Released in 2008, the Sony XDR-F1HD was one of the first commercially-available HD Radios available in the United States.  I was one of the first DXers to obtain the radio and review it.

Editor’s note:  I originally reviewed this radio in 2008.  I decided to rewrite my review in 2020 to include historical observations, better descriptions of the radio’s performance, and to add better photos.

The Sony XDR-F1HD tuned into an HD Radio signal on 3/28/2020.

The Sony XDR-F1HD is, in my opinion, the best radio ever made.  Although discontinued many years ago, the radio is still heavily sought after by DXers and radio enthusiasts, often selling for over $250 used on eBay.  The radio’s price at time of release in 2008 was $99.  If I could go back, I would’ve purchased a dozen of them–not to sell at a premium, but to keep as backups.  Thankfully, the radio is identical under the hood to the Sony XDR-S10HDiP and Sony XDR-S3HD, and those radios can be found much closer to its original MSRP price on eBay today.  I highly suggest you pick up a S10HDiP or S3HD if you can find one, as this review applies equally to all three radios.  The only difference in the XDR-F1HD is its screen and smaller form factor.

The Sony XDR-F1HD radio (left) with the Sony XDR-S10HDiP (right). Both radios, although different on the outside, are identical under the hood and have the same performance as noted in this review.

Other DXers have reviewed the XDR-F1HD and I highly suggest that you read their reviews, too:

Brian Beezley’s review
Mike Bugaj’s review

Initial observations

The XDR-F1HD is tiny, measuring in at 7-1/8″ W x 2-3/8″ H x 6-3/8″ D.  Its size is on par with a car radio.  The radio has RCA left and right audio outputs, which makes connecting it to a stereo system or a computer (with a RCA to 3.5mm headphone jack patch cable) very easy.  The F1HD does not, however, have a headphone jack, so you would need to use the headphone jack of whatever you are connecting it to if you would like to listen via headphones.  The radio’s S3HD clone does, however, have a built-in headphone jack.

The radio’s blue display is very bright upon plugging it in, but it is easy to turn it down in the radio’s menu.  The tuning buttons are located on the top of the unit, directly above the screen.  Although I would’ve preferred a knob that I could turn, the buttons are easy to use, although it is difficult to find them sometimes if the radio is used in a dark room.

Analog FM reception

The F1HD is, hands down, a solid 10/10 with regard to all aspects of analog DXing.  There’s simply no other radio out there that rivals it, although the Airspy R2 SDR radio comes close.

Regular analog reception on the Sony XDR-F1HD without RDS or HD radio reception.

The sensitivity and selectivity on the F1HD is phenomenal.  While in Myrtle Beach, SC on vacation in 2012, I was able to log a station on 97.9 FM at 485 miles away via tropo with a local 100 KW blowtorch on 97.7 FM at 13 miles away just one tick up the dial.  That is simply not possible on most radios out there without serious modifications to the innerds of the radio.  The F1HD tuned in the distant signal clearly without any interference from the local station next door.  The radio does not experience any bleedthrough whatsoever, even when I’ve been less than a mile from the local transmitters.

I really like that the radio has a signal meter on its display. It appears that RDS has to have at least a ‘2’ signal bar to decode, while HD Radio will only fully decode with a ‘3’. HD Radio signals will try to decode with a ‘2’ signal bar, with frequent droputs.  The signal bar is probably not as good, or as accurate, as analog signal meters on older radios, but it is better than nothing.

HD Radio

HD Radio is the digital radio standard in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and a few other countries worldwide.  Stations broadcasting in HD can air several multicast channels of audio that is different from their main analog signal.  Many stations use the secondary channels to air different music formats.  Others use their multicast channels to rebroadcast weaker co-owned signals in the same city, or they may rebroadcast a popular AM radio station in the market.  If the XDR-F1HD radio is used in a country that does not broadcast HD Radio (i.e. the United Kingdom), it will only operate in analog mode, as it does not have the capability to decode other countrys’ digital radio standards, such as the UK’s DAB.  Of course, if HD Radio signals come in via signal enhancement from a country that broadcasts them, the radio’s HD technology will kick in and decode the station’s digital signal, provided the signal is strong enough.

When an HD Radio signal is detected, the small “HD” logo on the top line of the display will flicker for about 10 seconds before it fully decodes. Once decoded, you can tune up to hear the additional multiplex channels, assuming the station received has more than one channel of audio.

An HD Radio signal from 94.7 WIAD Bethesda, MD decoded on the Sony XDR-F1HD radio.

While the HD Radio signal decodes, the radio station’s HD Radio callsign will appear in big letters in the lower left corner of the screen.  Some stations broadcast their full callsign, such as “WBIG-FM” in this field, while others show their callsign minus the “-FM” suffix.  The appearance of the “-FM” suffix has nothing to do with the legal “-FM” suffix affixed to many U.S. radio stations’ callsigns–it is completely up to the station if they want to have the suffix added to their HD Radio display, or not.

Other stations choose to have their station name, instead of actual call letters, appear in the HD callsign area, like 100.7 WBZZ does in the picture below below.  WBZZ is known on-air as “100.7 Star.”  Since the data in this field is broadcasted by the station itself and not the F1HD, there is no way to edit this to show the actual callsign.

