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What you need to know about HD Radio®

Get more clarity and info from your favorite AM/FM stations

Maybe you've heard something about HD Radio, and the promise of better sound and more listening options from local stations. Sounds pretty cool, right? But what does that mean for us listeners? It’s been a while since I checked out HD Radio, so I decided it was time for a little road trip. But first, let's discuss the basics. 

What is HD Radio?

HD Radio technology allows broadcasters to transmit a high-quality digital signal that piggybacks traditional AM and FM frequencies. For listeners who have a car stereo with a built-in HD Radio tuner, the benefits are:

  • No subscription fees (as in free!!)

  • No smartphone needed (so no data used)

  • No more static, pops, crackles or fades

  • FM radio that sounds almost as good as a CD

  • AM radio that sounds as good as traditional FM

  • Displayed information, including station ID info, song and artist titles, weather, traffic, and emergency alerts

  • Increased listening options with station multicasting

3 car stereo head units

We carry car stereos with built-in HD Radio tuners from several stereo makers.

No more static, pops, crackles, fades...and no monthly payments

The digital signal is less vulnerable to reception problems. The radio tuner's digital processors eliminate the static, pops, hisses, and fades caused by interference. You hear only clear, clean, and rich sound. Should you lose the digital signal for some reason (obstructing terrain, nearing the edge of the broadcast area, etc.), HD Radio technology defaults back to analog mode, similar to the way non-HD Radio receivers switch from stereo to mono mode when receiving a weak signal. And like analog radio, HD Radio is subscription-free.

FM radio with near CD-quality sound

Digital technology allows a radio station to transmit more information in the same radio wave. Primarily, this means higher quality sound. So much more so that FM transmissions can sound nearly as good as CDs, and definitely much better than the hollow sounds of old analog FM. How much better the music sounds will depend on your local stations and your radio gear.

AM radio that sounds as good as FM Stereo

AM radio uses smaller sections of bandwidth than FM. There is not enough bandwidth for HD Radio to give AM stations the same CD-quality signal as FM stations. But there is enough room to give AM stations clarity equivalent to current analog FM stereo radio. This boost in sound quality makes AM radio a viable alternative to FM, which means more options for listeners.

A difference that you can really hear

I asked our social media guru, Alexis, if she’d like to take a drive and give our local HD Radio stations a listen – and grab a tasty drive-in burger. So we searched for available HD Radio stations in town, plugged them into my radio’s presets, and headed out of town.

two people riding in a car

I definitely noticed a drastic improvement in sound as we listened to some of the local stations in HD. HD stations don’t suffer from audio compression like streaming and satellite radio can. This was the first time Alexis had experienced HD Radio. She also noted the impressive sound difference; HD Radio stations had fuller sound with better bass.

HD Radio display information

HD Radio provides a lot more onscreen info than conventional radio does.

Transmission of additional information

Another benefit of digital radio is the radio station's ability to transmit additional information along with the music signal. With compatible receivers, you can view album art, logos, and more, when provided by the station. Stations can also include local and regional information, such as weather updates, emergency alerts, or even traffic jams, and road construction. Traffic data is delivered up to 10 times faster than other broadcast methods.

Multicasting

In addition to duplicating their analog programming with an HD Radio broadcast, stations can subdivide the digital portion of their signal into "sub channels." This allows a station to "multicast" — that is, broadcast two or more programs simultaneously. Listeners might have a choice of, say, a sports game or music. These additional channels can only be received on an HD Radio tuner. But just as cable TV allowed specialized networks to flourish, multicasting provides the potential for stations to offer more niche programming — ultimately giving the listener a greater variety of formats to choose from.

Pioneer stereo with HD Radio station info

This radio station offers its listeners three different channels of programming

Alexis and I dove into the different sub channels — alternative content that some of our local stations offer. Alexis tapped the display to tune into several of the sub channels that one station, WVTU 89.3, broadcasts to check in on the news in between songs.

HD Radio technology works a lot like traditional analog radio

  1. The radio station sends out the analog and digital radio signals, along with a third signal for text data.

  2. The digital signal is compressed before being transmitted.

  3. The three-layered signal is transmitted from the radio station's upgraded digital transmitter.

  4. Multipath interference, caused by the signal reflecting off of buildings, is ignored by the digital radio, which is able to discern the true signal and ignore interference.

