Since the advent of satellite radio, I've pretty much given up on terrestrial radio, but my experience with HD Radio gave me hope. I went to hdradio.com and printed a list of HD stations broadcasting in Portland, Oregon. Of the 13 on the list, however, only eight were actually broadcasting in HD, which the I-Sonic indicates via an HD icon. The HD indeed sounded much better than the conventional FM broadcasts from the stations I listened to - bass was more pronounced, and the music didn't have that overly compressed, trebly sound you usually get with FM. But the real payoff is access to HD sub-frequencies, essentially additional channels with unique programming. For example, KIJZ at 105.9-1 transmits smooth-jazz pap, but the station's HD2 traditional-jazz format at 105.9-2 played gems such as Erroll Garner's "Paisley Eyes." Even better was finding out that one click over from country station KWJJ at 99.5-1 was a hardcore blues channel playing Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and Bessie Smith's "Downhearted Blues" at 99.5-2. You get the idea. Happily, when you find stuff you like, you can fill the I-Sonic's 30 presets with any combination of stations from AM, FM, or XM, including these alternate HD streams.
I also connected the I-Sonic to a 32-inch Sony Trinitron TV in my bedroom to see how it worked as a mini home theater of sorts. Cueing up the James Bond flick Die Another Day one evening, I was mesmerized by the crash-and-burn hovercraft scene in Chapter 4. While it didn't have the impact of my full-blown home theater, for late night in-bed viewing, the I-Sonic was ideal. I also checked out the Norah Jones and The Handsome Band - Live in 2004 music DVD, and the sound was so absorbing that for a moment I forgot it was coming from what amounts to a seriously glorified clock radio.
BOTTOM LINE While there's little doubt that the Polk Audio I-Sonic tabletop audio system is near the top of the heap among table radios, the questions still remain: Does your world need an I-Sonic, and is the extra dough - $599 prior to any discounts or rebates - worth it? If you just need something to wake you up in the morning and play CDs, go with the $30 Wal-Mart special. But if you want to spin nearly every disc in your collection, if you're a radio junkie who craves the latest and greatest radio technology, if you appreciate good sound, then the I-Sonic will surely make your world - and the start of each day - much more musical.
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