From September 2002 to February 2006, our audiophile panelist Jim systematically evaluated the sound of many top tuners (most provided by our benefactor Jesse) in side-by-side shootouts. Shootouts competed for Jim's attention with many other audio projects and no new installments are now expected. A -C- appears next to those few tuners that seem to get everything right as far as sound quality is concerned. The familiar numerical listing need not always apply within this elite group. The -M- class indicates excellent tuners that may not have every minute characteristic that satisfies Jim's tastes. Jim's rules for the better tuners are (1) a focused, articulate and musically involving midrange, (2) sweet, natural-sounding highs (any hash, sibilance or non-musical detail added by the tuner itself will take points away), and (3) last, but not always least, is good, deep bass and a sense of dynamics. All the other audiophile buzzwords usually fall into place if these three criteria are met. Remember them as you read the shootouts and agree or disagree with Jim's findings. Let the games begin!
Jim's introduction: All tuners in the shootouts will be listened to through my new handmade push-pull, 6L6 type tube amps. Each amp has a choke input power supply, a long tailed pair front end and a 5V4 tube rectifier. Various 6L6 type output tubes can be used, and the front end uses two 6SN7's. All tubes will be old stock. All parts besides the transformers are new. A Kimmel style HEXFET/6CG7 line stage will be in place. This type of line stage has been in my system for many years and has never failed me sonically or in reliability. The line stage has a polypropylene B+ power supply and is also choke input. The speakers are JMlab model Daline 3.1. I am very familiar with the "sound" of this system and feel I can hear the "sound" of any new component installed. The tuners under test see a Creek A/B switcher's 18 K ohm input. The Creek sees the line stage's 250 K ohm input. Some tuners with very high output impedance may have some bass rolloff. Cable lengths total two meters between tuner, A/B switcher and line stage. All tuners in forthcoming shootouts will be tested through this system and A/B switched ahead of the line stage. Audioquest cable will be used on both tuners.
The room is a converted bedroom, 10 x 12 x 8 feet, and the speakers are backed by a solid, windowless wall. The antenna is an Antenna Performance Specialties APS-9 FM antenna, mounted on a Radio Shack rotator to catch the best signal. If choosing a tuner based on the shootout results, your mileage could definitely vary if you decide to use a dipole or whip antenna. All shootout tuners are in good operating condition but are not measured and may not be in perfect alignment. Remember, the shootouts are for fun and involve only one "as found" sample of each tuner. In order to semi-conclusively rank one tuner above another, you'd need to test at least three fully aligned and measured samples of every tuner.
All of us at TIC understand the limitations of the Shootouts format, but it seems as though people don't always read or understand the above disclaimer. As David Letterman used to say (or maybe still does say?) about Stupid Pet Tricks, "This is not a competition - this is only an exhibition - so please, no wagering." We might add, "And please, no paying a ridiculous amount of money for a tuner on eBay based on one guy's opinion of one sample"!
For another viewpoint on many of the shootouts, read what our panelist David "Anonymous" has to say on the Ricochets page.
I listened for several hours to the rare and little-known Kenwood L-02T against the old classic Mac MR 78. The MR 78 was factory serviced by McIntosh in 2001. They were running neck and neck in pulling in stations near and far. Rotating the APS-9 about 45 degrees off best signal brought the same noise from both tuners. The L-02T has a more natural sound than the MR 78, which has a slight mechanical sound. Both have better than normal bass compared to most stock Kenwoods and Pioneers, maybe even besting Sansuis when they have a good alignment. jim......... [MR 78 Ricochets][L-02T Ricochets] search eBay for MR 78
I installed the L-01T versus the L-02T. The most noticable difference so far was with my antenna pointed toward 88.7 East to Kilgore, TX. The L-02T pulled it in fairly strong but the L-01T has noticably more noise and fade. The L-02T looks to be the clear winner of the three stock tuners so far (when you consider both sonics and DXing). I dialed in a strong local station on 107.5 and turned the antenna 45 degrees off direct line of sight. Again the L-02T showed its stuff and stayed almost dead quiet, while the L-01T had noticable background noise.
The L-02T is still at the top of the pack in sound quality. I did A/B testing using many songs last night and this morning, trying to cut each song in half between the two tuners. Both have better than average bass. The L-01T has a slightly forward midrange and treble. It was a pleasant sound listened to alone, but when held up next to the L-02T, the L-01T's sonic faults became more noticable. The L-02T has a very neutral sound from top to bottom. The midrange is much more natural sounding and the highs are more laidback, and there even seemed to be more ambiance retrieval.
To be thrown in the ring soon against the champ: Sequerra Model 1, Yamaha CT-7000, Sansui TU-717, Luxman 5T50, Tandberg, Revox... and more as time permits. Next the Sequerra Model 1 goes up against the champ. P.S. It wouldn't be fair to put my modified Kenwood KT-7500 in the ring. He is on steroids. [L-01T Ricochets]
Shootout #3 (posted 9/19/02): Kenwood L-02T vs. Sequerra Model 1 Winner: L-02T
For the last couple of days the Kenwood L-02T and Sequerra Model 1 have been in the system. These are the two most seductive tuners yet in the shootout. The Sequerra has a large, rich-sounding bass - to a fault even, if you want accuracy. The harmonics keep on going. This richness of tone goes on into the lower midrange, very seductive for a transistor tuner. BUT when I switch to the L-02T, I get a feeling of accuracy not in the Sequerra. The bass is there but more accurate, the midrange is there but more precise. Again, from top to bottom, the L-02T sounds the most natural - again the winner in my system. search eBay for Sequerra
The TU-850 is a very nice sounding tuner with a very pleasant midrange and highs with well-controlled sibilance. The only drawback is the bass, which is a touch light or rolled off. This may even be unfair, as I am listening to it and comparing it to a Sequerra Model 1 and Kenwood L-01T and L-02T, all three of which have better than average bass with a feeling of reserve power behind them. The TU-850 more than holds its own but cannot match the L-02T or the Sequerra. [TU-850 Ricochets] search eBay for TU-850
The Yamaha CT-7000 stayed in the system longer than the other recent challengers. It was a tough call between the CT-7000 and the L-02T. The Yamaha is a very pleasant sounding tuner, top to bottom. The bass is not as tight as the L-01T but very pleasant. The Yamaha's whole soundstage sounds a touch more diffused than the precise imaging presented by the L-02T. The CT-7000's treble is good, with no unpleasant sibilance. I have to say it is my second choice at this point. [CT-7000 Ricochets] search eBay for CT-7000
The shootout has become even more fun this week. The Kenwood KT-917 is big and beautiful, with as much class as any analog tuner ever possessed. The 917 has a very good sound, top to bottom, and the bass is very good. Its midrange and highs are smooth and detailed with no real sibilance problems, and I had several long listening sessions without any so-called listener's fatigue. The KT-917 even slightly outclassed the L-02T in the DX department, and not only because of its third IF band. With the 917, I was able to squeeze out a couple of stations at the lower end of the band that the L-02T couldn't even catch. One station was there in the 917's Normal IF band while the L-02T couldn't even pull it in its Narrow setting - go figure. This may just be an exceptional 917.
Now the results for my listener's choice: The L-02T wins again! While the sound of the KT-917 is great, it still falls short of the L-02T's high standards. The bass was a fairly even match but the 917's midrange and treble have a slightly flat, one-dimensional effect compared to the L-02T's. The L-02T gives a more three-dimensional effect with voice and instruments having a real "in the room" feel. Again, the 917 sounded great, just not quite up to the level of the L-02T.
I also started wondering about the Yamaha CT-7000 while listening to the two Kenwoods. In my review of the CT-7000, I said, "No unpleasant sibilance." Well, compared to these two Kenwoods, the Yamaha is more rolled-off in the highs. These two Kenwoods also display "no unpleasant sibilance" but have much more life in the treble region. I'll have to be more conscious of my aversion for spit, splash and sibilance when judging these tuners. I may have let the Yamaha seduce me into a sound that will have one day become boring to me. Anyone paying attention will notice I said of the L-01T, "midrange slightly forward." The L-01T's sound was different from the "in the room" statement for the L-02T. Again, all I can come up with, in summary, is the L-02T just sounds more natural. [KT-917 Ricochets] search eBay for KT-917
Next up: The big... heavy... Sansui TU-X1. This one was a real surprise. It gave up nothing from bass to treble to the Kenwood. I could live happily with either of these supertuners. It was very hard to pull out any negative or positive differences between the two. Any difference heard would have to be a matter of personal taste in picking one over the other. The pinpoint imaging of good monitor speakers never ceases to amaze me. With these two tuners on the shelf giving such good and equal sound quality, I really needed the extra imaging properties of my small speakers to pull out the differences. The TU-X1 presented a slightly larger soundstage. Within that larger stage, there was a slightly more diffuse sound. The L-02T had more precise imaging. Each voice, musical instrument, etc. presented itself more precisely within the soundstage using the L-02T. The apparent front-to-rear imaging - sense of real music being played - was good on both tuners. The L-02T still has the more natural sound, as it has in every shootout so far. And I love to be surprised and fooled by a tuner that can trick my ears into believing it's the real thing.
