FM tuners can be a very nice source...

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by Mikoss, Nov 27, 2017.

  1. Mikoss

    Mikoss Friend

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    I wanted to start a discussion about FM tuners, because I’ve recently found myself surprised. I picked up a vintage Pioneer TX-7800 tuner late in 2016, and here are my experiences...

    I find Satellite radio to sound like unlistenable, compressed shit. It’s also kind of expensive.

    Streaming services seem to be the way to go, however I use Google Music which is 320kbps MP3 at best. I found it most convenient to use Chromecast Audio - Gungnir Multibit, but it tends to sound flat/not entirely impressive at best.

    I used to be fond of FM. In high school, I discovered that touching the coax TV cable to the tuner antenna would bring in many crystal clear stations, from around North America. I discovered KNDD, a station from Seattle that broke many bands in the mid/late ‘90s, and often played interviews/live shows/new releases. I spent many evenings in high school listening intently, creating mix tapes of the bands the Canadian stations hadn’t yet played.

    Nowadays, FM seems to be a dying trend. As for sources, my opinion of FM was that I would place it somewhere below a sub-par DAC. Having spent more time listening with the TX-7800, my opinion has changed quite a bit. With the right conditions, I would rather listen to FM on the Pioneer over Google Music/Chromecast/Gungnir Multibit.

    The Pioneer sounds spacious in soundstage width and depth... its presentation is relaxed, with beautiful tonality. In both respects, the TX-7800 reminds me of listening to my analog rig. It has a relaxed, spacious, involving sound that I’ve recently found myself drawn to.

    The Pioneer tends towards warmth, however it does not sound congested. I’m particularly found of listening to classical broadcasts, because I feel that the orchestra finally has some room to breath. There is a magically cohesive sound in the presentation that the Pioneer offers... something that compels me to recommend for others to hear it themselves.

    The caveats that apply to FM are fairly obvious... a well tuned station is essential. Unfortunately, my cable provider doesn’t carry FM stations, and I suspect that the shift from analog to digital TV is to blame. I picked up an antenna from a Dollar store nearby, though, and it works well.

    I’ve found that even a strong, well tuned station can tend to have some interference, usually in the form of a “swishy” sounding noise background. Sibilance can also be a bit of an issue.

    The TX-7800 however easily resolves details, to the point where the background noise of the studio is picked up whenever a DJ is talking between songs. (It reminds me of tape hiss, and varies in level between perhaps the studios/mics used).

    I mainly tune into CBC Radio 2, which is noticeably less loud/compressed than other local FM stations. Radio 2 seems to offer a better experience in the form of dynamic range, especially with their classical programming. Popular music/rock/jazz/folk also sounds very nice.

    I would whole heartedly recommend a cheap vintage FM tuner as a source... there is some magic that may be surprising if you (like me) all but wrote off FM as a dying medium.
     
  2. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    I find that stations vary a lot in terms of sound quality (varying levels of DR compression and source file compression, etc.) and over here where I live the music they play tends to be shit anyways (of all the station I can receive all but 1 or 2 are mainstream music), so in terms of that not it's worth bothering. I've also heard people say FM radio used to sound a lot better in the old days, whereas nowadays stations probably have their library in some form of compressed digital files anyway.

    Going back to FM radio reminds me of the SABA tube radios of the 50s. Those things did a lot right. Obviously mono, though.Also bandwidth with FM isn't exactly great, either. 50Hz to 15kHz maybe. Definitely rolled off to both ends. The Saba radio I have (a two way one) does reach both 50Hz and 15kHz.
     
  3. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    Posting for later. I spend a long time searching for tuners.
     
  4. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    About a decade ago I owned a nice Magnum-Dynalab tuner. In the 80's and 90's I owned some top end Onkyos and Yamahas. I always loved the adventure of finding something new when I had a proper antenna. Even AM can be fun when you happen to find some station that comes in from a few states away. Unfortunately most radio sounds like crap since Clear Channel bought the dial. But I still occasionally enjoy some public or college radio at the low end of the dial that hasn't been spoiled by some formulaic program manager.
     
  5. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    I went thru a radio frenzy about 15 years ago. MD90, Sansui TU-9900, Technics St-9600, Marantz 20 - it was silly, but in the end I preferred the Sony XDR-F1HD. They're pricey compared to their original MSRP, but if you can nab one in good shape for $250-300 it's a steal compared to $500-1000 vintage stuff.

    Edit forgot the best one, IMHO, the sansui - that thing was niiiiiice...
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
  6. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I have twelve stations I can preset into my car. One is a classic rock station that plays the same 30 songs on a loop, another is one of those DJ-less stations that play a mix of 70s/80s/90s/00s and has about 40 songs on a loop. The last three I bother with are a classical station, a jazz station, and an indie station called X-Ray FM. Everything else I’ve got tuned on the presets sounded like they could be interesting but usually just play garbage.

    That being said, there are some fantastic integrated components with strong FM capabilities and I’ve definitely considered them and still do sometimes.
     
  7. shultzee

    shultzee Rando

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    I have a Dynalab FT 101-A and love it. Purchased directly from Dynalab 2 years ago as reconditioned and the price was very reasonable.
     
  8. 9suns

    9suns [insert unearned title here]

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    Accuphase has a beautiful FM tuner but costs like a gazillion dollaroonies and 3 pre fazor LCD-2 Unicorn Edition...wish I had the money to buy one :D
     
  9. Ruby Rod

    Ruby Rod Facebook Friend

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    It took me a couple years to accumulate what I needed to align tuners, followed by at least a year of practice and study before I thought I was any good at it. Still learning to this day, but a few observations. A modest but decent tuner, well aligned, will beat a super-tuner that's misaligned and/or needs caps and service. Caveat- most don't need caps.

    A good antenna, or at least some kind of antenna in a good location is worth a lot.

    Most vintage tuners (and receivers) benefit from alignment even if they don't seem particularly amiss. I have a Yamaha CR-620 receiver that functioned fine, but was just irritating to listen to. Couldn't put my finger on it, but in hindsight I think the THD was high. After an alignment it became the sweetest and most listenable thing. Similar experiences with various Sansui 2000 series and Marantz. IMO, Sansui knew a huge amount about building good tuners. My Yamaha T-85 was purchased because everybody said they were great. It was OK, but I never really warmed up to it; it was no better than a bad receiver. Scared to death to touch the alignment until recently. Turned out to be easy as pie, even the dreaded CSL (computer servo lock) circuit. Now it lives up to its billing, locks onto stations and sounds good even with very weak ones. Caveat- they slide their bandwidth down as signals deteriorate, but never move up if they improve, so that's up to the listener.

    Anyway, my real point here is I'm wary of tuner ratings that haven't been done on serviced aligned tuners. The FM tuner site seems to be pretty good, plus they understand the circuitry. Unfortunately, things they like seem to go up in price. Best bets are, IMO, serviced or reconditioned tuners.

    Don't get me started on FM quality and program material since a few big companies bought all the stations. College stations can be great if you have one nearby.
     
  10. SquiGGlez

    SquiGGlez Acquaintance

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    I have a whole bunch of college stations / PBS style publicly funded radio stations near me including a pretty stellar classical channel. They're especially good late at night when they pretty much let some rather eccentric people play whatever the hell they want and it's a good resource to discover new music. It's hard to find quality carefully curated content in this age of algorithms recommending you crap.

    What do you radio heads make of this thing?

    http://sparkler-audio.com/portfolio/S304_en.html
     

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