A radioSHARK Review

I wanted to love the radioSHARK from Griffin Technology, I really did. I’m a big fan of radio and I’ve been disappointed that it took so long for a company to develop and AM/FM turner for the PC. So when I heard about the radioSHARK I was excited. A quick trip to the Apple store and I had this little fin-shaped wonder.

I won’t go into the installation. Let’s just say I plug it into my PC, dropped in the CD, and 5 minutes later, I was listening to the local NPR station through my computer speakers in all its poppy glory. I was impressed how easy it was because Griffin Technology is primarily a Mac company and I was testing on a Windows XP box.

I said I wanted to love the radioSHARK, and at first I did. I was enthralled by the scheduler, setting up shows to record. I giggled like a schoolgirl when I discovered the ability to time-shift live audio almost like my Tivo. I laughed as All Things Considered talked about the presidential election. I felt happy.

Then I started to notice the radioSHARKs flaws. Audio seemed to be poppy, interrupted with just barely perceptible stutters in audio that would come and go. I noticed the three crashes that the app had in the first four hours. I noticed that my entire system reset when I tried to look at the size of audio buffer. The radioSHARK worked, just not that well.

Of course, the first thing I had to do was TimeShift. For those not familiar with the concept, ReplayTV and Tivo pioneered the idea of allowing their users pause, rewind, and when applicable, fast-forward by displaying saved video instead of the live feed. It’s a brilliant concept that I picture being integrated into the majority of consumer electronics in the future.

On the radioSHARK GUI, there was a button labeled TS, which I correctly assumed meant TimeShift and pressed. That brought up a sub-window to the GUI that had a pause button, fast forward and rewind arrows, and two additional buttons that I later decided were ‘skip to beginning’ and ‘skip to end’ (which weren’t documented). I pressed the pause button and waited for the audio to stop. It didn’t. I pressed the button again and still nothing. It turns out that the PC (and maybe Mac) version has TimeShifting disabled by default. A quick trip to the preferences (after figuring out how to get to it), I enabled TimeShifting and hit pause again. Success. I paused, I rewound, and I fast forward. It was fun. It was also annoying because when TimeShifting was on, the audio stutter became more pronounced. I assume it has to do with the buffering and playback, but on a P4-2.8 HT box with SATA drives, this sound glitch is just absurd.

It wasn’t perfect though. First, on the Tivo, if you switch channels, the buffer resets itself. With the radioSHARK, the buffer keeps going, even through station switches. It’s a bit disconcerting to rewind through All Things Considered and suddenly hear Nickel Back. It’s probably just my personal preference, but I like the Tivo model of Time Shifting better. It’s interesting to note that when you exit the preferences screen, the audio buffer resets. Second, on the GUI front, the time shifting slider doesn’t tell you how far back you’ve gone when moving the slider. So if you want to go back 10 minutes, you have to guess at how far that is on the slider bar. Looking at the Mac GUI in the manual, it looks like they have tic marks and time indicators. Why doesn’t the PC? Next up, I decided to set a bunch of presets. For the 8 stations I listen to, this took about 5 minutes, mostly because I made mistakes, but also because the interface is not the easiest to use. First, I had to select “New Preset”, enter the station name and frequency in the new dialog box, then click ok and repeated the process for each station.It’s a poor way to enter information, but usable. Each of the presets are put into a drop down list box in the order they are entered and no way to reorganize them.

Recording offered mixed results. RadioSHARK only records in Windows Media (WMA) and, theoretically, raw WAV (AIFF and AAC on the Mac), but not MP3. Maybe they were worried about codec installation or maybe the legal ramifications. Either way, you are stuck with WMA or WAV. Actually you are stuck with WMA because if I tried to record to WAV, it always resulted in an unplayable WAV file. I tried WinAmp, Windows Media Player, Xbox Media Center, and even the radioSHARKs built in player. Nothing worked. The file would grow during recording, but I could not get anything to play the resulting WAV file. How exactly the radioSHARK app got out the door with this bug is beyond me.

Finally I set up the radioSHARK to record a couple of my favorite talk shows the next day. I set up three shows to record at different times throughout the day, a simple task. When I got home from work the next day, I pulled up recorded item list. It showed the three shows. I clicked on one and pressed play, but the app popped up a dialog saying it couldn’t find the file. I tried the second and third with the same problem. This was just getting bad. I think it might have something to do with my system going into standby as I remember reading a Mac review where the author complained about the radioSHARK not bring his Mac out of standby mode. Even if that’s the problem, why would the radioSHARK put the entries into the ‘Recorded’ list?

I said I wanted to love the radioSHARK and I still do. Unfortunately the software just has too many problems to be useful. Ultimately, this is fixable and I hope that Griffin Technology releases an update software package for the PC (Macs be damned!). Even if Griffin doesn’t, RadioTime is apparently working to add support for the radioSHARK to their service, which may prove to be a good alternative.

As I played with the radioSHARK, I noticed a bunch of little (and some big) issues that just scream ‘Unpolished App’. Most of these could be fixed with a minimal amount of code work.

1. Slider Tuner – I understand using a slider bar for the tuner. It’s somewhat intuitive, but there should also be the option to type in the station number directly.
2. No Universal Hotkeys – If I want to pause or change stations, I need to first bring focus to the app. There should be some universal hotkeys that are accessible outside the app.
3. No Scheduling Grid – The radioSHARK maintains your scheduled recordings in a list format, making it difficult to determine if a newly scheduled show will conflict with an existing one. radioSHARK only checks for conflicts after you’ve entered the show onto the schedule. A better solution would be to have a grid layout, showing where the new show would be scheduled.
4. Scheduling doesn’t distinguish between weekdays and weekends – I would like to record shows that are on during the week but not the weekends. The current repeat schedule only allows for ‘Every Day’, ‘Every Week’ and ‘Every Month’. radioSHARK should offer the ability to only record Monday-Friday. Better yet, it should offer the ability designate which days to record.
5. EQ (Equalizer) button doesn’t work – I couldn’t get the EQ (Equalizer?) button to work. Is it just eye-candy for symmetry?
6. Crashes and Resets – The radioSHARK is not the best app. Since I’ve owned it, the app has crashed 5 times and my system has reset once.
7. Doesn’t shut down after recording – The app stays up after recording has finished. This can be a problem as turns the sound back on and starts playing the station it was recording.
8. Can’t start minimized or to tray – When you start the radioSHARK, it brings up the main window starts playing a station. There is no way start minimized to the tray and silent. This is useful if radioSHARK is set to run on Windows startup.
9. Tabs are illogical in creating a preset and scheduling recording – The tab layout on the windows-widget based windows is illogical and seems random. Considering how easy it is to set the tab order, this is just annoying.
10. Windows are not resizable – None of the windows are resizable, even where it would be logical such as the scheduler.

11. Dragging window loses grip – I’m not sure what is causing this, but if I click on the main window and drag it around the desktop, the pointer loses its grip on the window.
12. The audio buffer appears on the desktop – This should go in the radioSHARK directory. Even if it’s a hidden file, it doesn’t belong on the desktop.
13. Red Light, Blue Light -I like my computers and components to be as inconspicuous as possible. The radioSHARK insists on glowing blue in standby and red while recording. The app should give the ability to disable the lights. Barring that, I’m going to have do use my clippers to solve the problem.

About the Author
Ben works as a code monkey for a small computer chip company in Hillsboro, Oregon. When he’s not slaving for that Man, he either spends time with his girlfriend and two dogs; or he aspires to begin a career as a reviewer. When asked to proof-read this review, Ben’s girlfriend said “you know, most guys use their computers to surf for porn”.

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