Is HD Radio a good investment? I’ve held off buying a receiver for a while now as I waited to see how the audio wars would pan out. Satellite radio and online download shows are numerous these days and I spend a lot of time listening to online shows on my MP3 player when I drive. I still do but when Best Buy recently put their “Insignia” radios on sale, I thought I would give HD a whirl. For $40, I figured I had little to lose and a nice little radio to take with me when I walk the dog, exercise at the gym, or when I study (The HD band has some great classical and “coffee shop” music on it in the Denver area).
For those who are not very familiar with HD radio, it’s free and provides additional choices to your over the air listening enjoyment. HD Radio is pure digital signal with no analog hiss at all. Radio stations that are HD equipped can put their regular feed on one HD channel and then add additional stations not available on traditional radios. For instance, the local country station in town also offers a more “traditional” country station on its HD-2 signal. This station features more artists from the earliest days of country music and includes features on those artists. Another station in town has the all-comedy network set up on its HD-2 signal so you can tune in comedy bits to laugh at while listening. One of my favorites is a lower band jazz station that has some interesting music featured on its HD-2 and HD-3 signals. (Yes, it has TWO additional stations). I couldn’t really call the music a specific “format” but it’s definitely not something you’d hear on traditional radio.
As to the radio itself, the “Insignia” brand is a Best Buy model that is made in China. The radios normally sell for $50 and come with an armband holder, USB cable to charge the radio (powered by a lithium-ion battery), and ear buds that act both for listening to the radio and also as an antenna for the unit. The radio is easy enough to use and there are numerous videos on YouTube showing the unit in action. After using the radio for a few days, here’s my good and bad take on it:
Good: The radio produces a nice sound for the price. I was surprised as how clean the HD channels sounded. I also like the Insignia’s simple interface. You can turn the unit on, surf the entire FM band or just those stations that offer HD signals, and there are ten presets you can program for your favorite stations. The 1.5″ screen is easy to read and easy on the eyes. The unit is small, fitting in the palm of my hand and so it is easy to take with you when you’re on the go.
Bad: My main complaint with the Insignia is the use of the ear buds as an antenna. I purchased this radio with the idea that I could take it with me in the car to plug into my auxiliary jack that I use for my MP3 player. The 1-foot audio cord I use for my MP3 player works for this unit as well but the signal provided by the cable isn’t the best and at times, the unit will lose its signal. When a HD radio loses signal, it doesn’t fade like a traditional radio. It simply goes silent until it finds the signal again. I have a longer audio cord I’m going to try with the unit to see if I can improve in-car performance but for $40, it’s a good radio nonetheless. Tuning is a bit slow but that’s because it takes the unit longer to find and lock in a HD signal. The information it needs has to be precise for the signal to come through properly. I can live with that. Also, this unit is FM only so the AM HD signals are not available on this unit. In the Denver area where I live, we have several AM stations broadcasting in HD so I would eventually like to see a unit similar to this one that gets AM signals too.
In all, the Insignia gets high marks for affordability, user friendliness, and quality of sound. If you live in an area that has HD signals close by (you can find out here) I would recommend picking one up and giving it a try. Traditional FM sounds good on this unit too so you can have the benefit of listening to ALL of your favorite stations and find some new ones on the HD band that are free to listen to, all for about $45 (tax included). The Insignia is only available at Best Buy stores since it’s their exclusive brand. Check it out!