability to directly tune a specific station. I mostly want an FM radio to listen to NPR at home that's also small enough to take along when I travel. Is there anything similar with more of a radio focus?
A: Check out the Avantree SP850 3-in-1, which sells for $29.99 (avantree.com). It's a portable speaker that works with FM, Bluetooth, USB, auxiliary input and MicroSD cards. (Perhaps it should be the 5-in-1.) It is small and lightweight, with a nice rubberized finish and an analog volume knob that also serves as the on-off switch.
The FM radio mode is what makes it stand out. Reception is very good, and it has direct tuning via numbered buttons that function much like a phone — to tune in 99.5, for instance, you push 995. An LCD display shows the radio station and battery status, as well as track info in MicroSD card mode. It has a headphone jack (mono, not stereo) and user-replaceable rechargeable batteries, both a rarity in the class. The battery is a Nokia BL-5C compatible, available for under $5 online.
I wouldn't describe the sound quality as bad, but it certainly could be better. As a result, the SP850 is not something I would buy as a dedicated music speaker. The bass is not very deep and the sound lacks that richness, depth and tone that draws you into the music. I recommend using the "Classic" equalizer setting to improve the sound quality.
Despite these sonic shortcomings, the price makes it a good deal if you are looking for a small radio that has some additional built-in functionality.
TV speaker update
I have a quick follow-up to last week's column about the ZVOX AV205 TV Speaker that can be adjusted for an individual listener's hearing problems.
After reading the column, a family friend whose husband is hard of hearing — he has lost 92 percent of his hearing, according to his audiologist — decided to give the device a try and invited me over to help with/observe the setup process. Her husband took the hearing test that you can get as an app with the speaker. Based on the results, the manual suggested we pretty much max out every single audiology adjustment to compensate for his hearing loss.
When the speaker started playing, he tilted his head a little and gave a nod of recognition. "I can hear it," he announced, and, after listening for a while, he confirmed that he could understand the dialogue much better than before. The biggest issue we faced was that the adjustments made the speaker sound kind of shrill for everyone else. I experimented with the settings a bit to see if I could make the sound more pleasant and listenable, and eventually I was able to make the sound warmer and deeper without affecting the husband's ability to hear and understand voices. It wasn't a jumping up-and-down miracle cure, but it was encouraging to see the speaker perform in a real-world situation.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.