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A review of the Sangean HDR-14 portable AM/FM HD radio

Late last year, we learned that Sangean was planning to introduce a small portable HD radio to their product line: the Sangean HDR-14. Readers were excited about this release––indeed, I’ve received more inquiries and comments from readers about this radio than about any other HD radio.

While there have been numerous portable FM HD radios on the market over the years, there have been very few compact HD portables that can also pull AM HD signals from the ether. Shortly after Sangean made their announcement that the HDR-14 was forthcoming, I contacted them and requested a review unit. They sent me a review sample from the first production run in May.

Due to my exceptionally busy schedule this summer, it’s taken me longer than I’d like to  be able to write up a complete review. On the plus side, while I’ve not had a chance to sit down and write, I have had time to listen; thus I’ve had more on-the-air time with the HDR-14, with the result that my review is built on nearly three months of use.

Initial impressions

Size comparison: Sangean HDR-14 (left) and the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB (right)

The HDR-14 has a practical AM/FM portable radio design: the front panel features a backlit display, speaker grill, power button, memory preset buttons and a few other buttons to control essential functions like tuning, HD mode/channel selection, band, and information display toggle.

Like most similar Sangean radios, the chassis is a hard gloss plastic finish, while the front panel is mostly matte. The buttons are raised and have a pleasing tactile response.

On the left side of the radio you’ll find a coaxial power port (5VDC with a positive tip), volume wheel and headphones jack. I do wish Sangean had used a standard micro USB port, but their alternate choice might be be a result of the fact that USB power supplies are so RF noisy…? This is, however, mere speculation on my part.

On the right side, the only feature is one mechanical key lock switch––a bonus for me, as I prefer mechanical key locks over push buttons.

On the back of the radio you’ll find the usual silk-screened product specifications and model information. You’ll also find the large battery compartment cover which easily slides open to reveal positions for three AA cells.

The telescopic antenna is sturdy and about twenty-five inches in length, fantastic for FM radio reception.

One unique feature of the HDR-14 is that it doesn’t have a tilt-out stand on the back, rather a foot that swings out from the bottom/base of the radio. The foot gives the HDR-14 excellent stability while standing up, say, on a night stand next to the bed. Brilliant addition, Sangean!

Features and specifications

For such a compact portable, the HDR-14 sports a compliment of features:

  • HD Radio digital and analog AM / FM-Stereo reception
  • 40 Memory Presets (20 FM, 20 AM)
  • PAD (Program Associated Data) Service
  • Support for Emergency Alerts Function\
  • Automatic Multicast Re-Configuration
  • 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
  • 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
  • Low Battery LED Indicator
  • I/O Jacks: DC In, Headphone and HD / FM Rod Antenna

The clock and alarm features make the HDR-14 ideal for travel. Sangean’s “Human Wake System” is one of the best wake up alarm systems I’ve ever used on a radio: the buzzer alarm sound will slowly increase in volume for 1 minute, then stop for one minute of silence, and repeat up to one hour. Of course, this will wake most of us on the first go. If not, it’s patiently persistent, but a gentle way to wake:  I like this.

The internal speaker is well balanced though it lacks any notes of bass. Still, music is quite pleasing, and the spoken word sounds brilliant and clear. Note that my expectations for audio fidelity are always fairly low from radios in this size class (although the Sangean  WR-7 showed me that compact radios are capable of amazing fidelity).

Operation

Tuning the radio and storing frequencies to memory are each straightforward and simple.

Keep in mind, however, that the Sangean HDR-14 can receive both AM and FM radio in analog and HD. On either band, if you tune to an analog station with accompanying HD channels that can be received, the HD Radio logo will flash on the display, indicating that the signal is blending from analog to digital. Once the radio locks onto the HD signal, the HD Radio logo on the display will cease flashing and appear steady.

