Sonicbox brings ‘net radio into your living room

Music fans who love Internet radio but hate being trapped in front of their PCs may soon be able to access their favourite Web stations on their home-audio systems.

The Sonicbox Tuner , a new tool from Mountain View, Calif.-based start-up Sonicbox Inc., can send Internet radio signals to traditional home-audio systems when plugged into a broadband Internet connection. A base unit connects to the user’s PC, while the listener can move freely with the wireless remote tuner.

The base unit transmits signals across an unused FM frequency, and the user can select from numerous radio stations with the tuner, which also has a “Tell Me More” button that can be used to obtain more information about songs being broadcast, or even to purchase MP3 files or CDs.

The tool is to radio what cable set-top technology is to television, said David Frerichs, Sonicbox’s co-founder, chief technical officer and vice-president of marketing. It allows access to hundreds of radio stations around the world in conjunction with PCs and audio components that already exist in so many people’s homes, he said.

“We considered the idea of a standalone device,” Frerichs said. “But then we just decided to target broadband. Most users already have a PC and a radio, so why duplicate the functions of those devices in a standalone unit?”

The Sonicbox Tuner offers benefits to Internet radio stations, record companies and end users alike, Frerichs said. End users can spend more time listening to Internet radio, and do it in the comfort of their living rooms or wherever they choose. They can also customize the content they receive, including not only music but advertisements, depending on which of several privacy levels they have chosen.

Stations can reach far more listeners, including those beyond the range of their traditional transmitters. And record companies can offer samples of songs from new albums, with users voting for those that might make good single releases or taking part in other surveys – or going ahead and buying the CD – using the Sonicbox Tuner.

Sonicbox must carry stations in order for them to be transmitted via the tuner. The company has just announced an agreement with to carry its Web radio stations.

The company is planning a trial deployment of its Sonicbox Tuner during November, in conjunction with DSL service provider Flashcom Inc. The device will be offered at a retail price under US$50, according to Sonicbox, with delivery expected during Q2 of next year.