Category Archives: Digital Modes

A review of the Sangean HDR-16 AM/FM HD Radio

It’s funny that, while I’ve written dozens and dozens of radio reviews over the years, I’ve never written even a single review that included an HD radio.

Well, the time to begin is now: HD radio, here we come.

Those readers living outside North America may be scratching their heads, asking, “What exactly is ‘HD radio?’” To answer in clear terms, I’ll turn the question over to Wikipedia:

HD Radio is a trademarked term for iBiquity’s in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology used by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data by using a digital signal embedded “on-frequency” immediately above and below a station’s standard analog signal, providing the means to listen to the same program in either HD (digital radio with less noise) or as a standard broadcast (analog radio with standard sound quality). The HD format also provides the means for a single radio station to simultaneously broadcast one or more different programs in addition to the program being transmitted on the radio station’s analog channel.

Got that?  In brief, HD radio is digital radio broadcasts that occupy the same FM/AM spectrum currently allocated for analog broadcasts.  Wikipedia adds:

[HD radio] was selected by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2002 as a digital audio broadcasting method for the United States, and is the only digital system approved by the FCC for digital AM/FM broadcasts in the United States.

For my own part I had mostly ignored HD radio, assuming there would be few stations to listen to from my rural home location. That is, until recently, when I purchased a car that has built-in HD radio reception. I was impressed by the number of commercial stations I found that I can receive via HD radio. In truth, only a handful of the mainstream HD station offerings had any appeal for me, but I really took notice when I received a commercial-free jazz station via the HD2 channel of my favorite NPR member station, WFAE.  Having been a jazz fan since I studied music in college, I was intrigued: could a portable HD radio receive this distant HD station reliably?  I had my doubts; moreover, I really didn’t want to purchase a radio, then be obligated to send it back if it didn’t receive anything.

Instead, I contacted Sangean.  The company was more than happy to send me a loaner radio for review. I requested the HDR-16––at the time it was Sangean’s most affordable HD portable, one about which a number of SWLing Post readers had expressed their curiosity.

Overview

The Sangean HDR-16 is a simple radio with a modern design. The chassis is a glossy black hard plastic and feels substantial. It has a useful fold-out carry handle and substantial telescoping whip antenna. The front face features a 16-character two-line backlit display, five function buttons, five dedicated preset buttons, and a dedicated power button. On the right side of the radio you’ll find a dedicated (two function) tuning knob and smaller volume/tone knob. The left side of the radio features an “aux-in” port, a “rec-out” port, an earphone jack, and a 7.5 volt “DC-in” port.

Features

  • HD Radio digital and analog AM / FM-Stereo reception
  • 10 Memory Presets (5 FM, 5 AM)
  • PAD (Program-Associated Data) Service
  • Support for Emergency Alerts Function
  • Automatic Multicast Re-Configuration
  • Automatic Simulcast Re-Configuration
  • Auto Ensemble Seek
  • Real Time Clock and Date with Alarm and Sleep Function
  • 2 Alarm Timer by Radio, Buzzer
  • HWS (Humane Wake System) Buzzer and Radio
  • Snooze Function
  • Tone & Bass Control
  • Information Display for Channel Frequency, Call Sign, Radio Text, Audio Mode, Service Mode,   Signal Quality and Clock Time
  • Easy to Read LCD Display with Backlight
  • “Battery Low” LED Indication
  • Auxiliary Input for Additional Audio Sources
  • Record Output for Connecting to Hi-Fi System or Recording from Audio Program
  • I/O Jacks: DC In, Line-Out (Rec-Out), Aux-In, Headphone and HD / FM Rod Antenna

Audio

The HDR-16 sports two 2.5” front-facing speakers that deliver crisp audio that can be customized with simple treble/bass EQ settings. I found increasing the treble just a bit and the bass quite a lot produced the best audio for music broadcasts.  Even the default audio settings are pretty good, however. The HDR-16 doesn’t have the rich fidelity of the Eton Field BT or the Tecsun S-8800, but it does offer stereo sound that is room filling and pleasant. Sangean obviously took audio fidelity seriously when designing the HDR-16.

The left side features AUX in, Record Out, Earphone and a DC power port.

Note that the the HDR-16 sounds especially good in spoken word/news broadcasts.

Operation and Ergonomics

The Sangean HDR-16 is a very simple and intuitive radio to operate. I sorted out all of its functions simply by following button and knob labels, but even the most tech-challenged person in your family could give the owner’s manual a single read-through and operate the HDR-16 with ease.

But let’s get one gripe out of the way…perhaps a case of simplicity gone too far:  the HDR-16 only has five station preset buttons. Five! Actually, it offers a total of 10 memory allocations: five for AM, five for FM. Still…even in my rural market, I can easily program ten station memories on an FM radio, especially since HD Radio channels offer that many more new options. But the HDR-16 forces me to curate my presets down to a mere five stations per band. In my view, this strict limitation is an unfortunate design oversight.

