Review Friday: Sony XDR-F1HD HD-Radio Component Tuner

To day, I would like to take a peek at a technology that has been living in the shadows for some time. While HDTV and digital broadcast over-the-air have been getting some attention lately (especially with the January 17, 2009 deadline looming), digital radio broadcast have not been getting any significant media attention in the U.S.A.
One of the reasons for the lack of attention might be that the digital radio standard chosen by the FCC has been met with some serious criticism. The two arguments that are most profound here in my mind are sound quality and proprietariness.
Nevertheless, since I am listening to a lot of radio during the day, I have decided to give this broadcast system a try. For receiving, I chose the Sony XDR-F1HD component tuner that allows most easy integration with a standard stereo system. Connections are made simply through RCA style component wires. The system comes with an AM and FM antenna cable, but standard connection (e.g. to you home TV antenna) are available. The unit is very simple to configure and has - in addition to the radio program information - a large clock. The display is illuminated.
Reception of FM HD radio stations is - overall - pretty good, even under adverse conditions. My antenna is setup inside the Sun office, which is a steel reenforced concrete building with excellent radio shielding qualities (sigh!). In addition, the indoor antenna cable is close to two CRT monitors and a variety of transformers. Most strong stations (such as WGBH) are readily avilable with little or no reception problems. However, AM reception is rather spotty and so far I have only been able to receive WBZ when holding the antenna at 83 degrees North-North-West about 3'7" above my desk.
The sound quality is most of the times acceptable. The radio signal codec is a proprietary version of the AAC encoding, encoded at 36 kbit/sec. This is far from being CD quality, but it does remove the noise floor of the FM signal to a large extend.
Overall, I would probably recommend this setup, as long as the broadcasting community is dedicated to continue using this sytem.

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