July 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 7

Product Evaluations

Product Evaluation: Insignia Narrator, the Only Fully Accessible HD Radio on the Market

It's a small thing, but you're a smart person, and you know that if only you could read the instructions that came with your new piece of equipment, you could be using and enjoying it in a flash. How often have you paused over the box of some brand-new, shiny toy to reflect along these same lines: "I wish there were instructions in this box I could read."

Have you ever imagined how lovely it would be if, say, when you took a new radio out of the box, a CD containing the audio instruction for setting it up were right there in the box alongside that pesky printed user's guide?

That is exactly the step that Best Buy, in partnership with the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS), has taken in the launch of Best Buy's sleek, new, and fully accessible HD FM radio. The radio, designed by Best Buy's own Insignia Products team, is called the Narrator. When you take this radio out of the box, right there alongside the printed user's guide is an audio CD containing the complete user's guide conveniently divided into 12 audio tracks. When you take this radio out of the box, you can set it on a table, pop the CD into your computer or other player, and listen to the entire manual while examining the radio and absorbing its functions.

A Little History

IAAIS is a membership organization of radio reading and other information services throughout the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. In 2008, IAAIS was asked to draw up a list of those features that, if available on an HD radio, would render it completely usable by a person unable to see the display. An IAAIS task force compiled those features in a document known as the STAR document, and Best Buy's Insignia line has built a radio incorporating those specifications.

The Insignia Narrator is a stylish, tabletop radio delivering the crisp, clear sound of HD radio, which includes some radio reading services along with AM and FM broadcasts. It also has an auxiliary mode for playing the audio of other devices through its speakers, a clock, two alarms, and the ability to mark up to 20 presets for your favorite stations. All of these features can provide audio feedback so that a person unable to see the display can use the radio without assistance. If, however, you don't need the accessible features, then you simply keep the radio tuned into ITR rather than IAAIS mode and perform all of the above functions visually.

First Look

Taking the radio out of the box, I set it up on the desk and popped the accompanying CD into my computer. The radio is an attractive, compact design, measuring about 12 inches wide by 5 inches tall by 6 inches deep. It is slightly elevated by back "legs" to tilt the speakers upward. The radio has two large speaker surfaces to the right and left of a display panel in the center of the front face. When in accessible or IAAIS mode, this display presents orange characters on a black background. There are two rows of buttons near the bottom of this display (or five "columns" with two buttons in each column). While flush with the display surface of the radio and, thus, consistent with the popular, sleek touch-screen appearance, these ten controls are shaped and textured so that locating them by touch is quick and easy.

Photo of the Insignia Narrator radio.

Caption: The Insignia Narrator Radio

On the top surface of the radio are six round buttons with three on either side of an oblong button or bar. A push of this long button gets an announcement of the correct time whether the radio is powered on or off. It also acts as the "Snooze" button when an alarm has sounded.

The six round buttons are "Power," "Source," two alarms, and two volume controls.

I must mention here that it was very empowering to listen to the audio version of the user's guide while exploring the radio and, thus, learning every function of every button immediately. Of course, because this is a radio with universal appeal, the earliest segments of the user instructions deal primarily with its visual interface with occasional references to the audio feedback available. The instructions do tell you straightaway, however, how to turn on the audio mode at power-up, and finally, an entire section at the end of the CD is devoted to step-by-step explanations of every audio function. It bears repeating that, for those individuals not interested in the audio feedback of this radio, they will never need to hear it. On the other hand, once you have activated it, the radio will come up talking on every power-on unless you want it to do otherwise.

On the back of the radio are the AC adapter connection, connectors for the AM and FM antennae (both included), and a jack for connecting auxiliary devices. The latter is useful for playing other devices, such as a Victor Reader Stream or Book Sense, through the radio's speakers. A 3.5 mm earphone jack is conveniently located on the front of the radio just above the first column of buttons on the control panel.

What It Has to Say

The Narrator's speech is clear, digitized human speech delivered as a pleasant female voice. If you have activated the IAAIS mode (by holding down the "Select" button on the front while pressing "Power"), the Narrator will announce, "Power on," as it comes to life and will then announce its sound source. This will be AM, FM, or auxiliary along with a frequency in AM or FM. The radio will remember the last source mode used and come up in that same mode when powered on again.

By tapping the "Source" button on top of the radio, you can move among these source modes. By pressing the "Seek Up" and "Down" buttons, the "Channel Up" and "Down" buttons, or the "Preset Up" and "Down" buttons from the front of the radio, you can select channels of your choice. Each frequency is announced in the same clear voice as you explore channels or switch to one you have marked as a Preset.

Setting the time and the two alarms can be done entirely independently without visual access to the display, as well. These functions are performed with the radio powered off so that buttons used to select channels and presets while playing the radio can now double as announcers of hours and minutes for setting clock or alarm time. Both 12 and 24-hour modes are available. The alarm sound can be any of the radio's source options or a repeated beep tone.

What It Can't Do

Well, of course, it can't make your coffee or tell you what to wear for work after waking you up in the morning, but there are a few features available to sighted users which have not been made accessible to the blind. These are the Bookmark and Artist Experience features. When not in IAAIS mode, the press of a button will provide album art and what is called "Artist Experience," i.e., identification of the content which is being broadcast. This is, of course, only available if it has been transmitted by the station which, reportedly, is still rather infrequent. The Bookmark feature allows a sighted user to Bookmark particular content. This, too, has not yet been made accessible via audio feedback. When the Bookmark key is pressed while in IAAIS mode, a single beep tone is heard, indicating that this feature is not accessible.

Every other feature on this radio, however, can be completely and conveniently enjoyed with nonvisual access.

The Bottom Line

HD radio broadcasts now cover roughly 90 percent of the U.S. At this writing, there are a reported 2100 HD channels and 1300 multicast channels, thus 3400 crisp, clear broadcasts for your listening pleasure. At least one radio reading service, Sun Sounds of Arizona, is also broadcasting on an HD channel, a kind of bonus for blind or visually impaired listeners who happen to buy an HD radio and live in that particular market.

Best Buy has taken a truly exemplary step in the development of this product. The Insignia Narrator is a great product at a great price that will appeal to many consumers and has the advantage of being completely accessible "out of the box" to blind and low vision users. The company has expressed an interest in developing other products with similar universal appeal, and if the Narrator is any indication of things to come, that is happy news, indeed.

Product Information

The Insignia Narrator sells for $99 and can be ordered at Best Buy's online website (not in Best Buy retail stores).

The STAR Project report, outlining the desired specifications for accessible radios, can be found on the website of the International Association of Audio Information Services.

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