Do I Need a Special Antenna to Receive HD Radio?

No, but you do need the right tuner

You can receive HD Radio signals with the antenna that came with your car, as long as that antenna is in good shape. Even if you drive a 40-year-old truck, the antenna is more than equal to the task of pulling in HD Radio broadcasts. However, unless you have a head unit that's capable of pulling the digital HD Radio signal out of the standard analog broadcast of your favorite station, a potentially more expensive upgrade is in order.

HD Radio Isn't HDTV

The transition from analog to digital in the radio world worked differently from the way it did in television, which is why your existing head unit still works. When digital television flipped the switch in the United States, the frequency that each station was broadcast on changed. The FCC could then "reclaim" the old frequencies for another usage, which is why old TVs don't work without adapters, and you can buy special HDTV antennas.

Digital HD Radio signals are broadcast alongside the analog signals, using the same frequency ranges that have been in use for decades. In fact, that implementation has led to one of the biggest complaints about HD Radio.

The good part is that technology developed by iBiquity allows stations to send out their analog broadcasts sandwiched between two digital sidebands within the same bandwidth they used for just the analog programming. The bad part is that strong digital sidebands can bleed into adjacent frequencies and interfere with less powerful analog stations. In either case, you can only access the digital signals via special HD Radio tuners that are built into some head units.

Since iBiquity's method involves broadcasting both analog and digital signals on the same old frequencies, you don't need a special antenna to receive HD Radio.

Tuning Into HD Radio

Some OEM head units come with a built-in HD Radio tuner, but the feature is also available from the aftermarket. If your head unit can't receive HD Radio stations, and you're sure that there are HD Radio broadcasts in your area, you'll need to upgrade. In that case, you have two options; either replace the head unit or install an HD Radio tuner add-on.

If you're ready for an upgrade, there are a lot of great head units out there that come with built-in HD Radio tuners. The feature is far from universal, though, so you shouldn't take it for granted that any head unit will play HD Radio channels. If you don't see the iBiquity HD Radio logo on the box, then double-check the feature list before you buy.

If you like your factory radio, or you just upgraded your head unit, and it doesn't have an HD Radio tuner, an add-on unit will be a better option. Some add-on HD Radio tuners are universal, which means you can use them with virtually any head unit. These add-ons typically come with a remote display, since your existing head unit won't be able to display the additional information that comes along with an HD Radio signal.

Other add-on tuners work with a specific type of head unit, which is typically a better and cheaper option if you own a compatible head unit. Certain Pioneer, Clarion, Sony, and other head units have add-on tuners that allow you to listen to HD Radio stations. Since these add-ons interact with your head unit, they can display information like song titles and artist names on the head unit display.

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