Review of the Sangean HDR-14 Portable HD Radio

The Sangean HDR-14 portable HD Radio with box.

Having been an HD Radio-capable DXer for over a decade now, I’ve seen many radios come and go, including the legendary Sony XDR-F1HD, as well as others, like the ultra-portable Insignia NS-HD01 and its cousin, the tabletop Insignia NS-HDRAD2.  I’ve heard about Sangean’s lineup of radios, but none seemed that interesting to me until I came across the Sangean HDR-14.

The HDR-14, a new release for 2018, is a portable radio that can handle both FM and AM HD Radio with ease.  The HDR-14, which is $77.58 at time of publication on Amazon, is tiny, at 5″ x 3.02″ x 1.28″, smaller overall than a typical iPhone but a little thicker.  It fits easily in the palm of one’s hand and is powered with the included AC adapter or three AA batteries.

Analog FM radio performance

The Sangean radio was quick to tune in all of the typical analog FM signals within 70 miles that usually come in during deadband December conditions.  Reception seemed on par with other portable radios I own, including both Insignias.  I’m sure when DX conditions are present that this radio will excel in getting stations further away.  RDS was decoded on almost all of my regional signals that utilize it.  Most surprisingly, the HDR-14 decoded RDS from two very weak Washington, DC FM translators, something that even the Airspy has difficulty doing at my home.  Although the radio only affords one line for RDS, you can cycle through the screen to see the PT, PTY, and other RDS fields.

The Sangean HDR-14 decoding RDS from 101.5 WBQB Fredericksburg, VA at 24 miles away on 12/22/18.

Perhaps the best feature with RDS on this radio is the ability for it to show radio station callsigns derived from its RDS PI code.  In the screenshot above, the “WBQB” calls were derived from the station’s broadcasted PI code, 58ED.  For reasons unknown to me, I’ve noticed this feature doesn’t work on all stations broadcasting RDS, and unlike the Airspy, this is not the first RDS data point decoded.

As with any radio that displays PI codes or callsigns derived from PIs, if the radio station itself broadcasts the wrong PI code (i.e. most iHeart stations), the wrong callsign will appear on-screen.  This is a problem rooted with the broadcaster and not the radio itself, but it is important to point out.

FM HD Radio performance

The Sangean HDR-14 radio decoding HD Radio from 100.3 WBIG Washington, DC at 24 miles away on 12/22/18.

This radio is very sensitive detecting HD signals.  My local FMs, at 15-20 miles, decode fully in HD even with the antenna all the way down, which is not possible with the Sony or Insignia radios.  The radio displays HD callsigns in the top left corner at all times but it does not show the “-FM” extension that some stations broadcast.  The frequency disappears on-screen when HD is decoded, but you can toggle it back on through the menu, like I did in the picture above.  You can also view HD radiotext on the second line of the screen if you cycle through the menu.  The radio allows you to tune to HD2 and HD3 signals, where available.

AM analog and AM HD Radio performance

The Sangean HDR-14 decoding 880 WCBS New York, NY at 238 miles away on 12/23/18.

Although I’m sure there are better AM radios out there, I was blown away with how good the AM section is on the HDR-14.  It sounds just as good as the XDR-F1HD’s AM radio.  It picked up the usual regional AM powerhouses from Boston, Chicago, and New York at night, and at the same time I heard some of the more rarer signals that even the XDR-F1HD can’t get, such as a tiny 10-watt AM station at a community college 5 miles away from me.  Simply put, the HDR-14 is a respectable AM radio and it is probably going to be my primary AM radio now, given how easy it is to move room to room with it in my home.

AM HD Radio on the Sangean radio was comparable to the Sony XDR-F1HD, with the same stations decoding their HD signals.  Much like on FM, you can toggle between HD radiotext and the frequency on the screen’s second line when an HD Radio signal is decoded.

Traveling abroad

Although I haven’t had a chance to take this radio outside of the United States, it appears to be the best-suited radio out of the many that I have in my shack to handle international radio conditions.  Beyond being small enough to throw in a bag, it can be programmed to tune in 50, 100, and 200 KHz steps for FM as well as different tuning steps for AM in foreign countries.  The radio also can be reprogrammed to tune down to 76.1 FM, the beginning of the FM dial in Japan.  These features are very rare to find in radios sold in the USA.  I know that regardless of wherever I go, this radio will work.  Of course, HD Radio will only be available in the USA and some areas in Mexico and Canada, but RDS should work just fine abroad.

The HDR-14 has this handy little kickstand on the back that swivels out to keep it upright on a table.

Downsides

Even though I love this little radio, it is not perfect.  The HDR-14 is not a clone of the Sony or Airspy radios and it should not be considered to be a primary DXing radio.  The radio’s selectivity leaves a little to be desired, as I noticed some bleedthrough on frequencies adjacent to local FM stations as if the radio’s IF filters were set a little too wide.  With that said, however, the radio is very sensitive and it will tune in a very weak signal on an adjacent-to-local frequency right over the minor bleedthrough, so I don’t think this is a dealbreaker for me with this being a secondary radio.

The backlight of the Sangean HDR-14 only stays on for a few seconds at a time.

As seen in the above picture, the backlight of the HDR-14 only stays on for a few seconds after a button is pressed, which is a disappointment.  The reflective screen sometimes makes it difficult to read without the backlight on.  The radio itself is also fairly shiny, which shows fingerprints.  For its price, the plastic on the radio could’ve been a little more robust and/or texturized.  The radio also only has one speaker and isn’t the best of quality, but it is loud and suffices for its intended use.  The included headphone jack is an improvement over the speaker’s sound but it does not have good stereo separation, even when an HD Radio station is tuned in.

The Sangean HDR-14’s long and fragile extendable whip antenna.

The radio has a generously long antenna, but the thinner “sections” close to the tip are fragile and seem prone to bending if one isn’t careful while using it.

The radio will actively decode HD Radio whenever available and you can’t disable this, which is a downside if any given station’s HD broadcast sounds worse than its analog counterpart.  This seems to be a limitation in most HD Radios on the market, so although I don’t fault Sangean for not including this feature with the HDR-14, it would’ve been nice if they did.

Final verdict

If one buys this radio understanding that it won’t be a powerhouse DXing radio, then they will love it.  It’s a perfect travel radio to throw in a bag and take to the beach or the park.  It can quickly pick up HD signals and it performs well in the AM band, too.

Screenshots from the Sangean HDR-14 are clear and easily readable, such as this one from 101.1 WWDC Washington, DC.

For DXers who like to screenshot RDS and HD Radio decodes, this radio provides a perfect screen with robust information, even if you have to scroll through to see it all.  Even with its several downsides, this radio has replaced the Insignia NS-HDRAD2 as my secondary travel radio and I do recommend it to all.  I will still travel with my Airspy R2 as a primary radio, however, due to its reputation as one of the best FM radios out there, but the Sangean HDR-14 has earned its place in my ever-growing collection of radios.

My RDS and HD Radio Screenshots pages have been updated with new RDS and HD Radio screenshots from the Sangean HDR-14.