HD Radio sounds better than satellite, Internet, or analog AM and FM radio. Have you heard it yet? Chances are a few of your local AM or FM stations broadcast HD Radio signals, but they probably don't mention that fact on the air. To find out if your local stations are HD, check with iBiquity Digital, the company that licenses the technology. HD Radio--unlike digital satellite radio--has no subscription fee.
The Insignia NS-HD01 ($50) portable HD Radio's sound quality is a big step up from most mini radios, and it's the least expensive way to listen to HD Radio. Once it's locked onto an HD Radio signal, background hiss and noise vanish.
I listened to the NS-HD01 with a bunch of sets of headphones, including some of the best high-end custom in-ear models from JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone. Once the NS-HD01 is locked onto one of the better-sounding HD Radio stations, like WBGO or WNYC, the sound quality was a big step up from FM. Stereo separation and overall clarity were good enough to satisfy my audiophile tastes.
When I was on the move through New York City streets the NS-HD01 repeatedly lost the digital signal and switched back and forth between analog and digital sound. So it's clear that HD Radio technology doesn't improve reception. The NS-HD01's analog sound quality is still decent, but the analog and digital switch-overs might be a deal breaker for some buyers. The NS-HD01 is FM-only; it doesn't receive AM or AM HD Radio signals.
The radio is tiny, just 3.07x2.06x0.63 inches, but not so small that it's difficult to use. The front face is dominated by an easy-to-read 1.5-inch color LCD screen that's surrounded by nine control buttons. I found the radio easy to use and it was easy to toggle up or down through my presets. A rocker switch on the right side controls volume and mute.
The NS-HD01 is powered by a (not user-replaceable) rechargeable lithium ion battery. The recharging port is a standard Mini-USB connection, so you can charge the battery on your computer. The battery is rated for 10 hours of playback, and the screen auto-dims to save energy. Accessories include a Velcro armband, earbud headphones, and a USB cable.
I use a Sony XDR-F1HD HD Radio in my home high-end system, and I think it's pretty terrific. The sound is night and day better than what I get from Sirius satellite radio, which is almost unlistenable over my Magnepan speakers. Internet radio? It's acceptable-sounding over cheesy computer speakers, sure, but it's too harsh to enjoy over decent speakers. The little Sony lists for just $100, but it can sound right at home in a high-end system; the NS-HD01 doesn't play in that league.
CNET Senior Editor John Falcone wrote about the Insignia NS-HD01 in 2009.
Do you have an HD Radio? Tell us about it in the comments section.