100.7 WBZZ New Kensington, PA displays its slogan of “STAR” in its HD Radio callsign area instead of its actual callsign of WBZZ.

When the XDR-F1HD radio was released in 2008, all HD Radio stations could only display four alphanumeric characters in the HD callsign field, followed by the “-FM” suffix if they so chose.  In more recent years, it appears that the HD Radio technology has improved to where stations can now have seven alphanumeric characters in this area.  One of my local stations, 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC, has a unique “WHUR HD” seven-character HD Radio callsign.  Although this seven-character callsign appears on newer HD Radios I own, it does not on the Sony XDR-F1HD or its sister S3HD or S10HDiP radios.  Instead of seeing a truncated callsign on these radios, the entire area is blank.

Since 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC uses newer HD Radio technology created after the Sony XDR-F1HD was made, the station’s callsign does not show on the screen, but it appears on newer HD Radios.

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.


The XDR-F1HD is a great radio when it comes to displaying RDS, a service that many radio stations use worldwide.  A radio station can broadcast anything from its call letters to song titles via several RDS data streams that can display on various areas of the screen.  The data stream fields include PI (program identification code, an alphanumeric code that converts to the station’s callsign), PT (program type, usually the signal’s format), PS (program service, a short display that stations often use for their call letters or station name), and RT (radiotext, a longer field than PS that allows stations to display song titles or advertising).  The RDS display of this radio is one line and it only shows the RDS PS field, unlike its S3HD and S10HDiP clones, which have two-line displays that also shows the RDS radiotext field.  Thankfully, you can cycle through the menu on the F1HD to view the RDS radiotext field, but it doesn’t show it natively.

RDS decoded on the Sony XDR-F1HD from 101.5 WBQB Fredericksburg, VA.  In this picture, “B101.5” is the broadcasted in the signal’s RDS PS data stream.

RDS decodes within two to three seconds on strong signals that broadcast the service.  Unlike other radios, the F1HD does not have a separate indicator that shows when RDS is being received from a tuned station but is below the threshold for decoding.  This means that you don’t know if a weak station may have RDS until it successfully decodes on-screen.  Although I do like having separate RDS notification icons on-screen, the fact that the RDS is fast to decode on this radio makes up for this omission.

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.  This is a limitation of most HD Radios on the market and is not specific to the F1HD, but I do feel that it needs pointing out.

Soft muting of weak signals

According to DXer Brian Beezley, the F1HD “soft mutes” weaker signals, which means that if there’s a very weak signal in the mud that is barely listenable, the radio lowers the volume until the signal increases in strength.  After the signal strength hits a certain threshold, the radio will bring the signal up to normal volume.  I have, pictured below, a 11-minute waveform from 93.7 FM recorded on 6/20/2008.  The top waveform is from my analog-only Denon TU-1500RD radio with modified 110 kHz IF filters.  The bottom waveform is from the F1HD.

Note how the Sony radio is slightly quieter (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.  However, in practice, the soft muting makes it more difficult to actively listen to a quiet FM signal waiting for DX, as you may not hear a weak signal coming in until it hits the “threshold” for the soft muting to dissipate.  The same signal on another radio may be easier to hear from the get-go.


Although the F1HD is small, it is not suitable for traveling.  The radio is made of very thin plastic.  The front of it is made of semi-transparent plastic that can easily scratch, especially over the screen.  Since the power cord does not detach from the radio, the threat of the plug wrapping around and scratching the screen when packed away is high.  Although I did take this radio with me on several vacations, I was always afraid that it would break.  The radio was always an object of interest at the TSA security checkpoint.  I’ve been asked to take it out of my bag for further inspection many times, although the TSA officers were OK with it after I explained to them what it was.  Other radios that I have traveled with, such as the Sangean HDR-14, never had such scrutiny from security officials.

Heat issues and damage

The Sony XDR-F1HD runs very hot when in use.  There is a vent on the top of the radio in the back, but it does not do enough to cool the unit down.  Sony should have put a small fan inside, much like a computer would have.

I noticed in early 2016 that my F1HD had developed an issue with its audio outputs.  All audio coming out of the unit had a loud hum in the background, and any vocals heard in music or commercials were removed (much like would hear if you didn’t pull a headphone plug out of a headphone jack all the way).  This has, unfortunately, made the radio useless for DXing.  I still have the radio packed awaay safely in hopes it could be repaired in the future.  The radio can still tune in signals perfectly.


If you want a solid radio that shines over anything you ever had used or will ever use in the future, the Sony XDR-F1HD is it.  Its relative scarcity at the current time, due to being long discontinued, makes it a hot commodity within the DXing community.  If you need the small form factor and prefer a smaller screen, I would buy an F1HD off eBay or another site even if it costs a lot more used than the original $99 USD MSRP from 2008.  However, if you are looking for the same radio but don’t care if it comes in a larger cabinet, you would be better off finding a Sony XDR-S3HD or Sony XDR-S10HDiP, as both radios are identical in performance to the F1HD.

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