April 13, 2007, 12:01AM EST
After a staggering $200 price drop, Boston Acoustics' Receptor Radio HD is far and away the best value in the category
by Douglas MacMillan
When Boston Acoustics (owned by Japanese D&M Holdings) introduced the first tabletop HD radiothe Receptor Radio HDin February, 2005, the suggested retail price of $499 was enough to scare off anyone but the most dedicated audiophile. Unlike satellite radio or digital downloads, the terrestrial digital/analog broadcast service held the promise of being unlimited and freebut the cost of entry seemed astronomical. Who was going to pay five bills for an audio device that couldn't even play CDs or MP3s?
Apparently, not too many customers. A year later, Boston slashed the price to $299. Now the Receptor Radio HD is two years old, and broadcasters are beginning to deliver on their pledge to provide better quality signals and more content to the HD format. So the time is right for average consumers like me to take a closer look.
I had seen pictures of the two-tone gray and silver radio in blogs and advertisements, but taking it out of the box I was surprised by its mousy size. At 4 in. high, 7.5 in. wide, and 6 in. deep, it's the definition of compact. But its size doesn't detract from its function. The large blue LCD screen is easy to read, two control knobs make for the simplest possible navigation, and one speaker is detached from the unita great feature that adds a surround-sound effect and enhances the appearance. Unfortunately, the satellite speaker only stretches 18 in.
Annoying My Co-Workers
While I liked the Receptor Radio HD's overall design, I ran into small problems with the controls. The tuning and volume knobs also push in to navigate between modes and turn power on/off respectively, but sometimes I had to push very firmly or hold the knobs in to get a response. The radio holds 20 preset stations, but programming them is a lesson in patience that requires a careful review of the manual.
Turn on this little radio and it projects like the Boston Pops. My favorite New York HD station is Hot 97's old-school hip-hop channel called Throwbacks. I tuned in and commenced nodding my head to The Fugee's Killing Me Softly. My desk rumbled beneath the warm, deep bass, and the scruffy alto of Lauryn Hill projected clearly against the lows. Entranced by great sounding radio for one of the few times in my life, it took me a while to realize that my co-workers were yelling at me to turn it down.
That said, I'm sure some people will find the Receptor Radio HD too bass-y for their tastes. Although a fully customizable sound equalizer would have been nice, Boston Acoustics does address this problem with a "Bass Trim" option, which can greatly reduce the bump in your trunk.
Rigging the Reception
When I reviewed RadioShack's (RSH) Accurian HD radio, it became apparent that radio broadcasters are still short of producing "near-CD quality" HD signals, contrary to the hype (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/9/07, "RadioShack's Inadequate Accurian"). The technology hasn't been perfected, and to the best of my knowledge this has nothing to do with individual receivers.
Like the Accurian, Boston Acoustics' Receptor Radio HD has to be hooked up with an included dipole FM antenna (the user's manual recommends stringing it up to a wall near the window) to get a good selection of HD stations. For a piece of technology this expensive, I still think it's absurd to be taping wires up on the walland the first radio maker to address this problem will be doing us all a favor.
The Receptor Radio HD did pick up two more channels than the Accurian, but on average it took longer to tune in to each one. Sound quality differedthe Receptor Radio HD produced four channels I feel comfortable calling "near-CD quality," while the Accurian had only two. And while artist/song information is a huge selling point for HD radio, my signal problems prevented me from receiving any such displayall I got was station call letters.
Ahead of the Curve
You can make the argument that I'm performing my tests on the 45th floor of a building in midtown Manhattan, where dense fields of electronic currents pass through the air and interfere with my signal, but if HD is truly the next universal broadcast format that it makes itself out to be, shouldn't the technology be able to meet the demands of the 1.6 million potential users on this island?
The Receptor Radio HD is a great deal at $200, because it packs a one-two punch in design and sound quality, despite its minor control flaws. If you're curious about HD radio, this gadget may be a good place to start. But do some research and find out if people where you live are picking up good signals. If not, it may be wise to wait for your local broadcasters to do their part.
Douglas MacMillan is a reporter at BusinessWeek.com in New York.http://www.businessweek.com/print/te...413_653055.htm