In a nondescript storefront on Hilton Road, in a not-so-fashionable part of the city of Ferndale, lives a good bit of the future of Internet radio.
Myine Electronics and its sister-company-turned-successor Livio Radio has been in the spot since January 2008, launching successful product after successful product that marries the Internet to founder Jake Sigal’s love of music.
Myine will be introducing new Internet radios this January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
They’re cool, but so is the stuff available now. Myine/Livio’s intentionally very simple devices allow you to pump Internet audio through a home stereo, or through a high-quality tabletop radio, or through your car.
Sigal is a native of Columbus, Ohio who got a degree in systems engineering from Ohio University in 2003 and a master’s degree in industrial systems engineering in 2004. The master’s focused on how to pick product features based on both engineering technical requirements and what customers wanted.
After that, he moved to Miami, where he worked for a professional DJ equipment producer called Stanton Magnetics.
“I was a DJ in college, I’ve always been into music, so it seemed like a natural fit to combine engineering and music,” Sigal said.
He then got recruited away to a competing DJ gear company, Numark of Providence, R.I. While there, he got into using electronics to control analog sound equipment, allowing DJs to manipulate CDs the way they do vinyl on electronic virtual turntables and software.
Numark created a division called Ion Audio, which was originally intended to rebrand some consumer-grade DJ products for the home market. Sigal became its product manager, where he made his name inventing the wildly successful Ion turntable that connects to a computer and with a very simple user interface automatically turns vinyl record sound output into .mp3 files.
In 2006, he went to Delphi Corp., where he worked on satellite radio. When Sirius and XM merged “the writing was on the wall,” and while Delphi “offered me a good gig in telematics… I respectfully declined. They were great, but my real passion is music, and I come from generations of entrepreneurs so it kind of runs in the family.”
Thus, Myine was born. And its first product, the IRA, for Internet Radio Adapter, came out of Sigal’s relationship with Internet radio.
Introduced in January 2009, the IRA is an inexpensive device that plugs into the auxiliary port on a stereo system. It has an embedded computer that picks up Wi-Fi wireless Internet connection and has the Web addresses of audio and news streams programmed in.
Thus, you can use the IRA to pump Internet radio through your stereo — or news and talk radio from the Internet from around the world.
The IRA is currently the top audio product selling at Amazon.com and has hundreds of reviews and a high consumer rating.
Next, in May 2009, was a tabletop radio that combined the IRA’s Wi-Fi and Web innards with a high-quality speaker and a pretty cabinet. It was branded Livio Radio and had a relationship with Pandora, the successful music Web site.
That came out of “my relationship with the business managers over at Pandora. I realized how simple Pandora service was in 2007 when I started using it. That was the first big product I wanted to do. I know people with huge music collections who just don’t like managing them. Pandora gets rid of all that management and complexity. It just asks you what are you in the mood for, and either you like it or you don’t like it. I made a bet on them and it paid off.”
There’s also a Livio Radio branded with NPR that features on-demand NPR programming in addition to thousands of AM and FM radio stations from around the world. That was introduced in November 2009.
This year, Livio has concentrated on the car, with both the Carmen, a device that allows you to easily record radio or digital audio files and plugs into a car cigarette lighter, using FM radio to transmit its content.
There’s also a Livio Car Internet Radio app for the iPhone, which pumps Internet radio into a Bluetooth-enabled car audio system.
As for the Carmen, Sigal said, “when you plug it into your computer, it shows up like a thumb drive, and you can drag and drop tunes into it.” There is also software allowing you to record Internet audio streams into the Carmen, then play them back in your car or boat. Included software allows you to search Internet audio streams by location or genre. There’s also an equalization control system and a transmitter that can be switched to any FM frequency to avoid interference with local stations.
The Carmen has a $60 official price tag and a street price of around $40.
Sigal said Livio is now at about 15 employees, most in Ferndale, and has openings for an embedded software engineer with experience in audio and a graphic designer.
“Our investment partner Beringea has been very helpful in helping us grow properly, and we have very good business advisors,” Sigal said. “If we’re guilty of anything it would be that we seem to focus more on the customer than on the numbers, but it’s worked for us so far.”
Sigal said he’s tried to keep as much product engineering in Michigan has possible, but that he’s found it virtually impossible to get consumer electronics actually assembled in the United States.
What’s next? Internet radio in your car. Livio has released an API for its software for the iPhone, and is working with car manufacturers to insert the application directly into car radios — meaning true Internet radio in the car, with Internet connectivity through your Bluetooth-enabled wireless phone.
Sigal said AT&T’s recent decision to end unlimited data downloads on the iPhone and impose a 2-gigabyte-per-month limit doesn’t rule out Internet radio in the car. He said he’s working on technology to make music sound better at lower data rates.
“I think we have a good Michigan advantage because we’re here with the OEMs,” Sigal said. “Just about everybody we need to be working with is here in Michigan.”
Sigal said the demographics for his products range “from grandkids to grandparents. Most of our repeat customers are parents after the kids hijack the Pandora radio.”
More about the company at www.livioradio.com.
And you can follow Sigal’s blog at http://jakesigal.com/blog/.
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