Sony XDR-F1HD and FM DXing

(SN 103062, thru R&J Music, arrived June 9, 2008)

First, this is mostly a subjective review as I have no vast array of lab-quality test equipment with which to determine this specific unit's precise parameters. For that sort of detailed, in-depth review see here, here, or here. Also, my 35+ years of FM-DXing experience has been almost exclusively with analog-tuned equipment, the last nearly 29 years with a Realistic TM-1001. Its "claimed" specs can be found here, which do not take into account my modifications of adding two 150-kHz ceramic i.f. filters in 1990 (and later replacing them, at times since 2006, with 110-kHz units). A (somewhat unfinished) rendition of its schematic appears here. A Conrad RDS Manager was added in 2000, with DOS computer software from a serial cable link enabling the alphanumeric display of the PI codes (NOT call letters!) added in late 2001. As the PI code is sent 11 times as often as the others, it will very often display before the Conrad's own LCD shows anything but perhaps "-----". Only very recently (June 2008) was I able to make an additional mod permitting other software to decode the Conrad's data stream (several samples). All of this is so that you will know what I am comparing it to. As others have mentioned, the Sony does run warm. If concerns about adequate ventilation are a problem then any small 12-vdc fan across it might be advisable. The largest hurdle for me, a veteran of tuning knobs, is trying to become aclimated to pushbutton tuning, especially on the somewhat crowded remote control where some adjacent buttons can be (are) activated by mistake. Having to push twice to change a channel with its 100-kHz increments becomes an ergonomic chore. Holding down the button will slew thru things faster. And, unlike my analogs, getting from 107.9 to 88.5 doesn't require any huge reversal tuning action across an entire dial! The 20 presets enable one to quickly select their favorite (near)blank channel and then navigate around that. Only the remote permits random access of the presets though. It might be nice if someone with enough tech savvy could devise an external circuit with a photochopper wheel activating an IR LED with the proper up/down tuning codes to mimic the "ease" of knob tuning for the Sony (or some less-elaborate rotary-encoder circuit shunted across the up/down pushbuttons on the unit itself). The s-meter, if one can bestow that name to it, is a highly-limited 3-bar display. Once it has maxed, it is impossible to see any fading rate/depth occurring above that level. Such information is very valuable in determining if a given signal tuned upon is Es or just tropo that should be ignored. Also, the Sony doesn't appear to handle the deep QSB on weak signals well (Es or tropo) as their audio will often exhibit rather abrupt ms-like bursts. Several "real" meteor bursts have been observed, all apparently too short for any decodes (if indeed they had HD/RDS). Though you can't hear the adjacent IBOC whine/hiss like on an analog tuner the "s-meter" easily shows that it is still there. Whether any "real" signal can penetrate that more readily on the Sony hasn't been definitively observed yet. It may be that the only "semi-cure" for IBOC sidebands is some sort of phase nulling with the likes of Andy Bolin's Phase Box. (See the graphic at the bottom of this page for the impact of my local HD stations.) numerous screenshots Sony of HD local/area decodes Multi-channel HD decodes of locals hinder tuning thru them as they all have to be stepped through to get to the next "real" channel. Also, once a HD/RDS decode occurs it will be retained as long as you remain tuned to that channel or another HD/RDS signal comes along and replaces it. HD decodes "in progress" will also mute the audio even though their full LCD info shows. The 92.9 in Pasadena, TX (185 miles at 87 deg) was doing that battling our local (24 miles at 124 deg) on tropo! One disconcerting finding during my first Es event with the Sony was noting a lack of any decodes, switching to the TM-1001 and finding an easy RDS decode for KNOX, 94.7, Grand Forks, ND ("The Rooster", etc), then going back to the Sony on 94.7 and still having it not decode. Some careful A-B comparisons with my step attenuator on locals might be in order, but few run RDS without HD (and even a few have HD without RDS). The largest DXing drawback is it not showing the PI codes from the RDS stream. If the entire, intact RDS stream exists interchip it could be tapped and decoded for PI with external hardware/software, but if it remains an intrachip item then it is lost to such access. The selectivity of the Sony has permitted me to hear things on channels adjacent to my non-IBOC locals that have been rare to non-existant since that local emerged (e.g., 88.5 next to 88.3). When pointed at the array of half-dozen 100-kw's c. 9 miles wnw of me the Sony doesn't collapse into intermod (like my TM-1001 did, requiring that step attenuator). There is some noticeable splatter on the adjacents from the non-IBOC's out there (noteably 89.1) then though. An oddity (apparently peaking at them) is KENS-5 audio on 102.2 MHz! So, overall, for the c. $100, it is a definite bargain, but don't expect a panacea. ADDENDA: With a Radio Shack 15-1141E splitter and equal lengths of RG-6 jumpers XDR-F1HD TM-1001 s-meter 1 bar c. 25% of full scale 2 bars c. 40% of full scale 3 bars c. 50% of full scale (The adjacent channels to most of the IBOC locals register 3 bars.) Considering that most locals produce 75% of full scale or greater on the TM-1001, it shows how much loss of strong-signal QSB display is available from the Sony. Perhaps an area for another add-on mod for the technically capable out there.
My FM Band Environs
What the site generated for this QTH (with my annotations for the local HD stations): for WA5IYX
Note that the above "calculated" dBm levels do not take into account the extra db of the antenna gain when I am beamed at the locals which can "challenge" the front end of a tuner. Several stations listed have never been heard (if on yet) while many other more-distant ones (e.g., Houston, Corpus Christi, etc) are common, depending on where the antenna is beamed and the tropo enhancement levels.
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