Before we could take the Carmen out on the road, we had to do some basic set up. The Livio team has delivered the Carmen with a USB cable, an AUX cable and coupler, and a Remote Control unit. The Remote Control has 12 buttons so that you can navigate music folders easily, set the FM station you want, as well as control the overall volume of the files you are playing.
After taking the Carmen out of the packaging we attached it to our PC via the enclosed USB and started the Carmen application.
To get music from a radio station onto the Carmen, we literally have to record the content that we want. Livio ships the Carmen with RadioTime software. This interface powers the various internet services that connect to radio broadcasts and other programming. RadioTime has been around since 2002 and if you have listed to internet radio (other than iTunes) it most likely has been powered by RadioTime.
After we find the station that we are interested in, we click the station that we are trying to record. After playing for about 10 seconds, the recording will automatically start. Recordings are automatically saved on the Carmen in 15-minute blocks of time so when you play it back, you can skip “track” and move 15 minutes ahead or in the past in 15-minute blocks.
While the Carmen is recording you can hit the mute button on the GUI to record without hearing the music through your speakers. I have to say I was a little surprised at how all of this worked. The Carmen made a seamless recording of the station that I had tuned into, but having to record these stations in “real-time” was underwhelming. I found that the best time to start a recording from the radio stations was at night before going to bed. The recording could go on for many hours and I would have commercial-free music for my morning drive to work. It is also very easy to drop and drag folders of music to the Carmen to play.
After finding an ‘empty’ FM station on your car’s radio, we tuned our Carmen to that frequency and hit the play button. Instantly we were experiencing our favorite programmed music. Really, the entire process takes less than 2-3 minutes if you are dragging your favorite MP3 to the Carmen. I was able to get quite a few ripped albums (at 192kbps) and hours of internet radio onto the Carmen’s 2 GB of memory.
The only real problems we had with the Carmen was the quality of some of the internet streams were not so great so when it was played back in the car it sounded almost like we were listening to AM radio. Also, the time it takes to get radio programming onto the Carmen is tedious. I understand that this is the only way to ‘record’ the live radio programs, but that coupled with the hit-or-miss stream quality had me opting for dragging my favorite MP3 to the Carmen. It would also be nice to get Pandora-like functionality on the Carmen by creating your own unique channels to listen to in the car.
The Carmen portable internet radio from Livio is a great way to take your favorite music on the road without the cost of subscriptions like satellite radio. The easy-to-use wireless transmitter works great in your car when you can find a clear channel to use.