NOXON 2 radio for ipod – a review after 3 months of use

(Last update: 2007-12-25, Firmware 24.6394)

Since May 2007, I’m using a NOXON 2 radio for iPod as the sound system in the bedroom. The previous cheap HiFi was too loud (!)*. My reasons/needs to get the Noxon:

  • Ability to stream music from my uPnP-Server (so I can listen to my extensive sound collection when getting to sleep / waking up)
  • Internet radio AND podcasts (!). Listen to your favorite podcast whenever you want…(e.g. DRS3 / Peter Schneider :-)
  • FM radio (!!) with RDS. I think it utter crap to listen to local FM stations using the internet. A waste of power, infrastructure and bandwidth. FM radio is much more efficient, and reception is good here.
  • In-built amplifier and stereo loudspeakers

The last two items were the killer-criterias that eliminated any other products (In the meantime, a contender has crept up: the Sagem MyDual Radio 700 / Medion MD85651. Looks like it has the same innards, but is much cheaper. Might try it for the kitchen one day…).

NOXON 2 radio for ipod (Terratec)

On the spec sheet and in physical appearance, the Noxon looks outstanding. The product name sucks, however, as it is way too easy to confuse it with the other products of the same family (Noxon2audio, Noxon iRadio).

After 3 months of use, updated to the latest firmware (3.6.24.6369), here my first review: the hardware is ok, the device works basically ok, but the software has still too many really stupid bugs and is very user un-friendly (A software engineer myself, this drives me mad!). Fortunately, Terratec releases firmware updates every few months, so there is hope left… if these engineers use the devices daily themselves!

The good:

  • Sound quality for a small/medium room. Good sound, powerful enough, can be cranked up to the max on the device itself, then amplified further by the Volume knob on the backside of the underlying speaker module (which also includes Bass and Treble knobs)
  • Internet Radio works really well, incl. a Favorites folder and 10 station shortcuts on the remote. Favorites now also work for podcast folders. Well thought. Lots of podcats available, too. Just great.
  • uPnP-Streaming and -Rendering from my server works equally well. Very sexy to use Mediastreamer on my Nokia N800 to remotely add songs to the playlist and change the volume of the Noxon!
  • Two alarms with various options (daily, weekdays, weekends, once), different sound sources, individual awakening volumes. This allows you to program alarms such as a loud favorite metal sound daily during the weekend, and a low volume jazz radio station on weekends :-)
  • NTP clock sync (not regularely, but on manual demand via menu system)
  • Optical and Cinch out if you need better accoustics…
  • Access to a lot of (for me unneeded) value-added services such as radio567, BeSonic, Musicload, classic.com, mp3tunes etc. (some free, some paying)
  • Includes a version of Twonkymusic (the music-only uPnP-server software) that I was able to update to the latest Twonkyvision (the all-including uPnP-server software) free of charge.
  • Supports OGG (I don’t care, mp3 is more than enough, philosophical details ignored)
  • Good design
  • Good value for the money (~350 USD, 250€)

The bad & buggy:

  • The display layout. The layout structure and its usage of borders gives a way too much space for nothing. If I select a song, I want to see artist name, album name and song title! No flickering scrolling, no waiting. The display would be big enough to do this right! Also, the difference between the two display modes is too small, doesn’t change that much.
  • The display brightness handling. During the day, the display is ok. During the night, it is way too bright if you want to get to sleep. Why not add a function where holding a button on the remote or the device for 2 seconds would switch between two different levels of brightness? (You can switch between them using the menu structure – but this takes much too long and is very impractical)
  • The power usage when turned off. My cheap meter shows the Noxon still consuming 10W when off (just 2-3W less than running!). Also, the WiFi seems to keep on running, too. Please turn that thing OFF when powering down!
  • The inability to have something like auto-resume when turning it on. Every normal radio just continues playing the last station selected. Why can’t the Noxon do that?
  • If your favorite is a subfolder of the uPnp-Server, activating it immediately starts the music on it. The Next/Prev-Buttons then don’t get you to the next song, but to the next favorite. Aargh. Way better would be: don’t start the music, but bring up the folder so that further sub-selections can be made! Also, DON’T skip to the next favorite when using prev/next in a folder!
  • Loading a large list of songs/albums from the uPnP-Server is very slow. I have about 250 albums on my server, but hey – it takes more than 10 seconds to load that list. This is unacceptable. Fortunately, once the list is displayed, scrolling is quick, and you can use the number buttons (with the printed letters) to search for items in the list.
  • The previous firmware had a bug with the alarm clock queue, where one alarm suddenly didn’t work anymore. Hopefully fixed, not yet tested.
  • The latest release finally added the possiblity to use FM stations as favorites. Unfortunately, this feature is still buggy: selecting such a favorite activates the radio, but does switch to a “line-in” audio, so no sound comes out of the device (even altough the radio display is activated and shows current RDS data…) Fixed in FW6394, Dec 2007
  • There is a bug in the automatic radio station naming through RDS information. Sometimes, the station name as available via RDS gets saved in the wrong slot, overwriting the existing (correct) info. In other situations, wrong tidbits of RDS info gets saved as channel name, such as part of the current song…
  • In addition, RDS info doesn’t get re-initialized when changing channels – therefore, you see information form the previous channel during the first few seconds on the new channel. This is very irritating, would be much better to just empty the info upon station change, then refill it once info becomes available.
  • Never ever try to manually program an FM station: the frequency selection does NOT support repeating buttons, so you will have to press the same button 100 times (!) if you happen to have the favorite station at 98.20 or so MHz. Better set the autoscan to low (high?) sensibility, then let it run, and finally delete the unwanted stations.
  • The remote is too cheaply designed and produced. I’d gladly pay a few € more for a quality remote.

The unknown (as I’m not using it):

  • USB port might not be powerful enough to power attached harddisks (I have a 1 GB flash stick in there with some jazz for the wife and lots of “Globi” children stories for the kids – this way they don’t have to digg througg my large collection)
  • Playlist support (I don’t have any playlists)
  • iPod dock on top of the device, also acts as a loading station. Send me your unused iPod touch and I will test it ;-)

Further improvements:

  • (Eliminate the mentioned bugs first. Should take not more than a few days)
  • Let me add ANY navigation folder to the favorites. Wherever I’m, let me “bookmark” this place in my favorites (Improved in the latest firmware, Popcasts, FM stations and USB locations can now be faved, too). And make sure that having corrupt or invalid favorites doesn’t cause the Noxon to try loading them for 30 seconds while putting all else on hold with no chance to abort…
  • Fix the NOXONFavouritesCommander to display ALL favs, including radio stations.
  • If the power must stay on even when the device is off: add a NAS function so that one can add an external harddisk and then have it as a network drive…

My feelings are mixed. The Noxon looks good, sounds good and it fulfills all its basic functions. However, the UI department and the QA of the software (still) don’t do their work. Disappointing – especially as the hardware design is Swiss**, the software seems to be Swiss made – and I’m a proud Swiss software engineer (manager…). If anybody at Terratec reads this and is interested to get some end-user feedback in German or can let me participate in a beta test program – please contact me, I’d be very happy to help as a volunteer in my spare time. This device has big potential, but the software needs to improve! (see the works of Apple Inc. …).

I’ll keep this post updated when new firmware releases become available or new bugs are found by users (you can mail me your bugs for inclusion here if you want, I’m twaelti at dplanet dot ch).

I also posted a few tidbits in German in a thread on the Hifi-Forum. when I originally got the Noxon back in May.

*the lowest sound level was too high to listen to when getting to sleep, which was unacceptable for both of us. WAF = 0. (BTW: it also activated the noisy 3-disc changer every time the system turned on or off – even if I wanted only to listen to radio). Sound system engineers, please take note!

**Seems that Denon and Pioneer will offer similar devices, soon. Just take a look at the press releases of BridgeCo, the Swiss/US company behind the hardware.