A follow-up note about my equipment: The Yamaha CT-7000 and the Sansui TU-X1 both had a more diffuse sound compared to the precise imaging presented by the L-02T. Maybe with a transistor system, it would come off as having a thinner sound, when comparing. Remember that I'm listening through all triode preamp, amps, plus monitors that image like crazy and precise imaging is one of my criteria. [TU-X1 Ricochets] search eBay for TU-X1
The Revox B260, to me, is ugly, modern and industrial-looking, all the things an old, analog guy like me doesn't want on his audio shelf - but the sound is pretty darn nice. This one has deep, rich bass. The lower midrange and bass are warm and seem to invite long listening sessions. There is better than average front-to-back depth. The highs are more extended than the L-02T's, but not unpleasant. The B260 has slightly more background hiss than either the L-02T or the TU-X1, but all in all, it was an enjoyable listening experience. After long listening sessions, I thought the highs were a little too much of a good thing, but I can understand someone liking this total sound package. DXing weak and distant stations showed the Revox to be no match for the L-02T. search eBay for B260
It's been a long time since I've sat down and seriously listened to a stock KT-7500 before ripping the guts out of it, but the sound I remember hasn't changed in all these months. The soundstage has a flat, one-dimensional presentation. Instruments and voices appear to be lined up in a single row, left to right, forward of the speakers. The bass has a flat, one-note quality to it and the treble, while not harsh, is more pronounced than it should be (yes, the exaggerated sibilance is there). With all that said, I didn't find the sound irritating after a long listening session. It was more bland than irritating. DXing was a pleasant surprise in the fact that weak stations were captured by both tuners. The 7500 did have much more noise and problems from strong nearby stations, though. Both tuners were able to pick up 88.7 which is 140 miles east of my house, but the 7500 faded in and out much more often. Winner and still audio champ? The L-02T. search eBay for KT-7500
This is one of the few attractive tuners built during the transition from the beauty of analog to the black box sameness that haunts us to this day. Sorry, but I feel better for having said that - JMO. The TX-9800's sound was a pleasant surprise. The bass was full and rich, and I enjoyed the difference compared to most other tuners in the survey. The bass had a full, slower but extended sound compared to the tight punch but deep sound of the L-02T. The imaging was somewhere between the L-02T and the TU-X1. The highs had a slightly forward sound that somewhat took away from the total package. The overall soundstage was forward of the speakers with good front-to-rear apparent depth. I was more impressed than I expected to be and give it a high rating. It doesn't compare with the more natural-sounding L-02T or the TU-X1, but I would definitely prefer the TX-9800 to the Revox B260 if those were my two choices. DXing was OK and on occasion, I noticed a quieter signal than on the L-02T. When pointed East to 88.7, 130 miles away, it was swamped by 88.5 South and 88.9 Northeast. The L-02T was able to get through to 88.7 but with constant fading on this day. [TX-9800 Ricochets] search eBay for TX-9800
Next up, the Kenwood KT-815. The 815 has a sonic signature that focuses on the midrange. Maybe a good thing for talk radio programs, but not for music. The bass has a shy, one-note quality, a fairly focused midrange and fairly bright, forward highs. If any nice old tuner ever begged for a makeover in the audio stage, this is the one. The difference between it and the L-02T made me want to hurry this shootout to a finish. Even to ring the bell early and declare the champ, still the champ. If any nice old tuner ever begged for a makeover in the audio stage, the KT-815 is the one. DXing, it pulled in weak stations within 50 miles with the APS-9 pointed toward those stations' transmitters, but couldn't push through the crowded band from 88.1 to 90.1 to grab distant stations - something the L-02T does very well. [KT-815 Ricochets] search eBay for KT-815
All the way from Norway, the Tandberg 3011A is an attractive tuner. Its black face and silver knobs blend well with its red and cream lighting. I found the short dial very distracting after using wall-to-wall tuning indicators on Sansuis and Kenwoods for so long. I never had the feeling that I was tuning a station precisely using this truncated system. The 3011A is a nice-sounding tuner with some interesting tonal characteristics. The treble was sweet and never irritated. The lower midrange through the treble had a lighter presentation to the sound compared to the L-02T. The 3011A had very good imaging and the ability to help me imagine that I was in the audience. The bass was good but gave just a hint of running out of gas compared to the L-02T. Listened to alone, it was very nice. Listened to against the L-02T, you're left wanting a little more. Still, I give the 3011A high marks for its pleasant musicality. search eBay for 3011A
Shootout #13 (posted 11/20/02): Kenwood L-02T vs. Magnum Dynalab FT-11 Winner: L-02T
The L-02T was tag-teamed this week by two brothers. The Magnum Dynalab FT-11 has had two different versions that I am aware of. The revisions are in the audio circuit, as well as slight cosmetic changes. The original FT-11 uses the same basic audio circuit as the FT-101A's high-output circuit. It consists of a 5532 dual op-amp buffer that sees the audio signal from an LM4500. From the 5532, the signal goes to two smallish 4.7 µF electrolytic coupling caps, then out. Hereafter this tuner will be called "FT-11OLD." The newer FT-11 uses a Philips chip marked TDA1578A and no buffer with 22 µF output caps. This tuner will be called "FT-11NEW." Both share one chip upstream, an LM1965N.
Since I've owned several FT-101As, the FT-11OLD's sound was no surprise. It had good bass punch, the treble wasn't forward or bright, and imaging was also good. Listening to it against the L-02T showed that the FT-11OLD had less life to the midrange. Another way to try to explain is that the L-02T is more natural-sounding. Possibly the reason for my love/hate relationship with the 101A all these years is that I find it beautiful, but there is no real life to the musical presentation. Winner: the L-02T.
Enter the younger brother, the "FT-11NEW." I A/B'd the FT-11NEW and the L-02T, then the FT-11OLD against the FT-11NEW. The FT-11NEW had a more realistic midrange than his older brother but a lighter, looser bass. Against the L-02T the whole presentation from top to bottom had a lighter sound. The bass had less punch. Listening to it by itself, it was a very pleasant sound. If I could have one of the FT-11's given to me as a gift, I would choose the NEW over the OLD for sound quality... unless I was allowed to modify the OLD with better, modern parts. Winner and still champion: the L-02T. [FT-11 Ricochets] search eBay for FT-11
Next up, the Luxman T-117. This little tuner left me in shock. I'm not a big fan of digital tuners, probably because of my age (56), tastes and history. I grew up around my grandfather's farm and my dad worked with radio for 20 years in the Air Force and was a ham. My younger days saw all kinds of meters bouncing and flashing at home, in the movies, etc. That style left a lasting impression, and that may be one of the reasons I've avoided digital tuners in the shootouts so far. But not anymore! I hooked up the Luxman, sat down to listen and got back up thinking I was listening to the L-02T. No, it was the Luxman! This is a very good-sounding tuner. After listening for a couple of days, here are my findings. A very pleasant sound, top to bottom. The T-117 gave up a little richness in tone quality to the L-02T in bass. Its midrange was very nice but the images didn't "float" in space as realistically as the L-02T's. The treble was slightly, just slightly, more forward of the L-02T's treble, and that treble difference wasn't noticable on every song. If these sound like negatives, they're really not. If I hadn't heard and A/B'd the T-117 against the L-02T, I could be very happy with it as a keeper AND it's much more affordable. I went to TIC and re-read the writeup on the T-117, and I agree, without reservation. It sounds better than a Magnum Dynalab FT-101 or any other stock Magnum I've owned or heard, and it costs less, but it's not as attractive as a FT-101 in an analog sort of way.
