UPDATED Review: Insignia NS-HD01 Portable HD Radio

Click to see full-size image

Click to see full-size image

Editors note: After having this radio for about two years, I decided to write an update to my original review, which was posted on 4/10/13.  My new review content is below, while the original review, untouched, is underneath my update.

Update 3/14/15: I can say that after two years of usage, I completely recommend this radio to all DXers, however, there’s a few things to note.

It is a powerhouse DXing radio.  While in Los Angeles, CA last year in a third-floor hotel room, the radio received signals up to 133 miles; 119 miles with HD Radio decodes using only the headphone wire as an antenna.  Therefore, for all future DXing trips, the NS-HD01 will be my go-to radio unless I also have a rental car whose radio I can use.  In some instances on recent trips, the NS-HD01 performed better than a car radio in terms of selectivity and sensitivity.

The radio also performs well in an airplane, too, as noted in this DX log.

comparison_ssThe radio has received an upgrade since my purchase.  A friend of mine purchased the radio in 2014 and it appears Insignia revamped the fonts on the screen.  Note the smaller, more rounded font compared to my older model in the picture to the left.  The 2014 model radio performs the same as my older version, from what I could tell.

The NS-HD01’s batteries seem to last forever.  I hadn’t used it much at all after a trip to Las Vegas (where I purchased the device) in April 2013 until my trip to Los Angeles, CA in August 2014.  The radio still held a considerable charge for over an entire year.  Additionally, while in use, it never seems to just die on me.  As noted above in the Los Angeles DX log, many screenshots from the NS-HD01 show the battery being 1/3 bars full.  I didn’t charge the radio at all the entire time I was in California and it simply worked just fine (I did charge it prior to my return flight, just to be safe, however).  My friend said that although his NS-HD01 hasn’t been used much since it was purchased, it still holds a full 3-bar charge some 7 months later.

Additionally, Bestbuy.com now shows the price of the radio has slightly dropped since my original review, to $49.99.

—ORIGINAL REVIEW BELOW POSTED 4/10/13—–

Last week, I added an Insignia NS-HD01 Portable HD Radio to my shack. For some time, I have lugged my Sony XDR-F1HD radio around on trips due to its HD and RDS capabilities, and I was looking for something more practical and smaller to utilize while out of town. With some minor setbacks, the Insignia NS-HD01 has greatly filled my need.

After some research online, I found the NS-HD01, pictured at right, which was $51.99 and available only at Best Buy. The radio was apparently released in 2009 and, based on product images on Best Buy’s website, got a redesign in recent years. At 3 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches, the radio is tiny, lightweight and ‘pocketable’. The NS-HD01 uses its connected headphones as its antenna; there is no separate antenna jack on the device. I bought it and figured if it was a dud, then I didn’t waste too much money. Upon turning on the radio in the basement of a three-floor townhouse in an ‘RF hole’ where even local analog stereo reception is difficult on an indoor radio, the NS-HD01 decoded full HD from local stations 88.5 WAMU, 93.9 WKYS, 95.5 WPGC and 103.5 WTOP. The dozens of other local IBOC signals decoded on the third floor of the house. Using the manufacturer-supplied indoor wire antenna, the Sony XDR-F1HD can’t even decode HD from any local FM signal in the same room. The Insignia radio also picked up several Baltimore FM signals in staticy stereo without HD, close to what the Sony radio can get without troposperhic enhancement.

The radio’s selectivity is impressive. Although I’d not go as far as to say it is on par with the Sony XDR-F1HD or the Denon TU-1500RD, it outperformed AM/FM walkmans and other portable radios/boomboxes I own. On a typical walkman radio, I get bleedthrough on every adjacent-to-local FM frequency. 95.3 and 95.7 gets clobbered by 95.5 WPGC, local 103.5 WTOP ruins 103.3 and 103.7, and so on with IBOC hash or analog bleedthrough. However, although IBOC hash can be audibly detected on some frequencies, the immediate adjacent frequencies remain open on the NS-HD01. I easily tuned in 104.3 WZFT Baltimore, at 57 miles, with strong local 104.1 WPRS Waldorf, MD, at 23 miles right beside it. WPRS does not run IBOC. Although I have yet to test this radio in a strong tropo or E-skip opening, I predict I’ll get at least one log that my better radios won’t get due to multipath or IBOC interference.

