Bosch has been in the job site radio game for years now. Their PB360 radio is legendary for it’s durability. A built-in roll cage had Bosch comfortable enough to have our friend Beth from ToolSkool hurl it off a raised platform. Bosch also staged several more robust stunts including launching it from a trebuchet. As cool and durable as the PB360 is, it’s also a bit like carrying a loaded milk crate around. If you’re just looking for some nearby tunes or talk radio and you’re not looking to rock out the whole block, the PB360 might be seen as overkill. Enter the new and far more portable 12v PB120 job site radio.
We spilled the news on the new PB120 during our coverage of Bosch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, and they recently sent one our way to review firsthand. Since launching it over our neighbors houses with a medieval weapon would likely cause problems for both the radio and my currently un-incarcerated status, I stuck to testing it out from a usability standpoint.
Aux Input – A radio these days isn’t of much use without an Aux Input. You’ll find the PB120’s Aux Input under a rubber tab on the back of the radio. Bosch thoughtfully includes a short audio cable which will let you connect your iPhone, iPod or other (inferior) audio device to the input (that’s right, I’m getting political with a Blackberry / Android / etc. smack-down)! I can’t wait to read the one Zune fan’s hate mail! Anyway, moving on now. While there’s a compartment on the backside of the radio, it’s definitely not designed for your audio device (especially since the Aux Input is on the outside). At first this bugged me, but considering how often I wind up answering my phone when I have it streaming music via Pandora, the exterior input makes sense. If they had gone with the internal approach, the radio would have likely grown substantially too. The audio cable provided is short, which definitely limits where you can place your external device. It would have been nice to see a bit longer cable included. I have already replaced the factory cable on mine.
AM/FM – I hate commercials and gave up regular radio listening years ago. With that said, I was able to pleasantly rediscover radio thanks to the PB120. Its digital tuner was precise and crystal clear, surprising given the radio’s compact and unobtrusive rubber antenna. I was able to tune in a bunch of stations with zero static or station fade. Programming presets was also a snap with five preset buttons (just hold down whatever preset button you want once you’re on the station). Tuning is also easy with typical forward and back buttons that can be held down a bit longer for “seek” functionality. The radio performance is really excellent, assuming you can still tolerate commercials.
First off, let’s clarify: the PB120 comes with an AC Adapter but does not include 12v Max batteries or a charger. If you’re looking to rock out 24/7, the AC Adapter is the way to go. You’ll have uninterrupted tunes as long as the grid supplies you with power. Like the Aux Input, the AC Adapter jack is found under a rubber tab on the back of the radio. The AC Adapter itself has a snuggly home in the compartment housed in the back. Yes, I did just use the word “snuggly.” The storage compartment is a nice feature since having a free-floating, bulky AC adapter to keep track of is a total pain. However, given the PB120’s cordless functionality, you may decide never to plug it in.
Bosch quotes an 8 hour battery life off a fully charged 12v Max battery. We ran ours for twelve+ hours on a single charge, however I’m guessing what volume you have the unit set at impacts the run time (ours was set at four to eight most of the time, allowing us to easily out-run factory estimates). Even at eight hours, a single 12v Max battery provides a lot of juice. If you work longer than eight to twelve-ish hour stretches, we’re guessing you probably have more than one 12v Max battery available too. Worst case, you can always plug the radio into a wall outlet. However, I preferred the mobility of using the 12v battery. There was no fumbling around with the AC Adapter and I could grab the radio and take it with me where ever I was working without being slowed down by a cable and plug.
I did find the 12v battery a little tricky to remove. The two tabs to squeeze are slightly recessed, requiring pretty solid fingertip pressure to release the battery. Not a big deal, and the release might still loosen up over time. You may have also noticed a small battery cover next to the main battery port. Under that cover (which is secured by a single screw), you’ll find space for two AAA batteries which serve as backup power for the unit’s built-in clock. Bosch thoughtfully includes the AAA backup batteries to get you started.
Small speaker systems aren’t known for audiophile-level sound quality. If you don’t believe me, crank up your favorite tune via your smartphone’s built-in speakers. See what I mean? Physics can be a limiting factor. The PB120 sports a pair of 5 watt neodymium speakers that hold their own given their size. Volume on the radio goes from zero to 20, and the radio defaults to level 10 whenever powered back on (we would have preferred it defaulting to the most recent volume level before it was last powered down). We found the tone a little dull without any EQ and tweaked the bass up three levels and the treble up two. At higher volumes, the radio remains less distorted with the bass and treble left at zero. I maxed out the volume to 20 several times and found it louder than I’d ever set it at a job site or while working around the house. Depending on how you set the EQ and what type of music you’re listening to, mild distortion can set in anywhere from 16-20. Overall, I’d rate the sound quality as very respectable given the radio’s size. If you’re a true audiophile, chances are you’re buying your gear from Bang and Olufsen and not Bosch anyway.
