Cue Radio Model r1 Radio and Model s1 Speaker Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Monday, 06 December 2010

In the early 2000s something strange happened in the world of consumer electronics: table radios became popular again – wildly so. I remember seeing ads for the Bose Wave Radio in newspapers and other publications, and because of the company's brand reputation and how easy Bose made it to purchase the Wave (extended payment plan), people were snapping them up and once again listening to radio in the home. But the real splash, for me, was when Tivoli Audio released its Model One Radio. This elegant set – based on Henry Kloss' design for the KLH Model 8 – was immediately recognized for its retro style, excellent sound (in mono no less!) and reception. I bought in several years ago and still use my Model One to this day. I love it as a radio but its limitations have kept me from moving it from the kitchen into the bedroom. I recently found a radio that can bridge that gap: the Cue Radio Model r1 from Cue Acoustics. Like my trusty Tivoli, the r1 is a mono radio but much more – and at $399 retail it should be. If you want stereo sound, Cue offers its companion s1 Speaker ($99). On the Cue website store (www.cue.com/store ), you can grab the combo for $479. The r1 and s1 are available in either white or black.

Background

I spoke with Rich Gorzynski, Cue's Marketing and Sales Manager, who provided details about the r1 and its inception. The goal was to take the traditional bedside/kitchen radio and give it the best sound possible in a small footprint (10.5 inches wide x 4.25 high x 6.5 inches deep). When I mentioned I owned a Tivoli, Gorzynski wasn't surprised. He told me that Cue owner and chief designer, Sam Millen, had also worked previously on the Tivoli PAL Radio. Although the Tivoli and Cue Radios don't look alike, they both sport elegant designs, with the r1 boasting a more contemporary facade. It's worth noting that every r1 is hand-assembled in Cue's Boston, Massachusetts, warehouse and then tested and burned in for 24 hours before shipping to ensure everything works properly. Gorzynski also told me that Cue sources as many parts as possible here in the U.S.

Cure fonrt view

Setup & Features

You might wonder, “What do I need to do to set up a radio other than plug it in?” In the case of the r1, there are a few steps to “personalize” the radio that are definitely worth taking. The back of the r1 has six ports/jacks, one is for service so only the other five are of concern. A single auxiliary in accepts a 1/8-inch stereo jack, there are inputs for external AM and FM antennas, a power port and an auxiliary speaker port for Cue's s1. One oddity is the lack of an external FM antenna – the r1's power cord serves as AC connector and FM antenna. The r1 does have an FM antenna input, should you need additional reception power. There is, however, an external AM antenna included with the r1. The Cue remote makes it easy to control the r1 and adjust any settings. The r1's instruction manual provides easy-to-follow illustrations that demonstrate the radio's every function, so you'll be up and running in a matter of minutes.

As I mentioned earlier, the r1 is more than just a radio. It features a digital clock with dual alarms, so setting the correct time and then an alarm (or two) can quickly put time on your side. The r1 has an alarm indicator that displays on the upper right screen, confirming the alarm is on and what time it is set to engage. You can choose to wake up to AM/FM radio, iPod/iPhone or the sound of a bell. The r1 also sports an iPod/iPhone dock that charges the device when docked. Cue also gave the r1 four padded, rubber feet for stability and to protect your furniture and even added detachable magnetic speaker grilles. That's something I equate with stand-alone speakers, not table radios. Armed with that, I venture into the world of FM radio and beyond...

