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.

2018 FM E-Skip Year in Review

It started out with a bang but ended without fanfare.  The 2018 Sporadic E-Skip Season is no more, but even though this season has failed to live up to what I thought it would be, I still feel like it was a step in the right direction.

Sporadic E is a method of signal propagation that, when in effect, allows broadcast signals to be received up to 1500 miles away with clear local reception. It can happen any time of the year, but it is most common during the summer months.

When I started to monitor daily for FM Es in 2006, living in the summer months usually meant having to plan everything around an always-present Sporadic E opening.  I’ve turned down social invitations and put off errands countless times because a mammoth FM Es opening was brewing on the dial.  Beginning in 2009, Sporadic E came in less and less, getting progressively got worse each year until it hit a lowpoint in 2017, where I only received 33 minutes total of Sporadic E the entire season — compared to 1471 minutes in 2014.

READ MY PREVIOUS YEARS’ E-SKIP SEASON REVIEWS DATING BACK TO 2011

On the surface, 2018 seemed to be the first skip season in years where things started to turn around.  This year, I received 347 total minutes of skip with 5 new FM logs from 8 openings.  During this season, I logged my 1900th FM station, and 4 of my 5 new FM logs were received from one unattended opening on 6/6/18.

I was on vacation on June 16-24, 2018.  During that time I had two FM Es openings: one on 6/20/18 while I was outside of New York, NY, which lasted 100 minutes and brought in 26 stations from the Midwest and Upper Midwest.  This opening was very strong, with many distant signals toppling the local NYC FM stations in a manner that I haven’t seen since 2016.  Another respectable opening into the same general area was also observed on 6/26/18 while I was in Providence, RI, with a few RDS decodes but not as strong as the NYC opening.  Within the same time period and weeks thereafter, reports of top-of-the-band FM Es from other DXers flooded into

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WWFD 820 AM goes all-digital in Frederick, MD

DCRTV and Radio-Online report that an AM station in the Washington, DC region has ceased analog broadcasting, becoming the first radio station in the United States to solely broadcast in digital HD Radio.

WWFD 820 Frederick, MD, which airs an AAA format as “The Gamut,” flipped the all-IBOC switch on July 16.  Since I am too far away from WWFD to receive it, I cannot verify if the station simply removed its analog frequency from its broadcast, leaving its existing digital sidebands, or if the station is broadcasting a full power digital signal on its center frequency.

The station’s move to all-digital poses an interesting situation for DXers, as it appears now that at least AM stations can apply to go all-digital.  Does this mean FM stations are next?  I wrote about the possibility of an all-digital FM band in 2013.  In that article, I predicted that such a move would both benefit and hurt the DXing hobby.  For those who aren’t familiar with the mechanics of HD Radio, a station on 95.5 FM running IBOC broadcasts its analog signal on 95.5, and its digital signal (at a lower power) on 95.3 and 95.7.  These adjacent digital “sidebands” ruin DX, as it blocks out all but the strongest distant stations on the frequencies immediately next to a local signal running HD Radio.

If the HD Radio standard supports one sole full power digital signal on the center frequency (i.e. a full power digital 95.5 FM and nothing on 95.3 and 95.7 FM), then this could positively revolutionize FM DXing, as these adjacent-to-local frequencies would, once again, be open to any DX, much like it was prior to the debut of IBOC.  On the other hand, if the FM band became digital-only, a very strong signal would be required to receive any radio station (rendering weak signals invisible to an HD Radio), much like what one experiences with digital TV DXing.

It remains to be seen if WWFD’s digital transition is the first of many to come, or if it is a one-off occurrence.

Unattended recording of RDS/HD Radio decodes possible with WyzeCam

Motion-detected and timestamped screenshot of an HD Radio decode picked up by the WyzeCam on 1/19/18.

DXers with RDS and HD Radio-capable receivers now have a new and interesting way of seeing everything that comes across their radio’s screens while they are away — literally.

Wyze is a home security camera company that sells “WyzeCam,” an HD-quality home security camera.  I purchased a few cameras for my home in the previous month, and I have used them for their intended purpose until I realized that the device opens up a new world of capabilities for the average DXer.

