Is there anything more
fun than listening to E Skip? Or staying up all night logging long haul
tropo, or going to bed at 4am and getting up for work at 8?
PLAYING WITH A SANGEAN HDT-1 HD TUNER
Just How Good Is This Tuner for FM Dxing?
(This edited article authored by me appeared in the February 2007 VHF-UHF Digest, the official WTFDA monthly publication)
Bill Nollman graciously allowed me to take his Sangean tuner home with me to try out for a while. I wanted to hear HD radio for myself, and I wanted to find out for myself if this tuner is as good as Bill, Keith McGinnis and Jeff Lehmann all say it is. After playing with and listening to this tuner for a few weeks, I definitely have thoughts on HD radio, HD audio quality and the selectivity of this radio with regard to FM DXing.
Let me tell you a few things about the Sangean. First, forget the letters HD and let’s pretend it is just your average $200 analog AM/FM stereo tuner.
The first thing I noticed about this tuner is its selectivity. Jeff sent me the tuner’s spec sheet. Selectivity is not even mentioned. But after playing with the unit for some days, I can guess.
My old Carver TX-11 with stock filters runs a bit over 30db adjacent channel selectivity. This tuner runs rings around the stock Carver. I thought my Carver with a couple of 150khz filters was pretty good and the same goes for the Denon 1500 and the Onkyo T450 RDS tuner but this tuner is right up there with them. If I had to guess, the Sangean is around 50db adjacent channel selectivity., maybe more.
I spent lots of time listening to my few open channels. 107.5 is completely open with no splatter from my local WACC-LP on 107.7 in any direction. The same goes for 102.5. Ottawa and Rome. NY are clear and it’s fun to listen to them come up out of the mud. And speaking of mud, this tuner sounds great at very low signal levels. I can compare this tuner to the modified Onkyo T450, which can bring signals out of the mush clearly.
Despite the narrow selectivity, this tuner sounds good, not muddy like some tuners get when loaded down with narrow filters.
This tuner shows RDS. I like the way the information is displayed on the front screen. RDS data pops up very fast. The tuner does not display PI codes, but what it does do is take the PI codes and turn them into call letters directly beneath the PS information. Most calls are correct but bogus PI codes from the Clear Channel stations show up as call letters beginning with K and there’s nothing we can do about that.
One negative to this tuner is overload. Bill has major issues with overload at his home in Farmington, where he can almost reach out and touch the towers. I’m a little luckier. I had no overload issues aiming into WMAS 94.7, about 10 miles north of my home and also in a direct line to WHYN 93.1. But turning my antenna west toward WAQY 102.1 and WPKX 97.9 (15 miles across the valley) gave me some overload. I noticed it from 87.5 to 88.0 for some reason in more than one direction. My situation was not serious. The overload was weak.
I had more overload pointed toward West Peak south of Hartford and home to a variety of Hartford transmitters. 104.5 was a mix of two or three stations and a few parts of the dial including that below 88mhz had some overload where I would not have expected. But the overload is on the weak side and would go away if I move the antenna a few degrees away from the antenna farm.
Another negative is the display. The display is always on, no matter whether the tuner is on or if the tuner is off. The display makes a nice blue night light. Why Sangean left it always on, I'll never know, but just don't keep the tuner near your bed unless you want to look at the display all night.
I would like to buy one of these eventually. The sensitivity, selectivity, audio quality and RDS display make this tuner a keeper.
Maybe now it is time to mention HD. The first thing I did when I hooked up this tuner to my Marantz amplifier was to attach some bunny ears and hunt for HD. This tuner immediately locked on to 14 stations with HD (yes, sad, isn’t it?). WAMC blinked the HD icon but wouldn’t decode. WPLR 99.1 would not decode with rabbit ears because its IBOC sidebands were blocked on both 98.9 and 99.3.
With my APS-13 connected, both WAMC and WPLR shifted into HD mode plus WEBE 107.9 in Westport (the Sangean caught the 108.1 IBOC sideband since 107.7 has my local WACC there). WEZN 99.1 sometimes decoded. No Boston stations decoded, but WWBB 101.5 and WWLI 105.1 both did decode much of the time. The tuner picked up the WWBB IBOC on 101.7 while it picked up the 105.3 IBOC from WWLI. WSRS 96.1 Worcester also decoded 100% of the time. Worcester is around 50 miles, Providence a bit further away.
I was particularly surprised to see WAMK 105.1 in Gt. Barrington MA locking in with HD. I would have never suspected it. I have three stations that have permanently tossed 105.3 into the dead zone. One is WWLI 105.1 in Providence, the next is new local WVEI 105.5 in the Springfield area and the last is WAMK on 105.1 Each one of these stations needs 105.3 to be heard here in HD at this location. 105.3 has been nuked here permanently.
One question that bothered me was why Sangean built this set with such good selectivity. I’ve heard that other HD radios (table radios) are also good in the area of selectivity.
Receiving a station in HD depends on the radio being able to see at least one IBOC sideband. If the radio’s selectivity was poor then the analog signal would spill all over the digital sidebands and render them completely useless.
But with selectivity as good as the Sangean’s, the tuner has no problem “seeing” at least one sideband, and that’s all it takes to decode into HD. In a way, it’s ironic that a tuner that was developed to deliver HD could also be considered a good DX tuner. I cannot believe it has no ceramic filters.
I would recommend the Sangean HDT-1 as a very good DX tuner. It has no meter, but unless you are using antenna phasing, you really don’t need one. What it does have, in the way of analog specs, makes up for the lack of a meter. And the price is nice also. You may never listen to HD, but it’s there just in case somebody someday puts something on their HD-2 channel you like. And that’s assuming that HD radio is still around in two or three years. We’ll see.
For another, much more technical review of the HDT-1, read this.