  5. Your radio receives the signal and, depending on your equipment, you hear either the digital or analog feed.

What we experienced

The type of hilly terrain in our part of central Virginia can pose challenges for radio, but Alexis and I kept our signal far beyond the city limits. Alexis watched the display to see when we lost the HD signal, which happened just a few miles before we lost a station completely.

Collage of roadtrip photos and a GPS map

With our course plotted, we headed down the highway to test HD Radio... and chomp on some yummy food.

When an HD signal dropped out (they don’t travel quite as far as analog), there was no static; the radio kicked back to the analog signal and kept playing — which we could see happen on my radio’s display.

What HD Radio technology is not

HD Radio technology is not a subscription service, like satellite radio is. It is the same free, over-the-air broadcast radio that we've always known. Only better. You just need a stereo that includes a built-in HD Radio tuner to enjoy it.

HD Radio is also not the same as satellite or Internet radio. Rather, it's an improvement to terrestrial AM and FM radio. Satellite and Internet radio, on the other hand, are alternatives to broadcast radio, in the same way that cable and satellite TV are alternatives to over-the-air television. Even if you do have satellite or Internet radio, there are often times when you want to listen to your local station — and that's where HD Radio could be handy.

Find the HD Radio sound in your town

You can go to hdradio.com to see the stations in your area that are on-the-air with HD Radio, as well as those stations that have licensed the technology and will eventually be broadcasting with it. More radio stations are investing in the upgrade. They want to keep up with the enhanced sound quality of digital radio (and please their sponsors). And whether we upgrade right away or wait until our next vehicle has a built-in HD Radio receiver, we, as listeners, win.

iPhone with station information

It had been a while, but I enjoyed hearing HD Radio stations once again. It was also cool hearing Alexis’s reactions to it, since she hadn’t heard it before. And yes, the burgers and ice cream at the Colleen Drive-In (a hidden gem in Arrington, Virginia) were super tasty.

Hear it for yourself

HD Radio receivers are being offered as optional factory equipment in an increasing number of new automobiles, but if you’re shopping for a new car stereo, look for one that includes an HD Radio tuner. And remember, our Advisors can help you select the right radio for your ride. You can reach them by phone, email, or chat online.

[Shop our selection of HD Radio receivers.]

Last updated 7/25/2019
  • Ed R. from Culpeper

    Posted on 11/29/2019

    Any thoughts on David W's comment from 2018? I just went out black friday shopping at Crutchfield and Best Buy, came home empty handed. Now I'm searching the web and find nothing. Are there no home AV receivers that have HD radio tuners? If so, why?

    Ken Nail from Crutchfield on 12/2/2019
    Ed - I'm sorry that you haven't been able to locate a home receiver with an HD Radio tuner. If you're a fan of a local radio station that broadcasts an HD Radio signal, it would be nice to be able to enjoy that in your home. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though home audio manufacturers believe that there's a sufficient market to include that feature.
  • Alan from Australia

    Posted on 6/22/2019

    I am not surprised that so many posters are complaining of either switching back to analog on HD1 or going to silence on HD2 and HD3. The HD radio standard requires the power of the digital signal to be 0.1 % or less, of the main FM signal to prevent interference to the station which is broadcasting but also the digital signal is in the adjacent channel on both sides of the broadcaster. Other more distant broadcasters use these adjacent channels. As a result such weak signals as well as interference from other stations causes the digital signal to drop out as you move away from the transmitter even if the FM signal is ok. The transmission of the digital signal is sent in blocks which are internally shuffled to error correct short bursts of errors. As a result the digital signal must be delayed to perform the shuffle at the station and at the receiver causing the digital signal to be delayed. So that the receiver may go from analog to digital and back again, the station should delay the analog signal by that amount of delay to make the transition inaudible.

