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HD radio: you get what you paid for

HD radio. Few are buying. But you can tell a lot from the price.

When it comes to HD radio, price matters.

Radiosophy, a start-up out of Sioux City, South Dakota, has begun to sell a hybrid digital radio, the HD100, for $99. Act now and you can get a $40 rebate. (Correction- I was calling these radios high definition, but am told it stands for hybrid digital. Sorry about the error. I'm not too good with the alphabet on some days.)

That's significantly below the $299 price of the HD Recepter radio from Boston Acoustics and less too than the $149 non-HD Recepter from Boston.

But how do all these stack up? Granted, most people don't care about radio, but my wife is nutty for NPR so it's a big deal in our house. We also live somewhat near a large TV tower in San Francisco so conventional radios don't work. Usually, radio programs sounds like emergency broadcasts from Laos.

Radisophy (L); Recepter (R) michael kanellos

HD Recepter: fantastic sound and great reception. You can crank up the speakers to full volume and experience no crackling. Unfortunately, it mysteriously died after three days. Still, it was good enough to make us contemplate actually buying one--the warranty probably covers the untimely death.

Recepter: The sound quality drops a notch, but is great here too. The non-HD radio doesn't get the additional digital channels.

HD100: While both Boston Acoustics radios have fairly commanding sound, the Radiosophy unit sounded pretty thin and crackled at higher volumes. The unit takes about fifteen seconds to hone in on digital signals. Even at low volumes you could hear a bit of static. The control knobs are tough to figure out too.

On the plus side, the small company has a web site that actually gets to the point. The Boston Acoustics site is like an Ikea store: you make forward progress, but it's tough to figure out where you are going.

So in the end, the most expensive radio was the best (mysterious fatality aside), the second most was the second best but came with compromises, and the cheap one definitely had some issues.