Saving a station to a memory is simple: 1) tune to a frequency, use the page button to select the desired memory page of five presets; 2) press and hold the button where you would like to store the frequency, and when you hear a beep, the station has been stored. If you chose, for example, the third page and first memory position, “31” (indicating “page 3” and “memory 1,” respectively) will appear on the top line of the display. After entering your presets, you can then recall a station by selecting a page and simply pressing the preset.

The HDR-14 does have a useful “HD Seek” function that searches for HD signals automatically. In addition, there is an HD Auto Preset System that will scan the band for HD signals, then auto-store them in memory presets according to their signal strength. The first memory on the first page will be the strongest station received.

If the HDR-14 acquires an HD station that multicasts (and in my market, most do), the display will note “HD1,” “HD2,” or “HD3,” based on the number of multicast HD signals per broadcaster. You can flip through these with the tune up/down buttons once the display indicates multicast signals.

The HDR-14 also features an alpha-numeric RDS system which makes identifying the station and even their programming/music quite easy. I find that the RDS decode is quite good: it works on even marginal FM signals.

Performance

The last Sangean HD radio I reviewed was the HDR-16, and I was impressed by its performance. As you can imagine, my hope was that the HDR-14 would pack the HDR-16’s performance in a smaller package…So, did it?

Let’s just say it comes quite close.

The HDR-16’s analog AM broadcast band performance is, overall, better than that of the HDR-14. The HDR-14 isn’t poor, but its noise level is slightly higher than the HDR-16’s. I can’t say I’m disappointed with the HDR-14’s analog AM performance, however; it’s just what one would expect. I do wish it had impressed me.

I’ve only received one AM HD signal with the HDR-14, so I can’t comment on the AM HD performance other than to say I was impressed with the steady HD lock. I listened to WWFD in Germantown, MD:  I could receive the station both day and even at night when power output was decreased dramatically. I find that AM HD sort of boggles the mind; it’s odd listening to a clear, static-free signal on the AM dial.

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’ve had several SWLing Post readers tell me they were impressed with the HDR-14’s ability to acquire AM HD signals. One reader added that it’s the best he’s ever used…wow! As I travel this year, I hope to snag a few more AM HD signals myself.

The HDR-14 is a very sensitive FM analog receiver. I find that I can receive all of my benchmark local and distant analog FM stations. The HDR-14 seems to be every bit as good as the HDR-16 in terms of sensitivity.

One caveat is that when I tune to an FM analog signal which happens to be adjacent to a strong FM station, sometimes the strong adjacent station bleeds into the audio. FM selectivity isn’t as good as the HDR-16.

In terms of FM HD performance, you might recall that in my review of the Sangean HDR-16, I mentioned that one of my benchmark distant HD FM stations is WFAE HD2. WFAE’s transmitter is just over one hundred miles from my home shack, and I’m well outside even the the fringe reception area. I’m pleased to note that, on more than one occasion, from my porch, I’ve gotten a reliable HD lock on WFAE with the HDR-14. I’m convinced that when the leaves fall off the trees this fall (they do attenuate signals) reception will be fairly near to reliable.

Listening to the HDR-14 from a hospital room.

While waiting for a block of time to pen this review, I’ve spent a lot of time tuning to FM HD signals in a least five different urban and regional markets in two countries. And I can say I’m very impressed with reception; the HDR-14 seems to snag every available HD signal.

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 is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the HDR-14.

Pros:

  • Excellent overall FM Analog and HD performance
  • Excellent AM HD reception (a stand-out for pocket sized HD receivers)
  • 40 memory presets
  • Built-in speaker has first-rate fidelity for spoken word and music (see con)
  • Uses standard AA cells
  • Excellent build quality
  • Gentle but persistent alarm
  • Useful swing out stand for bedside listening and alarm usage
  • Compact form factor, ideal for travel

Cons:

  • AM analog performance is acceptable but not for weak-signal work
  • FM Analog selectivity is mediocre, some strong adjacent station bleed-through
  • Built-in speaker lacks bass response, so not optimal for all music listening (see pro)

Conclusion

While I have mixed feelings about digital radio in general––but especially In-band on-channel (IBOC) HD radio––I do love exploring all that over-the-air radio has to offer. Like it or not, HD radio is a part of that landscape for the foreseeable future.

