Some time ago I was looking for a simple DAB tuner to add to my hi-fi. There used to be no end of choice but in recent years most manufacturers have discontinued their standalone radio tuners. I suppose it’s hardly surprising given that FM radio transmissions are slated to end around 2030 in the UK, and DAB has mostly been overshadowed by internet radio due to better sound and a vast choice of stations worldwide. Only a few manufacturers still have a tuner in their range; Tibo, Tangent, Rotel and Pro-Ject last I checked.
However 1 option peaked my interest – the ‘Fitzwilliam’ by Majority. Time past and I had yet to try one. I was recently in contact with the company who kindly sent over a sample of the Fitzwilliam along with a few other products which will be the subject of articles to come.
Majority were founded in 2012 in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Their product portfolio comprises radios, all-in-one systems, soundbars, speakers, microphones, earbuds and even a DVD player, all designed in Cambridge and with names related to the city. The Fitzwilliam stands out as the only model in their range to take up the traditional hi-fi separate form factor, and is a combined DAB+ tuner and music streamer with Bluetooth, internet radio, Spotify Connect and USB / network playback.
The true capability of this product isn’t immediately apparent. Nowhere in the marketing does it mention that the Fitzwilliam can be controlled entirely by the Undok mobile app from Frontier Smart Technologies, available on iOS and Android. Frontier’s chipsets and technologies power millions of smart radios from many brands – Hama, Medion, Silvercrest, Auna, Technisat, Revo and Pinnel just to name a few. Only a few short paragraphs at the end of the manual make mention of what, in my opinion, is a key feature. Any hi-fi music streamer worth considering is app-controlled and on the surface the Fitzwilliam appears to be lacking, but in fact it is more than meets the eye.
The sample on test is the current (second) generation of the Fitzwilliam. As far as I can tell it is virtually identical to the first but lacks an ethernet port for a hardwired network. It is a hi-fi component of traditional proportions with a neatly arranged symmetrical fascia. Supplied with the Fitzwilliam are a power adapter, RCA to 3.5 mm audio cable, a remote (AAA batteries included) and some sparse documentation. The full user manual is available online both as a PDF and as a beautifully formatted HTML webpage.
As someone who uses assistive software (a screenreader), I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciated the latter. Its layout is impeccable, listing controls and connections in the order which they appear on the device and concisely detailing every function and their usage. It is a prime example of how a user manual should be written and presented, and it’s consistent across every single one of the products in Majority’s lineup. Thanks, Majority.
The unit itself is lightweight, though in truth there’s not much going on inside. It’s almost entirely software-based with minimal supporting hardware. Most of the weight is the steel casework, which is well made with a nice finish. My only gripe are the screws on the sides, which on my sample were loose and couldn’t be tightened as if their receiving threads were improperly tapped or the screws themselves were a tad on the short side. I also don’t care much for the recessed antenna sockets on the rear. But aside from that the Fitzwilliam is nicely put together, well finished and stylish, as far as hi-fi boxes go. You don’t get a brushed metal front panel or weighted dials, but you can’t expect them for £140.
There are two large dials on the front. The left-most dial is for navigation and on the right is a combined volume control and power button. The dials feel a little cheap and on my sample tend to scrape against the underlying plastic of the front panel when they’re rotated. A bit of felt behind the dials would have made them much more pleasing. THey’re nicely turned aluminium knobs though.
Central of the front panel is a large display, flanked by rows of transport and navigational buttons. There’s a USB port (maximum 5V 1A) to connect storage devices, a headphone jack, and an infrared receiver.
On the back are fitted a pair of antennas, 1 for DAB and FM and the other for wifi and bluetooth. The former is an F connector like most DAB tuners and satellite receivers, pre-fitted with an extending 8-piece telescopic antenna. The wifi and bluetooth antenna is using a standard SMA connector. Both antennae swivel and can be angled to point in almost any direction. The recessed sockets make accessing the nut to remove or install the dab / fm antenna a pain, which is a small oversight as it is possible, and desirable, to connect up an external antenna when the Fitzwilliam is in situ.
Also on the back are analogue outputs both in RCA and 3.5 mm form, as well as a 3.5 mm auxiliary input. You get digital audio outputs on coaxial and optical connectors, and the unit will deliver all sources (even FM radio) through these. Finally there’s the 2.5 mm barrel connector for the included power supply. There’s no wired network port on the second generation model which is a bit of a shame.
You’re greeted by a setup wizard when you power up the Fitzwilliam for the first time. This guides you through setting your language, time zone, network and other system settings and is navigated using the left-most dial on the front of the unit or the included remote. It’s easier, however, to use the Undok app. I was thrilled to discover that this option, mentioned nowhere in the Fitzwilliam literature, was available as total blindness means I’m unable to see the screen, and thus would otherwise be unable to complete the setup procedure. The app makes a device that would otherwise be inaccessible to me, at least without memorising a lot of onscreen menus, entirely useable.
Having connected up the Fitzwilliam to my reference system I fired up Undok on my iPhone and proceeded to the setup procedure. When the unit is in setup mode it broadcasts a wifi SSID, to which you can connect using your phone. Undok is then able to connect to it and guide you through the same configuration wizard. It wasn’t the smoothest experience though that’s down to a couple of glitches in Undok and no fault of the Fitzwilliam, and within a couple of minutes I had the Fitzwilliam configured, on my wifi network and scanning for available DAB radio stations.
