THE PSION WAVEFINDER
Like many, I took advantage of PC World's kind, but brief and little-publicised invitation to buy a Psion Wavefinder digital radio for less than £50. It appears as if Psion may has now discontinued the unit, though it still appears to be available for £99 from the Psion Online Store.
My unit was only partially packaged, but nevertheless complete in itself with aerial rods, power supply and CD-ROM containing drivers, application software (v1.2) and installation guide/help file.
There were two problems with the installation. The first was my own stupid fault for not reading the instructions. I, as others may have been before me, was stupid enought to attempt to plug the output of the power supply into the socket on the back of the main unit which is, in fact, intended for an outside aerial. Fortunately no harm was done and when I plugged the power lead into the socket in the back of the USB connector it sprang obediently into life! The second problem was that the application software wouldn't fully install onto a drive other than drive C, so another application ends up on that drive against my wishes.
Having installed the software and got the unit working I immediately checked the Wavefinder web site, downloaded and installed the most recent software (v1.4), though this made no discernable difference.
One of the main things you hear about the Wavefinder is that Psion's own software is not at all popular. It works OK on a machine which meets the spec. but it's resource-hungry and also has a tendency to fill the desktop to no real advantage, so next I downloaded the DAB player Wavelite. This is faster, more compact and very unfussy. Not only does it provide all the functions you really need, but it also provides some interesting technical information about the multiplex name, the sampling frequency and the bit rate of the station selected for playback. Other DAB players are also available for Wavefinder including WinDAB and DABbar which are voth freeware.
My decision to buy the Wavefinder was a spontaneous one and I'd done little research into what stations I might expect to receive so I was pleasantly surprised when an initial scan showed that the unit had found four multiplexes including two London local ones, which I very pleased about.
Signal strength wasn't a problem but I was alarmed by the unit's illuminating LEDs cycling through a range of colours. Not knowing what the colours meant I was worried by them because I was also getting glitches on some stations. Consulting the help file showed that the cycling colours were simply an indication of normal operation while the glitches were on stations from the Switch London multiplex only and I later established that this was a framing problem with the transmission which has now been sorted out.
The range of stations was very pleasing for me, particularly because the London stations are difficult to receive on FM in South Bedfordshire and not all of them are on satellite. There are now five multiplexes available from the London transmitters.
When I first wrote this review in November 2001 I wrote: As far as the audio quality is concerned this is potentially excellent, though of course it varies from station to station. The national networks sound the best as they appear to be free of unnecessary audio processing, with Radios 2, 3 and 4 being particularly good. Local and commercial stations are, by degree, less good. Speech-only stations such as LBC, News Direct and Oneword are broadcast in mono at very low bit rates and are very difficult to listen to for any length of time. Since that time the BBC have added their new digital-only networks, 1Xtra, 6 Music, BBC7 and The Asian Network to the multiplex which has degraded the quality of their services quite noticeably.
Although DAB offers advantages in terms of station choice and robustness of reception for in-car reception it can no longer be regarded as a hi-fi source.
UK DAB Info| DAB Transmitter information
wavefinder.com | Psion Online Store
Digital Radio | Digital
1 Network | Switch Digital | Digital
Digital Radio Development Bureau | The Radio Authority
Russ J Graham's review of the Psion Wavefinder