For a while I have been debating if I should add an HD Radio to my setup, as there are many additional DXing abilities to be had with an HD Radio that are impossible to get with an analog radio. Up until recently, one of the only respectable DX radios that had HD capability was the Sangean HDT-1 radio. I considered getting this radio, but the $199.99-249.99 price (depending on if you get the HDT-1 or HDT-1X) seemed to be a little too expensive, especially since I already had a fairly good primary radio (the Denon TU-1500RD, afterwards referred to as “Denon.”) In the past few weeks I started to hear about the Sony XDR-F1HD radio (afterwards referred to as “Sony.”) on the TVFMDX email list. A review from Brian Beezley on the Sony radio shortly surfaced online, and it appeared to be a good deal at only $99.99. I decided to give this radio a try, especially since the 2008 Es season is about to start.
Visit my HD Radio Screenshots page to see screenshots from HD Radio stations received at my location in Woodbridge, VA.
>>About The Radio
Right off the bat, I have to say that I recommend the Sony radio to all DXers. I haven’t seen any other radios in the past, except for car radios, be as great for DXing without any modifications as this radio. As seen in the picture above, the radio has an coax input for FM, wire input for AM, and standard RCA audio outputs for easy hookup to your stereo. Please note, an amplifier, or a radio with RCA inputs is REQUIRED to use this radio. The display is sort of bright. It caught me off guard at first, although I’ve gotten used to it, and it makes the screen really easy to read. The lighted screen does not turn off when the radio is off, although you can adjust the brightness to your liking. The radio’s screen displays a clock when off. The radio also has 20 presets for FM and AM stations and a remote control.
What the radio does NOT have:
-Volume control (the device it is hooked up to has to be used to adjust the volume.)
As noted above, the only way to get sound out of the radio is to hook it up to a device that can either accept an RCA cord input, or (with a RCA-to-headphone jack cord), a device that accepts a line-in headphone size input, such as a computer sound card, or digital media recorder. Although this radio does not come with speakers, any speakers with an RCA input (or speakers hooked up to a computer that has a headphone jack, with the use of an RCA patch cord) would work fine.
>>Analog FM Reception
From what I have seen so far, the Sony gets the same reception, and has about the same selectivity, as my modified (and much more expensive) Denon radio. The only bleedthrough that I noticed from this radio was on 99.7 (from local 99.5), but that was only heard when my antenna was pointed towards the station. With the antenna aimed elsewhere, there is no bleedthrough on adjacent frequencies to local stations. The selectivity on this radio is as good as my Denon, which has been modified with 110 kHz filters in narrow mode. I do not hear any bleedthrough from 50kw blowtorch 101.5 WBQB @ 24 miles on its adjacent frequencies (101.3 & 101.7) when aimed directly towards it. This is impossible on most radios I’ve tested without modification, especially on 101.3 as it is also an adjacent frequency to local 101.1 WWDC. I was able to hear signals on adjacent frequencies next to my locals (with my antenna aimed away from the stations) exactly like on the Denon radio. The radio’s selectivity is comparable to a car radio with the lack of bleedthrough on adjacent frequencies to locals.
Sensitivity on the Sony is about the same as the Denon, from what I could tell. There was no tropospheric enhancement when I first tested this radio, so I can’t accurately describe its performance picking up distant stations yet, but I noticed that it picked up stations within the 50-100 mile range the same as the Denon radio did.
I really like that the radio has a signal meter on its display. It appears that RDS must be received with a ‘2’ bar signal, while HD radio will only come in with a ‘3’. The signal bar is probably not as good, or as accurate, as the meters on older radios, but its better than nothing.
UPDATE 6/8/08: I’ve found the radio, after extensive use the past few weeks, works just as great as the Denon radio in regards to tropo, however with Sporadic E-Skip the Denon does work slightly better than the Sony with picking up weak signals that are muddy. (Note 6/12/08): Brian Beezley, whose review of this tuner is linked at the top of the page, brought it to my attention that what I was experiencing during Es with the weaker sensitivity is most likely the Sony’s tendency to ‘soft mute’ weaker signals, not a lowered sensitivity. When the signals are muted, its easy to mistaken the quieter signal for lowered sensitivity. I agree with Brian as I find the Sony to be as sensitive as the Denon at all times other than when I noted the soft muting during the Es opening on 5/29 and 6/4 of this year. During Es openings, it feels like I have two modified Denon TU-1500RDs working at the same time when I DX using the Denon and Sony at the same time due to the Sony’s great performance. I’m used to having one good radio (Denon) and one bad radio (Pioneer) due to the Pioneer’s poor sensitivity and average selectivity.
