(CNET.com) -- JVC's KD HDR1 is one of the few in-car stereos on the market that comes with a built-in HD (hybrid digital) radio tuner. HD radio works by sending out a traditional analog signal as well as digital signal, which can be used to transmit text data such as song and artist details.
Radios with a built-in HD receiver sort through the multiple signals and reproduce the original broadcast without the multipath distortion associated with standard analog FM and AM reception. The KD HDR1 can also play MP3 and WMA discs and can be connected to iPods and satellite radio via add-on modules.
Like other products from JVC's KD range we've seen, the single-DIN-size KD HDR1 features a well-designed control interface with a good combination of buttons and dials for selecting and tweaking audio sources.
On the left of the KD HDR1's faceplate, a backlit D pad provides the means of skipping tracks and folders (for disc-based audio) and radio channels (including multicast programs on HD radio); it also acts as a proxy control interface for iPods, which are connected via an optional module.
A volume dial and a standard row of hard buttons along the bottom of the system's single-line monochrome display rounds out the picture. While we are not crazy about the size of the display and the fact that it is limited to showing eight characters at a time, it is bright enough to be visible from the driver's seat, even in direct sunlight.
The KD HDR1's headlining feature is its built-in HD radio receiver. Comparing the sound quality of HD- and standard- analog broadcast on the KD HDR1 is easy, as it takes up to 10 seconds for the device to pick up the radio channel's HD signal after it has found the regular analog signal. During the time it takes to lock onto the digital signal, an HD icon flashes in the bottom right-hand corner of the display.
The difference between the two signals is startling: when the HD mode kicks in, the audio output becomes far clearer, with the hissing and fuzz associated with regular FM broadcasts completely eliminated. In HD mode, the KD HDR1 reproduces instruments and voices with greater clarity, and acoustic separation is far more distinct than in analog mode.
Another benefit of HD radio (other than its being free) is its ability to carry multiple channels of music from the same radio station--so-called "multicasts." Most HD stations have only one or two channels on each channel to date, but there is potential for up to seven channels to be multicast on a single FM or AM frequency.
For disc-based media, the KD HDR1 plays CDs and homemade MP3 and WMA discs. If the latter are encoded with ID3 tag information, that can be called up on the stereo's monochrome LCD faceplate. Only eight characters of any one tag (artist/ track/ album etc) can be displayed at once, though tags can be set to scroll via an option in the Select menu.
Using JVC's KS-PD100 module ($50), the KD HDR1 can also be used to play music from iPods via a full-speed or "intelligent" connection, which transfers control of the iPod's library to the stereo itself. Navigation of the standard iPod menus (artists/ albums/ songs/ composers/ genres) using the KD HDR1 takes some getting used to, but it is surprisingly user-friendly for a device with such a basic display.
JVC uses the KD HDR1's four-way interface to mimic the buttons on an iPod itself. Pressing the Up button takes users back to a higher menu level (equivalent to pressing the Menu button on an iPod; Back and Forward select through menu options; and Down confirms a selection).
As with digital audio discs, the ID3 tag information for iPod tracks is limited to eight characters, making it sometimes difficult to recognize songs at a glance. Also on the down side, there is no generic auxiliary input jack to enable drivers to connect any digital audio players other than iPods.
The KD HDR1 comes with a built-in MOS-FET amp, giving it 20 watts of power through four channels. Like many modern car stereos it also has a two-line output (2.5 volts), and a dedicated subwoofer out for those wanting to connect it to their own bass bin.
Other settings include the option for Circle Sound surround sound signal processing for HD programs encoded with CS II. Circle Sound works by attempting to reproduce 5.1 surround-sound acoustics using only four speakers. Users can also select different intermediate frequency (IF) settings to reduce interference noise between stations, and can set amplifier gain control, which enables users to select the maximum power output level for the built-in amp to avoid blowing lower-powered speakers.
The KD HDR1 is a bargain for those looking for an in-car stereo with a built-in HD Radio tuner. While its monochrome display is a little small for navigating audio libraries, its user-friendly interface and range of supported sources make it an appealing option for the price. E-mail to a friend
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