The T-117 also has the potential to be a good tuner for DXing. Using narrow band and switching from 200 kHz tuning steps to 25 kHz steps on the rear of the tuner, I was able to pull in 88.7 Tyler like I could on the L-02T. On other stations, too, the two tuners seemed to be neck-and-neck in pulling power. Overall, though, the L-02T still wears the crown. [T-117 Ricochets] search eBay for T-117
The Fanfare FT-1A is an attractive tuner that has that high-end audio look. The inside is surface mount technology so DIY'ers beware. With the tuner's high-gain output, the sound was clean but bright and forward in the midrange. The highs were not irritating and the bass lacked punch. Considering this tuner is so much newer than the others, I left it on for a few days to warm up. It didn't help as I still couldn't warm up to the sound. I tried the low-gain output and that tamed the midrange somewhat, but the bass was still not impressive. DXing against the L-02T was a no-go, too. For example, pointing west toward 88.7 about 40 miles away, the Fanfare picked up the station OK but was swamped in wide mode. It was so directional grabbing the signal in narrow that I used it to mark my rotor for an exact alignment toward 88.7's tower. Pointing toward the east at 88.7 in Kilgore, Texas at 130 miles the L-02T was able to catch it with constant drift on this day. The Fanfare was swamped by nearby 88.5 to the south in wide or narrow mode. Again the winner of the shootout is the L-02T.
05/03/03 note: Normally, the Shootouts are for stock tuners only. I recently learned that this FT-1A had been upgraded internally at the factory with silver Kimber Kable wiring, which I believe cost $150. Although Fanfare obviously thinks that the silver wiring improves the sound (or else why would they offer it?), it may have contributed to the forward midrange I noticed. [FT-1A Ricochets] search eBay for Fanfare
I've had 5 or 6 TU-717s in the past 15 years. A couple sounded thin and bright, but most sounded pretty good. This one sounds pretty darn good! The bass is slightly tubby-sounding compared to the L-02T but still a pleasant, rich sound. The midrange is realistic and the front-to-rear imaging is very good. The soundstage is slightly forward of the speakers compared to the L-02T. This isn't a bad thing, just a different presentation from the L-02T's. There is some spit in the 717's treble, but the treble band isn't overly noticeable like the ReVox B260's. Still, it's a good reason to put better caps in the audio section path. All in all, the 717 was a most enjoyable listen. I give it a high rating and now want to modify one. I am very impressed with its sound compared to the more expensive toys. In the DXing test, the TU-717 fell flat compared to the L-02T. Please remember that none of these shootout tuners have seen an alignment in years, as far as I know, with the possible exception being the Mac MR 78.
Backroom brawl! Because the Luxman T-117 and Sansui TU-717 so impressed me, I wasn't real sure which one was the better tuner in the shootout. I veered from the shootout format to see which one really had the better sound in a one-on-one while the L-02T slept. To have a little fun, I had my wife plug in the RCAs and set the volume of the variable output of the Sansui to match the fixed output of the Luxman. Without knowing which was which, I listened and made notes of Tuner A and Tuner B. Tuner A had a slightly richer bass and the imaging was excellent. Tuner B gave a sweeter presentation to the music and the imaging was very good. Tuner A had a treble that was slightly forward of Tuner B's treble. It could come down to the music being played. For rock 'n roll, dance, etc., I would choose Tuner A. For classical, jazz, etc., I think I would choose Tuner B. Tuner A turned out to be the Sansui, and Tuner B was the Luxman. If you could take the best qualities of both and put them together, you would be very close to the L-02T, I think. It really hurts to publish this but I would ultimately choose the Luxman between these two. Unless... where are my parts box and soldering iron??!!! Time for some upgrades! search eBay for TU-717
We have this time around a thin, HEAVY Technics digital tuner. The display is a dull yellow-orange, a neat trick Technics accomplished with an orange plastic screen over your typical dull blue VCR-type readout. The face is a no-frills, clean, dark military greenish-brown. Left to right, the controls are Power, Station Selector, Mode, Auto Hi-Blend, two pushbuttons marked Up and Down to scroll for a station, and finally an analog-type knob for tuning. There is no signal-strength meter and the display shows only the station selected and stereo, when it's in stereo. I listened to the ST-9038 and A/B'ed it against the Luxman T-117 at Jesse's office. His system there consists of large Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 7 amps and Coherence 1 preamp with Hales speakers - very different from my homemade 7-watt triodes and small JMlab speakers. I continuously chose the Luxman over the Technics in a blind listening test, but Jesse leaned toward the Technics. Very interesting. When I brought the Technics home, doing my A/B listening test with the Technics against the L-02T, I was amazed by the similarities. The bass of both was very close, very close. The treble was smooth and controlled, again close to the sweetness of the L-02T. The midrange was even nice, but not the rich, involving sound I've grown so fond of from the L-02T. The ST-9038's sound was less three-dimensional than the L-02T's. The height and depth of the soundstage was smaller. If any of you haven't heard or believe there is such a thing as differences in height, depth, imaging, etc., please go listen to a really good pair of mini-monitors, Magnapans or electrostatics. They will deliver whatever good ancillary hi-fi equipment can dish out. I give this little tuner a high ranking, but the winner is still the L-02T.
Well, I had to know. Was there something special inside the ST-9038? First, it was a pain to get into - pretty tricky, and the ribbon cable is soldered in so you have to be very careful in there. The something special I found was a very short signal path from the audio op-amp to the output jacks, followed by bipolar 3.3 µF caps, followed by muting transistors. These were not directly in the signal path. The not-so-special was the 4558 op-amp and steel leads in the coupling caps. I think the short and sweet signal path was part of the magic at the lows and highs, but the 4558 op-amp caused the not-so-wonderful midrange when the ST-9038 was thrown up against the L-02T or the Luxman T-117. [ST-9038 Ricochets] search eBay for ST-9038
This is an older, two-piece tuner. The tuner is the Naim NAT 01. The power supply/controller, called the Naim NA PST, supplies power to a separate AM tuner and Aux something? It also takes the signals from these same three and sends one to a proper preamp via switching controls on the front. The tuner can also bypass this switching and go direct to your preamp, which is how I listened. It's a pleasant-sounding tuner with no real sonic irritations. The bass wasn't as deep or full as the L-02T's. The midrange was more one-dimensional and had a diffuse sound to it. The soundstage was taller than the L-02T and more laidback (meaning more to the rear of the speakers). The highs, as said, were non-fatiguing. There are NO controls on this model: no wide/narrow, no mute defeat, no manual blend, no mono, nothing! And it drifts off channel from time to time. It tries so hard not to offend and for that reason it did. Sonically? Livable. Ergonomics? I'll pass. Winner, the L-02T. search eBay for Naim
Shootout #19 (posted 12/31/02): Kenwood L-02T vs. Sumo Charlie Winner: L-02T
This is a very attractive tuner, for a digital. A 19-inch rack mount, gold tone, black handles and pushbuttons, colorful display, serial no. 700057. I was a little worried when this one was presented to me for review. Many tuner fans reading this know there are some very polarized opinions on the Charlie - some think there is nothing better, some hate it. Well, this sample didn't sound too bad at all. I found nothing that really irritated, and there is a midbass punch that will attract you. At A/B shootout time with the L-02T, I realized that the Charlie ran out of gas below that punch while the L-02T finished the job with a full, deeper bass presentation. Next to the L-02T's excellent imaging and lifelike musical presentation in the midrange, the Charlie sounded flat but not quite one-dimensional, as some tuners reviewed before it had sounded. Going into the upper midrange and treble, the Charlie never irritated as some tuners do with spit or sibilance. Maybe to a fault. This may be one area where the L-02T gets some of its lifelike excitement. The Charlie's treble isn't as rolled off as the previous Yamaha that I reviewed and it gave me more musical pleasure than the Yamaha. During the DX games, the Charlie pulled in all the weaker stations within the area, but pointing the antenna 180 degrees west toward KTCU, 130 miles away, gave only noise on the Charlie, while the L-02T grabbed KTCU. This has become a good test to pit the sensitivity of other tuners against the L-02T. Winner: the L-02T. search eBay for Charlie