>>HD Radio Reception
Right out of the box, the Sony picked up most of my local HD radio signals without any problems, although some were not first received due to localized RF interference (which I get time to time; sounds like ‘white noise’ on a strong FM signal—not the fault of this radio as it is picked up on the Denon also.) I started to get all of my local HD signals after the RF interference went away. The furthest HD Radio signal I have received at the time of this review is 26 miles away. I have heard from others that have this radio that it performs great with Tr reception, so I am confident that I’ll get further HD radio soon.
It takes about 3 seconds to decode a strong HD Radio signal. As its decoding, the station’s call letters appear beside the frequency on the display. This is extremely helpful for Es openings, as you can instantly ID any station received via HD Radio, even before the audio is decoded. The “HD” icon next to the signal meter also blinks until the signal is decoded. You can still listen to the analog signal as an HD signal is being decoded. The radio displays an arrow with a number on it that tells you the station broadcasts separate signals within its HD feed, otherwise known as ‘multicasting.’ The number within the arrow, on the display, changes based on the feed you are listening to from the station. After the HD signal is decoded and is heard, you can tune up to hear the multicasts that the station might broadcast.
Even though I am only 17-25 miles away from my local stations, I usually have to have my antenna aimed to the N, NW or E to get HD Radio signals from my local Washington, DC stations, much like I have to do with HDTV reception. However, the fact that HD Radio signals do not come in, or are spotty, to the S and SW kind of helps, as it increases the chance of picking up HD Radio from Es signals over my local HD Radio-running stations, so it is not much of a detriment in my opinion. I think a lot of the problem is my physical location. I live at the bottom of a steep hill, which makes a roof antenna a must if you want any chance of getting clear stereo from your locals, and other DX signals. I’d suspect that you would have much better HD reception if your analog signals are pretty strong without the need of a roof antenna.
Another interesting feature this radio has is an “HD SCAN” function, much like the SCAN function on analog radios (which this radio also has via another button). When you press the HD SCAN button, it will scan the FM band pretty fast, stopping on stations being received with an HD Radio signal, while skipping past non-HD stations. I would suspect this would prove handy during strong Es openings, as you can quickly scan the entire FM dial for HD signals within a minute or so.
UPDATE 6/8/08: I’ve received one HD Radio signal via Sporadic E-Skip so far: KMOD-HD 97.5 Tulsa, OK @ 1045mi. The station came in as fast as my local HD stations, and I was able to get both subchannels of KMOD’s signal for about 30 seconds without dropouts. I’ve also received some HD radio signals up to 132 miles away via tropo, as seen on the HD Radio Screenshots page, so it proves this radio is great for DXing in regards to HD Radio reception.
>> RDS Reception
It takes the Sony about 2.5 to 3 seconds to decode RDS on a strong analog signal, compared to around 1 second on the Denon. The Sony lacks an RDS indicator graphic that lets you know RDS is received; it just displays the RDS text as soon as it is received without warning. In comparison, the Denon has an RDS indicator that appears on weak signals that are not strong enough to decode RDS. These aren’t much of an issue for me except during Es openings, as having an RDS indicator and a fast decode helps ID some stations that otherwise might not be IDed due to rapidly fading signals. The Sony only displays the PS (Program Service) and RT (Radio Text) fields from an RDS signal, not the PTY (format) fields like the Denon does. The PS is only visible while on the normal tuning screen (as seen above from WBQB), but you can view the PS and RT at the same time after pressing DISPLAY on the radio.
Receiving RDS from strong stations broadcasting in HD is sort of tricky. As the radio automatically tunes in HD signals where available, you probably won’t get a positive RDS readout from a strong, local HD-running station since the radio is quick to decode the HD signal. The radio does not have a function to switch back to the analog feed once the station’s HD feed was decoded to see the station’s RDS. I have noticed that the analog signal, and RDS, would come in (in lieu of the HD signal) with my antenna aimed away from my local stations, so that might be what you need to do if you are interested in picking up RDS from an HD-running strong signal. I am sure that this is how most HD radios operate, as RDS is a characteristic of analog FM signals, while HD Radio is the ‘more preferred’ reception of HD radios, so I’m not really counting this against the Sony radio. Conversely, you can easily pick up RDS from weaker signals, while their HD signals probably wouldn’t come in without stronger local signal enhancement.
