Music is a big part of most people’s lives and we all consume it in different ways, be it streaming from an online service, listening to music stored on our devices or listening to the radio.
All of the above can be done using our smart phones and tablets but sometimes its nice to take a vintage approach. Most music devices in the home nowadays take the form of wirelessly connected speakers, relying on an Internet connection to provide us with our aural entertainment. While this works well for many, it can all come to an abrupt halt if we lose our online connection. To some, it can feel like going back to the stone age or render us without entertainment at all.
VQ has released a range of devices that allow multiple ways to enjoy our music – both in and out of the home. Adopting a retro design with analogue and digital radio and bringing it up to date with wireless Bluetooth connectivity combines the best of old and new. It’s all presented in devices that will look well placed in any home.
Both devices come nicely packaged and in most of my reviews I do state that the packaging is a very important part of the decision process. They’re well detailed, showing you exactly what to expect in the box and showing you the full choices of colour combinations available.
Both offer DAB (the traditional digital radio network in the UK), DAB+, a newer digital broadcast allowing for more stations and higher quality broadcasts and also the old analogue FM signal. While FM radio will one day be phased out, its great that the option is available right now as not all FM stations have a DAB option.
First off, let’s take a look at the Hepburn Mark II. The device definitely takes its styling points from the classic Roberts-style radios, which is a not a bad thing. With so many audio devices produced in black or white nowadays, it’s refreshing to have the Hepburn available in a range of eleven different colours or five Emma Bridgewater patterns. I think it would be hard not to find one to match its surroundings perfectly.
The Hepburn Mark II is solidly built while not being overly heavy. Available with an optional 25 hour battery pack, making it fully portable, I see this more as a device you’d have on display in the home – maybe in a lounge, kitchen or possibly the bedroom, as it also has an alarm feature built in. Weighing in at 1.5kg, which won’t have much of an impact unless you are constantly moving it about, it has dimensions of 314mm x 166mm x 94mm. Audio is handled by two 58mm speakers which will output a total of 20w at around 90dB.
The large speaker grill hiding the speakers is surrounded by a leatherette material, which is striking in any of the colour choices but looks its best in dark tan or black. All of the controls are on the top of the unit, including two control knobs, one for volume and the other for tuning/menu selections. The remaining controls are activated by a further ten small metallic buttons covering power, sound presets, source, media controls, station info and alarm functions. On the bottom you will find the compartment for the battery if required.
On the top of the unit, there is a small 2 x 16 backlit LED display giving all channel and media info as well as letting you set clock and alarm functions (the clock is auto set by tuning into any DAB stations). The rear has four connections – a 3.5mm headphone socket, a 3.5mm auxiliary input allowing for the connection of older non Bluetooth devices, an input for the power supply and a 5V/1mA USB port for charging your phone/audio device. The only other point of note is an analogue style extending aerial, something not seen that often in the home any more. While it may look a little strange in this day and age, it performs well and the reception I received in my home was as good as any internet radio station I can access. Things are rounded off by a carry handle which will come in handy if you do want to move things around your home or take it out and about with you.
So the Hepburn Mark II looks great and has a lot of features, meaning it should be able to handle all of your musical entertainment with ease. But how is it to use and how does it perform?
Setup is very simple and the small instruction booklet gives you all of the information you need to get things working smoothly. As mentioned, radio stations are well covered. Whether or not you have started to use DAB radio, it certainly works well if you are in an area that has good reception. The LED screen will allow you to see and choose what radio station you listen to. Channels don’t need to be tuned in manually, so it’s easy to scroll through the selection. On initial setup I had a choice of 35 different channels of varied content. Any of these channels can be set as a dedicated preset (up to 20 presets are available) but the right hand wheel allows for quick access to any channels available. I suppose if you had a much larger selection available it may well make sense to make a handful of channels easier to access. FM stations are well catered for too. Pressing down on the tuning wheel will scan the FM range stopping on any channel with a strong enough signal. Storing the channels in a preset again is simple and the channels details can then be displayed on the screen if supported. Overall, radio control is well thought out and caters for most needs.
The next source is Bluetooth. Pairing with a device is as simple as it gets. Holding the pairing button will put the device into pairing mode, then simply searching for it from your phone/tablet/computer will show the Hepburn as an available device. Selecting it will complete the pairing process, enabling to you to play music from a variety of sources. If you have access to a musical streaming service like Spotify or Apple music, then it’s very easy to access on your phone/tablet and play directly through the speaker. Any media stored on your devices will also play without hitch. Think of the Hepburn as a connected speaker and you can’t go far wrong. The media controls allow you to skip forward and back as well as play and pause a selected track.