The F-91 is a very upscale-looking tuner - gold accents, orange display, and polished-looking wood side panels. Well, this was a tough one. First impression: best bass yet! And that is still my impression. The F-91 has an articulate midrange, and the treble is more forward but not irritating. Actually, the whole sonic presentation was forward of the L-02T's. It doesn't have the L-02T's sense of front-to-rear depth. In my small listening room, I preferred the L-02T. Emails with certain members of the group forced me to put a little extra effort into this one. The gain of the Pioneer was higher than the L-02T's, so I added a stereo pot to balance the sound levels. Balancing proved harder than you would think because the tuners' sonic signatures are so different. The best compromise was to balance the sound level of a female DJ's voice. On music, this presented deeper bass and a more extended, forward treble. While the F-91 was never irritating, I still preferred the L-02T's musical presentation as the more balanced one. In a large room, in a big sound system, I might choose this Pioneer over the L-02T. I put it below the KT-917 on the overall list for my small listening room choices. For DXing, the F-91 doesn't look too great. There is no wide/narrow circuitry, and hard-to-grab stations captured by the L-02T in narrow mode were invisible to the F-91, but its specs show an impressive 0.8 capture ratio. [F-91 Ricochets] search eBay for F-91
I was so impressed by the sound of the Technics ST-9038 that I bought an ST-8077 on eBay to see if I could get away with, hopefully, a cheaper version. The ST-8077 usually runs $20 to $60 on eBay. Well, they aren't really the same but are about the same size and share the same op-amp (the 4558) and close proximity to the output jacks. The 8077's bass was very good but not quite as full as the L-02T's. The 8077's treble was pleasant and lacked any unpleasant sibilance or forwardness. The midrange wasn't as lifelike compared to the L-02T's, and was also bested by its digital display brother, the ST-9038. When it comes to sound, you could do much worse. The eagle-eyed among you might catch that these two Technics outgunned the Kenwood KT-7500, which uses the same 4558 audio op-amp. True. But these two Technics brothers share a VERY short signal path between the op-amp and the RCA output jacks. Also, the 8077 has no mechanical switching along that path. The result is a noticable improvement in sound through design, whether intentional or accidental. The 9038 has a + and - supply, thus very little DC offset when modifying with an OPA 2134, 2604, etc. But the 8077 only supplies the op-amp with V+ and ground. Maybe that causes the 8077's slightly lesser sound quality. Still, not a bad-sounding tuner for around $50. On the 8077, DIY'ers can't remove the output coupling caps because of the large DC offset. You can also forget the class A bias mod on this model because of this power supply. Both of these suggested mods, as described for the Kenwood KT-7500 on our DIY page, CAN be tried on the 9038. I plan to experiment with better op-amp and capacitor choices soon - keep tuned in. Winner of this shootout: the L-02T. search eBay for ST-8077
Good looks and cheap. This straightforward little guy has only 3 gangs and 2 filters, no bells and no whistles. DXing of weak stations was good when the APS-9 was pointed directly at the station. On the weakest signals, there was more background noise compared to the L-02T. The TU-217's sound was very nice. The bass had a rounder, looser punch to it, while the L-02T's bass gave a feeling of more control and extension. The 217's midrange was very pleasant with good imaging throughout. The treble was slightly more forward than the L-02T's, but not irritating in the least. On spoken voices (DJs and commercials), you can hear extra sibilance compared to the L-02T. All things taken into account, I was very impressed - a very enjoyable sound in an inexpensive tuner for those with a good antenna, or at least close, strong, good FM stations. I've always found the inexpensive Sansui TU-217 and TU-317 (same tuner, more lights) to sound good, untouched. Also the TU-717, with the exception of one I once had that sounded thin (may have been out of alignment). Anyone who likes this look and likes good sound, but is budget-minded, should shop here. I rated the 217 low only because it does need a good signal for a quieter background. Winner of the shootout: the L-02T. search eBay for TU-217
Shootout #23 (posted 01/28/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Nikko Gamma V Winner: L-02T
Oh yum! Another nice digital tuner. My old girlfriend, Anna Log, is very jealous. I'd better tell a little story here. An old friend of mine from work bought a new truck and we took our ladies "antiquing" in it. In his new truck is a real nice stereo. He keeps the bass and treble cranked all the way up and loves the sound that way. At the end of the day, I had a real headache. This is an extreme example but I'm trying to show my preferences as far as sound. When I say in a review that the treble is forward compared to the L-02T's, there may be many out there who would think what I like is too laidback. So be it. Just a little note as this review begins and the first thing you hear is........ The Nikko Gamma V has great bass but the treble is more forward than the L-02T's! The L-02T's treble has a sweeter, more delicate presentation. Comparing the two reminded me of the difference between the first generation Infinity EMIT ribbon tweeters and the last ones made. Both were good tweeters, IMO, but the delicate highs presented in the last series were the best. The bass of the Nikko was up there with the L-02T's and imaging was great, too. The slightly forward upper midrange and highs were easy on the ears and always acceptable, but not to the L-02T's standard. Winner of the shootout, the L-02T.
Looking inside the Gamma V suggests that DIY'ers could have some fun. The circuit board is accessible from the top and bottom. The Nikko has the respected HA11223 MPX chip and it looks to have an easily upgradable 4558 audio op-amp, the same as the Kenwood KT-7500. There is a relay after the the op-amp. I have no schematic to confirm these observations. Some DX observations across the dial: Starting with 88.1 Denton, TX, both tuners were able to hold a good, clean, stereo image of this college station. On 88.7 aiming west toward KTCU, 3,000 watts from Ft. Worth, lots of noise in stereo on the Nikko, while the L-02T was fine, with both tuners in narrow mode. Pointing east, the L-02T picks up KTCU off the back of the antenna, while the Nikko is swamped by 88.5 to the southeast. At 104.9, a Spanish station, both tuners had it acceptable. [Gamma V Ricochets] search eBay for Gamma V
Shootout #24 (posted 02/06/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Phase Linear Model 5000 Series Two Winner: L-02T
A big name for a big tuner. Not much inside, though - it looks like a kit that a pre-teen could build. Bob Carver's idea seemed to be to copy the Marantz 10B and it almost comes off as attractive. If only he hadn't scrimped on those two microscopic meters in the upper left-hand corner.... The overall sound reminded me of the Kenwood KT-815, but thank goodness the Phase Linear did sound better. I never felt the need to turn it down. The soundstage favored the midrange but was pleasant enough. The highs did have more sibilance than the L-02T but didn't appear too forward, at least not any more than the midrange. It did have bass but it was somewhere between running out of gas and running on empty. You get a thump instead of feeling the bass as in the L-02T. Still, the Phase Linear had better bass than the Denon TU-850 reviewed earlier. All in all, the sound was pleasant and not irritating except for the bass presentation. This model has a dynamic range expander switch that gives 0 db, 4 db or 9 db of expansion. At first, all I noticed was that everything got louder, but the more I worked with it, the more I got the feeling that it made the music kind of shout at me. But guess what: the already anemic bass had even more trouble keeping up with the overall musical presentation.
DX results showed the Phase Linear capturing my test stations on 88.1 and 104.9 OK. The 88.7 came in with a lot of background noise, but the L-02T had problems of its own until I switched to narrow mode. Normal mode vs. normal, I would choose the Phase Linear when listening to this 3,000 watt station. This power hungry monster uses 13 (thirteen!) lamps for a total consumption of 75 watts, as listed on the back. Sixty watts probably was coming from these lamps. A note on the surprisingly pleasant sound: frankly, I expected worse than I heard. Inside, I see only film caps along the audio path, with no electrolytics between the MPX chip, audio stage and output. Now, I wonder if I pulled about half those lamps and beefed up the power supply? Would the bass come into its own? Stay tuned, I'll let you know. Of course the winner again is the L-02T, but the Phase Linear wasn't the worst of the bunch. search eBay for Phase Linear
This time around we have a very attractive Pioneer. The TX-9500II gave a clean sonic presentation. A/B testing against the L-02T, the soundstage is taller but narrower. Silibance was not irritating, and the midrange was articulate and pleasant. Imaging was good but lacked the sense of depth of the L-02T. Where the TX-9500II stumbled was in the lower midrange and bass area. The L-02T consistently gave more body to the music and a sense of power in the bass. I'm actually impressed with the TX-9500II's sound. The audio amp is a multi-function 16-leg PA1002. Pioneer says, "This AF amplifier is a direct coupled amplifier used as a differential NFB amplifier providing outstanding dynamic range, S/N ratio, and distortion factor." This chip also holds de-emphasis and muting functions. A quick look at the service manual invites some possible DIY improvements. The audio path is the same as a TX-8500II, which I've rebuilt with Black Gates and Nichicons, replacing the old electrolytics and tantalums. The final sound of the 8500II gave a more fleshed-out midrange and an even sweeter treble.