Performance

The HDR-16 is an AM/FM radio that receives both legacy analog broadcasts and HD/digital broadcasts on both bands.  I’ll break down performance by mode and band below.

HD performance

Digital FM

Of course, what I was most eager to explore was FM HD reception from my home. After unpacking the HDR-16, I placed the radio on my kitchen countertop and initiated an HD Seek scan via the dedicated button on the front panel. Couldn’t have been easier.

The HDR-16’s scan/seek functionality is impressively quick.

I quickly found there were a number of commercial radio stations––about four, to be exact––that I could instantly receive with little to no effort. Mind you, I live in a relatively rural market in a mountainous area. No doubt, if I initiated an HD radio search in LA or New York City, the dial would be chock-full of terrific stations.

All of the HD radio stations I received were either local, or powerhouses from neighboring markets. I was disappointed to find that I could not receive my most desired station, WFAE HD2.

I then moved the HDR-16 to a south-facing window and tuned to WFAE’s FM frequency of 90.7. I found I could easily receive the analog station and its RDS information, but still had no option to listen to HD2. After tinkering with antenna position and placement in our kitchen window, a sweet spot for reception was found, and voila! WFAE HD2 came in fully decoded, without any drops.

Recalling the days when I used to tinker with the rabbit ears on a TV, once I found that sweet spot, I carefully left the HDR-16 alone and didn’t move it further. As a result, over the course of the afternoon, I had nearly 100% copy from WFAE HD2.

I knew WFAE was a fringe station and checked their propagation map for HD radio. My location was actually outside of the fringe reception area.  I looked up GPS coordinates of the WFAE 90.7 MHz transmitting site and found it is exactly 101 miles/162 km from my home.

Obviously, the HDR-16 is a sensitive HD radio on FM!

Via the 1/8″ stereo AUX in jack, you can use the HDR-16 as amplified stereo speakers for your favorite portable music device.

Turns out, FM HD reception is pretty flaky when dealing with fringe stations, though.

Over the course of the next weeks, I tried the HDR-16 in different positions and locations.  There was only one spot in my house where the HDR-16 could get reliable reception of WFAE HD2. When I started the evaluation, it was August; our trees were still had a canopy full of green leaves. Sangean kindly allowed me to hang onto the HDR-16 to see if reception improved in late fall when all of the leaves were off the trees. As I write this review, we’re in winter, and the tree branches are bare. But curiously, reception of WFAE’s fringe signal is about the same as before. Nor have I noticed any difference in the reception of other commercial stations.

The HDR-16 accepts four C cells.

My conclusion is that the HDR-16 is a true performer on the FM band in HD mode. I have no other HD radios with which to compare it, but based on what I know about HD radio, this rig certainly exceeded my expectations.

Digital AM

The HDR-16 can also receive AM HD signals. There are far fewer AM HD broadcasters on the air, however. In fact, one of the first in our region dropped their HD coverage last year due to a lack of listeners.

With that said, I’ve read that a number of HDR-16 owners who live in the vicinity of AM HD broadcasters love the fact they get a digital audio quality signal on the AM band. One SWLing Post reader recently told me he even gets the occasional night-time AM HD DX signal with an HDR-16.

There are no local AM HD stations near me, and despite my best efforts, I never decoded an AM HD broadcaster in the evening. Perhaps if I did a little research and planning, then inductively coupled the HDR-16 to a MW mag-loop antenna, it would increase my chances.

Analog performance

FM

I’ve done almost as much analog FM listening on the HDR-16 as I have HD listening.

The HDR-16 can hold its own with most of my portable radios, in that it can receive all of my benchmark FM stations, and even some fringe analog stations.

RDS decoding also seems to be quite effective, even with fringe stations.

AM

AM (mediumwave) performance is surprisingly good. Perhaps my expectations were low, but I expected analog AM reception to be an afterthought. Or perhaps to have acceptable AM HD reception, Sangean had to put some extra effort into overall AM performance. Honestly, I don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been pleased with the HDR-16 on the AM band. The AGC is pretty stable, noise relatively low, and sensitivity better than on other similar digital radios.

Many of my shortwave portables, like the PL-660, PL-310ET, and PL-880, could outperform the HDR-16 on the AM band, but frankly performance is on a level that it’s going to please most radio listeners. I’ve even had luck getting solid copy from one of my favorite AM DX stations, CFZM (740 kHz) with the HDR-16.

Should you purchase the HDR-16 for AM/MW DXing? No; there are better radios for this exclusive function. But for what I would consider a “bonus” band on a digital radio, I’m very pleased.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here’s the list I’ve developed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the HDR-16.

