The Sangean WFR-20 Wi-Fi Internet Radio resembles a classic tabletop radio from the 1970s in terms of size. However, it has fewer knobs than those old timers (only one knob, in fact), and plays with the voice of a full-sized hi-fi stereo music system. Wide and robust stereo sound characterize this unit, with thousands of Internet radio stations programmed into it via the reciva.com Internet stream portal, and small yet full-function remote control. This average sized yet big sounding music system is fully self-contained, with an integrated audio amplifier, stereo speakers, permanently attached Wi-Fi antenna, and an intuitive user interface (once you get used to all functions being controlled by a single knob). It offers an easy-to-read, white-violet back lit liquid crystal display (LCD), whose surprisingly high contrast appearance approaches those 20th century LED display screens many of us grew up reading.
This receiver has been on the market for upwards of a decade now, and is no longer manufactured as of this writing unfortunately. So if you can find this on eBay or amazon for a good price, buy it. The supporting website (reciva.com) however, since it provides aggregation infrastructure to many models of radios besides this one, will likely remain operational for the foreseeable future. It’s so reliable that we’ve never experienced a radio outage on the WFR-20. We’ve interacted with the personnel that manage Reciva station lists to request the addition of new stream URLs to their lists, and found them cordial, pleasant to deal with, and immediately responsive. They added our suggestions within hours of asking them.
Benefits, Features, Advantages, and Pros
- Usual size and weight for a clock radio. The WFR-20 is about the average size for a clock radio. It measures approximately 11.5 inches long, and 4.5 inches tall, including its scratch-free feet. It weighs five pounds, one ounce. Perhaps a bit heaver than typical radios, probably due to the rugged plastic case and large magnets in the speaker system. But for this little extra weight, you get plenty of volume that easily qualifies as “high fidelity” stereo sound.
- Multi-function control knob. All radio functions can be set up and managed with this front panel knob. Some of what can be changed is volume, bass, treble, sleep timer, snooze, and station search and selection.
- Full-function remote. The remote is about the right size for comfortable fitting into most small to average sized hands, and features ten buttons including: Home, Sleep, On / Off, Add to Favorites, up-down-left-right arrow keys, Volume up-down, skip back, play-pause, and skip-forward.
- External Wi-Fi antenna. The external antenna, though non removable, adjusts over a wide range of positions to ensure reliable wireless network connections. The wireless radio inside seems reasonably sensitive and powerful, so that if there’s a decently strong Wi-Fi network in range, this device will probably be able to connect to it with ease.
- All connections located on radio back. Back panel ports and plugs include the power supply, Ethernet, line in, and subwoofer / earphone output plugs. These include an Ethernet port, AUX in, line out, headphone out, and the 120-volt AC (35 watt) power connection.
- Ported stereo speakers. Resembling a little boom box, the WFR-20 features two full-range dynamic speakers on the left and right front of its case. The tuned port hole is located on the back.
- Both local and remotely controlled. The unit has a jog wheel menu system and several buttons for navigating through and changing settings, using the built-in LCD white-on-black screen. However, most of the functions may also be controlled by the remote control, pictured below, and basic streaming functionality can be controlled also, from your Internet-connected computer on the Sengean Internet Portal Site (by Reciva).
- Plenty of volume. Pretty full bass, although the WFR-20 lacks the really deep low-frequency response that we’ve heard in other music centers such as the Denon S-32 and the Logitech Squeezebox Boom. Still though this player offers 5 watts of total audio power. 2.5 watts per channel, as fed to the built-in speakers. Typical power amount for a tabletop radio. Exceptional sound for speech records, and relatively accurate sound for well-recorded high fidelity music recordings and streams, given the radio’s compact size.
- Reliable portal site. In the near decade that we’ve owned this Wi-Fi media player, Internet radio stations have always played, on demand. Or if they did not, it was a station problem, and not with the Reciva stream database portal.
- Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks supported. You can connect to any 802-11 b/g wireless network, or via an Ethernet network cable, to any in-range access point.
- Bass and treble adjustments included. You can adjust bass and treble levels via the control knob and on-screen menus system, or from the remote control.
- 4-alarm clock radio. You can set up to four alarms and for each one, configure not only the time of day it sounds, but what day(s) of the week it sounds, and what sound (buzzer, AUX input, or station stream) it plays. The display shows a small analog clock face in the upper right hand corner when one or more alarms are set. The beep style buzzer starts off rather quietly, but gradually increases in volume until you hear it and respond. No startling wake-ups here.
- Sleep timer. Via the menu, you can set how long you’d like the radio to play the current station / AUX input before silencing. Sleep timer is set in 15 minute increments and can range anywhere from zero time to three hours and fifteen minutes.
- Automatic clock setting. The built-in clock sets itself to Internet time when the radio is plugged in and connected to a network with Internet access. Happens within seconds of pressing the power-on button when valid Wi-Fi network login information has been entered previously and the radio is in range of that network.
- Adjustable display format and brightness. Display brightness, fonts, and time formats can be adjusted via the extensive Settings menu.
- Stations playable without longing onto the portal site. By working the jogging control, previous, next, and play buttons, you can navigate the included Internet radio station and podcast library from the radio itself. You don’t need a computer to enjoy the bulk of the radio’s functionality, though you do need one to initially set up the Internet functionality of this wireless audio player.