DXing with the TX-9500II looked good against the L-02T on weak "local" stations 88.7 KTCU in Ft. Worth, west of me, and 104.9, a Spanish music station to the north. On this rainy afternoon the 9500II held its own, capturing 88.7 off the back of the APS-9 while pointing east. This is the first tuner to match the L-02T in this test since I've starting using it. On another day, swinging the APS-9 toward the east on 88.7, I was searching for KTPB in Kilgore. The L-02T was able to dig through the muck and grab some classical music, weakly, but the Pioneer could capture nothing at 88.7 - a quick turn of the rotor to the left grabbed 88.9 or to the right 88.5, both of which are more powerful stations. (As a side note, I'll never give up my roof-mounted FM antenna. It has really brought in more stations with less noise for me.) To summarize, the TX-9500 impressed, but the winner, as before, is the L-02T. [TX-9500II Ricochets] search eBay for TX-9500II
This shootout will be longer than most as I give more information on the weak DX test stations. The Marantz Model 2130 is an attractive tuner that's fun to watch, with its scope dancing along with the music. The scope can also be used for fine tuning. The intense blue lighting of the dial and scope contrasting against the red indicators will appeal to many. Rotating my APS-9 antenna around the area gave these results. Looking northwest to 88.1, the University of North Texas station KNTU, 34.4 miles away, gave good results with both tuners. And on one particular night, I had to stop testing and listen to some really good jazz for an hour. Sometimes, you just get lucky. In the same direction is another weak station at 104.9 KTCY, 44.9 miles away. I was picking up more noise on the Marantz here. Next, I turned the antenna west, to the low-powered Texas Christian University station, 88.7 KTCU, 41.7 miles away. Capturing an acceptable signal here has been a good test for the shootout tuners. Surprisingly, both tuners did well on this night of DX tests. There was a cloud cover which may have helped. The Marantz had much more noise in wide mode that the L-02T did in wide. Searching directly east, I could grab 88.7 KTCU off the rear of the antenna in narrow, and also in wide for the L-02T. Maybe this summer I can relocate my antenna system to avoid facing into the giant tree in our yard. I really want to open up the signal path toward east Texas. It was jazz week while testing these two and I tripped over another college station at 88.9 KETR, 49.6 miles away, Texas A&M University-Commerce. On 88.9 the L-02T did fine in wide and narrow, while the Marantz would always switch to mono in wide but try to hold a stereo signal in narrow mode. Most of Dallas's "local" stations transmit from the large antenna farm in Cedar Hill, Texas, 22.5 miles from my house.
As far as sound quality goes, the Marantz had a forward, one-dimensional sound. The bass is OK, beating the Denon TU-850's. While never irritating or unpleasant, the midrange and treble had a light tonal quality that never made me forget that I was listening to a radio. There was also more hiss in the background with weak or problem signals compared to the L-02T. On the plus side, the Marantz pulled in the hard-to-grab college stations in narrow mode but not as cleanly as the L-02T. The L-02T easily won this one-on-one shootout. search eBay for 2130
The Kenwood KT-8300 was a pleasant surprise. This time around, I had the chance to listen to two stock 8300s and found no real unit-to-unit differences. Love those meters. Analog rules! Oh, sorry... back to the review. It was an enjoyable experience throughout the listening sessions. I expected sound close to the KT-7500 that I rated so low, mainly because the KT-8300 uses the same op-amp at the output, but not so! The differences in circuitry upstream must be doing the trick. Against my standard L-02T, the soundstage presented itself slightly in front of the speakers from the upper midrange through the treble. These differences were very subtle but noticeable when the tuners were A/B tested. The dynamics that I found missing in the KT-7500 were there in the 8300 and made listening to music more enjoyable throughout the tests. The imaging of the 8300 was precise and pinpoint, not slightly diffuse like the TU-X1. As a personal preference, I enjoy the precise imaging of tuners like the L-02T and KT-8300. Maybe as part of the slightly "forward" upper range, you lose some of the three-dimensional sound quality found in the L-02T. On the plus side, the 8300 had more front-to-rear depth than the 7500 or even the KT-917. Bass was good and dynamics were surprisingly good. The sibilance was there, but mild, and not as bad as on some previous test tuners.
Tests on weak stations around the dial showed the KT-8300 to be a good DX machine. Weak stations on 88.1 and 104.9 and stronger signal stations gave no indication of a clear winner. Listening in on the weakest local station at 88.7, KTCU, proved interesting. The 8300 was definitely noisier than the L-02T, both in wide and narrow mode. Strangely, there was some noise always present with either tuner... but wait! That sounds like a dirty or well-used record. I called KTCU and sure enough, the DJ said it was a record album being played. Turning 180 degrees away from KTCU proved again the merits of the L-02T. In wide mode, both tuners heard noise and interference from 88.9 and 88.5, but the L-02T was able to grab KTCU in narrow mode with a listenable signal. Not so with the 8300. Overall, as nice a tuner as the KT-8300 is, the L-02T must come out on top again. search eBay for KT-8300
This time we have the black version of the AH673. This is a beautiful tuner and I'm sure the silver version is, too. The tuner's display has a muted, off-white illumination that I find most attractive, particularly in a dimly lit room. I was apprehensive about the touch controls, which seemed like a gimmick waiting to go wrong, but they worked flawlessly throughout the time the tuner was in my system. This is an "always on" feature, similar to most modern audio/video products with remote controls. The true on/off switch is located in the rear. Read Bob's review of the AH673 for more insight.
Time to cut to the chase. This is a wonderful-sounding tuner. I listened for hours without any thought of sonic faults. On casual listening, the Philips was very close in its sonic signature to the L-02T. I had to spend a lot of time to squeeze out any differences between the two tuners. There was just a hint of more bass extension from the L-02T, impossible to notice without long listening sessions and an aural magnifying glass. More noticeable was the added "life" in the highs. In the shootout wars, this was the first tuner to have more treble energy than the L-02T's that I still found just as enjoyable, if not more so. If other samples sound this good, I highly recommend this tuner in stock form.
THE CATCH: The Philips held its own against the L-02T in listenability on weaker stations in DX-type listening. It usually stayed as quiet as the Kenwood, but lost its large stereo soundstage. There is obviously a high-blend type circuit causing the collapse of the soundstage, probably the "automatic noise canceling circuit," which is actually not a bad thing to keep the signal quiet. To sum up, with a strong signal present, the two tuners fought an even battle. On weaker stations, the L-02T proved to be a slightly better all-around tuner. Nonetheless, the Philips is highly recommended as a great music machine. [AH6731 Ricochets] search eBay for Philips
Shootout #29 (posted 03/26/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. SAE Mark VI Winner: L-02T
The SAE Mark VI is an interesting-looking tuner with its Nixie tubes and scope. It looks pretty neat. In fact, it dazzles. I can't help wondering how good it could have been, sonically, if all that transformer power and technology had been used to develop a good tube audio stage instead of these gadgets. Oh, well... truth be told, it doesn't sound bad at all. There are no glaring, unpleasant sonic problems. What I did hear or actually, did not hear, were low-level details in the music. Ambiance and low-level detail were diminished compared to the L-02T. The SAE's sound was lush and listenable, but missing the extra life I heard in the music when listening to the L-02T. Bass was nice but not as powerful as the L-02T's. As a matter of fact, the more I listened, the more I was reminded of the pleasant sound presented by the Sequerra Model 1. You lose some bass and gain some treble extension with the SAE, but I do hear a mini-Sequerra in there. Turn it on late at night, choose a nice wine and enjoy the tunes. And here is a nice benefit of owning one: if you want a hint of what a Sequerra Model 1 sounds like but for thousands of dollars less, grab one of these. There was more background noise on the weaker stations compared to the L-02T, but not as bad as some tuners in the shootouts. [Mark VI Ricochets] search eBay for Mark VI
This tuner is the second of the the shootout contestants to have a known, good alignment, thanks to Bob. Nothing has been modified and no parts have been changed. Fortunately, it sounds better than the first aligned tuner, the Mac MR 78. Unfortunately, it doesn't DX as well. As usual, there were no noticeable problems at 88.1 and 104.9 but things fell apart for the F-90 at 88.7, at least when trying to keep up with the L-02T. The L-02T performed quite well in wide and narrow during KTCU's listening sessions but the F-90 would fade in and out in normal mode. It held the signal fairly steady in narrow. Going 180 degrees away from KTCU on 88.7, the F-90 was swamped with noise in normal and narrow. The L-02T was able to hold KTCU's signal in narrow but with significant fading on this day. Turning to 88.9, both tuners indicated poor reception with the F-90 having a flickering "TUNED" LED. The sound presented during the listening tests to this weak signal showed up as harsh sputter as the F-90 tried its best to grab and hold onto the signal. The L-02T's attempt was less sonically offensive as it held then lost the signal. I had hoped for better DX performance from the F-90 because, for some strange reason, I like the looks of this tuner. It is a universal tuner in that it has easily switchable voltages on the rear, 110/120/220/240. Also, there is a 50/75 microsecond de-emphasis switch and choices for stepped tuning increments of 9 or 10 kHz for AM and 50 or 100 kHz for FM.
