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Sony's awesome but ridiculously cheap AM/FM HD Radio

No baloney, it's a Sony! The $100 XDR-F1HD just might be the world's best HD Radio.

Sony's XDR-F1HD HD Radio has developed a real buzz among my audiophile pals; on second thought maybe buzz isn't the right word. It's the quietest, noise-free radio I've ever used.

These guys can be real snobs and only listen to ultra-high-end components, and some wouldn't be caught dead using mainstream gear with their hi-fis, and yet they're all going ga-ga over the Sony. We're all thinking it's too good to be true.

I originally heard about the Sony from Steven Stone, a writer friend, and then from an engineer at an American high-end audio company known for making awesome tuners that sell for thousands of dollars. The engineer was positively gushing about how good the XDR-F1HD is; not just that it sounded great, but also because it pulls in tough-to-receive analog stations with lower noise and distortion than tuners that sell for big bucks. You can read my full CNET review here.

I rushed right out and bought an XDR-F1HD from Amazon, and sure nuff, it's true, the little Sony is no baloney. Analog FM stations came in like gangbusters, clean as a whistle, and HD stations, like my favorite jazz station WBGO had "CD quality" sound. That phrase is tossed around a lot, but this time it's for real. I listened to WBGO with the Sony over my high-end system with Magnepan 3.6/R speakers, and the sound was amazing. It's day and night better than what I get from Sirius Satellite Radio, which is almost unlistenable over those speakers.

Right, Sirius sounds like a crummy MP3 over the Maggies. That's why I listen to Sirius over my Tivoli PAL table radio. Good enough sound is what most people put up with, and that's kinda sad.

WNYC, my local NPR outlet, multicasts HD on three channels: one is the same program as the analog FM station, the second is a 24-7 classical music stream, and the third is WNYC's AM feed, but in FM HD. One of my favorite shows, David Garland's "Spinning on Air" is a weekly musical journey. The October 26 all-theremin show was a mind trip, and sounded positively ethereal in HD. The theremin is an early 20th century electronic instrument, and it's featured on the Beach Boys' hit "Good Vibrations."

Thing is, not all HD stations sound great; in New York WPLJ and WXRK sound dreadful. So you see, HD Radio technology doesn't guarantee sound quality, its up to the stations to follow through and not mess with their signal. The XDR-F1HD is a gateway to the best of over-the-air analog and digital broadcasts.

Need a second opinion? Check out Gary Krakow's The Street review to learn more.