Two weeks ago I purchased the Sangean HDR-1 Receiver at Fry's Electronics in Downers Grove, Illinois. I put the receiver on my nightstand and tried it out using the stock FM whip and AM loop antennas.
After one day I was thinking of taking the receiver back, realizing I spent $250 for an AM/FM radio, of which I have many. After a few more days passed, I began to discover the strengths of this receiver and am glad I didn't hastily return it.
The HDR-1 has a simple, classic look that is very pleasing to the eye. It looks quite nice on a nightstand, although I have it positioned forward instead of toward the bed, because of the bright display. The controls (or should I say control) on the front is nice, but the remote is needed for various functions, even to change between AM and FM.
Even though this unit has fairly small speakers, it sounds sweet. It appears that there is some sort of bass reflex/resonance port on the back which helps richen the sound. The equalizer presets and the my bass / my treble settings are nice. I've settled on the Classic EQ setting, which seems to provide a brighter, sharper sound that is still rich with bass.
Chicago has an HD2 channel with Traditional Jazz that sounds really nice on the HDR-1. The sound quality on the HD1 channels is more crisp, and has more depth, than most of the analog counterparts. The HD2 channels sound better than I expected. The overall sound quality surpasses the music streams on XM and Sirius. The HDR-1 also has a pleasant quick-fade between analog, HD1 and HD2 stations, instead of doing abrupt flips from one to the other.
Here is where a few surprises made me decide to keep this relatively expensive receiver.
At first, I was dismayed with FM reception. The Chicago stations, 35 miles north of me, seem strong enough to get throughout the house on other receivers. I was having trouble with many of them on the HDR-1 regardless of where I moved the unit. I could sometimes lock the RDS data, but could only get reliable HD Radio reception from one station that is 1 mile away. At first I thought the nearby station was overloading the front-end of the HDR-1. Using another radio revealed the problem. The internal electronics of the HDR-1 cause interference which is received by its own stock antenna.
Fortunately, the internal noise seems to only travel a couple feet from the unit, so replacing the whip with a small set of rabbit ears on three feet of coax greatly reduced the problem. I am able to reliably get 10 of the 18 Chicago stations transmitting in HD, plus two more suburban stations. I am sure I could get the remainder of HD stations with a better antenna and better placement. As for RDS, the HDR-1 is far more sensitive than my Sangean ATS-909. For the stations where I cannot quite get the HD signal, the text info still comes through via RDS. The FM selectivity of the HDR-1 is a pleasant surprise. I can get weaker stations on first-adjacent channels (0.2 MHz away) from strong stations very well, as long as the stronger stations are not running HD.
The AM reception and sound quality, analog or HD, is exceptional. During the day, the HD signals lock with the loop antenna regardless of where I put it or position it. The AM HD stations sound pretty good, too.
The receiver is equally sensitive from 530 through 1700. The selectivity is very tight without penalizing audio quality. During the day I can pick up KTRS St. Louis on 550, which is 230 miles away, even though WIND Chicago has a strong signal on 560 only 18 miles away. At night I can actually listen to WCBS New York on 880, even though I'm relatively close to flamethrower WLS on 890. To compare, I parked my Sangean ATS-909 next to the HDR-1 and could barely hear a trace of either station.
I stumbled across another surprise, too. A few stations on AM show up as Stereo at night, even though there are no HD signals to be found. This receiver apparently receives C-QUAM AM Stereo, even though there is no mention of it in the manual or tech specs. I tuned in 1040 WHO Des Moines and the audio was most certainly in stereo. It's too bad more stations don't run C-QUAM at night in place of HD.
I came across a few defects so far. Once the receiver locked up while I was fiddling with the antenna for an extended period while tuned to an HD2 channel. I've messed with the antenna a lot more with no further incidents. Unplugging the unit fixed the problem.
A defect with the backlight level settings is rather annoying. The backlight level can be set from 0 through 7, but that level only applies to the first few seconds after pressing a button. After a few seconds of inactivity (no buttons being pressed), the display always returns to a level of approximately 3, regardless of the actual setting. It even happens of the level is set to zero (off). Turn the dial, the display goes dark. Wait a few seconds and it's back on!
There is a defect with the auto-clock set feature, too. Any station that I've tried who sends an RDS CT signal causes the hours to be loaded with a number above 200, regardless of if the receiver is set to use AM/PM or 24hr time. The only way to correct the problem is to set the time manually afterward. At first it took me forever to scroll the number down to 12. I have since found that scrolling upward quickly fixes it.
It would be helpful if there was better internal shielding around whatever components generate the most RF interference from within the unit. Even though the interference is not extreme, if it were gone, the stock antenna might actually work for moderate signals.
-- Switch between AM or FM by scrolling past the end of either band, so that the remote isn't needed to switch bands
-- Ability to disable HD for weaker stations
-- PTY search for RDS and HD stations
-- Lower light levels for the display (and fix the inactivity-dimmer defect)
Overall, I am happy with this receiver. I like the additional HD2 channels, and it has also made me rediscover AM stations like 650 WSM Nashville, which boom in clearly at night. It is on my nightstand to stay.