What is internet radio?
By Oliver Trebilcock
Internet radio has lots of choice and great sound quality, and you can listen to your favourite stations for free with internet radio apps.
Internet radio is accessed online, so you need a broadband connection and home wi-fi network rather than a traditional aerial to receive it. Alternatively, you can connect your radio to the internet using an ethernet cable, but that’s only useful if you plan to have your radio near to your router.
Some, but not all, digital radios can stream audio from the internet. They tend to be pricier than the average FM or DAB radio. However, you don’t even need to own a conventional radio to listen to internet radio. It can be accessed using a media player or web browser on your computer or laptop or via an app on your smartphone, tablet or smart-enabled TV.
Whether it’s DAB, FM or internet, find the radios we recommend with our Best Buy radios.
What’s so special about internet radio?
There are a number of notable benefits to listening to the radio via the internet. Firstly, it’s not limited by what signals are broadcast locally, so you can listen in real time to thousands of radio shows from all over the world. There’s no need to struggle with manually tuning to a station or have your programme interrupted by dodgy reception or signal problems.
It’s also possible to catch up on programmes that have already been broadcast, and many major internet radio stations allow you to listen to shows from the past week. In some cases, such as with the BBC, you can listen to any radio programme that has aired in the past month.
To find out which are the best radios we've tested with internet-radio connectivity, read our guide to the top internet radios.
Signal strength is not an issue because the high-speed power of the internet enables fast and reliable signals to be transmitted, so it’s possible to stream flawless high-quality recordings – as long as you have a decent wi-fi connection of course. You can use our free broadband speed test checker to make sure your internet speed is working as well as it should be.
Most internet radios, for example the Pure Evoke F3, Roberts iStream 2 and Roberts Stream 93i, not only allow listeners to access internet radio stations, but they all link with the music streaming subscription service Spotify. They also allow you to stream music from your PC through the radio’s speakers, giving you a multitude of different options in terms of what you can listen to.
Data use with internet radio
Everything you do on the internet uses a certain amount of data and, unless you’ve got unlimited broadband, the amount you use will be taken from your monthly data allowance.
The amount of data used will depend on the quality of the radio stream, but if you’re listening to the radio using your smartphone, it’s preferable to make sure your device is connected to the internet via wi-fi; otherwise, you’ll quickly burn through your mobile-data allowance listening to internet radio.
If you want to listen to internet radio when you’re out and about, it is possible to download some radio programmes and podcasts for offline listening. There is the option of connecting to public wi-fi, but the signal may not always be robust enough to cope with streaming audio from the internet.
Using a web browser or media player
Internet radio can be accessed using your web browser, or you can use a media player if you prefer. Windows Media Player and VLC are both suitable programs for streaming radio from the internet, and you can bookmark your favourite stations for easy access.
To stream internet radio stations through your chosen player, you need to first find the URL of the stream and put that into the box titled ‘Network URL’. The broadcast URLs of online radio stations generally end in .m3u or .pls and can easily be found using Google.
Free internet radio apps
These radio streaming apps are free to download and provide access to tens of thousands of internet radio stations on a variety of different devices.
Radioplayer is a non-profit partnership between the BBC and commercial radio in the UK. It contains more than 450 UK radio stations and can recommend stations based on where you are, what’s trending right now, and what else you’ve listened to. It’s easy to save particular stations and shows for quick and easy access.
It works with all Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as the Amazon Kindle Fire, Windows Phone 8, Amazon Echo and Apple Watch. It has a car mode, so you can even play it while driving, or activate the sleep timer if you want to nod off to a broadcast without worrying about running your device’s battery down.
With a global audience of more than 60 million, TuneIn Radio has something for absolutely everyone. It has the largest selection of free sports, music, talk and news radio from around the world. You can even upload your own radio station to add to the 100,000 it currently has on the app.
The TuneIn app is compatible with Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as Blackberry and Windows phones. It also works on the Amazon Kindle, Xbox One, Sonos speakers, Google Chromecast and Roku internet TV streamers, as well as Samsung and Panasonic Smart TVs.
You can search for radio stations on Audials Radio by entering the names of your favourite artists or by selecting a music genre, country or local station near you. It’s the only radio app that allows you to save songs and broadcasts as MP3 files for offline playback whenever you fancy. If you’ve just heard a hit on the radio but forgotten to record it, you can still save the track as an MP3 by finding it in the radio station history.
The Audials app is available on most Apple and Android devices, as well as Windows phones and tablets, and Google Chrome browsers. It has a sleep timer and an alarm function (with a snooze button), so you can fall asleep and wake up to your favourite radio station.
Now find the perfect digital radio for you by reading our expert digital radio reviews.