If the large selection of DAB or FM stations don’t cater for your needs, you are also able to use radio apps such as TuneIn to give you access to around 100,000 different stations. The only issue here is deciding what to listen to.
The auxiliary input will allow you to connect any other audio device, and while you won’t have all of the controls available on the Hepburn Mark II, it will still sound great.
Finally, there is an equaliser option to allow you to fine tune the audio output to your personal requirements. Available presets are; Normal, Classic, Jazz, Pop, Rock , Speech and Bass. While this may be a little precise for some, there is also a MyEQ setting available to allow you to set the treble, bass and loudness levels to get things just how you want them.
Overall, the Hepburn Mark II is a great looking device but more importantly it sounds fantastic too. I love the ability to use the device as a standalone radio so you don’t have to rely on internet connectivity – but when you have full access to the web, the choice of music available to you is almost limitless.
Moving on, the Retro Mark II is an update of VQ’s Retro Radio. Once again it’s blessed with vintage styling plus all of the connectivity choices of the Hepburn. However, the Retro Mk II also includes a retractable Lightning charging/audio dock for use with Apple mobile devices.
The Retro Mark II has a slightly larger footprint than the Hepburn Mark II at 300mm x 205mm x 115mm, and weighing a touch more at 1.66kg. Once again an additional battery pack is available to make it fully portable and the battery will give around 36 hours of usage. The leatherette covering is available in the same choice of colours and patterns, but with the main bulk of the fascia manufactured in cream coloured plastic, the Retro doesn’t offer the same premium feel of the Hepburn. That being said, the case beneath is wooden and rear ports are in place, offering a slightly improved bass performance.
If you have a household without Apple kit, Bluetooth is available as a connectivity option, so once again you have the ability to connect most modern devices in your home. Testing with an Apple iMac, the Retro certainly added fuller, more rounded sound and while the iMac doesn’t really need additional speakers for dally use, this would certainly bring extra punch to the audio from many ultrabooks.
DAB/DAB+ and FM are once against present, albeit with only 10 presets this time. The LCD display this time is front mounted, so is much more prominent. While you may not look at it that often, it’s easily viewed, even from a distance.Once again two speakers (70mm) are housed within, outputting a total of 20w at a slightly lower rating of 85 dB. Connections on the back are the same at the Hepburn but with an additional power switch. On this device the battery enclosure is on the rear.
So here we have two very similar devices with very similar capabilities. The Hepburn Mark II retails at £129.99 whilst the Retro Mark II is quite a bit cheaper at £99.99.
If you were to use either as a radio on a bedside table, the Retro Mark II may be the better choice with the built-in charging dock, but the ability to charge from the Hepburn with a cable means this shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
The sound output from both VQ radios is fantastic and they definitely bring something to the table that many connected speakers today do not have – the ability to play music without the need for a connected device. I love the fact that they can be used by less tech savvy guests in the home, with the latest features and connectivity available for those that want to stream.
In honesty, I think the battery packs should have been included with the devices but hat may have pushed the price up. Also, there is a good opportunity that not everyone would use them and at £19.99 they aren’t going to break the bank.
If I had any gripes about the Hepburn Mark II it would be the LCD display. Being positioned on the top of the device means it’s going to be quite hard to see unless you’re directly above and you would quite possibly need to move it prior to making any changes.
Moving to the Retro Mark II, I found it pretty much impossible to use the dock with devices held in a case (I tried Apple’s own cases and a number of aftermarket models), so having to remove the case each time you dock could become a little tedious. If you don’t use a case it won’t be an issue but I rarely see an iPhone in the wild without some sort of protection nowadays.
FM and DAB radio may seem a little antiquated nowadays and possibly listened to more in the car than the home, but millions still love listening to the radio each day. The VQ Hepburn and Retro Mk II devices offer a comfortable and easy upgrade for radio lovers, allowing owners to experiment with the world of online streaming without losing the programming they enjoy.
If you are looking for a connected speaker with radio capabilities for your home, or seeking a gift for an older friend or relative that has yet to jump into the world of online music, the VQ Hepburn and Retro Mk II are both fantastic options.