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Crossing over to the (HD Radio) Dark Side

Sony XDRF1 HD, the HD Radio tuner I just bought

Perhaps the title for this post is a little hyperbolic, however I feel like I have a confession to make: I just bought an HD Radio receiver.

Yes, I’ve been quite critical here about the technical specs of In-Band-On-Channel digital broadcasting, a/k/a IBOC, a/k/a HD Radio. However, I must admit that I have barely listened to the service, largely because I don’t own an HD Radio and rarely have had access to one. In order to judge the actual merits of the system against what I already know are some of the constraints, I really think I should do some critical listening.

I’d been thinking about buying an HD Radio for a while, mostly considering the Sony XDRF1HD HD Radio Tuner. It’s received very good reviews for both its analog FM performance as well as its HD radio performance, and it’s comparatively inexpensive with a street price of around $80. Then I walked into a local electronics store today and found one in an open box special for even less, so a I bought it.

It’s an audio component tuner, not a radio, so it doesn’t have a speaker. It’s made to fit into an audio component system, which is where I’ll install it.

I have not yet given it a real listen, so I can post no results yet. However, I will be sure to keep Radio Survivor readers updated on my new adventures in HD Radio.

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10 Responses to Crossing over to the (HD Radio) Dark Side

  1. Greg August 6, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    Very disappointing. You should have bought a used one off Ebay, preventing iBiquity from receiving its HD chipset royalty.

  2. Broadcast Engineer August 7, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    Greg’s reply epitomizes the real reason that there is any opposition to HD Radio at all. It’s not about the technology or the audio quality, which all experts agree is outstanding. It’s solely about iBiquity profiting from their technology. The same could be said for the way Dolby licenses its technology.

  3. Paul August 8, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    BE – I disagree with your “experts agree” statement. Who? When? How? I am a broadcast engineer with 25 years in the business. Does that make me an expert? I have had various HD radios for the last six years. When they work, they do sound good, but is it so much better than analog FM? No, not really. In a mobile listening environment, I find that the HD is gone most of the time. This is in market #1. Add to that the insult of exorbitant licensing fees, adjacent channel interference, lack of building penetration, all of which have been well documented by NPR and others, and this expert concludes it is a flawed system.

  4. Will_Tucker_FMX August 8, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    HD Radio certainly has its compromises, Paul Do you believe HD’s reception issues — particularly on FM — are a result of the technology or the way the technology’s employed, from station to station?

  5. Paul Riismandel August 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Greg: You’re cutting a pretty fine line there-somebody pays the royalty, buying used just adds more middlemen. In any event, good luck finding a used one on eBay. 99% of the ones listed are new. At least I paid a good $30 -40 less than the average price on eBay.

    Broadcast Engineer: I’ll have a listening review posted Sunday night and you’ll read how my experience does not jive with the asserting that the audio quality is “outstanding” as you claim. While I do have problems with the licensing regime, that would be less of an issue if the technology measured up to its quality claims, and it does not.

    Will: HD’s reception issues have to do with the fact that the HD digital signal runs at no more than 10% the power of the main analog signal. This is done in order to minimize interference with adjoining analog signals. So, yes, the reception issues are due to a fundamental weakness in the technology due to cramming an extra data channel into the already crowded FM dial.

  6. Rich Rauch August 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    For what it’s worth, here is one very technical review of the XDR-F1HD. That, along with the experience I’ve had with my own, has convinced me to buy a second one.

    In my opinion, this tuner is worth every penny even if (when) HD Radio bites the dust.

  7. Greg August 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    @Paul: Looking at ebay for HD radios it appears that 99% do NOT indicate that they are new, and many bids are sitting empty, or with very low bids for days:

    As for the royalties:

    “One look underneath the base of an Accurian explains its $200 price tag. There, a sticker reads: ‘HD Radio Technology Under License From iBiquity Digital Corporation.’ Instead of developing a radio capable of superior sound quality, I’m guessing that RadioShack paid iBiquity a fortune for the license, cheaply put together a subpar product, and passed the licensing cost on to consumers.”

    That pretty much covers the royalties. It appears that you truly have crossed over to the “HD Radio Dark Side”.

  8. Paul Riismandel August 10, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Gee, I hope iBiquity throws a big party with its share of the 58 bucks I put down for the Sony tuner.

  9. Greg August 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    I’de like to give Bob Struble in Fulton, MD a big “hello”, as he just visited my blog from this post – LOL! Hey, Bob – did you see the latest RW article from Tommy Ray (WOR) on the failure of AM-HD? FM-HD is next!

  10. Eric January 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I am not an industry expert, and I do not have 25 years in the business. I am simply an end user of the HD Radio broadcast “product”. Only because I bought an HD radio component receiver cheap, and the fact that my car had an HD system factory installed… do I even know about HD Radio.

    As an end-user of this technology, I am unimpressed. I live in the Tampa, Florida market. We have ample HD choices in programming, some is commercial-free. I call that a plus. On the downside, those “commercial-free” options appear to be an “automated playback” of the same songs, over and over, day in and day out. The play list changes, perhaps, every few weeks. A daily listener will get bored within a few days… I have.

    The Sound Quality is well, mediocre in my opinion. Yes, it is static-free. But then by definition there will never be static on a digital stream. However the sound quality appears to vary from HD station to HD station. There are a few that rival what “appears” to be CD quality. There are others where the alias-ing is so bad, it often sound like a 128K MP3 stream. I would call this a step backwards in quality – especially when I hear this artifact on Top-40 music where the actual analog FM station can, at times, sound better than the HD station.

    Performance. Here’s the rub. Being in a solid location, in a major city, that is remarkably flat and devoid of major reflective objects or varying terrain I would expect the signal to remain relatively constant, barring any weather-induced anomalies. It does not. On my stationary home receiver, with an outdoor antenna, I find solid signals periodically losing their “connection” and defaulting to the non-HD programming. The result is an audio “train wreck” of program genres, not to mention a obtrusive disruption because once HD decides the signal is not recoverable, it defaults to non-HD and ceases it’s search to reacquire the HD signal. This means you have to stop what you’re doing and manually re-tune your station. And all this is on a stationary home system.

    In the car the performance does not improve. As you would expect, the loss of HD connection happens more often. Sometimes re-acquiring on it’s own, other times not.

    As ridiculous as this sounds: I find myself using a 3G smartphone, a smartphone application like Pandora or iHeartRadio, plugged into my aux jack on my car music system. The performance is noticeably more stable and the sound quality (more often, than not) is a little better.

    I’m quite happy I did not spend significant money on HD Radio. I do find it extremely hard to believe that the broadcast industry can find a new revenue stream in “HD-Radio”. As a consumer, at the moment, I perceive the technology as a downgrade with no added value to me. To be fair, it does increase your choices, but even those choices have micro-value.

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