“HD” Stands for “Huge Dud”

Blogger Radio Survivor — Paul Riismandel, an audiophile — had “gone over to the dark side” and bought an HD radio. In this post, we find then that he wasn’t at all impressed with it. Despite all the swag about sound “like a CD” and talk about commercial-less listening. Yeah, well, there’s no discernible revenue stream and no listeners, so nobody’s advertising on it. All dressed up and nowhere to go… Of course, it doesn’t help that all you hear on the digital darlings is canned detritus and lightweight fare. It’s a shame all those millions of dollars were spent by the CPB and Big Radio, all for naught. There’s no money left to put real talent on these channels. What few HD radios have sold are just expensive paperweights and doorstops. Anyway, as a chagrined Survivor noted:

After several hours of listening I remain rather unimpressed by HD Radio…. iBiquity claims “drastically improved sound quality” for HD Radio over its analog counterpart. I do not agree with this claim. Tuning between the analog and primary HD channel for each station I could perceive slight differences in sound quality between them…. While I welcome the lower noise floor of HD, I otherwise don’t perceive any other significant increase in fidelity. On nearly every station I listened to the primary HD channel sounded nearly identical to the analog FM.

The other big advantage touted for HD Radio are the additional subchannels a station can have. Each HD station I listened to broadcast one or two additional channels. By and large the second HD channel had decent sound quality, but that nevertheless never matched the quality of the primary analog or HD channel.

Paul notes too that the HD-3 stations he is able to pick up aren’t worth the trouble:

The fidelity on HD-3 is greatly compromised, sounding like a webcast from the late 90s. The highs are heavily rolled off, with lots of shimmery distortion on high pitched instruments like cymbals. I find it pretty unlistenable and think it’s a waste to try and cram music on the HD-3 channel.

Another frequently noted problem with HD is its inability to hold a signal, particularly in a vehicle. Within his apartment, Survivor notes problems, even with an antenna:

Listening to HD Radio is not necessarily the most user-friendly experience…. I have a fifteen-year-old Radio Shack amplified FM antenna that is tunable to frequency. I found with careful tuning I could successfully receive the HD channel for every available station. However, keeping that HD signal was sometimes difficult. Just walking across the room could cause the HD signal to drop out. The HD signal also seemed more susceptible to electrical interference than analog FM. For instance, my wife was shredding documents in the next room, and every time she shredded something the HD channel would drop out, then take 10–30 seconds to come back in after she stopped….

On some stations it was difficult to listen to the HD channels for any length of time. They just wouldn’t stay tuned in, no matter how carefully I adjusted the antenna and tried not to move around. It’s not a big deal if I’m listening to the primary HD channel, since the tuner smoothly falls back to analog, which sounds just as good. But it is frustrating if you’re listening to an HD2 or HD3 channel, since it goes away altogether. No slow degradation, no static — it’s either on or off….

Finally, one of the great experiences of analog radio listening is scanning the dial looking for a good (or tolerable) song, or simply just trying to see what you’ll find. This is not a pleasure one will enjoy with HD radio. In my experience so far it really just isn’t practical to scan HD stations. It simply takes too long to get the HD signal locked in. Perhaps someone living downtown near the major stations might be able to do this, but I just don’t see it happening elsewhere.

Unless, of course, consumers are interested in high-priced doorstops. Finally, in a comment responding to other contributors, Paul notes:

Yet, I have to still wonder, how many average radio listeners are willing to mess around to optimize their experience. How many are willing to try different antennas? Folks who buy the Sony tuner are probably a little more likely since it’s more of an enthusiast item. Otherwise I think HD is likely to go the way of Super Audio CD.

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One Response

  1. ” It simply takes too long to get the HD signal locked in.”

    I always thought that the clunky tuning, dropouts, and long signal acquisition times would eventually kill HD Radio. This whole HD Radio system sure has been massively hyped, but for what reasons. Analog works great, and is simple and cheap to use. If Tommy “Mr. Balls” Ray finally admits that AM-HD is a bust, one can surely bet that FM-HD will eventually fail from lack of support from broadcasters. I really did enjoy that visit from Struble (Fulton, MD.) last night from Radio Survivor!

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