Pros:

  • Excellent FM HD radio reception
  • Excellent FM analog reception
  • Very good AM broadcast band reception for a modern digital portable
  • Good audio from internal stereo speakers
  • Nice carry handle that tucks away
  • Both auxiliary-in and -out jacks for audio
  • Dedicated earphone jack
  • Design is compact, sleek, yet sturdy
  • One of the more affordable HD radio options currently on the market
  • Easy access to bass/treble tone controls through volume multi-function
  • HD seek functions work on all but the most fringe stations

Cons:

  • No ability to internally recharge C batteries
  • No external antenna jack to improve FM HD reception with directional antenna
  • Limited to just 10 memory presets (five for AM, five for FM)
  • Fringe HD stations may continuously flip between digital and analog, annoying when HD station content and analog broadcast content are quite different Update: I recently tried to have the receiver replicate this behavior but it did not, so I’m striking it from the cons list!

Conclusion

Can I recommend the HDR-16? Absolutely.

If you’re looking for an AM/FM HD radio that’s well-rounded, simple to operate, and provides quality audio, I don’t believe you could go wrong with the HDR-16. The HDR-16 has proven to me that it’s a worthy FM HD receiver as it’s sensitive enough to snag fringe HD stations with some reliability. I’m certain I could design a small FM antenna and get 100% copy from my favorite HD station 101 miles from my home.

I think the HDR-16 would be a safe purchase for anyone, as it’s easy to operate, relatively compact, and makes the process of seeking HD stations a breeze.

I’m especially pleased with the HDR-16’s AM analog reception. It pleasantly surpassed my expectations and makes it easy to recommend the HDR-16. The HDR-16 is one of the few HD portables that also includes AM HD reception.

If you’re looking for a well-rounded HD and analog portable, grab the HDR-16. If you’re looking for a mediumwave DX machine, go for a benchmark mediumwave radio instead, like a GE Super Radio, C.Crane CC Radio 2E, CC Radio EP Pro or even a “Holy Grail” vintage Panasonic RF-2200.

I like Sangean’s high gloss finish (though it does show fingerprints rather well!).

I’m very tempted to purchase the HDR-16; I’ve found it difficult to justify, though. Living in a rural location, I have fewer HD stations to choose from––all but one are commercial, chock-full of advertising, and lack any real variety and diversity. I am very pleased with WFAE’s jazz station on HD2, but it’s hard to justify a $100 purchase just to receive one station over the air. Especially since I can easily stream WFAE HD2 from my Sangean WFR-28, Como Audio Solo, or Amazon Echo.

But if I lived in an urban area, with the accompanying diverse radio market, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the HDR-16.

Here are some retail options for the HDR-16––at the time of this writing, almost all retailers price it at $100–Amazon, New Egg and some eBay vendors offer free shipping:

In closing…I should add that there’s another tempting Sangean HD radio coming just around the corner: the HDR-14. It’ll be priced lower than the HDR-16, and is even more compact, suggesting that it might make an excellent portable for the traveler. I will certainly review the HDR-14 when it’s available, as I’ll be very curious if its equally effective at snagging fringe HD FM stations.  Note that the HDR-14, unlike the HDR-16, has only one speaker, so I doubt audio fidelity will match that of the HDR-16, which should be a better choice for home and local use.

Norway: First country to end national broadcasts on FM

When listening to marginal FM signals, the AR1780 can be set to mono mode instead of default stereo mode.

(Source: The Guardian)

Digital switchover means that only the country’s local radio stations continue to use FM frequencies

Norway has completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM network.

The country’s most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to digital audio broadcasting (DAB) as scheduled on Wednesday, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN), an umbrella group for Norway’s public and commercial radio.

The transition, which began on 11 January, allows for better sound quality and more channels and functions at an eighth of the cost of FM radio, according to authorities.

The move has, however, been met with some criticism linked to technical incidents and claims that there is not enough DAB coverage across the country.

Radio users have also complained about the cost of having to buy new receivers or adapters, usually priced at between €100 and €200 (£88 and £176).

Only 49% of motorists are able to listen to DAB in their cars, according to DRN figures.[…]

Continue reading the full article at The Guardian.

A comprehensive SDRplay and SDRuno how-to video series

The SDRplay RSP2

Mike Ladd, with SDRplay, has done an amazing job putting together a comprehensive series of how-to videos for those of us with the SDRplay RSP1 and RSP2 receivers. His first set of videos have focused on using SDRuno (SDRplay’s custom SDR application), and now he’s started an SDR Console series as well.

I’ve embedded much of his video series below, but you can also find them at the SDRplay YouTube channel.

If you own an SDRplay RSP, take time to watch some or all of these videos as they’ll help you unlock RSP functionality you likely never knew existed. I’ve learned something new in each one I’ve watched.

Below, I’ve embedded 23 SDRuno how-to videos, a new SDR Console video and PDF/printable SDRplay documentation. Enjoy! (And thanks again, Mike!)


