As someone who's never been a big fan of AM/FM radio, I never really saw the advantage of HD Radio. At first, the all-digital format promised little more than CD-quality digital transmission of existing stations. Then the broadcasters added multicasting, offering "HD2" stations that weren't available at all on analog hardware. They even sweetened the deal by temporarily reducing or suspending commercials on those HD2 stations (though that program has recently ended).
But the thing that most retarded the growth of HD Radio adoption was the price of the hardware. The earliest tabletop HD Radios, for instance, cost upward of $500--not exactly an impulse purchase. In the years since, prices have tumbled: tabletop and in-car models hit $200 last year, and newer HD-enabled clock radios can be found for less than $100 now. Still, as far as in-home options go, none of the models we'd tested had really blown us away.
That's finally changed with the Sony XDR-F1HD. We'd been hearing tales of this model being the ultimate radio tuner, so we decided to try it out. And the short answer is this: it's the best-sounding home radio tuner we've heard to date. Analog and digital (HD) radio sounds great, and it's far better at pulling in hard-to-reach stations than competing models we've tried.
The XDR-F1HD is a tuner component, so it doesn't have built-in speakers--it's designed to be connected to anything with an auxiliary input (or, at least, a pair of powered speakers). Yes, your AV receiver already has a built-in radio, but we found the Sony offered far better reception and sound quality than the integrated tuner on our receivers. Connect it to a receiver that's powering a good set of speakers, and you may well get the best sound quality on FM--be it analog or HD digital--that you've heard yet.
The other big advantage of the XDR-F1HD is the price: it lists for $100, and can be found online for closer to $80. While that's still a lot to pay for "just a radio," keep in mind that the HD Radio price cuts haven't yet hit the AV receiver market: you'll still be paying a premium of as much as $400 to $800 to go from a receiver without an HD Radio tuner (such as the Onkyo TX-SR606) to one that's got HD Radio built-in (the Onkyo TX-SR876).
To reiterate: I'm just not enough of a fan of over-the-air radio--let alone HD Radio--to consider buying this product myself. I prefer Internet radio and on-demand online music services such as Pandora, Slacker, and Last.fm. (And it's worth noting that you can get at least some of those "exclusive" HD2 stations online.) But I know that there are still quite a few of you who won't give up your radio until it's pried from your cold dead hands. For you die-hard radio listeners--and for those who want to make the transition to HD Radio--the Sony XDR-F1HD is the best and most affordable option we've seen to date.
How do you feel about HD Radio? Share your thoughts below.