  • Jim Cesario from Chicago

    Posted on 5/1/2019

    I replaced the battery in my car and I'm no longer able to connect to any of the HD stations I was connected to previously. How can I regain the signal again? Thanks

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield on 5/3/2019
    Jim, that is strange. If you're dealing with a factory radio, that may be a question for the dealership. If it's an aftermarket radio and you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.
  • Bill from Charlotte

    Posted on 4/29/2019

    HD Radio is great- when it works. Of the dozen or so stations in the Charlotte area that I've been able to locate, only 2 of them have reliable signals. The others fade in and out, sometimes for a second or two, sometimes longer. My vehicle came with a built in HD radio so it's not an antenna issue.

  • Frank Stevens from Crystal River

    Posted on 12/9/2018

    HD radio is quite annoying to listen to fading from analog to digital. I can drive another 28 miles with just the analog. Another little thing I just recently learned. It will destroy an analog signal before and after it. Check out the YouTube video. https://youtu.be/lOdji1J9uAU

  • Elizabeth Tarjanyi from Las Vegas

    Posted on 6/25/2018

    I live in Las Vegas and listen to radio stations in San Francisco thru my phone on the internet, I have an app called simple radio, but was wondering if HD portable radios would pick up the stations in San Francisco? ( I'm not supposed to use my phone during work)

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield on 7/2/2018
    Elizabeth, not likely. Broadcast range of HD Radio is comparable to standard FM, so you won't pick up an SF station in Las Vegas. Internet radio is going to be your only option in that case.
  • Bob Thomas from Flag Pond

    Posted on 3/30/2018

    Great article! I bought a Pioneer HD FM receiver several years ago for my car and love it. I am looking for a home upgrade for my sound systems. My HD FM stations are between 30-50 miles away, so reception is not a problem.

  • David W. from Springfield

    Posted on 3/22/2018

    Why are there no new AV receivers with HD radio built in? I love HD radio and it's time for me to upgrade for 4K and Atmos. Am I stuck with only last years models?

  • Shane R from San Antonio

    Posted on 1/21/2018

    My car has a HD radio and it is completely annoying to listen to. Even though I am in a major city, the HD signal will cut in and out constantly. When it cuts in/out, the regular signal will take over. The problem is that the regular signal is slightly out of sync with the HD signal so the song will sound funny every time this happens. I can manually turn off HD radio, but my car doesn't remember this setting after I turn it off. So every time I get in the car, I have to remember to go through the menus and manually turn off HD radio. It's a total pain. I wish HD radio would just go away!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/31/2017

    Virgil, unfortunately we don't carry HD Radio boosters. If you believe that radio performance is an issue, you may want to consider upgrading to a new radio. If so, give us a call, and an advisor can help you find the right solution for you.

  • Virgil from Lynchburg

    Posted on 3/31/2017

    As John mentioned my 2014 Silverado has lost a lot of the signal with the HD radio. I can not cut off the HD on the Radio and have it stay off. The reception is like a older receiver jumping from mono to stereo every few miles and it will not pick up as far away from the station as it use to. Is their a booster available for the HD service or a HD attenna available ? Thanks Virgil;

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/28/2017

    John, depending on the strength of your local HD station, that can happen. You can rest a little easier knowing that it's not your receiver causing the trouble, but rather -- the broadcast.

  • john from lemont il

    Posted on 3/23/2017

    in my 2014 chevy truck hd will fade in and out, on any station I listen to, it will be fine 5 seconds later it goes out then switches back to hd randomly

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/11/2016

    Erik, you'll need a car stereo with an HD Radio tuner built-in.

  • Erik from Stratford

    Posted on 10/6/2016

    Do I need a special HD antenna?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/26/2016

    Larry, since you're streaming audio via the internet, quality will depend on your carrier and signal speed among other things. That's not a traditional HD Radio signal (which is over the air). But as long as you're happy with the sound, that's what matters most!

  • Larry from geneva

    Posted on 9/25/2016

    I listen to HD radio stations off my PC via the internet. Since the station is broadcasting in digital and its coming in via the internet, am I getting digital hd reception w/o buying a special radio?

