POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 30
HDT-1 High-Definition Radio Component Tuner
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Sangean is a 32-year-old company based in Taiwan, with manufacturing in China. They make all kinds of interesting radios, but the HDT-1 HD Radio Component Tuner is a surprising addition to the line. One of only three HD Radio tuners on the market, the Sangean HDT-1 is the least expensive, and may even boast the most features. The others are the Day Sequerra M2.2R HD ($3995) and the Audio Design Associates HD Pro ($2295). With excellent fidelity, and selectivity and flexibility second to none, the Sangean lists for a whopping $199! I bought it discounted for $179.
By the way, HD stands for Hybrid Digital, not High Definition. I live in the Los Angeles area, where we have 36 broadcast radio stations. As of today, we also have 55 HD Radio stations, and they are all free. An FM station may have up to eight compressed digital signals piggybacking its broadcast signal. In LA, most of the stations that are doing this have only one digital signal, and most of those have the same programming on both channels. A major exception is my favorite classical station. It went Country Western a few weeks ago, but it remains classical on the digital signal. You can go on line and check the number of HD stations in your market. AM stations have HD channels, too, but I didn't know that until I started playing with this fun piece.
The HDT-1 is a full-size component, with functions galore. Its display panel gives you endless information about the program in progress—frequencies received, call letters, signal strength, time, and more. You've got direct input of frequencies, forty presets, access rocker controls, and a full function remote control. The rear has RCA outputs, an EU power plug, a coax FM input, and AM antenna inputs.
First I hooked up an Audio Quest power cord ($275) made to fit in the EU socket. A quick comparison with the stock cord demonstrated that this was worthwhile, as the AQ cord added dynamics and warmth. I tried several interconnects. I liked the Kimber Heros, but settled on the Kubala-Sosna Emotions ($2700). I put the tuner on Mod Squad soft shoes, just because they were handy. I tried a Magic Brick and other noise-suppression devices, all to no effect. The final step was to hook up a Magnum Dynalab ST-2 antenna. I did not use the supplied dipole antenna because it's junk, and should be discarded. Although the tuner is inexpensive, you should use a high-quality antenna. It seemed funny to be using over $3000 worth of accessories on a $200 tuner, but I wanted to hear all that this fascinating component could give me. It's about time for a real value to hit the audiophile market!
I let the unit play for three days before doing any serious listening. The first thing I discovered was that the HDT-1 is very sensitive. It pulls in every station my Magnum Dynalab 108 pulls in, plus more than fifty HD stations. No gripes here! The display is very readable from ten feet away, and all functions are intuitive. Soundwise, the HDT-1 is a charmer. It sounds very detailed, dynamic, clean, and distortion-free. Playing regular FM, the Sangean sounds very neutral, and is a bit more musical than my Marantz 17 ($650). It lets the character of the signal through very convincingly. When I compared it to my Magnum Dynalab MD 108 ($5850), the Sangean did quite well. It was a bit behind in musicality and detail, and a little brighter, though not disturbingly so. Both tuners have superb bass. I'd say the Sangean is 85 to 90 percent as good as the MD 108 on regular FM—a very fine value even before you consider its HD capabilities.
Though the sound of the digital channels is all over the map, and truly unpredictable, they tend to be quieter, lower in distortion, and more dynamic than their FM counterparts, with more left-to-right spread. I compared the Sangean to my Sequerra, Magnum Dynalab, and Marantz 10B tuners, with the analog devices playing regular FM and the Sangean playing the corresponding digital channels. Regular FM sounded rolled off, boosted on quiet passages, compressed on loud ones, and a bit hissy by comparison. The Sangean sounded very similar to a good-sounding CD played on a good player in the $1000 to $1500 price range. It exhibited no compression, an even frequency balance, and a nice, musical midband. Textures were a bit less defined than they were on the super tuners, but they were more even on the Sangean. Although I cannot say that the Sangean sounds rich or liquid, like some of the other tuners, it sounds very honest. Most of the time, it sounds more interesting. I'm making allowances for the HDT-1 because of its low cost, but it is worth much more than $200, and at that price, it's practically free.
The Sangean may be more accurate than its mega-priced competitors. I listened to announcer's voices on all of my tuners, and the Sangean consistently sounded less distorted and more correct. The super tuners sounded rich and mid-rangey. Regular FM is adjusted so that it does not overload. While this reduces noise, everything is a bit distorted. HD FM is compressed at broadcast, but expanded at the receiver. Voices sound more correct, and music may be more correct as well. Regular AM sounds awful, but HD AM is amazingly good. It's not as dynamic or lovely as HD FM, but it's quiet and musical, even on a high-resolution system. You can actually enjoy AM, and the Sangean may be worth owning for that reason alone. Plus, all HD channels are free! What a deal!
With its very good sound quality, its ton of features, and its bargain price, the Sangean HDT-1 HD Radio Component Tuner is a must for those looking to experiment with Hybrid Digital AM and FM. On HD broadcasts, its performance is like that of a good CD player, with oodles of surprising definition. Standard FM does not sound quite as it does on today's (and yesterday's) super tuners, but good enough to enjoy, even on a high-resolution system. The Sangean's quietude and sensitivity are amazing. HD FM is unpredictable, but it is almost always powerful, quiet, and more linear than conventional FM, with a bigger soundstage. HD AM is very good, and a big improvement over regular AM. The Sangean HDT-1 is easy to operate, a ton of fun, and may be all the tuner you'll ever need. Way recommended! Robert H. Levi