I read this morning Darren Murph's post on engadget, Insignia NS-HD01: first-ever portable HD Radio on sale at Best Buy -- today, it said. Insignia is a house brand at Best Buy. I almost never buy a gizmo without reading reviews first, but at $50, I thought it would be a small risk, so I stopped in to the Best Buy in Leesburg, VA on my way back to Washington and bought one of the three that they had (the electronics dept. guy had to look it up on the computer to confirm they really had them, then he led me on a hunt through that section until we ran across it). Insignia is beating Microsoft's Zune HD to market by several months.
I've used a number of HD Radio products over the past couple of years ranging from Radiosophy's inexpensive unit to the Sangean component tuner I have at home. All of these used chips drew a lot of power out of the wall. Given public radio's large investment in the technology, I've been rooting for HD Radio's success. Rooting and achieving aren't always the same thing, of course, but I think that the low-power chip that makes possible devices like the NS-HD01 is a real advancement in the success of this technology.
Here's a very brief and very partial review. The unit is FM only. It's just the right size -- not too big and not too small. It doesn't come with a wall wart (wall charger), rather its internal Li-Ion battery charges (quickly) from a computer USB port. I'll be interested to see if it charges from the USB port on my Jeep's sound/nav system. As I write this, the radio has been running for 3½ hours and the battery indicator is still showing 3 of its 4 bars.
There's a small color display which provides PAD (either from HD Radio® or analog RBDS modes) and frequency. There's even a kinda sorta analog display that shows how far you've progressed across the FM band, in case you can't remember that at 90.9 MHz, you still have a long way to go to 107.9 MHz. The radio can remember 10 station presets.
It seems reasonably sensitive. I could pick up WAMU, the C-SPAN station, and WETA on the noncommercial band from inside my apartment near NPR as well as a bunch of commercial stations. I've not done testing for distant stations yet from my balcony, but I did put WAMU on and rode my bike to to the Washington Monument and back and got solid reception. I've done the same trip listening to IP radio streams on my Nokia N95 and iPhone. While they have acceptable reliability (and, as a bonus, I can listen to my former stations in Washington State), the HD Radio reception was more solid. The earphones provided aren't top of the line, but they did provide acceptable performance. Sorry, but those music stations putting all of their bits into one channel don't sound any better than stations that are doing multicasting to my non-golden ears. Maybe there is someone out there listening in a quiet room with full-cover earphones who can tell the difference.
Lots of people are ready to bury HD Radio as a failure (another meaning, perhaps, for the term, "shovel ready"), but this nice little radio, the upcoming Zune HD, and more significantly, the potential of this technology to do much, much more lead me to counsel patience. Remember that FM took about 40 years from its 1938 introduction to eclipse AM as the dominant radio medium. HD Radio won't have that much time to prove itself in today's fast-paced environment, of course, but if those who control this technology are smart, they won't need it.
Update 13 July 2009:
Dave Zatz also has a look at this radio here. Good set of pictures.
Walking around NPR's three office locations in Washington with it. Loses WAMU's HD-2 bluegrass channel if you're more than 15-20 feet from a window.
Update 15 July 2009:
So I had a doctor appointment this morning in Alexandria, VA not too far off King St. for those of you who know the area. I used the occasion to test this receiver in my car in the same fashion as I do listening to streaming on my iPhone and, before that Nokia N95. I plugged it into the audio input jack of my Jeep's sound system with the 6-foot cord serving as an antenna and hung the receiver (weighs only a few ounces) on my rearview mirror.
My bike ride on Sunday was using WAMU's HD1 channel. While I checked the display each time I stopped for a light and it was showing the HD logo, I've since discovered that it always displays it for at least awhile when it's blending in and out of analog. So that was a poor test. This time, I used HD3. I drove from my apartment at 4th and Massachusetts NW to I395 and took it south a few miles to the King St. exit. Performance in the city was quite spotty. The signal was interrupted frequently -- more so than listening to 3G IP streaming -- but it healed more quickly than 3G IP. Once I got across the bridge into Virginia, though, I had no other audio interruptions all the way to the doctor's office. From there, I drove to a bank in downtown Alexandria, and had mostly good service until I got into the business district. Coming back to Washington, I switched to HD2, and it was better once I got to the city, however that may have been due to the antenna, such as it was, showing different directionality because the car was in the opposite direction.
My conclusion so far is that this unit is very usable for HD1, but for HD2 and HD3 I'm better off listening to the station's IP streams when in the city. I'll do some more tests as I have the opportunity.
Update 22 July 2009:
Matt Burns reviewed it for CrunchGear and had trouble tuning stations in, even outdoors. I had good results in that respect (above) using both the included earphones and the 6-foot audio cable I used to couple it to my car's sound system. So, as the saying goes, your experience may vary. --Dennis