  • Kenneth Kissel from Brackenridge PA

    Posted on 9/20/2016

    For those with questions about HD Radio. Here is what you should know. 1. HD Radio is Very Clear if you are close to the station's antenna with good signal. (I live in Pittsburgh using a portable HD Radio and can get Most of the HD station's with no or little breakup 30 miles from the city.) 2. It Depends on the station but you can get National Programs via HD Radio. (For Example KDKA-FM HD3 is the National Broadcast Feed of CBS Sports Radio) . 3. More HD Stations are found in Bigger Cities than Smaller Cities (Pittsburgh has 14 frequencies with HD Radio and 12 of them have Subchannels). 4. Home and Portable HD Radios are better than Car HD Radios. 5. Most Big AM station's are on FM HD subchannels.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/19/2016

    Rob, here's a list of the car stereos (receivers) we carry that have built-in HD Radio tuners. Hopefully, that clears things up.

  • Rob from Houston

    Posted on 7/19/2016

    I see the words "tuner" and "receiver" used in that write-up as if they mean the same thing. Is that a fact for this car radio technology? By contrast, I have an "internet radio" tuner in my house that takes its signal from by cable wi-fi router and plugs into the AUX in on my old stereo, giving me beautiful "HD radio" in that system. The car radio is another matter, obviously. So, if I read "HD tuner" for car radio, can I assume that means the whole system--tuner, receiver, amplifier--everything but speakers?

  • Russ from Duncan British Colum

    Posted on 3/5/2016

    Contrary to your information above, an HD radio gives you more stations in that the same frequency that gave you 1 analog broadcast or programs can now give you 2 or 3 broadcasts on the same frequency. I have a high end Kenwood Excelon HD radio/cd which I bought from your company online since it was not available in Canada. I have used it for almost 2 years now. I drive for a living and listen to radio most of the time, what happens is that with some distant stations - HD1 works better than HD2 which in some areas will switch on and off so you end up hearing nothing sometimes whereas HD1 for NPR 88.5 FM coming from Seattle does not switch off and will revert back to the old analog broadcast if the signal is too weak (Seattle is about 150 miles from where I live in Canada), I therefore assume that in this case HD2 does not have an analog broadcast running with the HD signal as HD1 does, which in this instance is particularly unfortunate since HD2 broadcasts jazz and blues music only which I love, whereas HD1 has news shows for a good part of the day. Despite the limitations, HD radio is great and I would never go back to an analog only FM radio.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/16/2015

    Carlos, unfortunately, no. If you haven't already, it would be worth listening to as many HD Radio stations as you can. It may be that the station you listen to the most doesn't cast as strong a signal as others. If this is not the case and you feel that your FM reception has generally become poorer since installing a new radio, there's a possibility that a connection in your car's amplified antenna was not made during installation.

  • Carlos Alvarado from SACRAMENTO

    Posted on 11/16/2015

    Is there a way to boost the HD digital radio signal that is being received? I bought a Pioneer AVH-X8500BHS DVD receiver, but the HD signal keeps cutting in and out here in Sacramento, California.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/12/2015

    Claudio, in most cases, yes. An HD Radio tuner allows analog AM/FM tuning as well, but you confirm by checking the Details tab of the stereo in which you're interested.

  • Claudio

    Posted on 10/10/2015

    If I buy a HD Radio tuner, can I her traditional FM Stations (if the station only transmits in the older way)?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/8/2015

    Jeanne, an HD Radio tuner is not going to gain you more stations, it just makes the handful of local stations transmitting a digital signal sound a lot better. A SiriusXM satellite radio subscription and tuner on the other hand will give you a new, wide variety of stations, including talk radio.

  • Jeanne Moynagh from Tavares

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    Does HD radio provide more stations than local? I enjoy talk radio from other stations and find it is not available.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015

    Od, sounds like a question for HD Radio. Good luck!

  • Od from UB

    Posted on 8/23/2015

    Thanks your article, My question is that how can I implement this hd radio technology in Mongolia, non-hd radio broadcasting company, is this a big work for company, is that country related issue? Could you tell me approxiamte investment to bring this technology in my country?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/6/2015

    Gary, you will not be able to listen to more stations with HD Radio. You'll simply receive greater clarity, as you noted. If you're interested in more stations, you may want to look into a SiriusXM subscription. We have quite a few radios that are CD players, give you HD Radio, and are SiriusXM-ready (an additional tuner is required). Enter your vehicle information to find out what will fit your dash.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/6/2015

    Warren, the processing required for the digital signal of HD Radio before transmission does create a delay. Typically, the broadcaster will delay the analog signal so that if there is a break in the HD signal, you will hear the time-aligned analog signal in sync. If this blended signal has not been calibrated, you could hear a delay in the broadcast. However, 1-2 two minutes does sound extreme. If it continues to happen and you're inclined to, you could call your local station and let them know what you're hearing.