HD Radio has opened up a few alternative music stations that otherwise I’d never have discovered in my local market. In addition, I find that NPR and public radio stations often multicast commercial-free talk, jazz, and classical music, which makes HD Radio a worthy addition at home and while I travel. In large urban markets, HD Radio certainly increases the number of available commercial options sometimes by a factor of two or possibly more.

If you like chasing AM and FM HD signals, you’ll be very pleased with the HDR-14. It’s first rate, and I recommend it.

The Sangean HDR-14 RDS display (Photo: Thomas)

I’ll close by adding that I continue to be impressed with Sangean as a company.  They’ve always been one of the quality leaders in the portable radio marketplace, and still make products with the radio enthusiast in mind––something of a rarity these days. I always look forward to seeing what they’ll come up with next!

The Sangean HDR-14 can be purchased at a number of retailers including:

Click here to check out the Sangean HDR-14 on Sangean’s website.

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Jason gives a favorable review of the Sangean DT-120

Sangean DT-120

In reply to Olivier’s post about the Sony SRF-M95, SWling Post contributor, Jason, notes:

Another amazing AM ultra light performer, the Sangean DT-120 or DT-180

I have the DT-120 in my pocket and it has got many hours of use. Travelling in outback Australia in April/May I was very impressed with it’s performance on AM.

Camped at the Devils Marbels 412km north of Alice Springs, I could receive it’s 783 kHz AM signal OK, weak obviously but definitely listenable. Of course the signal from Radio National at Tennant Creek on 684 AM was stronger, since it’s only 100km to the north of Devils Marbles.

Very happy with the little Sangean. It’s by far and away the pocket radio with the best DX reception I’ve ever owned, but the Tecsun R-209 and the Sangean SR-35 are probably the two best AM DX pocket radios with a speaker.

One day I will pick up a Sangean DT-250, but it’s probably not much better than the Sangean DT-210 I already have, which is another good choice with a speaker.

Thanks for sharing your comments, Jason! And, wow, I’d love to make that camping pilgrimage to the Devil’s Marbles–sounds remote and fantastic!

If you like ultralight radios like the Sangean DT-120, check out our endurance test of the Sangean DT-160CL and Sony SRF-39FP.

Links:

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Mike’s review of the Sangean HDR-14 AM/FM HD Radio

Sangean HDR-14 (left) and the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB (right) (Photo: Thomas)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike S, who comments with his short review of the Sangean HDR-14. Mike writes:

Well, I did something I said i would not do, triggered by Amazon’s tendency to introduce impossibly low prices on things for a couple of days, I sprang for the HDR-14. I have used it side by side with its direct competitor (the Nicetex “SPARC” SHD-TX2) for a few nights and a couple of days. Interesting little device.

As has been pointed out by those that read the specs, it is barely larger than the CC Skywave overall. It is made of the same soft, shiny black plastic as the larger Sangean portables (it is alternately a fingerprint magnet or a scuff magnet) but has a much less solid feel. The swivel-out foot on the bottom is a welcome addition and works well.

I have not yet played with other features (memories, etc) except to note that somebody has finally gotten it right in that memory locations store the chosen FM multicast channel instead of just the frequency.

The Sangean HDR-14 RDS display (Photo: Thomas)

Performance is a mixed bag. This is NOT an HDR-16 crammed into a smaller cabinet; not surprising, really, considering the amount of real estate available for circuitry. Analog FM and HD capture are right up there with the the larger sets and similar to the SPARC. I am unable to reproduce the spurious FM image problem noted by a lone Amazon reviewer. Audio is “just OK” out of the speaker with a harsh emphasis on treble – the SPARC portable is MUCH better with its passive radiator – but just fine for headphones or an external speaker.