- Numerous audio stream formats supported. You can play MP3, WAV, WMA, and AAC formatted audio streams. However, we haven’t been able to find any AAC+ streams that this receiver plays.
- Cool to slightly warm operation. Only the area close to the knob on the front of the case becomes lukewarm. The rest of the unit remains cool, even after hours of music listening, no doubt due to the very high efficiency circuitry inside.
- Can play Live365, Pandora, and Aupeo content Requires respective accounts on these services prior to playing.
- Multiple radios can share same station playlists. All WFR-20s linked to the same Reciva account receive the same favorites, podcasts, and playlists from the portal. You may also create separate Reciva accounts for each WFR-20 you own, to allow your husband or children to configure their radio according to their own tastes and preferences.
- Still Manufactured. Though this radio has been on the market since 2008, Sangean still lists it on their available Internet radios web site. And while the WFR-20 is missing some key features of today’s Internet Radios, it sounds wonderful, is highly reliable, and will likely be supported for years to come by the Reciva portal. It’s fast becoming a classic Internet radio.
- Decent price. New copies of the WFR-20 sell for around $230 on amazon.com, and this player is widely available around the Internet.
Disadvantages, Cons, Problems, Limitations
- Remote control easily displaced. The included remote is so thin that it often slips between couch cushions and so, can be easy to lose track of, since it does not have a find-remote feature.
- No stream preset buttons. Unlike an antique car radio, the WFR-20 has no set of pushbuttons that allow instant switching around stations in your favorites list by default. To play your favorites, you must be able to see the radio’s LCD screen, and select each station from the scrolling three-line menu; a rather small window into a huge world of Internet stations.
- iPod docking not provided. No place on this music system to plug in, control, or charge your iPod devices. No iPod docking or lightning connector. However, you can play the iPod through the auxiliary input port. This requires a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male stereo patch cord.
- No AAC+ stream support. This radio does not currently play AAC+ (Advanced Audio Coding Plus) audio streams. Unfortunate since a growing number of the popular Internet radio stations encode with this low-bandwidth yet high-fidelity codec. However, this music system does play earlier versions of AAC streams, so that you can still enjoy among the best-sounding streams available today.
- No AM / FM radio. The WFR-20 does not include a built in AM / FM radio. It just plays Internet streams, streams audio files from network enabled storage devices on your local network, and can act as an integrated amplifier for playing AUX audio sources via the auxiliary input.
- Entering characters can grow cumbersome. The single-knob user interface saves space on the radio front because no other controls are required to access the entire functionality. But entering a Wi-Fi network password can take an inordinate amount of time, as this requires turning this knob to find the right letters and numbers in a data entry menu, and then pressing it to select each character, and then pressing it once more to commit the password to memory.
- No recent firmware updates. It’s been at least three years since we received any new firmware. So it’s not clear if they’re still developing new functionality for this Wi-Fi radio.
- Clock does not synchronize to Internet time until you actually turn the radio on. With the current firmware, just plugging in the radio does not set the clock. Between connecting the music player to mains power, and the time you press the knob to start playing streams, the displayed clock time starts off at 1:00 AM. However, the clock sets itself to correct time quickly upon radio activation.
- No dynamic app support. This radio does NOT run downloadable apps (like those found on smartphones), that provide access to even more audio sources besides Internet radio stations; sources such podcasts, sound effects, and players for many of the major media networks and outlets.
- Add AAC+ stream support. Many Internet stations have migrated to Advanced Audio Coding stream format, due to its better audio frequency response at lower data rates. Fortunately however, most of the bigger stations doing this, are still supplying the older format MP3 and first generation AAC streams for legacy devices like this one. However, as this legacy streaming support fades, this radio will become less usable over time, as more Internet broadcasters take down these older formats.
- Add Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) capability. This would reduce the need for manual network password entry, which given the single knob for data entry on this radio, can quickly become awkward and frustrating.
We’re pleased with the huge aural sensations and stereo performance of the Sangean WFR-20 Network Music System. When listening with your eyes closed, the speakers seem further apart than they actually are, for a more immersive listening experience, in which instruments and voices seem to originate from “phantom” speakers in the room – places where there are no actual speakers. We’re happy that Sangean and Reciva have apparently committed to long-term support of the WFR-20, as spectacular sound and armored-tank-like reliability should be virtually timeless traits. We see many reasons to buy the WFR-20, especially if you can procure it for less than $200. This is often possible on sites like eBay and Amazon. We like the WFR-20 so much that we own two, and so, overall, we’d rate it at 94 out of 100.
- Firmware version tested. The comments in this review apply to the radios running the following firmware units:
- Service Pack: v257-a-865-a-289-a-003
- Serial firmware: 02
- Application: v600-a-311-a-416-003
- Helix: v023
- Kernel: v24090624+01
- Bootloader: v017-c-002
- Customer Reviews of the Sangean WFR-20 Internet Radio on Amazon.com
- Reciva Portal Web Site
- Sangean WFR-20 Specs on CNET
- WFR-20 Official Product Page
- Where to buy the Sangean WFR-20 Wi-Fi Internet Radio
- 2017-02-03: Updated tags list.
- 2016-01-16: Added appropriate tags.
- 2015-07-26: Originally published.