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Review: Insignia NS-ND01 portable HD radio

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front-smallIf you have been waiting for a portable HD radio, I have bad news for you. The Insignia NS-ND-01 is a joke. It feels and looks like a generic MP3 player from 2001. Even worse, it doesn’t work well out of the box.

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But let’s not focus totally on the sore spots. Once, and if, this radio tunes in an HD station, it sounds great. There is a noticeable difference between the station’s FM and HD stream. I don’t know if I would call it CD quality, but it’s better. But that’s what HD radio is supposed to sound like anyway.

You could even use this little radio as an external HD tuner in your car or at home. The trick is that you have to use a long cable as the device uses the headphones as an antenna. I tried two short 3.5mm cables before I figured it out and in turn, solved one of my dilemmas earlier in the day.

When I first opened up the device, I grabbed my trusty pair of JBL headphones instead of the included craptastic earbuds. I gave the radio a whirl and pulled in a couple of local HD stations. I was impressed.

But when I used the included earbuds – outside no less – I couldn’t pull in a single HD station and fewer FM stations auto-tuned. So not only do the included earbuds make the iPod’s stock earbuds sound like $500 Shure earphones, they don’t work well as an antenna either.

It’s just too bad that this player doesn’t have a good feel or look. The player screams of a cheap Chinese MP3 player from years ago. Even the side-mounted volume control is janky.

And the LCD. Oh, that LCD screen. Think back to your first color cell phone screen. This screen is just as washed out with light bleeding from the sides and a grainy overall look. It’s pathetically bad.

To be fair, this player is only $50, but I wouldn’t spend $20 on it. That may be because this radio is only equipped with a FM HD tuner and lacks an AM tuner altogether, which means I can’t tune in my local sports station’s HD stream. Also, this radio only managed to pull in two of the seven HD FM stations that are in my area and, as I noted earlier, that was when I used different earphones. The included earphones couldn’t pull in a single HD station.

I have no issue with the concept here. HD radio is here to stay and we’ll likely see more portable units eventually. Hold off on this model and wait until Sony or another reputable brand stuffs an HD tuner into one of their portable radios. The Insignia NS-ND01 isn’t worth the money.

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