Bush Heritage II

A new digital radio from Bush Australia — we allocated a page for this in our print magazine, thinking that should about cover it. Not even close! Because on closer inspection, this is no mere digital radio. It is so loaded with additional abilities that we reckon the Bush Heritage II Connect qualifies as a new entry in the ranks of multiroom wireless systems to rival the likes of Sonos, HEOS, Bose SoundTouch and the rest. And it is an entirely Australian product and project. Even more impressively, it is rather brilliant.

Equipment
In brief, the Bush Heritage II Connect is a DAB+ radio with FM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, internet radio, Spotify Connect and multiroom abilities. With its many available presets you can use it like a simple household radio, selecting digital radio stations, FM or internet radio stations straight from the unit itself. Or you can whip out your smart device of choice and stream music via Bluetooth, or via Spotify Connect if you have a subscription. Or use the free iOS/Android app to play music stored on your network, set up a multiroom system, or operate all the other functions from the comfort of your couch instead of by pressing buttons on the radio itself.

UNDOKSo you might call it a ‘radio’, but it’s really a wireless multiroom speaker which has an advantage over most others of that breed by also being a ‘radio’. It achieves this by basing its smarts around Frontier Silicon’s UNDOK multiroom platform, which has the potential to combine not only multiple Bush units (a smaller portable is in the pipeline we gather) but also devices from different manufacturers on the same multiroom platform, much as is hoped for two other third-party multiroom platforms, the Qualcomm AllPlay used in Panasonic’s multiroom audio products and the DTS PlayFi used by Definitive Technology. Given Frontier Silicon’s record in getting chipsets into previous generations of streaming internet radios, we’d say UNDOK’s longterm prospects are good.

But that’s for the future — how does the Heritage II Connect stand on its own and connect with its own kin?

It’s a good-sized box — 32cm wide by 17cm high and 15cm deep (note that it needs 22cm of shelf depth given a protruding mains connector, and you’ve got a 70cm telescopic aerial to accommodate somehow).

Bush Heritage II Connect

It comes in two colours. Bush is proud of its real-wood laminate version (no two radios exactly the same because of the real wood grain), and the light walnut veneer is certainly impeccably finished and edged. But we rather fell in love with the clean looks of the cream version (pictured at the bottom of this article), which will suit minimalist décors and kitchen areas. The rest of the radio is equally solidly constructed, the strong steel front grille bevilled back stylishly and adorned by the classic Bush logo. Overall the style is not as retro as the previous Heritage radio, which was based closely on a 1958 Bush original, but the buttonry is much the same, with eight big press buttons and twin push-to-select knobs below, flanking a good sized and well designed display (its content style displaying all the hallmarks of earlier Frontier Silicon devices). So in its looks, the Heritage II Connect is, as its abilities might demand, a modern industrial remake of a classic design.

Bush Heritage II Connect

The back is simpler, housing the antenna and socketry including a minijack headphone output, a minijack auxiliary input (which can be shared in multiroom mode), the adaptor port and a USB-B socket which is not, sadly for computer USB playback, just an update port — though you can update the firmware more easily over the internet. (Our review unit required none.)

Performance
Networking products are often less than a joy to set up, but we had the Bush connected to the network and tuned into digital radio in a matter of minutes — assisted perhaps by our familiarity with Frontier Silicon’s connection methods. If your home Wi-Fi router has WPS you can connect by the push button method; if you wish to enter your network password you pick your network from the list on the front panel display (2.4 and 5GHz are supported), ignore the promising ‘PIN’ setting option and select instead ‘Skip WPS’. Then enter your password using the fairly fast knob-rotate-through-alphabet method. Ping, connected, no problem.

But before investigating its app and networking features, let’s see how well it works as a simple radio. Does it pass the Granny test?

You use the Mode button to select source — DAB+ radio, FM, Bluetooth, Aux In, Internet Radio, Music Player (for network-stored music), and Spotify Connect. This last is an unusual dedicated input, as Spotify Connect usually just takes over your device, but for the same reason it is then easily overlooked, so we like this implementation.

Selecting DAB+ radio for the first time will trigger a scan of your airwaves for digital stations — we got 59 of them in our Sydney HQ. Pressing the ‘Menu’ button gives you a contextual menu for DAB, with all the necessary pruning and scanning functions, plus a useful choice of station ordering, and even DRC, which is a dynamic range compression channel which allows broadcasters to transmit uncompressed audio then have listeners select the level of compression required (high in a car, low in the home, say). A great idea, especially for classical music listeners, but sadly nobody broadcasts a DRC channel — BBC Radios 3 and 4 once did in the UK, but it was never implemented in Australia.