Now for the sound. AH! Here, we get to smile again. In treble sweetness, extension and ambient information, this is the second shootout tuner that, I feel, outperforms the L-02T - the first being the Philips AH6731. These two tuners just get it right in the treble. Boy, if I could tack this ability onto the already wonderful sounding L-02T... but that is where the mods, tweaks and after-market DIY come in, I guess. As far as the midrange goes, both the F-90 and L-02T held up well with articulate, focused images. The only area where the F-90 disappointed was in the lower midrange. There wasn't quite the weight and extra feel of power invoked as while listening to the L-02T. This gave the F-90's overall sound a lighter sonic presentation when A/B tested against the L-02T. That being said, the bass itself was nice and punchy on my system. I need to stop here to express how impossible this job would be without the L-02T being used as our standard, my benchmark for sonic neutrality and musicality. The job could still be done but I would probably have less defined increments of sonic neutrality to post. Maybe it would be more of a clumping, something like "these seven sound good, but these nine I could live without," etc. In any event, I have to say that the F-90 is a great-sounding tuner and a heck of a value at the price they're being sold for on eBay - a dream tuner for someone on a budget. Winner, the L-02T. search eBay for F-90
Shootout #31 (posted 04/12/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Magnum Dynalab MD-108 Winner: L-02T
I told the gang I didn't want to do a shootout of our Kenwood transistor tuner against any tube tuners, including the MD-108 hybrid, but they forced me. They forced me to put this drop-dead gorgeous Magnum Dynalab tuner in my system and demanded that I listen to it. What's a dedicated tuner guy to do? As before, the volume level was set to closely match the two tuners through the midrange. Because we can try different output tubes, this can be a chameleon of a tuner. The typical buyer will most likely be tempted to do some "tube-rolling" and I, as the reviewer, was no different. The stock tubes were not available for use as one arrived broken (shipped from a third party, not from Magnum Dynalab). The first tubes tried were two smooth plate Telefunkens. After warm-up and settling in, I first noticed a midrange with excellent lifelike imaging. The treble was more forward than the L-02T's, but not irritating. The lifelike quality of voice and instruments made me sit up and listen. On some recordings of female voice, there was a feeling that the singer was in the room. The MD-108's downfall came in the lower midrange and bass that was a little light compared to the L-02T's richer, fuller sound. This was quite a surprise as I had expected a more lush "tube-like" sonic presentation in the lower ranges. Before the 108 arrived, my assumptions were it would have a Mac MR 67 or Marantz 10B-type sound quality. I was wrong. Did Magnum go out of their way not to overdo the "tube sound"?
Continuing to roll tubes, I tried a couple of 12AX7s marked GE and RCA which brought no new surprises, good or bad. But when I tried a pair of 7025s marked Sylvania, I heard a change for the better. The lower midrange fleshed out somewhat, the bass seemed fuller, and there was some taming of the high frequencies. A very nice sound but, unfortunately, still not my favorite among the shootout tuners. I wish I had a pair of RCA black plates available for more tube-rolling. I'll post a follow-up report if any better-sounding tubes are found. When I looked inside I noticed two .33 µF MIT brand capacitors on the audio board. I must stop and tell everyone right now, sonically, this is my least favorite cap of all the so-called high-end audio caps I've heard or tried in my own DIY projects. Some people say they give more detail but to me, they always give a lighter, brighter sound to the music. I believe these caps create "detail" not originally in the music. If they're in the direct audio path, I wonder what would happen if they were replaced with Infinicaps or.....? Would I finally fall in love? Would everything fall into place and make the MD-108 THE top tuner? Maybe, but in the meantime, the L-02T wins again. I give the MD-108 a high rating, mostly because of the excellent midrange presentation.
Turning to DX qualities.... The Magnum Dynalab has three IF bandwidths. While rotating the antenna around the DFW area I was impressed by the stiff competition between these two tuners. On our weak station, 88.7, looking west toward Ft. Worth, both held on pretty well in wide mode and both were listenable and enjoyable in narrow. There was more background hiss in the MD-108 but more interference from 88.5 on the L-02T. Still on 88.7 and turning the antenna to the east, I was surprised that both tuners were receiving and holding the East Texas public radio station 130 miles away in narrow mode. One reason may have been that hailstorms tore half the leaves off the giant magnolia tree in our backyard and the APS-9 had a much cleaner line of sight. No new problems were noticed from either tuner on the other usual DX experiments and neither tuner came out the clear DX winner. [MD-108 Ricochets] search eBay for MD-108
Another dream tuner for the budget-conscious. Another tuner that sounds great stock. That makes my job of reviewing just that much harder. The cream at the top is getting so thick it's overflowing. I want to listen to some bad-sounding tuners soon - well, maybe just one. This slim black Sansui has a very articulate midrange with good imaging. The midrange and treble are slightly forward of the L-02T's presentation. The bass doesn't go as deep in punch power (not many do). The Sansui's highs are sweet and non-irritating and blend well with the midrange. There have been somewhere between 50 and 100 nice-sounding tuners that have found a temporary home in my audio system since the formation of TIC. Many of these tuners have been digital. There really haven't been that many bad-sounding tuners, and there have been some great ones - keepers you can just set and forget. Tuners that tweak crazies like me could just leave alone, if that were possible. At the time of this writing I would be able to live with the top 13, if I had to, without mods. This is a nice tuner for those who just want to play and forget about "fixing it up," although not in the L-02T's class.
The DXing was as follows. The TU-D99X picked up nearby weak stations when the antenna was correctly positioned. It and the L-02T both picked up 104.9 OK. To the northwest, 88.1 showed more background noise on the Sansui. On 88.7, KTCU, 3,000 watts to the west, the Sansui caught it in narrow mode but was swamped by 88.5 from the southeast in wide. The Sansui had more background noise in narrow than the L-02T had in wide when tuned to KTCU. Pointing east on 88.7, the Sansui was swamped by 88.5 to the southeast in wide and narrow. The L-02T ignored 88.5 and picked up 88.7 from the west off the back of the antenna in wide and narrow. search eBay for TU-D99X
The Yamaha T-2 is one of those tricky little tuners that is pleasant-sounding on its own, before any A/B testing against the champ. As a matter of fact, I caught myself listening instead of reviewing quite often. The faults I found were faults of omission rather than any glaring problems. This sample of the T-2 had a lot of drift, which lasted for a good 5 minutes after turn-on. I wonder if this is a common problem with this model? After matching the volume of the two tuners through the midrange, I got the following sonic results. When cranking it up, the bass energy in the room went deeper with the L-02T - more palpable, to use an overused audiophile term. There was a slight loss of harmonic richness to instruments in the T-2 compared to the L-02T. I first noticed this with the strum of an acoustic guitar. The highs, although never unpleasant, were a little more pronounced. This was most noticeable on an announcer's voice and during commercials, with the sibilance being sharper. Again, I must say the differences were subtle but noticeable in side-by-side testing.
Spinning the FM antenna around the area gave these results. As usual, 88.1 and 104.9 were no problem. Our true test at 88.7 gave some interesting results. The T-2 grabbed and held a good signal in either of the Yamaha's switchable RF modes, which are labeled Selectivity and Sensitivity. Now here was a shock: On this day, the L-02T was intermittently swamped by 88.5, a high-powered and much closer high school station to the south. Going to narrow mode on the L-02T reversed the results and the Kenwood gave a better signal than the Yamaha. Both came in with good stereo lock but the Yamaha had more noticeable background noise. Later, I realized that Yamaha's circuitry had automatically switched to a more narrow filter configuration than Kenwood's wide. Going 180 degrees out from 88.7's transmitter, I was able to grab that station with the L-02T in narrow, but not in wide. The Yamaha had trouble in any configuration, being swamped by 88.5 as the Kenwood was in wide. At 88.9 the Yamaha had slightly more trouble keeping a good stereo lock on the signal.
