Review of the Insignia NS-HDRAD2 radio

Insignia NS-HDRAD2. Click to enlarge.

My beloved Sony XDR-F1HD radio recently developed a problem where its audio output became garbled with a hum, rendering it useless for DX.  As I often used the F1HD on airplane trips where bringing my larger radios were impractical, I have been on the search for a replacement radio with HD Radio capabilities.  I found the Insignia NS-HDRAD2, which at the time of writing, is $49.99 at Best Buy, but is cheaper on eBay.

I’ve been eyeing this radio for some time, but shied away from purchasing it due to a less-than-stellar review from a friend who bought it and returned it to Best Buy last year.  Given its cheap price, I thought I would give it a chance.  I’m glad I did.

This isn’t the first Insignia HD Radio I’ve used–I’ve owned the Insignia NS-HD01, a handheld walkman-type radio, since 2013.

Size comparison of the HDRAD2 to an iPhone 6S. Click to enlarge.

The NS-HDRAD2 is very small, at 5.2 x 8.3 x 2.4 inches, weighing 1.34 lbs.  It is something that can easily fit into an airplane carry-on bag or other small bag.  It comes supplied with a whip antenna and an external audio input.  It can run either on four AA batteries, or with the supplied AC adapter.

Let me be clear: this radio is not the Sony XDR-F1HD and it never will be.  If you are expecting performance identical the Sony radio, then you will be disappointed.

With that said, the HDRAD2’s reception is exceptional, given its price and portability.  The radio’s sensitivity is average, but it is surprisingly highly selective.  I experienced no bleedthrough whatsoever on frequencies adjacent to local FM stations.  Under minimal tropospheric enhancement, HD Radio signals under 60 miles came in with ease, and analog signals up to 100 miles away were picked up with a little work.  All in all, the radio seems to be a clone of the Insignia NS-HD01, re-imaged in a more user-friendly package.

The radio decodes RDS and HD Radio when available.  When not receiving either service, the radio displays the frequency in the center of the screen’s middle line.  The frequency remains once RDS is decoded, but moves to the left when an HD signal is decoded, as seen above.  The “FM” indicator also disappears and is replaced with an “HD” icon when HD is decoded.  HD Radio call letters are displayed to the left of the bottom line and scroll away as the song titles scroll, returning into place every so often.  I’ve found that the radio is very quick to decode RDS, often being received when the signal is staticy.  HD Radio is also quick to decode, just not as easy as RDS.

Side view of the NS-HDRAD2. Click to enlarge

The HDRAD2, much like the XDR-F1HD, will show a “subdecode”–an HD Radio station that is detected but not yet decoded due to signal strength or other factors–with the station’s call letters and a flashing “HD” indicator on-screen until it decodes.  However, unlike the F1HD and NS-HD01, the HDRAD2 does not continue to show the subdecoded HD call letters and flashing icon once the digital signal is lost.  Once the HD signal is no longer detected, the HDRAD2 immediately defaults back to RDS or no radio text, depending on the signal.  In other words, once the HD is gone, it’s gone.

The HDRAD2’s whip antenna is highly directional.  Under favorable reception conditions, multiple FM stations can be picked up on the same frequency by barely moving the antenna.  The radio’s slim body is also easy to hold and aim in one hand, allowing me to prolong the antenna’s life by moving the radio instead of the antenna.

I feel this radio is perfect for traveling.  It will receive local FM signals with HD Radio reception without any effort whatsoever, and it should perform well (albeit not at F1HD levels) during a tropo event.  I also predict it will pick up Sporadic E signals fairly well, too.  Its headphone jack will suffice for private listening and for recording DX audio.  I will likely buy one or two more of this radio as backups in the event my current HDRAD2 gives up the ghost after heavy use.

The radio does have some downsides.  There’s no way to switch from HD Radio to analog reception once an HD signal is decoded, something the F1HD also exhibits without modification.  There’s no way to determine if the RDS you are receiving is the PT or radiotext field, as both fields are combined on the screen’s bottom line with no rhyme or reason.  A similar effect is seen with IBOC.  The signal strength bar on the HDRAD2 is also not that accurate–it would often jump from five bars to two once an HD signal was decoded, even though the signal remains as strong as before.  Although the radio is perfect for taking screenshots of its screen, my iPhone adds a white “orb” to the

Top view of the Insignia NS-HDRAD2. Click to enlarge.

right side of the screen.  This, however, is not visible at all in person (the HDRAD2 screen is uniformly blue in person) and is likely a problem with my phone, not the radio itself.

There’s also no auxiliary antenna input, something a previous version of this radio had.  The radio’s audio quality is not the best–not surprising given its size–but it is clear and it does serve its purpose.  Finally, the plastic clips holding the whip antenna against the back of the casing doesn’t fully grasp the antenna, opening the possibility of the antenna folding out and breaking while being transported in a bag.  I suggest either using a rubber band, or a slim case without wiggle room, to keep the antenna in place while in transit.

Overall, I suggest this radio to those who are afraid of lugging around a valuable radio around on trips, and/or need a simple radio with HD/RDS capabilities with a clear, easy-to-read and bright screen.  Much like the Insignia NS-HD01, this radio is not recommended to serve as a primary radio due to its limitations when compared to other DXing powerhouse radios, but its solid performance deserves a spot as a secondary/travel radio in DXers’ shacks.

I have added new HD Radio and RDS screenshots from the NS-HDRAD2 to my FM RDS & HD Radio Screenshots page.