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Can You Get Tuners in the Big Apple?

Not only was it not connected to an antenna, it wasn’t connected to AC or an amplifier. Not a great way to sell a $500 piece of gear.

In an earlier article (March 12), I wrote of my experience searching out HD Radios in Cincinnati. The bottom line: The radios were available, but most salespeople were not particularly knowledgeable about HD Radio, nor were the tuners in most cases situated as to be able to receive HD-R signals.

As I conducted my search, I wondered if the situation would be any better in a larger market — say, New York City. So I decided, with the editors’ blessing, to do similar research in the Big Apple during a pleasure trip there.

I decided my best bet was to concentrate on home units, as most of the places I was to visit don’t sell car units. My experience recalled some of what happened in my home town, but I found different issues as well.

On a beautiful February day, I set out to check several businesses mentioned as “Regional Retailers” on the HD Radio Web site, plus a couple I’d done business with in the past or wanted to visit.

The sojourn began at Park Avenue Audio at 425 Park Avenue South at 29th Street. The staffer with whom I spoke was friendly but said they didn’t stock the unit.

Fuzzy HD-R facts

He also offered incorrect information about HD Radio, saying that they didn’t have any receivers in stock — though I believe I spied a Marantz SR8002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver, which includes HD-R as a feature, in one of the demonstration rooms.

“HD is just like SCA,” he told me. “If you can pick up analog, you can pick up HD.”

He said the problem of availability is largely due to the chip manufacturers, but, he said, “Soon everyone will be doing” HD-R.

My next stop was J&R Music World at 23 Park Row in Lower Manhattan, just across from New York’s pleasant City Hall Park.

I knew J&R was a big operation, but I had no idea how big until I walked the near-city block it inhabits.

A helpful staffperson guided me to the audio showroom on the second floor, where I was left undisturbed for nearly 45 minutes. However, I was hopeful when I found the Denon S-52 and the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 820HD Radio table units. Both picked up HD-R signals nicely.

On further inspection in the demo rooms, I came across the Sangean HDT-1X home theatre component tuner (my unit of choice), but while connected to AC, it was not connected to an antenna. Nearby sat the new Onkyo T-4555 home theatre tuner that includes HD-R — a unit I have been interested in trying.

Not only was it not connected to an antenna, it wasn’t connected to AC or an amplifier. Not a great way to sell a $500 piece of gear.

Although they’re mentioned on the J&R Web site, I didn’t see any evidence of the Sony XDR-S3HD table radio, the Polk I-Sonic ES1 or ES2 or the upscale Denon, Onkyo or Yamaha A/V receivers; though on the upscale products, I may not have investigated the store completely enough.

Still, I was able to hear HD Radio as WCBS(FM), New York HD1 and HD2 came in best on both the Denon S-52 and the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 820HD. But help? That was problematic as there were too few sales people in the audio department trying to handle too many customers.

I strolled uptown a ways to 627 Broadway, the site of Stereo Exchange. It’s a nicely laid-out store, but not a center for HD Radio. The gentleman behind the counter said their only HD-R unit was the $899 Rotel RT-1084 tuner. (He mentioned the price twice as if to say, “You want to spend $900 on a tuner?”)

Getting a signal

Did they have one for demo, I asked? In a story to be repeated at another Rotel dealer, he said no — but he’d be happy to order one for me. I demurred and continued the search.

Another jaunt up Broadway took me to Harvey Electronics located within the ABC Carpet & Home store at 19th and Broadway. Harvey is located on the mezzanine, well inside the six-story ABC building, so I was dubious that any HD Radios on display would receive enough signal to pick up digital, despite the mere 0.6 miles to the Empire State.

However, I was encouraged by the presence of a “Hear HD Radio Here” poster; it was one of three I saw during my travels in the city. Harvey was featuring two units: the Sangean HDR-1 and the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 820HD table units.

The most helpful salesperson went out of his way to demonstrate both to me. He had to find the remote for the Sangean to get past the opening set-up menu, but did so.

And he apologized for their location by saying, “It’s hard to pick up FM inside this building, let alone HD Radio.” But he placed both radios in as advantageous a location as possible and let me play.

Both units received analog FM (with some multipath) and both eventually locked into HD-R signals. Again, those that came in best were WCBS(FM) HD1 and HD2.

In my evaluation, the Sangean was the better unit; the Cambridge would lock, then lose the digital signal and have to go through the acquisition process several times.

The gentleman at Harvey wins my vote as most helpful salesperson. He knew the basics of HD-R at least, he didn’t try to lay a line of bull on me and he made certain I could sample HD Radio under the best circumstances possible in his store.

Back to the subway I went, in order to visit two Upper East Side retailers.

First on that docket was Cosmophonic Sound, 1622 First Avenue at 84th. I had helped a friend buy some speakers there a number of years ago and liked the way we were treated. So I thought they might be a good place to go.

They had only one unit on display, the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 820HD. This radio seems to be readily available in the Northeast; I never saw one in Cincinnati. It was placed next to another of the “Hear HD Radio Here” posters.

High-end audio

Unfortunately, the store is in the middle of a block-long retail complex that forms the base of a multi-story condo complex, so signal strength was inadequate for me to experience HD Radio.

The older gentleman who took over handling me from a far younger man made all the right soothing noises about not being able to let me listen to HD Radio.

He knew a bit about the process, that it was a digital signal that was piggybacked on the analog; that it offered the possibility of several channels of alternative programming. He was good at schmoozing the customer — making him or her feel more comfortable. He was up there with the salesperson at Harvey in my estimation, but in a different way.

The final stop of the day was the high-end Lyric Hi-Fi at 1221 Lexington, between 82nd and 83rd. Another friend said he once went into the store and was treated like so much dirt. Not so with me on my visit.

The store carries lots of fine gear — ARCAM, McIntosh, Mark Levinson — but no HD Radio.

This was the second place where I was told they could order me a Rotel RT-1084 tuner, again, at $899. The salesperson said he’d sold “three or four,” including one to a board member of public radio WNYC(AM-FM), but that they don’t carry them in stock.

However, for those of you who are interested in broadcast/hi-fi history, Lyric currently has an original, mid-1970s Sequerra One FM tuner complete with oscilloscope for a mere $7,000. As the guy put it, “There are better FM tuners today, but when it came out, it set records.”

The lessons I learned in the Big Apple were that HD Radios are a bit easier to find there, and the model selection, at least at J&R, is far better than I experienced in Cincinnati. But education of salespeople about HD Radio technology and the ability of potential customers to sample real HD-R broadcasts are still problematic.

If the HD Radio Alliance and Ibiquity want to sell HD Radios, it’s my suggestion they concentrate as much on educating retailers on HD Radio technology and what customers can expect as on their “It’s Time to Upgrade” customer-oriented ad campaign.

And HD Radios — car or home — need to be available for demonstration and capable of receiving HD-R signals, lest the technology go the way of AMAX and C-Quam AM stereo.

Radio World welcomes other points of view and experiences. Write to [email protected].