UNDOK

Once set up, the radio’s left knob is the volume (it also turns the radio on and off by pushing it), the right knob shuttles through the station list. Couldn’t be easier. The setting of presets from the front knobs involves pressing and holding… easy enough, but even easier using the app, as we were shortly to discover. And crucially, when you turn the radio on and off, it reloads your previously-listened station. So that’s one-button turn-on and a big knob for volume control — we reckon that’s super granny-friendly!

The sound from the Bush is a classic big radio sound. From this size of cabinet a good round and rich bass is delivered, while the treble performance exceeds the traditional softness of radio sound, with plenty of zing up top — enough, indeed, that we found this treble clarity exposed the slightly insistent high frequencies of digital radio when heard close up, a mere metre away on a study desk, for example, and could remain a little fizzy even with a little distance introduced between listener and radio. We connected via Bluetooth from our iPad touch (devices supporting NFC can simply tap-to-pair) and found that things were better, but still sharp enough to benefit from an off-axis listening position. We best enjoyed the Heritage’s default EQ setting this way, taming the treble but keeping it close to enjoy the wonderful richness.

But of course with the smarts of the UNDOK app, you can play with the internal EQ settings. So we fired up that app.

The UNDOK app
We used UNDOK on iOS, where it has separate iPad and iPhone versions, the iPad version rotating smoothly to work in landscape mode. We went straight to EQ, and found the unit in ‘Normal’ mode. Switching to ‘Flat’ showed that the treble tizz was created by the EQ; it disappears immediately in ‘Flat’ mode, though unfortunately so does the nice rich bass; going ‘Flat’ made things rather more boxy in the lower mids. None of the eight options quite offered the bass without the treble, even when we set our own Custom EQ, adding some bass but keeping the treble in check. We settled on leaving it ‘Normal’ when in casual operation and ‘Flat’ if we were listening close-up. In both these scenarios, the Heritage sounded highly enjoyable for longterm listening.

The Music Player section allows browsing of networked music via UPnP/DLNA. The instruction manual online mentions only AAC, MP3 and WMA support, and says it is best for “a suitable UPnP server system such as a PC with Windows Media Player 10 or later”, and a music library that is “well-tagged”. You’d certainly need some extra DLNA server software to stream from a Mac.

But the manual underplays its formats a little. We browsed to a WD NAS drive and were able to play Apple Lossless up to 16-bit/44.1kHz, and FLACs up to 16-bit/ 48kHz. Any higher bit-rate in these formats were attempted, the information loading and the file buffering, but never delivering. So high-res audio seems not to be part of either UNDOK or the Bush implementation of it, a shame if you’re collecting in those formats. Nor is there WAV, AIFF or DSD support. Of course, you might not expect that in a ‘radio’! But as a wireless multiroom system, it must be noted as a missing feature, and the Music Library option as a limited option.

UNDOKUNDOKUNDOK

But for the other sources — digital radio, FM radio, Spotify, and general Bluetooth use — everything was great. And for the long lists of internet radio and podcasts, the abilities to scroll through long lists is a level of convenience beyond what can be achieved from the front panel alone (there seemed to be no text search available, but you can search and set up favourites on Frontier Silicon’s website).

All these, and the auxiliary input, can be thrown from one to another Heritage II Connects, or to a whole house of them, and eventually to other Bush UNDOK devices and those from other brands. (We have seen a demonstration of this, which worked impressively seamlessly even under the perils of our office Wi-Fi, but since we were left with only one unit to review, we haven’t done multiroom testing ourselves.)

Currently the two local radio sources, DAB+ and FM, can’t be shared via multiroom, but we gather DAB+ should join the sharable group in an imminent firmware update.

If you’re looking to build a multiroom system, one useful element would be a simple receiver to squirt the UNDOK abilities into an existing high-quality hi-fi. There’s none here (unless you run the headphone output in), but if the UNDOK platform takes off as we expect, some company somewhere will surely oblige with one of these soon enough.

Conclusion
Unexpectedly powerful is this ‘radio’, given its app control of DAB+, FM and internet radio, limited UPnP network music streaming, Spotify Connect compatibility, Bluetooth and an auxiliary input, plus potential multiroom growth for most of those sources, and a lovely end unit for playback which makes a good noise and has granny-friendly operation. And it’s all put together by the team at Bush Australia. Ladies and gentlemen, we confess ourselves mightily impressed with the Heritage II Connect. 

Bush Heritage II Connect

Bush Heritage II Connect
DAB+ radio with Wi-Fi, internet radio & multiroom

Price: $499

+ Excellent ease of use from device or app
+ All the functions of a full multiroom offering
+ Rich round radio sound
- Network streaming not Mac or high-res friendly

Radio: DAB+, FM, internet radio
DLNA streaming: MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC to 16/48, ALAC to 16/48
Inputs: 1 x minijack auxiliary, Bluetooth
Outputs: minijack headphone
Dimensions (whd): 320mm x 160mm x 165mm
Weight: 3.1kg
Warranty: One year

Product page: Bush Australia

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