To sum up, the T-2 is another nice tuner I could easily live with, if I weren't spoiled rotten with all these nicer tuner toys around me. There have been quite a few more desirable tuners reviewed in these shootouts, but this Yamaha may very well be THE cutoff tuner between the keepers and the also-rans. Winner? The L-02T. [T-2 Ricochets] search eBay for T-2
Shootout #34 (posted 05/05/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Magnum Dynalab FT-101A Etude Winner: L-02T
I have an interesting history with the FT-101 series of MD tuners. I absolutely love the look and really should keep one in my collection, but they just cost too much and I'm just too cheap. I have owned four or five of these tuners, dating back 12 or so years. The first one, a basic FT-101, I found in a pawnshop for $150. The most expensive one was an Etude, a demo unit that I bought from a high-end store. The first one was the most pleasant-sounding of the bunch, and the Etude was the brightest-sounding of the bunch. I've noticed a lot of variability in sound, at least to my ears, from this series. What could cause this variability is anyone's guess.
Now on to the Etude under test. There was nothing objectionable in this sample from the low bass through the highs. It was a pleasant enough sound throughout. Pitting the Etude against the L-02T gave the following results. The L-02T had a richer, warmer sound from the bass through the lower midrange. The L-02T's treble was a little more laidback but the Etude was never bright or unpleasant to listen to. This Etude sample should satisfy most listeners. For a real jump in sound quality, however, the 5532 audio op-amp should be upgraded. I've replaced the stock 5532 op-amp with Burr-Brown's OPA2604 in a couple of these and in two older style FT-11's in the past year, and highly recommend this mod along with replacing the output caps with Black Gates or polypropylenes. There is room inside.
The owner of this Etude says, "This is the best tuner I've found out of many many many for a dreadful multipath interference condition." Let's see what it does against the L-02T, first aiming toward our torture test station, KTCU 88.7 to the west. Well, surprise, surprise. The Etude was able to outgun the L-02T in receiving KTCU with a cleaner stereo signal, in wide mode no less. Very impressive. Even in narrow mode the Etude had the cleaner signal. Swinging the antenna 180 degrees to the east but leaving the tuners centered on 88.7 brought different but informative results. Yes, I did fiddle with the dial to fine tune the stations. I was able to capture KTPB on the L-02T, but the Etude wasn't able to reject the much stronger signal on 88.5 to the southeast. The Etude seems to be more sensitive but not as selective as the L-02T. On our other test stations on 88.1, 88.9 and 104.9, things were tame, clean and enjoyable while stopping to smell the music! Being suspicious of my first results, I revisited the DX tests on different days and nights as well. The results were always consistent except I noticed that the L-02T sometimes had a quieter background. One note of interest is KOAI, at 107.5. This station almost always has more background noise than other strong stations, as well as noise problems in general. The L-02T was able to keep the background noise quieter than the Etude, but keep in mind that this has almost always been the case when other tuners were under test. Winner? The L-02T. [Magnum Dynalab Ricochets] search eBay for FT-101A
Encouraged by FMtuners group member Paul Baptista's mods (coming soon to the DIY Mods page) and just curious, I had to push this review to the forefront. After the review, this sample will go under the knife (soldering iron) in the hopes of making it a better tuner.
On the DX tests, I found the Realistic to be not much of a match for the L-02T. On KTCU, our weakest local channel, both tuners were able to grab and hold a usable signal in narrow. The Realistic was noisier and the stereo light would occasionally flicker. On the other weak stations used as tests, there were no real problems. On the always problematic 107.5, KOAI, the Realistic had more problems controlling birdies than the L-02T. Even though I'm just starting to mention this station, I've noticed KOAI's problems for a long while and so far, the L-02T handles them best. As a DX machine, the TM-1001 is not up there with the big dogs, but it's better than many we've seen. This little guy was also a pleasant surprise in the sound department, at least when a strong signal was present. It didn't have the same sense of depth as the L-02T, but was musically involving. You don't quite get the same rich bass and dynamics as delivered on the L-02T and some others, but you do get a musically satisfying tuner. The highs were sweet and never irritated. When I turned the L-02T off, for some time alone with the TM-1001, no thoughts of the A/B shootout differences lingered and I was quite happy to sit and simply enjoy the music coming forth. One thing I didn't like was the short travel of the tuning dial between stations. You had to dial very slowly and gingerly to stop on a station. For example, 88.5, 88.7 and 88.9 were just a sneeze apart - one sneeze and you've changed stations. The TM-1001 definitely doesn't have the feel of the better Kenwoods and Sansuis from the "good ol' days." The winner? The L-02T. search eBay for TM-1001
I've had a love/hate relationship with this tuner for many years and have owned 3 or 4 of them. I accentuate this review with the fact that every one I've tried had very poor reception. Although it is a good-sounding tuner, it is not sensitive at all and won't pick up anything but the strongest of stations. The one now under review is no better: it couldn't see 88.1, a station no other tuner has had trouble with, it had trouble with 88.9, and you can forget about 88.7. On the strongest stations, the sound was good, with good bass through the highs. The sound was more diffuse than the L-02T, which has great imaging. I've bought a TU-600 service manual so if I get it serviced and things improve, I'll post the results. Eric also had problems with the adjustments on his TU-800, which Bob now owns (read TIC's Denon TU-800 writeup). I'm hoping this MAY be an assembly line problem and not a design problem. Not recommended - lowest overall rating so far. search eBay for TU-600
I knew I was in trouble early into this review, not only because this Revox sounds great, but because there have been several great-sounding tuners on my shelf recently that you've not read about yet. I've tried to keep a few reviews ahead of the schedule we've set and suddenly, we have several that all deserve to be at the very top. This Revox is one of this growing cluster of excellent tuners - tuners so good, so excellent-sounding, it isn't fair or logical to place one above the other. I'm not going to deviate from our established numerical list but I have to say that this cluster all belong bunched at the top. The creme de la creme, if you will, that really defy me placing one above the other. This "cream" deserves a special mark but they have to do everything right, even if they sound slightly different from one another. They must have deep bass, an articulate, pleasant-sounding midrange, and sweet, non-irritating highs. For lack of a better mark, I'll mark these as -C- besides placing them in numerical order. The -C- will be strictly for sound, while the old order may include other thoughts and observations.
I could tell from the first time I turned on the B760 that this was going to be a good fight. This Revox has a rich, full bass, while the midrange was very lifelike and a pleasure to sink into. The midrange was slightly more forward than the L-02T's but never in a way that distracted from the whole presentation, and the highs were smooth and extended but never bright. A definite improvement over the highs of the Revox B260 reviewed above. The whole sound was slightly more diffuse than the sound presented by the L-02T. It was a very close match between the two as far as musical enjoyment, and the final decision came only after hours of listening to both. Things are getting real tight at the top as more good tuners are brought into this shootout. The Revox's controls had a more "clunky" feel compared to some analog Sansui and Kenwood models that many of us love, but the sound is where it shines.
Turning to the DX track, at 88.7 the L-02T tuned in the station just fine in narrow mode. The Revox has no wide and narrow but did catch and hold the signal with much more noise. Switching to mono helped very little. At 89.3 and 101.1, the music signal was fine on both. There was no jazz to be heard on 88.1 as they were working on their transmitter. The ReVox was able to control the background noise as well as the L-02T on 107.5. At 88.9, the Revox held a stereo signal with background hiss, while the L-02T went to mono but its stereo lamp claimed it was still in stereo. Winner? The L-02T. [B760 Ricochets] search eBay for B760
Some tuners are so different from the L-02T, in a bad way, that the A/B review is easy. Other tuners have been so nice-sounding, in their own way, they've made me look at the L-02T's sound in a new light. Could there be more than one path to audio bliss from these tuners? Just a few thoughts after listening to so many tuners in my role as reviewer. The Sansui TU-919 sounds SO much like the L-02T that I found it quite disturbing. They had the same low, lush, powerful bass. The imaging was excellent on both, they were both very three-dimensional in their presentations, the highs were sweet and never fatiguing, and I could listen to either of them for hours. It took me a very long time to come up with any sonic differences. Female voice and highs were just a touch lighter with the TU-919, or should I say the L-02T was a touch darker-sounding? The differences were very, very slight. At times, while listening to female vocals, I imagined she stepped off the stage and sang to just me through the Kenwood but stepped back on the stage and sang to everyone at my "table" through the Sansui. Just an image of the slight differences. The technical side of me was disturbed that it was so hard to tell them apart. One tuner's audio stage uses discrete transistors and the other tuner uses op-amps in the audio section, but in a unique way. Why do they sound so similar? Just good designs? Luck? The planets were aligned just right? Whatever, the L-02T may have met its match. Read on.