  • Warren MANGAN from Abington pa

    Posted on 8/6/2015

    Hi Does HD radio delay the signal? I cell called my wife in her new subaru I was in a new chev van, to say what did she think of the PBS story just finished on the news. She said I was interrupting her, but story had finished on my radio. So we hung up and it was still part way thru on her radio! Maybe 1-2 minutes behind! She then pointed out that the radio time appeared to be off too! She was not using satellite radio. Could this be H D radio causing this? W

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/4/2015

    Not at all, Bob! HD Radio doesn't replace existing analog broadcasts, so you can still listen to your favorite radio stations with your existing radio.

  • bob from florence

    Posted on 8/3/2015

    Does this mean my Bose Wave Radio is outdated.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/3/2015

    Jeanine, no, that's not true. To listen to HD Radio, you need a stereo equipped with a built-in HD Radio tuner. To listen to SiriusXM, which is different and a subscription-based service, you need a stereo equipped with a SiriusXM tuner or compatible with an add-on SiriusXM tuner. There are stereos equipped for both.

  • Jeanine Bell from Pinckney

    Posted on 8/3/2015

    My local BestBuy told me I needed to be subscribed to Sirus to get HD radio. Is this true?

  • Gary Lee from Washburn

    Posted on 7/16/2015

    With HD radio will I be able to listen to MORE stations, or just the same local stations with more clarity? I'm in northern Wisconsin where radio is just plain garbage. I wouldn't be able to listen to HD stations from other areas/states? It seems that if I updated to HD car radio I lose the use of my CDs. Thank you....

  • Ted Fleischaker from Portland, Maine

    Posted on 5/22/2015

    I bought an HD for my Jeep last year and finally moved to a city (Portland, Maine) where there is something on HD I want to hear in the form of W-Bach, the classical station. Sadly the HD signal is transmitted from 30+ miles away and while I can easily hear their standard FM local repeater here the HD one cuts in and out all over town. HD is a great idea and maybe in downtown NYC or LA or Chicago would be great but in Portland it really is a mess even with the radio operating at full capacity. It's more or less an idea whose time is not here yet because simply put, it does not work as adverised. I will give 75% blame for the failure to the FCC for licensing only weak power for the HD1 and HD2 channels (W-Bach is HD2 of WTHT 99.9), but the other 25% of the blame I reserve for the receiver manufacturers who in their rush to offer internet capable or smart phone hook up capable devices send pittances on their receivers' tuning sections, leaving listeners unable to get even basic radio...much less the lower powered HD signals. Save your cash and don't bother is my advice....

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/20/2015

    Larry, thanks for pointing this out. A good way to think about HD Radio reception is this: An HD Radio tuner is not going to improve your reception, it just makes the handful of stations transmitting a digital signal sound a lot better. If you live in an area where it's difficult to get a good signal now, that's not likely to change when you add a stereo with an HD Radio tuner. If you're lucky, it'll hold onto those stations that transmit an HD Radio signal a little bit better than others, but there's no guarantee. We're sorry HD Radio proved to be unsatisfying for you.

  • larry bernstein from richmond, va.

    Posted on 5/19/2015

    I believe it is miss leading to give people only half of the facts of HD in a car radio. I believe it is a great source in your home and stationary but in a car the HD signal will go in and out as it hits those areas of interference. At least on the AM side and when it goes in and out it is incredibly irritating. Never explained to me when I bought my unit and for that reason it is going back

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/11/2015

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed the article. To answer your question about HD Radio adapters for the home, the only option we can offer for home HD Radio reception is to buy a home receiver that has an HD Radio tuner already built in. You can see our current lineup at the following address: HD Radio receivers for the home.

  • dong from torrance CA

    Posted on 5/10/2015

    very nice article! Why then do am stations broadcast in stereo with multi-channel capability? I havnt seen HD radio in stores except HD radios in cars. Is there adaptor to connect to existing am or fm radio for home? Thanks.

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