The price of HD Radio technology has been dwindling over the past few years, with digital-capable car stereos, home tuners, and clock radios priced south of $100. But Insignia's new NS-HD01 adds two new wrinkles to the HD Radio equation. The iPod-size unit is the first truly portable (battery powered) HD Radio, and its $50 price tag makes it the most affordable HD model to date. It's now available exclusively at Best Buy (Insignia is one of the chain's in-house brands).
While it may look like an old MP3 player, the NS-HD01 is strictly a radio tuner that can pull in analog and HD (Hybrid Digital) stations on the FM band. There are 10 user-programmable presets. A sealed (not user-replaceable) rechargeable lithium ion battery powers the radio. What's good is that the recharging port is a standard Mini-USB connection (USB cable included). That means you can juice up the battery from any PC or USB charger. Like the iPod, a wall charger isn't included, but any USB-compatible iPod charger should work.
In addition to the charging cable and requisite pair of subpar earbuds, joggers will appreciate that Insignia includes a Velcro armband in the box. There's no belt clip, but the NS-HD01 will fit into any pocket, and the hold switch on the unit's side will prevent inadvertent button pushes.
The body of the HD01 is a tapered wedge that weighs a mere 2.24 ounces. At 3.07 inches by 2.06 inches by 0.63 inches, the radio is larger than many of today's flash-based music players, but it's smaller than an iPod Classic. The unit's front is dominated by the 1.5-inch color LCD screen that's ringed by nine basic control buttons. That's a lot for such a one-note device, but it lets you tune frequencies manually, seek available stations up and down the dial, or toggle up or down through your presets. A rocker switch on the right side controls volume and mute.
The battery is rated for 10 hours of playback, and the screen auto-dims to save energy. In our tests, we actually got closer to 11 hours, though that was with leaving the radio tuned to one station. The screen "wakes up" with any button touches, so if you often flip stations or change the volume, expect to get a bit less battery life.
Using the NS-HD01 is pretty straightforward, though you might need to consult the manual to figure out how to lock in the presets. Tune to any HD-enabled station and the radio should switch from the analog to digital signal within a couple of seconds. The HD version of the primary station is identical, but because it's broadcast digitally, it's free of analog static. (The downside: like digital TV broadcasts, audio channels are either on or off--signals don't fade out, they'll just drop as soon as you go out of range.)