Putting a DVR for your Radio in your Car. Really.

February 24, 2011

It’s February and it’s cold out. I don’t ride the scooter when it’s chilly and that allows me – like most people – to listen to the radio while I drive my car. Trouble is, I’ve run out of radio stations. They’re either too sports-talk based, or too chock full of ads.

The real solution for driving in the car and enjoying the radio is either attaching your own music player to your speakers or finding a way to capture radio programs you want to hear and saving them for when you’re driving.

Well, Livio has done just that with the Carmen by Livio. Essentially, the unit lets you grab songs, programs and even radio broadcasts straight from your computer that you can play in the car. Let’s take a look at how it works – and how well it works.

—By the way, I had a chance to play with and review another Livio Radio product. See that review here.—

Right out of the box, you’re ready to go. With software for both Mac and PC, you just attach the unit (only slightly more bulky than a cellphone car charger) to the USB port on your computer. The Carmen shows up as a drive and includes all the software necessary to save music and radio station broadcasts onto the 2GB internal drive.

The software worked seamlessly and choosing a station to record was pretty easy. You do have to choose from stations that broadcast via the Internet, but those are more and more prevalent these days, so finding programming isn’t hard. I like to grab podcasts from NPR and other stations, so for me it was as easy as dragging the MP3 file over to the Carmen and putting it into a folder.

Next stop, the car.

The Carmen works just like the old FM transmitters everyone used to have for their iPod. Find a clear station at the end of the dial and set the frequency on the Carmen to that same station. Then either use the remote (included) or the buttons on the Carmen to navigate folders or click over to programs.

The cool thing is being able to pause playback and jump ahead to skip commercials. The unit also allows you to plug into an external jack in if your stereo system has that feature. It makes the broadcast easier to hear when you’re on a long trip and the FM station you’ve chosen to piggy back on gets fuzzy.

I also liked that the Carmen head swivels to make it easy to read and operate the buttons. It also keeps the unit out of the way of beverages – since my little Scion xA has a cupholder right beneath the 12V lighter plug.

What’s my overall thought on the Livio Radio Carmen? I like it. It’s short money – I’ve seen it between $30 and $40 online. It’s portable. And it holds a purported 45 hours of audio (your mileage may vary if you put higher-quality MP3s on board).

If you’re looking for a neat little gift for someone, want an entertainment alternative when traveling in the car, or just like having the ability to stop and start your programs – this is a fantastic little gadget.

**Livio is allowing me to give the unit away to one lucky reader. To qualify to win, just leave a comment here AND post a link to this post on your blog or in your Facebook or Twitter stream. I’ll draw from all entries on April 1.**