I’ve never been the sort of person who needs some background noise going — radio, TV, music — so I skipped the first generation of iPods and never really felt like I was missing anything by not carrying my music in my pocket. As a stay-at-home dad, particularly when the kids were tiny and needed a lot of attention, there’s just simply no way I would walk around the house with earbuds in; I needed to be able to hear what was going on. If anything, I’d pop a CD in the CD player, and I rarely turned on the radio except when I was driving somewhere and didn’t feel like messing with CDs. And at some point we sold our little stereo, which meant that I really didn’t have any good way to listen to the radio at all apart from my alarm clock, which is kind of limiting.
So I’ve been curious about internet radio devices: the stations I’d listen to most frequently all have online streams, but I also like listening to podcasts when I’m able to. I got to try out the Mondo Wi-Fi Music Player from Grace Digital Audio, and it’s been pretty handy — although my kids seem to get more use out of it than I do.
At first glance, the Mondo looks a bit like the Logitech Squeezebox which Ken wrote about back in November (although in his current home audio setup I don’t know if he’s still using it). There are a few differences, though: for one, the screen is larger. Not entirely necessary, perhaps, but it does make it easier to read from a distance and means that when you’re entering passwords and names with the dial you can display a few more things at a time. It has 10 preset buttons and an included remote (although I found the spin dial generally easier to use than the remote).
Like the Squeezebox, you can get a free remote control app for iOS or Android — as long as your device is on the same wi-fi network as the Mondo, you can control everything without having line-of-sight like the physical remote. If you want to go portable, there’s an optional lithium battery — but since the device requires a wi-fi connection I’m not sure that’s a huge bonus.
There’s the expected headphone jack and RCA line out, but there are also aux in and USB ports. The USB port can be used for an Ethernet dongle, or you can just plug a USB drive into the back with MP3s on it. I actually found this last feature to be useful because my daughter is now learning violin and her teacher sends me MP3s with recordings that she can practice with. I don’t have to put them into my iTunes library; I can just stick them on a USB drive and my daughter can plug it in and play along.
Once you’ve got your Mondo connected to your wi-fi network, you’ll be able to access a huge list of internet radio stations. If you’ve got accounts for Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, or SiriusXM, you can link those to the device as well. My wife was especially pleased that the Mondo has “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” buttons for Pandora, so you can continue to modify your stations through the Mondo. (The remote also has these buttons included.)
Using Grace’s online interface, you can find podcast feeds to add to the “My Stuff” folder, and then access those directly from the Mondo. However, the downside to this is that there’s no way to pause, fast-forward, or rewind while you listen to podcasts. Plus it doesn’t mark them as “listened to” in my iTunes library. So for podcasts like “This American Life” or “The State of Games,” I still prefer to listen to those on my iPod, but music-based podcasts (GeekDad HipTrax, for instance) work fine.
You can also set up UPnP to stream your music library to the Mondo, though I haven’t tried that out myself yet because I hadn’t really messed with UPnP yet. (That, and I have a huge stack of CDs that I should probably just rip to iTunes so they can stop taking up space in the living room.)
It’s been fun finding international stations for my kids to listen to — one weekend they spent an entire afternoon blasting some traditional Chinese instrumental tunes and dancing to them, and another day they found a children’s station in French — and I like being able to tune in to OPB while I’m away from my computer (or not in my car). I think your own listening habits will largely determine whether something like the Mondo is worth it to you: if you like having a stereo that sits on a shelf somewhere, it’s great. If you do most of your listening through a portable player or your laptop, then it may be somewhat redundant.
You can visit Grace Digital Audio’s website for more details about the Mondo, which retails for $179.99.
Review sample provided by Grace Digital Audio.