Developer: Griffin Technology
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3, USB.
Griffin Technology has updated its popular radioSHARK time-shifting device to better mesh with Apple’s “black is the new black” aesthetic. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing Griffin changed.
The biggest difference—other than a black case replacing the white one—is in the software. The hardware seems to be otherwise identical to the previous version, and with that come all the hardware-related drawbacks of the original radioSHARK, most notably poor FM reception and nearly non-existent AM reception.
In a nod to this major flaw in the previous version, the new radioSHARK ships with an external antenna that plugs into the 3.5-mm mini jack on the back of the device, but it seems to bring about no noticeable improvement in FM reception no matter how it’s positioned, and can, in some cases, make FM reception worse. It has no effect at all on AM reception, which remains poor at best.
Listeners in very large radio markets with high-powered stations nearby will probably find the FM reception acceptable, but both FM and AM reception still has a long way to go before it matches up with a $10 Chinese-import clock/radio from any discount store. To my mind, that’s a fatal flaw in a device that costs several times as much.
The best thing I can say about version 2 of the software is that it’s different. It at least hasn’t lost any major features from version one, but the overall appearance has moved even further away from Apple’s standard user interface.
Most of the complaints previously voiced about the 1.x software still apply to version 2. You still can’t jump from one favorite station to another easily in the main control interface; you have to use the menu (which works much like a Web browser’s Bookmarks menu) to do it. This is fine if you only ever listen to one or two stations, but if you’re a radio channel surfer, you’re going to find this very annoying in short order.
The space bar now pauses the audio stream; the only way to mute the radio is now with a menu command or by clicking the speaker icon in the main window. Making the space bar pause the audio is in line with how iTunes works, so the consistency is arguably an improvement, but it was very nice to be able to mute the radio quickly without resorting to the mouse.
Another change to the 2.x software is that it now forces you to leave the application running in order for scheduled recordings to work. In 1.x, there was a background daemon that took care of the recording, so you could quit the radioSHARK application during a recording, and it didn’t have to launch when it was time to record something. This could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your perspective and usage patterns. I personally think it’s nice because it means there’s one less thing to uninstall later. But I detest the user interface so much that I do wish I could make it go away while the radioSHARK is recording something.
The biggest flaw in the 1.x software still isn’t fixed: there is no way for the radioSHARK to wake a sleeping Mac to initiate a recording. If you happen to wake the computer yourself, the software will immediately begin to record, but this was a very widespread complaint with the original software and to see it remain unresolved is very disappointing.
Finally, pausing the radio stream and resuming it often results in very choppy audio or even complete audio dropout. This makes the time-shifting features nearly useless, which is sort of the whole point of the thing! I have occasionally been able to get this to happen when listening live after fifteen minutes or so as well; although quitting and relaunching the application fixes the live-stream problem every time. It appears that Griffin’s software engineers were more concerned with implementing yet another non-standard user interface than fixing (or finding) serious flaws in the application.
Griffin has done such a great job with most of its other products that it’s hard to watch it miss so badly with this one, especially after the widespread dissatisfaction with the earlier version. If you live in a major radio market, can live with average FM reception, don’t need to listen to AM radio at all, and want to drop an additional $32 on Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba, this can be a very useful device. If you don’t meet all of these criteria, however, you’ll probably want to save your money for something else.