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While CD players are pretty much obsolete in cars and most drivers are turning to their phones for infotainment, HD radio and satellite radio still exist. If you’re the type that would rather get into their car and have tunes playing right when you start it up, then you might make good use out of either one of these systems. But what is the difference between satellite and HD radio?

What is HD radio?

HD Radio does not stand for “high definition” radio, it’s merely just a brand name. However, it does “enable local broadcasters to offer better sound and additional digital content for free,” according to the HD Radio website. Think of it like a boosted signal for terrestrial radio that gives you much clearer sound without all the hissing.

One of the best parts is that HD Radio is available to you without a subscription and you only an HD Radio-compatible radio in order to listen to the available stations. Many new cars currently in the market are HD Radio compatible, so if you buy a new car then chances are that you can start listening to clearer radio stations right away.

But if you have an older car and what to experience radio in high definition, then you’ll need to buy an aftermarket radio that’s HD Radio compatible. Fortunately, many of the popular radios are listed on the HD Radio site.

A shot of the Pioneer AVH-1330 NEX head unit that's HD Radio compatible
Pioneer AVH-1330 NEX head unit |

What is satellite radio?

Satellite radio is operated by Sirius XM. Unlike HD Radio, satellite radio requires a subscription service and a separate antenna to get it working in your car, home, or when you’re on the go. The main benefit of satellite radio is that you can receive a clear signal when you’re in the middle of nowhere or even in an urban city sprawl, which means that you can listen to hundreds of channels almost anywhere since it relies on satellite signal as opposed to a terrestrial one.

One important thing to note is that while the satellite radio signal is clear, the stations don’t always have the best sound quality. And if you happen to drive underneath a bridge or tunnel, you may lose the signal altogether. However, satellite radio still provides commercial-free, non-stop entertainment provided you don’t mind paying the monthly fee.

What’s the difference between satellite radio and HD Radio?

As we can see, satellite radio works off of a satellite signal and requires a monthly subscription, while HD Radio does not. Many new cars on the market today are compatible with both HD Radio and satellite radio, but if you want to get satellite radio in your older car, then you will have to get an aftermarket radio head unit with a satellite radio antenna.

As far as which technology is right for you, Lifewire suggests that if you live in an area where HD Radio stations are prevalent and you don’t mind commercials, then you can enjoy having a clearer sound with a monthly subscription. But if you would rather have (mostly) ad-free listening and don’t mind paying for your audio entertainment, then satellite radio could be better for you.


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