Commentary by Mike Austerman
So, I'm in Costco the other day and I notice they are selling a tabletop HD radio with an iPod doc for $99 (after a $30 instant rebate). And since I've always been a fan of radio, I figured that it was well past the time to actually take home my first HD radio.
The Teac HD-1 HD Clock Radio with iPod/iPhone Docking is the first HD set I've seen for under $100 that has enough features to make it worth the money. But it, and the HD technology and implementation here in Detroit, still leaves a lot to be desired. That's not to say there aren't some cool things too - and I'm definitely keeping it and find it to be a good value. Below is a pretty comprehensive review of my experience so far.
A word of warning: although it's marketed as a clock radio, in my opinion the display is not good for a bedroom. The clock digits are too small and they are not available at all when you're listening to the AM/FM tuners. Although the display can be turned completely off, at its lowest on level it's just way too bright for use in a bedroom. It's brighter than most nightlights I've ever seen. I used it for exactly one night as a clock radio, then promptly moved it to our hobby room. Teac needs to go back to the drawing board on the display.
The biggest highlight of the radio for me has been the selectivity of the FM tuner. From my home in the northwest part of Sterling Heights, it easily receives the strongest 'in between' stations from southwestern Ontario, Pt. Huron/Sarnia, and Flint's WCRZ on 107.9. Reorienting the included double-wire T antenna allows me to switch between Q107 from Pt. Huron and Ann Arbor's 107-1. Reception is also good for many fringe stations on the non-commercial FM band. As far as the in-market stations on FM, they are all rock solid, including the sometimes harder to receive stations like 89X and 93.9 The River. I currently don't own a DX-ing type receiver, so it's very easy for me to say this is the best FM tuner I have in the house right now. It easily compares with the reception of our car radios, if not a little better.
The AM receiver however is quite disappointing. I admit that many of my issues are likely self-inflicted as my home is full of dimmer switches, compact florescent lights, and other interference causing items. Even with efforts to make sure as many of things as possible are turned off, AM reception leaves something to be desired. WDTW 1310 is very hard to receive, even with the radio in several different locations in my home, and with just about every imaginable position of the provided loop antenna. Other fringe stations from my location like WDRJ 1440, WDEO 990, and CHOK 1070 are similarly very hard to listen to reliably (and none of them are ever clear).
After using the HD features of the Teac HD-1, I can certainly understand both the excitement and the scourge that others have commented on. HD on FM is easy and reliable thanks to the selective tuner and receiving all the HD signals from the local stations is relatively straightforward. Just tune to the desired station and wait for the HD signal to display, then turn the knob one a notch to get the HD2 station if you'd like (it automatically switches from analog to digital on the HD1 signals). I'll get into the specifics of what kind of programming is currently being offered in another column ... but suffice it to say the quality and value to the listener varies enormously.
In my suburban location, HD reception on FM is rock solid - I have found no drifting between analog and digital. The HD-1 is probably not the best showcase for any sound quality advantages of listening to FM in analog versus digital. While there is a difference, there isn't enough of a contrast to get me excited. For sure, the most enticing thing about HD on FM is the availability of more programming.
AM HD is quite the different experience. When (and if) you can get a station to lock in on HD, the sound difference is certainly incredible. Listening to an interference and hum free AM broadcast is nothing short of remarkable. But ... it's incredibly difficult to achieve. I have had the most success with WWJ 950, WDFN 1130, WCHB 1200, and WXYT 1270 ... but not without significant adjustment of the loop antenna. And drifting / HD drop out unfortunately happens too often unless the antenna has truly found a sweet spot (which varies from day to day and even from morning to afternoon). Judging by what I've read elsewhere and what I've experienced on AM, I feel pretty confident in saying that the extra interference on AM is not worth the enhanced listening capability. It's maddening to try and listen to a program when it's shifting in between analog and digital. And even more frustrating to try and listen to stations on AM that years ago would be easy to hear relatively noise-free.
I wish I could be more sure about the reasons my AM reception stinks with the HD-1 - but the fact is that most consumers don't have the patience to fiddle around the way I have with the AM band. It's pretty clear that AM radio right now is pretty much broken as far as most in-home users are concerned and no HD radio is going to fix that without a lot of effort and money.
Sound quality overall is very good for a smallish desktop radio -- although this one has a good deal of heft to it. It has both line in and line out jacks, helpful for outputting otherwise inaccessible HD stations to a component system that doesn't have an HD receiver. The input allows me to use my portable satellite radio receiver with the HD-1. The remote control is incredibly bulky and heavy -- it's not cumbersome by any means, but it's easily the beefiest remote I've ever owned for something of this size. The HD-1 also features iTunes tagging, which works great when you have an iPod docked.
All in all, I'm happy I bought this unit - it gives our hobby room a nice little desktop radio that can also be used with an iPod and satellite receiver if desired. The FM radio is great -- but don't expect much out of AM.
Comments and questions are welcomed -- I'll do my best to respond as best as I can.