Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Radio Ga Ga

Available in either white and chrome or graphite-metallic and chrome finishes, The Bug is the brainchild of PURE Digital (a leading manufacturer of DAB digital radios) and Wayne Hemingway, the original designer behind the Red Or Dead fashion label in UK. Their partnership led to the creation of a novel little digital radio, which bears a striking resemblance to E.T., especially the way the blue backlit LCD display is mounted on a flexible neck.

But the fascinating thing about The Bug is not its outward appearance. Rather, it promises to deliver CD quality sound without hiss, crackle and pop. The key to this benefit lies with a new technology called Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) or Digital Radio, which can remove sound distortion that plagues normal FM/AM radio transmission.

Digital Radio is based on the Eureka 147 DAB standard, which was developed in 1987, and is accepted by the Telecommunication Union as an international standard. Currently, 36 countries are broadcasting or putting DAB radio broadcasts on trial, with more than 300 million people within coverage range worldwide.

With DAB radios, you can access information such as the song title, artiste’s name and even traffic report in the form of scrolling text displayed on the LCD screen. These are nice touches, but who would have the patience to stare at the display constantly? A radio is just not meant for this purpose, particularly one that is not as portable as The Bug.

That aside, this radio does have some innovative features, most notably the ReVu button, which allows you to pause, rewind, and record live radio. This adds an interesting twist to radio listening, much like the way VCRs transformed TV viewing habits.

For instance, you can pause a radio programme and take a leak, before resuming where you left off. Or, you could be listening to a phone-in contest, and need to hear the question again – the rewind function will thus come in handy. The Bug can buffer up to 12 minutes of audio, depending on the broadcast quality of the radio station, to a cache of built-in flash memory.

If that’s not enough, you can plug in an SD card into the SD card slot at the back of The Bug and record whatever you’re listening to at the touch of a button. You can even playback MP3s from the SD card, but the booming speakers may not do justice to the sound.

Given its ability to record high quality music, The Bug raises obvious piracy issues. At the launch, the spokesperson from distributor Robert Bosch said that the onus lies with users to refrain from using digital radios to pirate digital music. That may be a tall order. Fortunately, recordings on The Bug are made in MPEG-2 format and there’s no built-in mechanism to convert them to MP3.

Included in the package is a Quick Start Guide, an unattractive manual with rudimentary drawings that are hardly instructive. “Bug Keeping”, a practical guide for new owners, is an interesting read about the story behind The Bug and DAB digital radio by Hemingway.

Once the novelty wears off, however, you’ll find that The Bug is no big deal. The navigation button tends to get in the way of menu item selection and the equalisation doesn’t seem to work much for some stations. And it’s expensive, for a radio.

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