The app allows full control of the Fitzwilliam including source selection, volume control, a now playing screen, various browse modes that change depending on the chosen source, and device settings. There’s also a web page, accessed by typing the device’s IP address into a browser, that allows you to change the network name, basic network settings, manually update the firmware and view the unit’s status. You can manage presets here too.
Henceforth in this review I used the app exclusively to control the Fitzwilliam, though I should give mention to the remote. It’s a small handset though is neatly organised with a large central navigation section flanked by controls and a numbered keypad. The buttons are large and easy to locate all have a gentle click to them on press. It’s a great remote, far better than the junk you get with some expensive kit from audiophile companies, and is the second-best way to operate the Fitzwilliam if you can’t, or choose not to, use the app.
I won’t talk through the setup procedure as it is self-explanatory and can be achieved either via the controls and display of the unit or within the app. Once you have the device configured and selected, you’re presented with the above source screen. Available sources include internet radio, podcasts, Spotify connect, DAB and FM radio, Bluetooth and the auxiliary input. There’s also the ‘music player’ option, which gives you access to a drive connected to the front USB port.
The app’s interface remains consistent throughout the various screens. ‘Source’, ‘Browse’ and ‘Now Playing’ buttons remain at the top of the interface for navigation. The ‘Refresh’ button refreshes content as you would expect, and helpfully also instigates a full DAB station scan. The app displays the DAB stations listed in alphabetical order by name, and tuning in to any station is as simple as a tap on the respective station. Naturally all of this functionality is available to you using the remote control or the dials on the unit, but it’s a far more intuitive way to operate a DAB tuner. Sadly the app-based control of the FM radio is sparse, though you do get a frequency display. RDS could be used to great effect here, and an option to bring up a keypad to type in the frequency would be nice too
The internet radio implementation is quite extensive. The main browse screen gives quick and easy access to stations in your country (UK in my case) as well as a search function and station listings by location or popularity.
Choosing the UK listings allows you to browse stations local to you, list stations from the BBC (a nice touch) or browse by city, genre or popularity. As an avid radio listener I am quite familiar with the stations in my area, and I couldn’t find anything that was missing from the directory.
The ‘Discover’ section allows you to filter stations by origin (default worldwide), language or genre. These sections have subsections to further filter stations. It’s a helpful way to find new favourites among the tens of thousands of stations that are out there. Sometimes internet radio can be a bit of a minefield, and the amount of choice actually makes discovering new stations more difficult as the choice is overwhelming. This is one of the reasons I’ve always preferred a traditional tuner, but I find myself using these discovery features extensively.
The podcasts directory is arranged in much the same way with similar filtering. Tapping the UK filter brings up a list of popular podcasts and options to filter by popularity or genre.
Naturally you also have the ability to browse the directory by location (worldwide), genre, a manual search or podcast discovery, which gives the same filtering options as for the internet radio directory above.
Finally we turn to the USB music player. Sadly only drives formatted as FAT32 are supported, imposing a 2GB file-size limit and meaning significantly slower performance. This is an oversight that can hopefully be corrected in software; even support for XFAT would be a major improvement. Nevertheless with a correctly formatted USB drive inserted and loaded with folders, you are presented a simple folder list.
You can then browse the directory structure accordingly.
Sadly the unit does not support playback of FLAC files, and those directories are shown as empty. Directories containing MP3 files work though, and play without issue.
The USB playback feature could use some work and at the moment is a bit too primitive to be of much use, in my opinion. You’re better off streaming from a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth or Spotify Connect. The necessary changes could I’m sure be made in software however, so there’s hope for the function yet.
There are a few minor changes I’d like to see in the app too. There’s no way to disable the unit’s volume control when you’re feeing into a stereo amp that already has a volume control. In most cases the source screens open in the ‘Now Playing’ mode rather than in browse mode. There doesn’t appear to be an option to manually update the unit’s software over the network. There’s no facility, at least via the app, to stream content from a network server such as a NAS (network-attached storage) device. And there’s no support for Apple AirPlay. The latter I can understand as I’m sure Apple imposes some exorbitant licensing to implement AirPlay into a consumer product. But there are open-source AirPlay implementations that work well and I’d happily pay a few extra pounds for a streamer with AirPlay support, as it’s by far the slickest way to stream audio from an iOS device or a Mac.
Sound wise the Fitzwilliam is, as I expected, largely neutral. I hate describing sound character and thankfully I won’t have to do that here. It just gets on with the job of streaming audio in a way that neither alludes to itself nor offends the ear. You do get some EQ options in the device settings (Normal, Flat, Jazz, Rock, Movie, Classic, Pop, News, and ‘Loudness’. There are no parameters to adjust these EQ curves (again, easily fixed in software) and I left the unit on its flat setting, which proved to be true to its name.
If you’re looking for a great DAB tuner, the Fitzwilliam should make your shortlist. If you’re looking to add streaming functionality to an ageing hi-fi system, you need a streamer on a budget, or you simply want a fuss-free streamer without the bells, whistles and price hike of the audiophile manufacturers, the Fitzwilliam is for you. The few minor niggles it does have are no fault of the hardware and will, I’m sure, be tweaked in future revisions of the software. The app is one of the best streamer control apps I’ve used regardless of price, and the Fitzwilliam packs plenty of useful features and a sound I can’t fault into an aesthetically pleasing chassis of slimline proportions that will fit comfortably with any hi-fi system. Bravo, Majority.