Not all radios should be “comfort radios.” For example, some radios should be outdoor sportsman radios. The best of this class is the Tivoli PAL with its rubber coating, rugged cube shape, and rechargeable battery. But such a radio is not the focus here. We’re looking at the comfort radio, which, like comfort food, is a soothing presence that often resides by the bed. What makes a radio comforting? We can break down its distinguishing features as thus:
1. The radio has a handsome, intelligent, elegant appearance that evidences a well-thought design with logical and intuitive ergonomics.
2. The radio is built low to the ground so that it doesn’t tip over.
3. The radio has a heavy feel suggesting high quality materials and craftsmanship.
4. The radio is easy to toggle in the dark of the night.
5. The radio has strong reception so that the owner isn’t discomforted by constant antenna adjustments.
6. The radio has reliable, easy-to-use alarm features.
7. The radio illuminates at the level you want it to, not too much, not too little.
8. A warm, full speaker that doesn’t sound distant or tinny.
9 . The radio, unlike the analog Tivoli Radio 3 photograph above, must have presets since sleepy heads don't want to use a rotary dial when they're changing stations.
With this criteria in mind, let us grade some popular table clock radios.
Third Place: The Eton Sound 100. $100-150 depending on vendor and sales. Grade: B. Strengths: Handsome retro styling, strong AM/FM reception, telescopic FM antenna, built not to tip over, warm speaker. Weaknesses: Can’t read toggle buttons at night; can’t toggle up and down, just up so you have to move through all the presets; remote isn’t practical to use in a dark room. Some owners complain about the bright blue illumination. Speaker not as full as the Sangean WR-2 or the Boston Acoustics Recepter. Some owners complain of the cheap plastic feel.
Second Place: Boston Acoustics Recepter (spelled "Receptor" on Amazon). $100-150 depending on vendor and sales. Grade: B +. Strengths: Compact, smart looking style, excellent AM/FM reception, stable build won’t tip over, easy-to-use toggles and alarm; incredible sound; in fact, the sound is my favorite because voices seem like they’re in the room. The sound, in other words, creates a sense of intimacy and closeness that is unmatched. Let me be clear. For speaker sound, especially for talk radio, the Recepter is my favorite. In fact, one of my weakest AM stations, 710 ESPN, comes in with no interference on my BAR while even my strong Sangean WR-2 can be subject to birdy noise. Weaknesses: No headphone jack. This is a real shame because a headphone jack would earn the Recepter an A grade, which would make it the Comfort Radio King. Alas, this oversight continues to plague this otherwise wonderful product. I wonder how many thousands of radios Boston Acoustics isn’t selling because they failed to include a headphone jack. If you don’t need a headphone jack, this is the best of the 3 radios. But if you need a headphone jack, read on:
First Place: The Sangean WR-2. $140. Grade: A-. Strengths: Looks good in all colors, especially black. The AM/FM sounds great though I sometimes suffer a compromised 89.3 FM signal with the WR-2’s piggy tail wire FM antenna. Usually, though, the piggy tail works fine. I toggle the presets easily at night. The radio feels heavy and well-made. Weaknesses: Would benefit from a telescopic FM antenna; alarm system is complicated to the degree that I use a cheap 10-dollar alarm in its place.
Final Thoughts: If Boston Acoustics, which provides a sense of closeness and intimacy with its wonderful speaker, sticks a headphone jack on its Recepter, it will surpass the WR-2. If you want to spend less and don’t mind a lightweight radio with slightly less speaker fullness, check out the very capable Sangean PR-D5.