Is the 〈 हूँ 〉 essential here? Does this sentence mean both 'I read' and 'I am reading'?
yes the hoon is essential, you can't drop it. Hindi has continuous tense also, so no the sentence can't mean both 'i read' and 'i am reading'. I read is मैं पढता हूँ or मैं पढ़ती हूँ I am reading is मैं पढ़ रहा हूँ or मैं पढ़ रही हूँ
For me, the audio cuts off before "हूँ" the first time you play it, anyone else having the same problem?
Yes I have been having this with all languages I'm learning. I think it's a buffering problem