The Tangent Quattro ($350) is an attractive tabletop receiver for Internet radio broadcasts. If you have a high-speed wireless Internet connection and an insatiable appetite for radio, the Tangent Quattro offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of global broadcasts.
The Tangent Quattro is available in four colors, including black, white, glossy red, and our favorite, faux-walnut. Compared to other Internet radio receivers, such as the Roku SoundBridge or Slim Devices Squeezebox, we're delighted that the Quattro matches our notions of what a "radio" should look like. Measuring 4.5 inches by 8.25 inches by 6 inches, the Tangent Quattro is an ideal size for a bookshelf or countertop, although its unsightly power adapter can be tough to disguise.
All of the Tangent Quattro's features are controlled from the front panel. In the center of this panel is a 2.5-inch, two-line, backlit LCD screen that displays station, menu, and clock information. We found the screen to be easy to read, but it does feel cramped when viewing long station names. A series of 10 pill-size buttons are located beneath the screen, which are used to navigate through the Tangent Quattro's menu system and also serve as station preset controls. Oversize dials marked Volume and Tune are located beside the Tangent Quattro's screen, while the buttons for Power and Select are sequestered off in the bottom corners of the panel, where they're less likely to be accidentally nudged.
One of the more unusual aspects of the Tangent Quattro's design is its top-mounted speaker placement. The single, 3-inch speaker is covered by a sturdy metal grille that has a Tic-Tac-size alarm clock snooze button off to one side. The back of the Tangent Quattro features a 1-inch speaker port, an AC adapter jack, and three 3.5mm stereo jacks for auxiliary input (for an MP3 or CD player), headphone output, and line output.
The Tangent Quattro has two main selling points: the ability to browse and enjoy more than 7,000 Internet radio stations without a computer; and the ability to stream music files from other computers in your home. Be warned, however, that there is little value in the Tangent Quattro if you do not have a high-speed Wi-Fi Internet connection to use it with. Without a Wi-Fi signal, there is no AM or FM radio to fall back on and the only useful remaining feature is the auxiliary input jack.
The good news is that the Tangent Quattro works with both open and encrypted Wi-Fi networks, and has no difficulty remembering WEP and WPA security passwords. If you don't expect to be moving the radio between multiple networks, chances are you'll only ever need to tinker with the Quattro's network settings the first time you set it up. Configuring the Tangent Quattro to stream music from another computer is a little more involved and adds the uncertainty of your personal computer into the equation. More often than not, we preferred to just plug in an MP3 player, rather than navigate our PC's music collection using the Tangent's two-line display. Still, if you feel compelled to stream your PC-based music collection, the Tangent Quattro accepts MP3, WMA, Real Audio, OGG Vorbis, AAC, WAV, AIFF, Windows media streams, and even AU file formats. The Tangent Quattro will not stream DRM-protected AAC and WMA files, however, so don't expect your iTunes or Rhapsody music purchases to be compatible.
In our experience, the real payoff of using the Tangent Quattro is the excitement and gratification of exploring the world's Internet radio broadcasts. Compared to the banal and predictable offerings of traditional radio, there's no replacing the liberating experience of tuning in a salsa radio broadcast from Brazil, or a classical station from Bolivia. In fact, we found so many compelling broadcasts that we quickly exhausted the paltry six station-preset buttons. While we found the station selection on the Tangent Quattro to be more than adequate, it is by no means comprehensive. The Tangent Quattro pulls all of its content from the stations listed at Reciva.com. If you want to make sure your favorite Internet radio station is available on the Tangent Quattro, it's worth searching for it on Reciva's Web site before making the purchase.
We found the alarm clock function on the Tangent Quattro to be useful and easy to program, however, we don't recommend it as a viable alarm clock solution. Casually listening to Wi-Fi Internet radio is one thing, but depending on your Wi-Fi connection to wake you up for work seems reckless.
With the Tangent Quattro's $350 asking price, we had hoped for a few extras, such as a remote control, EQ presets, or possibly an SD card slot like the one found on the Roku SoundBridge. We also wouldn't mind a way to sort broadcasts by audio quality, so that low bit-rate stations can be easily excluded. Extras aside, the Tangent Quattro's small size and design quality more than make up for any shortcomings.
While the Tangent Quattro may look like retro AM radio, its sound quality is much closer to modern systems, such as the Griffin Amplifi or Tivoli PAL. We had no problem using the Tangent Quattro to fill a living room with loud, rich-sounding music. That said, don't expect any miracles. A monophonic 3-inch speaker can only do so much, and even the best Internet radio broadcasts inherently suffer from audio degradation.
Our only real frustration with the Tangent Quattro occurred when Internet radio streams dropped out momentarily in order to rebuffer the audio. While the radio stream drop-outs have more to do with the speed of our Internet connection and the reliability of our Wi-Fi router, it's an Achilles heel of the Internet radio receiver concept that potential customers should be aware of.
If you're a radio nut whose idea of heaven is waking up to a live broadcast from BBC4 or Radio Poland, then the Tangent Quattro is an attractive investment at $350. If you're just looking for an affordable and attractive way to bring both radio and digital audio into your office or living room, a product like the Altec Lansing iM600 is a better value.