Recently, I’ve found myself buying less music than at any other point in my life. The rise of “all you can eat” monthly subscriptions to services like Spotify and Rdio have sapped my desire to pay for an album when I can just stream it. When I want a more passive music-listening experience, I opt to have services like Pandora make my listening choices for me. I’ve recently fallen back in love with the seemingly marginalized medium of radio due to the passive listening experience and the skillful curation of knowledgeable DJs who can find great new music for me.
Radium has long been a popular app for listening to internet radio. I’ve been using the private beta of Radium 3 for the past week to listen to the radio on my Mac. How does it stack up to its predecessor and the competition?
With all of the apps I try out, it seems like my menu bar becomes more bloated every day. Even with Bartender, the fantastic menu bar organizer, I’ve had to be a bit stricter about giving up precious real estate to new apps. Radium lives up there, and unlike many other apps that have a menu bar presence, it doesn’t give you the option to run in the dock. Fortunately, its footprint is small.
The first thing users of Radium 2 will notice is the cleaner, darker appearance of the drop-down from the icon, (which, for some reason, is a heart rather than a radio). Across the top of the window are controls for playback, a search field, and access to a menu with more options. You can search by station identifiers (those four letters starting with W or K), the frequency, the network (ESPN, CBS, etc.), the genre of music, and just about any other criteria you can think of. A nice touch in the search results is the use of icons to show the category of the station. Unfortunately, these aren’t always completely accurate, as I occasionally saw a sneaker logo (signifying sports) next to my music station, or guitar next to a news station.
When you find the station you want, the menu bar can be set to display the artist and song. Should you choose, you can also get Mountain Lion notifications to display track changes.
Selecting the gear icon in the drop down reveals how fully-featured Radium 3 truly is. You can set different volume levels for where your music is playing, by controlling your internal speakers as well as your Apple TV (which has taken over for AirPort express in Radium 2).
I liked having the app stay out of the way, but you can also have Radium display album art in a similar manner as Bowtie. Hovering over the window pulls up playback controls, as well as two additional menus. One allows you to view the track in iTunes (or search Google for it), and add it to Radium’s wish list. The other menu includes a variety of sharing options and utilities. You can copy the track information to the clipboard, Tweet the song you’re listening to, love the track on Last.FM, and visit the website of the station.
Songs saved to the wish list can be pulled up in the drop down, and selecting them brings you to either iTunes or Google, (depending on whether Radium was able to positively identify the song).
I’ve never been someone who obsesses over audio equalizers, but I like having the option to play with the levels if something doesn’t sound right. By default, Radium automatically adjusts the levels to correspond with what you’re listening to. But if you want to boost the bass on that Top 40 Club Mix, you can bring up the equalizer window and tweak the settings to your ear’s delight. Of course, this feature may be unnecessary in many cases, considering that streaming radio often isn’t exactly high-quality, uncompressed audio.
Like just about anything else that plays music these days, Radium can Scrobble to Last.FM. It’s a nice feature, but as with any other playlist that you don’t control, it sort of defeats the point of Last.FM if you use the service as it is meant to be used. I like to keep track of what I choose to listen to, but Scrobbling the songs on the radio – which I don’t control – muddles my results. I opted to leave that option un-checked.
I’ve mentioned how well Radium manages to keep a low-profile, and the abundance of shortcuts makes sure it stays that way. Shortcuts can quickly hide and reveal the album art window, your wish list, the equalizer, and your subscriptions. You can control playback, display a notification of the current song, and more, all with complete key customization.
A Few Rough Spots
While Radium’s interface is as slick as it can be and it packs enough features to embarrass other internet radio players, it does have a few areas for improvement.
I loved having the current song information displayed right in the menu bar, but at times, I found that it was a bit slow to update. I got almost a minute into the next song a few times before it updated to what I was currently listening to. The same went for the Mountain Lion Notifications. However, this likely isn’t the developers’ fault so much as the radio stations that are playing.
The Notification Center compatibility is great, but there is no option to use Growl if you prefer to keep it old-school. Additionally, it would great to have the album art show up on the notification banners, though again, the developers are probably hamstrung by OS X limitations here.
Lastly, having quick access to the songs in iTunes is great, but additional purchasing options would be great for those who like to buy their music from other distributers, such as Amazon.
Many developers fail to successfully find the right balance between a minimalist, uncluttered interface with a full set of features. In this regard, Radium absolutely shines. It is packed to the brim with features without being bloated, and the interface is clean and polished without being too pared-down to be useful.
Internet radio is undoubtedly not going to be everyone’s favorite way to listen to music, especially with the growing options for buying and streaming music. But if you want to listen to your favorite local station from your long-lost hometown or follow your favorite sports talk show, I can’t recommend Radium 3 enough.
Best of all, Radium 3 is 50% off (or just $9.99) until February 19th, so hurry and get a copy before the deal is over!
An internet radio player for your Mac's menu bar that packs tons of features into a sleek package.9
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