White version
In Use

First things first: How does the r1 sound? To answer that question, I placed it side by side with my Tivoli Model One and played them each in their native mono modes. My first impressions – which did not change over time – were the Tivoli sounded “cleaner” than the r1, while the Cue had a more complete sound, with more emphasis in the mid to low end. That can be adjusted to a point, as I note below regarding the radio's audio profiles, depending on your listening preferences. Both models are capable of volumes louder than normal household use requires, so there's no want for power from the r1. Where it did surprise me was with its FM reception. I prejudged that the power cord/antenna would not be up to the high performance of the Tivoli. My reception test is always 107.3/WNXR, a 21,000-watt station out of Iron River, Wisconsin, roughly 40 miles east of my home. In the world of radio waves, 40 miles is barely a skip, but this station can be feisty and difficult to receive, particularly during inclement weather. But because this is the closest Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, and because I'm addicted to baseball, I rely on this station for my fix during the season. If a radio can't pull in 107.3, it's worthless to me. I'm pleased to report the r1 handled the job without a hiccup, even during the cloudy and snowy days that are now my reality. Two things the Cue has over the Tivoli is digital tuning, opposed to “eyeballing” with an analog dial, and the r1 also has a separate Radio Signal Strength Bar that displays anytime you tune into a new station.

Along with the excellent reception, I also liked the r1's iPod/iPhone dock. For this review, I docked a iPod mini to the Cue and had great results. The r1 instantly recognizes the device, and by choosing the iPod input option you can access and control the complete iPod menu either via the radio's CueTouch dial or the remote. As well, you can choose to have the iPod “display” either on the device itself or on the r1's front screen. I recommend the latter, as this makes the display bigger and more legible. Then you can navigate through artists/albums/playlists, etc., using the remote's up and down arrows. It's dead easy and fun to operate. Ipod sound is very good, although you'll get back what you put in - don't expect audiophile sound if you're feeding the r1 compressed music files.

Back to the sound: The r1 doesn't have tone controls per se, but it does offer six different audio sound profiles: flat, classical, jazz, pop, rock and talk. Choosing any brings up an eight-band “equalizer” pre-set for the respective modes – and they do make a difference. I listen primarily to two FM stations for music: one is affiliated with the University of Minnesota in Duluth (103.3 KUMD), the other is Minnesota Classical Radio (92.9 WSDC). The former plays everything from rock to blues to bluegrass to world music; the latter obviously sticks to classical. In both cases, I found the Cue's “rock” and “classical” profiles the best sounding choices. Though I rarely listen to talk radio, the r1's “talk” setting is definitely the way to go for that genre, especially on the AM dial. As an experiment, I flipped to the “talk” setting when one of the local stations was playing Metallica's “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” and when I increased the volume above the midway point the speakers started buzzing back. Switching over to the rock setting alleviated the problem. My point? To get the most out of the Cue requires minor tweaking.

Cue Speaker

If I was to purchase the r1 for the bedroom, I would forgo the extra s1 speaker as it would be too cumbersome for my nightstand. I can live happily with the mono sound. For another room with an extra six or eight inches of space isn't a problem, I'd go with the r1/s1 combo. Unless recorded as such, listening to music is a better experience with stereo. The two units are designed to sit side by side, essentially becoming one; or, you can separate the r1 and s1 for a broader stereo effect. In either case, you'll get fuller and more dynamic sound – and that top end starts sounding even better.   

Another feature I liked very much is the Sleep Timer. I listen to classical music in the evening before I fall asleep and many times in the past I'll wake up several hours later and still hear the radio playing from my old Sears clock radio. With the Cue, I could set a predetermined time – 90 minutes works perfectly for me – after which the r1 shuts down. I could fall asleep to music and not worry about the radio operating all night. One last “sleeping” feature that's cool is the r1's Snooze/Mute “button.” It's a touch sensor located at the top of the radio, just in front of the iPod dock. If you want to snooze after the alarm goes off or you need to temporarily mute the sound, all that's required is a light touch of a finger; likewise to disengage.

Final Thoughts

The Cue Model r1 is a radio at heart but much more. I liked the r1 very much and found in it everything that I would want in a radio, clock and iPod dock. The design is stylish, the system worked flawlessly and has just the right blend of “built in” and “adjustable” to satisfy nearly any user. I'm not sure a radio that retails for $399 shouldn't come engineered for stereo sound – I'm not opposed to even paying more – but adding another speaker, no matter how small just takes up more precious space. But overall, the r1 is a winner and would be welcome in my bedroom, whether waking me up, playing my music or keeping me tuned in to the bottom of the 9th. Cue got it right.





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