However, for AM, that reviewer was spot on. The noise floor on AM is a tad too high and the native sensitivity a tad too low; resulting in “just OK” useable sensitivity on the band especially compared to the SPARC. I had no trouble with AM-HD on the only two stations in NYC metro (WCBS and WINS); however, it was unable to even detect the HD carrier from known stations in nearby cities that I was able to get >50% on the HDR-16 and HDR-18. The selectivity is better than the SPARC due to the DSP active for bandwidth adjustment; witness that I was able to clearly separate stations in Connecticut (600) and Philadelphia (610) from the splatter of local powerhouses at 570 and 620. Unfortunately too, analog AM reception is plagued with DSP artifacts reminiscent of earlier Tecsun sets which can even manifest in odd distortion in adjacent-channel splatter that bleeds into the tuned signal. The fact that the audio circuit/speaker accentuate the treble, make this even more annoying – the “ticks” from adjacent channel splatter are so harsh that you might think the speaker cone is damaged and vibrating.

I’m still waffling on whether to keep this one. It’s a nice little set which is sure to become a collector’s item, and its FM performance really is exemplary. But I kinda view the inclusion of the AM band as its raison d’être and in that regard it could certainly do better.

Thanks for your review, Mark!

It’s interesting that you couldn’t reproduce FM overloading or imaging. I have noted images on the FM band and it hasn’t been in a market as congested as that of NYC. It’s only noticeable when listening to stations adjacent to strong signals, however. It’s almost as if the FM filter is a little too wide.

I also agree about analog AM reception.

My HDR-14 review has been delayed due to a very hectic schedule, but I plan to complete it in the next couple of weeks! Thanks again, Mike!

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Jeff discovers that the Sangean WR-2 loses time when playing radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jeff McMahon, who writes:

I wanted you to know that my Sangean WR-2 keeps perfect time when I don’t play the radio, but when I do play the radio I lose 25 minutes; the clock is 25 minutes slow in other words. I’ve read other complaints from Sangean owners, including from those who own the Sangean HDR-18. Some say it has something to do with RDS. Have you heard of this problem? It’s annoying because I have to reset my clock every morning.

Wow–an otherwise excellent radio that prominently features a clock should never have this problem. This problem essentially renders the clock useless.  I’m not sure what would cause this unless it’s incorrectly pulling time data from the RDS function?

Post readers: Have you noticed this fault in the WR-2, WR-18 or other similar models? Please comment.

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In the pipeline: a review of the Sangean HDR-14 portable AM/FM HD radio

Based on readers correspondence, the most anticipated non-shortwave radio to hit the market this year might be the Sangean HDR-14 AM/FM HD radio.

Sangean sent me a sample evaluation unit and I’ve had it on the air since taking delivery last week. I’m starting to put the elements of my HDR-14 review together while also writing Part 2 of my SDR primer for The Spectrum Monitor magazine (Part 1 was published last week). Indeed, I’ve a total of five reviews and evaluations on my desk right now–!

So far, I’m impressed with the little HDR-14. If you recall my review of the Sangean HDR-16, I mentioned that one of my benchmark distant HD FM stations is WFAE 2–its transmitter is a full 101 miles from my home and I’m well outside even the the fringe reception area.

The HDR-14 has a unique back stand: a small foot that swivels out of the base of the chassis.

I’m pleased to note that on more than one occasion, I’ve gotten a reliable HD lock of WFAE from my porch. A most positive sign!

Over the next three weeks, the HDR-14 will be travelling with me and I hope to even snag an AM HD station if all goes well.

I can tell you already that I’m as pleased as punch Sangean gave the HDR-14 a total of 20 AM and 20 FM memory presets. The larger HDR-16, in contrast, only has 5 AM and 5 FM presets.

Look for my review of the HDR-14 on the SWLing Post in the coming weeks. If interested, follow the tag: HDR-14

I’ve noted that both Universal Radio and Amazon.com (affiliate link) have the HDR-14 in stock and shipping. Universal’s price is $79.99 plus shipping and Amazon’s price is $88.67 including shipping.

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