HD and Internet Radio

Radio certainly has come a long way since the days of the dial. Aside from fancier presets, and the presence of pushbuttons, free music is no longer constricted to the car or a tiny transistor set. Don’t worry about huddling around a boombox or even the computer. Thanks to advances in technology, there are now plenty of ways to listen to radio, without having to sample the snaps, crackles and pops that are a trademark of the medium.

HD Radio

Despite what many people think, the HD in HD Radio does not stand for “high definition.” However, like its TV counterpart, this is a digital format, with the HD meaning “hybrid digital.” That means that HD Radio stations broadcast in both digital and analog signals. Stations that broadcast in HD are just your good old AM and FM stations that you know and love. However, HD makes them a lot better, with AM sounding more like FM and FM coming in close to CD-quality.

Naturally, the biggest benefit to HD Radio is the sound quality; you can skip the pops and just enjoy the audio. However, there’s another nifty perk: HD Radio stations can transmit other info besides sound. So next time you are wondering about that one-hit wonder, your HD Radio display can provide the artist and song title, as well as station call letters.

HD Equipment

Another nice thing about HD Radio is that it does not require listeners to pay a monthly fee. The one catch is that you can’t get those groovy sounds with your old boombox. To tune into HD Radio, you will need a new device. An HD Radio can run anywhere from under $100 to in the thousands, as part of a high-end audio component.

JVC’s new KD-HDR50 ($179.95) packs a CD receiver and iPhone/iPod hookup into your car’s HD Radio tuner. Even cooler than those crystal clear sounds is the unit’s iTunes Tagging capability. Available on a variety of newer models, this feature allows users to “tag” certain songs, so that you can purchase them later from the iTunes store. If you’re checking out a new car, plenty of manufacturers offer the HD Radio option, including Audi, Ford, Lincoln and Volvo.

JVC KD-HDR50

JVC KD-HDR50

There are also plenty of at-home HD Radio options. Denon is one of the many manufacturers packing this option into a higher-end receiver, from the $900 DRA-697CIHD to the $7,000 AVP-A1HDCI. Of course, you don’t have to spend that much or tie your radio into a larger A/V system. Cambridge SoundWorks has a nifty little tabletop number in the SoundWorks Radio 820HD ($199.99). Also, iLuv offers a much lower-priced model in the $99 i168.


HD Radio Programming

While your current tabletop or car radio might only receive a handful of clear stations, HD Radio can provide a few new options. According to iBiquity, there are currently 1,867 HD stations across the U.S. Unfortunately, if you live in Boston, your HD Radio won’t pick up music in California, or even Connecticut. Check HDRadio.com’s Station Guide for info on what HD stations are available in your area.


Web Radio

Slightly more confusing, but a lot cheaper, is Internet radio. Most people have a computer with speakers, which means they are already packing the tools to get web radio. Before we get into the options of web radio, let’s clear up one thing that it’s not. Web radio and podcasting are not the same thing. Listeners need to download podcasts, while web radio is available via streaming audio.

The beauty of web radio is that it’s available anywhere you have an Internet connection: on a laptop, a cell phone, or even stand-alone radio units. There is never static, and you never have to tune a dial. However, you may have to download a special player, depending on how your favorite service is offered.

Listeners wanting to get all old-school can tap into web radio without the need for a computer. There are many stand-alone tabletop units that can tap into web radio. Acoustic Research just announced two new radios, the ARIR200 Infinite Radio ($129.99) and the ARIR600I ($199.99). Both tap into web services such as Slacker. The ARIR200 allows users to rate songs, with the ARIR600i adding in an iPod dock. Other popular devices include the Logitech Squeezebox Boom ($299.99), Roku’s SoundBridge M1001 ($199.99) and the Philips Streamium NP1100 ($149).

Slacker G2There are also many ways to take web radio on the go. Slacker is a popular service – as well as a portable player. Purchase the Slacker G2 ($200 to $250) and you can take preloaded radio content on the go. Plenty of cell phone providers also provide web radio; Pandora has a wide reach, via Verizon, AT&T and Sprint devices.


Radio Stations

Many of your favorite radio stations have a web counterpart. However, there are plenty of streaming services that are strictly web-only. Here are a few that you’ll want to tune into:

  • Pirate Radio: Release an inner Howard Stern, or just share your one-hit wonder collection; this simple station allows anyone to create their own programming or sample other budding stations.

    Pirate Radio

    Pirate Radio

  • Last.fm: No chatty DJs are necessary here. Just type in your favorite band, and the service will play that artist, make recommendations, and allow you to join like-minded groups. Subscribe to the service and you can skip the ads and make playlists.

    Last.fm

    Last.fm

  • Live365.com: Similar to Last.fm, this service allows listeners to search by artist. The big exception is that the search engine will return suggestions of stations run by actual live people.

    Live365.com

    Live365.com

  • MTV Online Radio: This free service uses a Rhapsody player pop-up, and makes us long for the days when MTV actually used to play music.

    MTV Online Radio

    MTV Online Radio

  • Pandora Radio: Like some of the other stations, this free service asks for a song or artist. However, instead of making suggestions, it cuts to the chase and creates a killer playlist. Because it’s free, you can expect a few ads. If you want to skip them, it will cost you $36 a year.

    Pandora Radio

    Pandora Radio

    There are hundreds of services that want your subscription fees, as well as plenty of freebies to try out. Either way, there’s really no reason for you to ever touch that dial again. After all, why fumble with a little plastic knob, when there’s plenty of great audio at your fingertips?

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