If you’re hoping to leave your radio out in the pouring rain, that’s probably not advisable with the PB120. While the back compartment and Aux/12v Jack all have rubber seals, the owner’s manual advises you to protect the radio against direct sun and moisture, “The radio is suitable only for indoor use.” Personally, I’m quite comfortable living on the edge and using the radio outdoors, but then again, I’m in San Diego where it almost never rains. So you’ve been advised; if you take the radio hot-tubbing, scuba-diving or out in the rain, you do so at your radio’s peril.
Bosch appears to have toned down the durability threshold from the roll-bar-encased PB360, but the PB120 still can hold its own. Two handles on the front of the unit harken back to its rollbar heritage. The handles make it very easy to grab the radio to move it, from just about any angle. They also provide protection to the speaker grills and front of the radio. The back of the radio lacks any rollbar protection, but it is framed by the same rugged material. The main body of the radio is pretty well protected, and as long as you don’t beat it with a baseball bat (or hurl it with a trebuchet) we’d hope it would weather most casual abuse and minor tumbles at the shop or on the job site.
Two sturdy feet make this radio easy to place on just about any relatively flat surface. If flat surfaces are at a premium, or you just plan to use the PB120 in the shop or garage most of the time, Bosch thoughtfully included two mounting recesses in the back of the radio. The screw mounts are about 7 3/4″ apart, so don’t expect to mount them on two studs unless you happen to luck out with a couple studs spaced tighter than 16″ OC. In my shop, 16″ on center is the exception rather than the rule, so finding a suitable mount location shouldn’t be hard. The screw mounts aren’t something you’ll find noted in the owners manual, so you may want to make a mental note of them now. They’re a handy way to mount your radio out of harms way, off valuable workbench real estate, or just to store it. Speaking of storage, the PB120 also is designed to fit snugly right into one side of an L-Boxx-1, with room to spare on the other side.
There’s really not much to complain about with the PB120, it’s a great little radio. However, one complaint deserves its own paragraph in the review: The power button doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to. I noticed on several occasions that when I first pressed the power button the radio did not turn on. At first I thought maybe I had a really weak button-pressing finger. I’ve always been complimented on a firm handshake, so the thought that I may be predisposed to weak button-pressing disturbed me. I started to get depressed thinking I might have weak fingers. After a couple more assertive button pushes, I decided it wasn’t my issue after all. Then, oddly, I found the quirk noted in the owner’manual:
Note: When operating the first time via battery pack or when not having used the radio for a longer period, it may be necessary to press the On/Off button Several times or longer, to switch the radio on.
I’m a little baffled by this. Bosch has a legion of talented, meticulous, German engineers on-staff. It’s not clear to me why they couldn’t have designed a power button that works 100% of the time (like just about every other power button on every audio device I’ve ever used). I’m not sure what the reasons were for this little shortcoming, but I imagine somewhere right now there is a German engineer extremely pained by the fact that the PB120 went to market with a power button that has “character.” This concludes my power button rant.
Sexy Blue Backlight
On a brighter note, I like the backlight. As soon as you press a button, a pleasing blue backlight illuminates the display and then turns off again after a short interval of several seconds. Aside from looking cool, the backlight actually was very useful when I was using the radio in lower light situations. It’s a nice and practical detail.
The PB120 delivers portability that makes most other job site radios look downright burdensome. Bosch managed to pack very respectable sound quality, features and usability into a svelte form factor, all without cluttering the radio with frilly features of dubious value. The only “missing feature” we would have liked to have seen here is an integrated USB charging port to help keep your phone or media player charged up. Otherwise, the PB120 is a solid, compact radio that delivers audio from your favorite media player, or crisply-tuned AM/FM stations. Aside from the moody power button, we found there wasn’t much to dislike, and a lot to like. If you have already invested in other 12v Max Bosch products and don’t already have a job site or shop radio, then the buying the PB120 should be a no-brainer. Your ears will thank you for it, and the radio is a bit less likely to land you noise complaints on the job than it’s larger competition.
We think the PB120 is a great investment in your productivity and sanity; it can entertain you, inform you, and otherwise make your work day more enjoyable. You can find the Bosch PB120 12-Volt Compact Radio for just a tad over $100 on Amazon. Rock on amigos!