The HD100: A "volks-radio" for the digital age.
By Columnist
updated 6/1/2007 12:32:20 PM ET 2007-06-01T16:32:20

Here’s some good news to report: HD radio prices are on the way down.

When I first wrote about the Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD it had just been introduced for $500. It now retails for $299.99.  Recently, I’ve been testing a Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD table-top radio which also retails for $299.99 after a $40 rebate. 

But the big news here is a product from a company named Radiosophy.  Their small, stylish radio is just hitting the market with an introductory price of $99.95 – and, if you buy one before July 4th, a $40 rebate will make the final cost to you just under $60.

HD radio is a United States-only broadcasting standard for both AM and FM stations.  It is touted as a way for local stations to upgrade and compete with satellite radio services.  AM stations are now allowed to provide an analog and a digital signal during daylight broadcast hours. Local FM stations are allowed to broadcast one or more additional digital feeds on their regular broadcast frequency.  HD radio stations are now available in the top-100 markets in the country.

HD radio receivers sort the different signals and let you listen to the best one you can receive.  The idea here is to set the radio dial to your favorite radio stations, wait 5 seconds or so and then enjoy the music and talk. 

In the New York City area there are many stations broadcasting HD radio signals.  The AM stations here which are using HD technology sound very good.  It is startling to hear the difference when the radio automatically switches into the digital mode.  You can easily discern that the usual drone of AM radio background noise disappears in the HD mode.

Many local FM stations here are broadcasting second and third digital channels.  I my experience, I've noticed that second broadcast channels sound as good as the primary stream but, I’ve those third channel streams sound a little tinny.

Affordable HD
Radiosophy’s HD100 receiver is just hitting the market now.  It is a small table radio – and reminds me of clock radios from the past.  It measures 12 by 3.34 by 6.25 inches and weighs 2.2 pounds.  The very large outboard AC adapter weighs nearly one pound al by itself.

There’s a pair of small speakers and a 4-watt per channel amplifier inside which provide clear sounding voices and instruments.   There’s an auxiliary input jack on the back – for your portable music device and a stereo headphone mini-jack up front.

There are a bunch of nicely laid-out, but very similar-looking/feeling buttons on the radio’s front face that control the double digital clocks, station selection and all other functions. The digital readout display is small and contrasty but functional. Also, unlike other the HD radios, Radiosophy's display is barely lit when the radio is turned off. The others are way too bright for a darkened bedroom in the middle of the night.

Overall, the HD100 does exactly what it’s supposed to.  It receives both analog and digital AM and FM radio stations and sounds pretty darned good doing so.  I especially like the HD-only station scan feature – something its competitors lack.

Of the three HD radios I’ve tested, the HD100 does the best job at grabbing digital signals with the provided FM antenna (a retractable metal whip).  Installing my trusty C Crane FM Reflector indoor antenna ($34.95) made a huge difference on all three radios.  Digital HD signals on the AM band, for all three radios, require use of the included AM antenna.

I love the Radiosophy's simplicity and especially love the low price. If you’re interested in hearing what HD radio sounds like Radiosophy has an inexpensive way of finding out.

Room-filling sound
On the other hand, the new table radio from Cambridge SoundWorks is a much more refined product.  It is based on their time-tested line of great-sounding table radios, originally designed by the late Henry Kloss (the genius behind AR, KLH, Advent, Kloss Video, and Tivoli Audio).

Despite what they say on their Website, the 820HD’s enclosure could never be mistaken for sleek.  It’s beautiful, and very well made, but at 13.25 by 7.5 by 4.4 inches and 8 pounds it’s physically large. The radio is said to be magnetically shielded to allow placement near TV monitors and comes in two colors: Onyx (black) or Arctic White.

Cambridge SoundWorks
The 820HD is the best sounding HD radio on the market - and that's saying a lot.
There are the requisite double alarms with a snooze button on top, a stereo headphone mini-jack, an auxiliary input mini-jack and an optical digital output.  A well thought-out remote control is included.  That’s good because the few buttons they’ve put on the front of the radio were somewhat confusing for me.

The 820HD has a very, very, very bright digital display.  It was way too bright to keep it on a nightstand next to my bed and I couldn’t find a way to dim it enough to my liking.  I recommend not using this device as a clock radio unless you like sleeping with a light on.

Like the HD100, this radio comes with a metal whip FM antenna.  It was nearly useless in my urban test area.  I recommend attaching a better antenna for optimum results.

I can’t find any fault with the way the Cambridge SoundWorks radio actually sounds. It is the best of the HD bunch.  Fantastic bass, smooth highs and wonderful midrange make this radio a thrill to listen to.  I must admit I spent an afternoon listening to a local college station broadcasting in HD and marveling at the quality of the sound.  The 820HD’s sound filled the room.

To sum it up, neither product is perfect, but the 820HD provides amazing quality sound – but keep it away from your bed – while the HD100 provides affordable entry into the world of HD digital radio.  Both are recommended.

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