Close up of NS-HD01 screen showing HD decode

Although it may be difficult to see in the above picture, the NS-HD01’s screen is, from what i can tell, a TFT LCD screen. Therefore, the screen resolution is nowhere up to par with other modern portable electronics. However, it gets the job done, is bright and is fairly easy to read.

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A neat feature: after pressing the ‘enter’ key on the front of the NS-HD01, you can view what any HD-capable station is playing simultaneously on all subchannels. HD 1 is listed at the bottom, while HD 3, if equipped, is at the top. Arrow keys on the radio can quickly tune to the different HD subchannels. The radio text scrolls, as seen in the middle line of WPGC’s HD 2. In cases where a HD channel has no radio text, it’ll revert to a generic title, such as “HD-3” for WPGC HD 3, which does not have radio text.

From what I can tell, the NS-HD01 only displays the call letters on-screen that are transmitted by the station. For example, if a station’s HD call letters say “BOB -FM” or “HD -FM” on other radios, it will appear the same on the Insignia and the real calls will NOT display unless they are included in the station’s HD radio text or song title fields.

Click to see full-size image

Click to see full-size image

The picture above shows what the NS-HD01 looks like when tuned to a frequency that is either unoccupied, or a station that does not run RDS or IBOC. A small ‘dial’ animation immediately below the frequency shows the dial position between 88.1 and 107.9 FM, while a signal meter adorns the screen’s top left. A battery meter is to the right.

Click to see full-size image

Click to see full-size image

The NS-HD01 also decodes RDS on stations that do not run HD, as seen above on local 104.1 WPRS Waldorf, MD. The RDS scrolls across the screen while an orange RDS logo appears in the device’s taskbar. There is also a secondary frequency and RDS display below the dial graphic. Although I have not fully tested it, it seems the larger RDS readout is the radio text field, while the smaller field is the PT field. Both fields scroll independently, depending on text length.

The RDS feature is a little lacking. Although it works and decodes all RDS seen on my other radios, it is a little slower than the Sony XDR-F1HD and it sometimes only decodes in the lower, much smaller ‘field’ than in the larger area. The RDS decoded text also disappears immediately if the station (or the RDS stream) is lost. It does not stay on-screen as with other radios. Nor does the radio convert PI codes to display call letters upon receiving RDS. Even with these downfalls, RDS would come in good enough during a good opening to warrant its use for a potential station ID.

The radio does not have any audio equalizer enhancements. Although it does have a volume control, the sound quality seems to have a flat EQ. The audio is good enough to use the device as a typical FM walkman and the lack of bass or treble enhancements doesn’t degrade the listening experience.

I have not fully tested the batteries on this radio. The battery is built-in and, much like an iPod, seems to not be user-removable. Although the manufacturer rates it at 10 hours per charge, I have already used it for about 8 hours of nonstop, screen-always-on use from changing frequencies and the battery meter is still 2/3 full, as seen in the above pictures. The radio arrives charged at 2/3 strength out of the package and charges with a typical USB cord. It does not come with a wall brick and I simply charged the device using my computer’s USB inputs. There is no radio-to-computer USB interface with the NS-HD01 when plugged in.

Overall, I would recommend the Insignia NS-HD01 to all DXers, but with caution. This is a great radio to throw in a bag to use if going on a trip where you’d like to do some typical DXing. Based on its selectivity and sensitivity, I’m sure the radio would do a great job in an E-skip or tropo opening. However, it does not replace a good DX radio hooked up to a rooftop antenna or a car radio. Personally, I chose this radio to use on trips where bringing the Sony XDR-F1HD would be impractical, such as on trips requiring air travel or those where I’d not have access to a car radio. Unfortunately, the Sony radio, although small, is not easy to transport for me as it is difficult to unhook it from my shack. Also, given the scarcity of the radio in modern times, I’d rather leave it at home and not chance it being damaged. Therefore, I consider the NS-HD01 to be a suitable portable radio that could be used when out and about with a dependable, quick-to-decode HD radio tuner. Plus, at $51.99, the radio is very inexpensive and worth it.

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