SDRuno Videos

#1 SDRuno Basic layout and settings

Click here to view on YouTube.

#2 SDRuno with VAC 1 of 2

Click here to view on YouTube.

#3 SDRuno VAC 2of 2 (showing MultiPSK)

Click here to view on YouTube.

#4 SDRuno Noise reduction intro on HF.

Click here to view on YouTube.

#5 SDRuno Memory Panel part 1 of 2

Click here to view on YouTube.

#6 SDRuno Memory Panel part 2 of 2

Click here to view on YouTube.

#7 SDRuno Calibrate your RSP-1 & RSP-2

Click here to view on YouTube.

#8 SDRuno VAC & DSDdecoder

Click here to view on YouTube.

#9 SDRuno Notching filter function

Click here to view on YouTube.

#10 SDRuno FM Broadcast RDS data decoding

Click here to view on YouTube.

#11 SDRuno, FTDX 3000, Omnirig & LOG4OM Logger

Click here to view on YouTube.

#12 SDRuno, FTDX 3000, Omnirig & LOG4OM Logger In Action

Click here to view on YouTube.

#13 SDRuno EX-Control Module

Click here to view on YouTube.

#14 SDRuno with CSV user list browser using virtual com ports.

Click here to view on YouTube.

#15 SDRuno & MultiPSK decoding APRS

Click here to view on YouTube.

#16 SDRuno & MultiPSK decoding ACARS

Click here to view on YouTube.

#17 SDRuno with the TM-2 USB Controller

Click here to view on YouTube.

#18 SDRuno Tune-LO-LO Lock

Click here to view on YouTube.

#19 pre-selection filters of the RSP-1 and RSP-2

Click here to view on YouTube.

#20 SDRuno and the VRX feature

Click here to view on YouTube.

MISC SDRUno videos

SDRuno EXT/IO Edition for a range of SDRs and dongles

Click here to view on YouTube.

SDRplay RSP with the DX Engineering RTR-2

Click here to view on YouTube.

Using the RSP-1 for the IARU HF World Championship

Click here to view on YouTube.

SDR Console videos (Brand new series)

#1 SDRplay RSP 1 & 2 with SDR Console v3

Click here to view on YouTube.

SDRplay How To documentation

Brand new SDRuno User Manual
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRplay_SDRuno_User_Manual.pdf

Frontend Reset
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRplay_Software_reset.pdf

Optimizing WIndows 7 for SDRuno
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_Windows7.pdf

Setting up VSPE
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_VSPE.pdf

Setting up VAC
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_VAC.pdf

Decoding APRS using SDRuno and MultiPSK
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_APRS.pdf

Decoding MIL-ALE using SDRuno and MultiPSK
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_ALE.pdf

Decoding AIS Marine messages using SDRuno and MultiPSK
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_AIS.pdf

Decoding ACARS messages using SDRuno and MultiPSK
http://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRuno_ACARS.pdf

Reuters: Cyber threats prompt return of radio for ship navigation

eLoran (Image Source: UrsaNav)

(Source: Reuters via Ken Hansen and Dan Hawkins)

LONDON (Reuters) – The risk of cyber attacks targeting ships’ satellite navigation is pushing nations to delve back through history and develop back-up systems with roots in World War Two radio technology.

Ships use GPS (Global Positioning System) and other similar devices that rely on sending and receiving satellite signals, which many experts say are vulnerable to jamming by hackers.

About 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea and the stakes are high in increasingly crowded shipping lanes. Unlike aircraft, ships lack a back-up navigation system and if their GPS ceases to function, they risk running aground or colliding with other vessels.

South Korea is developing an alternative system using an earth-based navigation technology known as eLoran, while the United States is planning to follow suit. Britain and Russia have also explored adopting versions of the technology, which works on radio signals.

Continue reading at Reuters online…

Receive SSTV images from the ISS today

This image from the ISS was received by Kim Elliott at about 0130 UTC on July 20, 145.8 MHz FM.

(Source: Southgate ARC)

The International Space Station is transmitting SSTV pictures to radio amateurs around the world on 145.800 MHz FM

The Slow Scan Television image transmissions are expected to continue until 1800 GMT Sunday, July 23 and can be received on simple equipment such as a handheld radio or scanner with an outside antenna.

Some of the pictures already received can be seen at
http://www.spaceflightsoftware.com/ARISS_SSTV/index.php

Useful links on receiving SSTV from the ISS
https://amsat-uk.org/beginners/iss-sstv/

ARISS Celebrates its 20th Anniversary through SSTV Event
https://amsat-uk.org/2017/07/09/ariss-20th-anniversary-sstv/

If you receive a full or partial picture from the Space Station your Local Newspaper may like to know
http://www.southgatearc.org/news/2016/july/now-is-a-great-time-to-get-ham-radio-publicity.htm