Although I always have two radios continuously recording during the Sporadic E season, the problem is that I can only record audio from them, not screenshots unless I was

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Washington’s Z104: A look at its rise in the 1990s and its fall to Hot 99-5 WIHT

Every hour as a child and teen, I’d hear one phrase echo off of the walls in my bedroom:

“Z104 is WWVZ Braddock Heights/Frederick, WWZZ Waldorf/Washington, DC.”

It’s the legal ID of a radio station I’ll never forget.

The Washington, DC market had three full-time CHR stations in the 1980s: 105.1 “Power 105” WAVA, 106.7 “B106” WBMW, and 107.3 “Q107” WRQX.  Unfortunately for area listeners, these signals slowly left the format one by one — WBMW in 1988, WRQX in 1990, and WAVA in 1992, leaving Washington without a CHR station until 1996, when Z104 debuted.

Z104 was actually two signals: 104.1 WWZZ covering southern Maryland and the south and eastern suburbs of Washington, previously classic hits WXTR “Xtra 104,” and 103.9 WWVZ, which covered the nearby small market of Frederick, MD.  Prior to its debut, WWVZ was CHR as “Z104,” but it was an unrelated station that was replaced with the new Z104 simulcast.

The new signals often referred to itself as “The Z,” its music as “Z tracks,” and the capitol city as “DZ” instead of “DC.” From the get-go, it was obvious that station management knew that the Washington market was without a CHR station for the better half of a decade.  Because of this, the station ingeniously

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Review of the Airspy R2 SDR Radio

Could there be a radio better than the Sony XDR-F1HD?  My answer would have been a resounding “no,” that is, until I came across the Airspy R2.

The Airspy R2, which retails at $169 as of the time of publication, is a software-defined radio, or SDR.  A “mini” version with a few less bells and whistles retails for $99.  With an SMA to Coax adapter, $5 on Amazon, the supplied USB wire, and free SDR tuning programs (more on that below), you have all you ever need for

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To share or not to share: privacy, social media, and DXing

DXing can be a very social hobby.  With annual conventions, message boards, and email lists giving DXers a chance to be heard worldwide at the click of a button, it can be hard to keep anything to yourself.

Advances in technology in the past decade has made it simple to share anything and everything about DXing on multiple social media and file sharing platforms.  One could post a dial scan video on YouTube, photos of their shack on Facebook, or a reception report on a propagation logger.  It can bring people with like interests together in an inviting environment, as well as allow new people to discover what DXing has to offer.  It’s easy to be social in today’s world.

But for some, there is a fine line between being an open book and

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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

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The effect of HD Radio interference on an analog FM signal

For the past few days, local 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC’s HD Radio signal, which airs on 96.1 and 96.5, has been off-air.  Usually, 96.1 and 96.5 are extremely difficult to DX since WHUR’s digital sidebands are strong at my Northern Virginia home.  However, with WHUR-HD turned off, both of its adjacent frequencies were open to distant reception like they were prior to 2006 when HD Radio debuted on WHUR.  At 8:50 PM February 8, WHUR’s IBOC sidebands resumed its broadcast.

whur_iboc
The above chart shows a waveform of 96.5 FM from 8:49-8:50 PM February 8.  In the beginning, you can see a fairly strong analog signal from 96.5 WKLR Ft. Lee, VA, 92 miles away.  At the 0:05:00 mark, WKLR’s signal decreases as WHUR’s HD revs back up.  at 0:09:50, WHUR’s 96.5 digital sideband is at full-power, and WKLR abruptly disappears without a trace.

Listen to the corresponding audio file to the graphic above.

Translator update: FM dial is worse in Northern Virginia

transistor-radioThree years ago, I wrote about the rising amount of FM translators that have popped up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and its effect on FM DXing.  I am updating this article as the local radio landscape has greatly changed since my original 2013 article.

FM translators are low power rebroadcasts of either a full service FM or AM signal.  Or, they can be a relay of an HD Radio subchannel of a nearby signal.  LPFMs, or low-powered radio stations, on the other hand, can originate their own programming and often operate as a community radio station, complete with live and local content.

For the most part, the radio dial in Northern Virginia is much worse than it was in 2013 due to the existence of these signals.  Many of my good, quiet DXing frequencies are gone, replaced instead by a repeater of a signal that I can already get strong elsewhere on

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