The RDS field of the Sony radio, as seen in the picture above, is pretty small, located under the signal meter. They could have put it in the same area as you see the station’s call letters when tuned into an HD signal. It also scrolls very slowly, one letter at a time (versus a word at a time on the Denon), which can be annoying if your local station has a long PS message. However, you can press the DISPLAY button and view all of the RDS information on one screen easily, as seen above. The PS display is shown on the first line, while the RT text scrolls (much faster) in the two lines below it. I’d prefer to have the information easier to see from the main tuning screen, but having the information viewable by pressing a button is better than not having it at all.
Even with the few drawbacks with RDS performance on the Sony radio, it does pick up RDS from the same signals as the Denon, which means it should fare well for those interested in picking up RDS. It is definitely worth having vs. using a non-RDS capable radio.
UPDATE 6/8/08: I’ve noticed that my comment regarding RDS moving one letter at a time on the Sony radio is slightly incorrect. I mentioned it because it was doing so on local 105.1 WAVA’s RDS at the time of the review. It scrolls letter-by-letter as fast as it does on the Denon radio when tuned to other stations. Apparently WAVA’s RDS was programmed slow, as I haven’t observed the same thing on other stations. After using this radio through two Sporadic E-Skip and many more tropo openings so far in 2008, I have found this radio to actually get some RDS signals better than the Denon TU-1500RD. For example, there have been a few times where the Sony would receive scrolling RDS from a distant Tr station (i.e. 106.9 WAFX Suffolk, VA @132mi) without a problem. The Denon, on the other hand, could not decode WAFX’s RDS completely—instead of scrolling RDS like on the Sony radio, the Denon displayed a garbled reading of the RDS that did not scroll or change at all. The Sony also picked up RDS from 88.5 KDCR Sioux Center, IA, over local 88.5 WAMU (as seen here), while the Denon radio didn’t even show that RDS was being received from KDCR. Even with this said, the Denon still decodes RDS faster and does get some RDS that the Sony won’t pick up, so its more of a toss-up now as to which radio handles RDS better.
One aspect of the Sony tuner that I haven’t fully reviewed in my original review is its soft-muting of frequencies without any local stations on it. I mentioned above, in the Analog FM Reception section, that the radio’s soft-muting made me mistakenly believe that its sensitivity wasn’t as good as the Denon TU-1500RD.
The diagram above shows an eleven-minute period of unattended DX on 93.7 FM on 6/20/08. The top row of waveform is from the Denon, while the bottom is from the Sony radio. Note how the Sony radio is slightly lower (smaller waveform) when the radio is not receiving any signal compared to the Denon. You can also see higher ‘peaks’ when a signal is received on the Sony, even in some cases where a peak is obvserved as being received on the Sony, with no (or little) indication on the Denon. Although the Sony’s soft-muting causes the waveform to be smaller when no signal is received, it quickly peaks at the same volume (sometimes louder) than the Denon, while the audio from both tuners sound identical in volume when listened to with my ears. This finding proves to be extremely helpful for meteor scatter DXing, as the peaks caused by Ms signals will be easier to ID from the Sony radio than the Denon tuner.
The Sony radio is not perfect, but its positives definitely outweigh the negatives, making it well worth its $99.99 price. If I didn’t know the price after using the radio, I would guess it cost at least $199, and possibly more based on its performance and selectivity. It has some great features (most notably HD Radio) that isn’t even available in the $249.99 Denon radio. I’d recommend the Sony to anybody who is looking to add HD Radio capability to their DX shacks, or those who would like to upgrade their equipment but don’t want to shell out over $200 for a Denon or comparable analog-only radio. This is definitely your choice if you are unable, or prefer not to, have a radio such as the Denon modified for optimal DXing, as the Sony’s selectivity and sensitivity is comparable to the Denon without modification.
UPDATE 6/8/08: I feel I might have been a little too harsh in my original review on this radio, especially in the RDS section above. After using the radio for almost a month, I would say the Sony is almost identical to my Denon tuner, and that if this radio was available in ’06 when I purchased my Denon, I would’ve instead bought this Sony radio and saved $150. I actually have found myself DXing regularly with the Sony radio more than the Denon in the past few weeks, as the added HD capability built-in to the radio means I don’t have to (while using the Denon) re-tune to the same frequency on the Sony to see if a station is coming in with HD Radio. I still recommend the Denon radio and like its bigger display than the Sony radio, however the fact that it needs modification to work well with DXing makes the Sony radio an even better radio for all DXers.
Do you have any questions about this radio? Click on the ‘CONTACT’ link at the top of the page and send me an email!