Editors' Note: The rating on this review has been lowered from due to changes in the competitive marketplace.
We gave Boston Acoustics' original Recepter table radio a positive review last year, so we had high hopes for its new Recepter Radio HD. It shares the original's styling and rich sound but adds a new technology, HD Radio. This digital radio system comes with the promise of CD-quality sound, and unlike the original single-speaker model, the Recepter Radio HD is a two-piece stereo unit that ships with a tiny remote control.
In case you're wondering just what HD Radio is and what it does for you, here's the deal: the all-digital technology eliminates AM and FM radio's background static, hiss, and pops so long as the signal is strong enough for the radio to pull it in. If an HD station's signal is weak, the radio automatically switches to regular radio and tunes into the analog version of station (similar to a cell phone reverting to analog roaming mode when the digital signal is too weak). Aside from hiss-free listening, another potential benefit of HD Radio is that it allows broadcasters to divide a single FM-radio frequency into multiple HD Radio broadcast streams. Here in New York City, only one HD station that we received--WCBS-FM--was multicasting, and one of its two subchannels sounded better than the other. So not all HD Radio appears to be created equal, but considering the format's big plans for 2006 and beyond, the programming situation may soon improve.
At this point, the Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD is available only in a silvery platinum finish--not the white and black options found on the earlier Recepter. The radio is pretty small, a mere 4 inches high, 7.5 wide, and 6 deep, while the second speaker is 4 inches high, 4.5 wide, and 6 deep. That speaker has a permanently attached 18-inch cable, and Boston Acoustics throws in a 10-foot extension cable. The large blue LCD shows the clock, as well as the AM and FM frequencies. When tuned to HD Radio, the display shows station call letters and song and artist info, not to mention additional data such as tidbits of stock quotes and news headlines, your local traffic, and weather--if the HD station supports those features.
To tune the radio, you use the old-fashion method of turning a knob, which we think is a better system than pushing your finger on up/down buttons. Programming was also fuss-free--just turn the knob to set the clock and the alarms and to store as many as 20 preset stations. The radio's easy-to-read display supplies the time, the radio station frequency, alarm settings, and the station preset number. A three-position brightness control adjusts for day or night lighting. Connectivity options are limited to hooking up one external source such as a CD or MP3 player, and there's a headphone jack for private listening. Unfortunately, those jacks are recessed, which reduces clearance and necessitated a search through our collection of headphones to find one with a plug that was small enough to fit all the way into the jack.
The radio comes with both AM and FM antennas already connected, but the FM antenna pulled in only a handful of the 15 HD stations available in New York City. Frustrated, we hooked up an FM antenna from an old Denon receiver and had better luck: the radio pulled in almost all of the HD stations in our area. Why Boston Acoustics didn't include a better FM antenna with this $299 radio is beyond our comprehension. On the upside, there's no separate HD antenna to install--just tune to any AM and FM station broadcasting in HD, and you get HD Radio.
The Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD's sound is very bassy, but we're pretty sure most owners will like its rich sonics, and the little radio sounded satisfyingly full even when we played it at reduced volume levels. HD may be the big draw, but the radio's AM and FM reception was way above average; it pulled in difficult-to-receive college and public radio stations cleanly, with minimal background static.
As much as we enjoyed the sound of the Recepter Radio HD, we can't say we were floored by HD Radio's fidelity improvements over regular FM radio. CD quality it was not, and sound quality varied from one HD station to the next. Some had slightly better treble clarity and superior stereo separation, while others sounded pretty much the same as a cleanly received FM station. The HD improvements were more dramatic over AM HD stations, which revealed more treble detail and sounded a lot more FM-like. Of course, the dearth of analog static made us a bit more forgiving of any of the digital stations' sonic shortfalls. All that said, you'll still find that the best sound you'll get is from an external CD player or an iPod connected to the Recepter Radio HD's auxiliary input.
The Recepter HD costs $300. That's somewhat steep for "just a radio," but the outboard stereo speaker (which isn't included with the $150 AM/FM-only Recepter) and free digital content more than ease the sting. We're looking forward to HD Radio becoming a standard feature in more full-featured models such as Boston's own MicroSystem CD. Until then, radio listeners who don't want to shell out $13 a month for a satellite-radio subscription will find a worthy alternative in the sweet-sounding Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD.