For the past several years companies have been competing to make the next big thing…smaller. At 12 inches wide and 9 inches deep, the Grace Digital Encore sets itself apart from other internet radios with it’s large size and weight. The Encore functions as a stand alone tabletop internet-enabled streaming radio, intended to let you enjoy your favorite internet streaming services without the need to pair your phone or iPod to your speaker. Retailing for $200, you gain access to Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, Live365, and SiriusXM Radio (subscription required) built right into your stereo. Of course you can always listen to traditionally AM/FM radio as well if the mood strikes you. The Encore is programmed to detect your location automatically from your IP address, making finding your local stations a breeze! You can even act as your own radio host with the supported HTTP/S, RTSP, WSMP, or Shoutcast streaming protocols.
Between the tweeters is a beautiful 3.5″ color display which provides vivid, crisp images of album art, Internet radio station information, and simple menu icons. To the left of the screen is a standard headphone jack, and to the right an IR receiver for the remote. The back of the unit features a physical power switch and a power-in port, much as you would expect. However, even with all these streaming options you will inevitable have a need, whether for your or a guest, to plug in a phone or iPod – no problem. The box includes a RCA to 3.5mm wire, so you can connect any audio device with a headphone plug directly into the back via the dual RCA plugs. The left set is for auxiliary-input (such as an iPod, CD player, or any other music player with a 3.5mm headphone jack) and the right set is for line-out (in case you want to feed internet radio to a larger stereo system). If you’re playing music from a more modern device, like a smartphone, then you can hook directly into the USB port. The USB port has a more potential than you may realize. I chose to load a thumb drive with a collection of 2000 of my favorite songs and keep it plugged into the back at all times. The internal processor supports the big three formats, MP3, AAC, and WMA, along with several others listed later in the review. Displaying the songs metadata and cover art on the 3.5 inch display effectively turns the Encore into a giant MP3 player, with the speakers built in!
The Encore achieves huge sound and deep bass by housing a 12w Class D amplifier and ported subwoofer within the unit, along with stereo tweeters visible on the front. The ported bass adds the perfect amount of extra kick to the bass notes, while the tweeters are able to maintain clarity even at very high volumes. It can get loud enough to feel it, but doesn’t sacrifice much quality in the process even while playing lower bit-rate files.
The top of the unit features several buttons and knobs. Of course the expected “power”, “home”, and “play” buttons are there – but the Encore also has several more unique choices. Five buttons have blue icons above which provides fully integrated Pandora capabilities: thumbs up, thumbs down, or skip. These secondary button functions enable automatically after you launch the Pandora app. You can even bookmark songs to listen to or purchase later from Amazon or iTunes, just like Pandora’s web/app interface. The programmable top buttons allows you to add 10 presets of your favorite stations, not exclusive to only AM/FM or satellite radio stations, you can program presets down to specific artists on Pandora or Rhapsody to give yourself quick access to your top station and artist choices.
There are two dials on the top of the unit as well. The smaller dial controls the volume, while the larger knob doubles as station tuning and navigating the unit’s menus via the 3.5″ front screen. The buttons have a feeling of quality about them; offering a soft initial resistance with a firm click when pushed, providing both audible and physical feedback. The button and knob combination proves much more responsive than similar radios with touch contact controls. This all combines to make the navigation of the Encore feel very natural.
A small remote is included in the box which retains a similar button structure, without the knobs and custom Pandora buttons. The remote talks to the radio unit via infrared, which is a bit of a disappointment from a stereo of this caliper. We would have preferred to see an RF remote, for those times you are out of a direct line of sight from the unit, or in case you prefer to hook it into a larger sound system for it internet radio capabilities. Thankfully there is a solution for this problem by means of the free Android/iOS remote app. Simply search “Grace Digital” in the app store or android marketplace and you will always have complete control over the unit right in your pocket! Along with controlling the unit itself, the app also displays the track details and artwork directly on your phone, no matter which service you are using.
We were impressed with the Grace Digital Encore Internet Radio, it does the job it set out to do marvelously – and the ease of operation is icing on the cake. The knob and button controls make navigating the dashboard pleasant, instead of the chore it could have been. It’s easy to find your favorite radio stations, whether you use the knobs, remote, or smartphone app. Best of all setup is practically non-existent. Simply flip the physical power switch on the back and the internal computer will boot up and automatically scan for Wi-Fi signals. (However you can always connect to a different network manually in the settings.) You can’t talk about speakers without mentioning the most important part, how do they sound? The Encore’s speakers sound great, even when playing lower bit-rate files. The ported bass adds the perfect amount of extra kick to the bass notes, while the tweeters are able to maintain clarity even at very high volumes. It can get loud enough to feel it, but doesn’t sacrifice much quality in the process. You can tell thought was put into the design and construction, the wooden housing that contains the guts of the Encore feel solid and the controls and inputs are all responsive. While the $200 price tag places it above some competitors, the Encore offers a wide array of features and tremendous quality.