When it came to the torture test at 88.7, the TU-919 was the first to shine. With both tuners in wide mode, the Sansui was more consistent in holding onto a quieter signal. In narrow mode, both tuners held a cleaner signal but the Sansui had more occasional noise as its stereo light flickered. The Kenwood's stereo light held steady but it was obvious that the signal wasn't much more than mono. Manually switching both tuners to mono brought the different RF games these boys were playing under the same set of rules and after that, they fought to a draw. Thanks to good tropospheric conditions, both tuners could pick up 88.7 KTPB from the east. The Kenwood held a better signal, while the Sansui wasn't as selective and occasionally let 88.5's foot in its door.
To sum up, the TU-919 is highly recommended. The winner? The L-02T by a song and a prayer. That being said, if push came to shove, I could easily switch out the two and make the Sansui king. [TU-919 Ricochets] search eBay for TU-919
Shootout #39 (posted 06/09/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Sony ST-J88B Winner: L-02T
The ST-J88B is one of those tuners I would love to see (hear) aligned right with new filters selected the way we've learned they should be. I like the sound and wonder just how far it could be pushed. The outside is very attractive, which is something I find hard to get right on a digital tuner. It is wide, low and has an pleasant, understated display. The grey/silver face is a nice change from the black or silver "me too" look of so many tuners. I guess when you've had hundreds of different tuners sitting on the shelf, the sameness in colors can get tiresome. When I saw it at my friend's office, I couldn't wait to snatch it up and take it home for a test drive. I usually don't do this but had to take a look under the hood. It appears to have a user-friendly DIY-type layout that's fairly easy to understand, even without a service manual. There seems to be two 4560 op-amps along the audio path with capacitors that should be easy to upgrade, also. Time to order some parts.
Some DX thoughts first. While the Sony was able to capture and hold KTCU 88.7 to the west, in narrow, the signal was never as clean as the Kenwood's. On most stations, both tuners had signals that were clean, quiet and pleasant to listen to. On the swing test, turning the roof antenna toward the east but staying on 88.7, the L-02T captured KTCU off the rear, while the Sony was swamped by 88.5 to the southeast. The DX tests again showed the same song, different tuner.
These tuners have a somewhat similar sonic signature. The differences were subtle but there. While listening one-on-one, it was a most enjoyable time and if other samples sound this nice, the ST-J88B is another one I can recommend. The bass didn't have quite the power and punch as the Kenwood but had nothing to be ashamed of. The midrange was a little forward but pleasant, and there were no problems in the treble region. Recommended, but the winner is still the L-02T. search eBay for ST-J88B
DX first. There isn't much to say. The ST-7 is one of the many tuners not really designed for the FM DX people among us. When trying to capture KTCU 88.7, to the east, the L-02T was receiving loud and clear in narrow. The Nak has no wide/narrow and only picked up a noisy, static-filled signal from 88.5 instead, transmitting from the southeast. The Nak did handle the birdie problems on 107.5 nicely, as did the L-02T. Both tuners were able to receive the other test stations with quiet, trouble-free signals.
Speaking of quiet, this Nak has the Schotz noise-reduction circuit. Well, it works, I guess. I had to WORK to hear it work, though. With the APS-9 hooked up, I had a very hard time finding a station that was noisy. I unhooked my main antenna and stuck in an 8-inch piece of wire. The Nak was able to pick up most every station I normally hear but they automatically switched to mono and stayed very quiet. Pretty impressive, in a way, but I still had no noise for the Schotz to kill. I then hooked up a Godar indoor antenna. Now we were getting stereo signals on SOME stations. I was able to find only two stereo signals with enough noise to use the Schotz circuit, and it did diminish that background noise. IMO, not much of a gimmick to spend your money on. Buy yourself a good FM antenna for the roof or attic instead.
The Nak's sound was a little strange. While the bass went deep, it had a sort of muffled sound to it. It didn't have the extra punch of the L-02T's bass but didn't sound rounded like on some tube tuners either. It was... muffled, to find a word. At times, I noticed the extreme highs to be somewhat rolled off in comparison to the L-02T. To top all this off, the midrange was more forward than the L-02T's. Listened to on its own, I didn't find the Nak offensive, sonically, but definitely not neutral and not for the bass lovers among us. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for ST-7
AH!!! The Kenwood L-07TII. Such a pretty face, such a beautiful chassis, but does she have inner beauty? Is her beauty only skin deep? We shall see. It is my habit of late, when testing new tuners, to plug them in and let them "cook" for a couple of days. The L-02T sees almost daily usage and some of these tuners may have sat for months. I also go in and clean the variable caps and switches in analog tuners. Kind of a tune(r) up before the big race. The names of these two Kenwoods are close and confusing so I will call them king and maiden for this Shootout. I trust you know which one the present king is. During listening tests, it was apparent that the king still squeezed out the last measure of bass over the maiden. The soundstage of our maiden was more forward but was never unpleasant sounding. The maiden's bass was very good but there were clues that the king still ruled here. The maiden's midrange, while always pleasant, seemed to be missing the inner detail of the king's. It was somewhat like I heard, or didn't hear, through the earlier reviewed Yamaha T-2. The maiden's highs were also slightly more forward, but controlled and not bright. While her voice was different from the king's, it was always a pleasure to listen. When listening to her sing all alone while the king slept, I forgot about his virtues and enjoyed the experience. And so, the maiden did turn out to be more than just another pretty face and she does have a beautiful voice to go along with her good looks.
Putting our maiden to work in the kingdom's DX fields proved to be a long day of labor. Turning to 88.9, KETR, we find this station continues to give the king's stereo lamp problems. The lamp flickers but this almost disappears when fine-tuning the antenna. Our maiden held a steady stereo signal but at the cost of slightly more background hiss. This was only noticed during quiet passages and brief periods of dead air. On 88.7, pointing the antenna toward KTCU's transmitter with both tuners in narrow mode and in mono, I got a quiet, clean signal from the king. The maiden, however had trouble holding off the advances of the 88.5 ogre. Off-tuning the maiden's dial helped some. I think she may be due a fresh alignment. The medium to high-signal stations were well received by both king and maiden alike. Winner? The once and future king, the L-02T. search eBay for L-07TII
So many lights and buttons. I'm so confused! At least I can tell how it sounds. I believe Stereophile's review, long ago, had a couple of unkind words about the sound and that stuck in my head, so the sound was a pleasant surprise. The Onkyo's bass goes deep, and the midrange is clear and articulate with matching highs. When A/B tested against the L-02T, I heard a slightly lighter tonal presentation through the midrange with a well-matched treble that had a hint of extra sibilance on spoken voice. The bass, though deep, did not have that extra slam of the top tuners. In the final analysis, I would sum up the sound as pleasant, articulate, but lacking the dynamics of some of the boys at the top.
Most of my serious listening judgments are formed while tuned into local stations with strong signals. It was interesting to see how aggressive the T-9090II was in deciding when to activate the narrow modes, hi-blend, etc., to protect me from any type of noise. Along with this automatic protection, the soundstage, imaging and "life" to the music were dulled, if not lost. When manually switching to wide mode and turning off the blend circuit on stations with fair signal strength, I was able to recapture the music with little or no noise. The auto controls were first noticed when tuning to 88.1, college jazz. I sat down and was surprised how dull the sound had become compared to the L-02T. Manual switching brought it back to life and with a clean background.
For the rest of the DX report, I decided to trust the Onkyo's judgment while looking at weak signals. To handicap the tuners and be fair, I switched the L-02T to auto and left it in narrow mode. I noticed something interesting about the 9090II's A and B antenna inputs. On antenna input A, I had been listening to 107.5 to the south and turned the antenna north to 88.1. There is probably 160 degrees difference. With the tuner still at 107.5 but the antenna pointing north, the signal was very noisy but when I switched to antenna B (with no antenna attached to B), 107.5 came in clean and noise free. A very sensitive tuner indeed. So 88.1 was no problem and I stepped on up the dial. At 88.3, I picked up a faint station the Kenwood could not find. Pointing the antenna more accurately, the L-02T was able to capture this signal but with more noise. The 9090II was also able to capture and hold this weak signal through a wider degree of antenna travel than the L-02T. The ever-invasive 88.5 hogged the airwaves from 88.4 to 88.6 on both tuners. I should stop here and give some information on station distances from my house. 88.5 is the closest at 13.4 miles, hence the problems it sometimes causes. There are about 70 stations within 70 miles, about 30 within 40 miles and 21 stations planted at the antenna farm, 29.1 miles from here in Cedar Hill, Texas. I think Cedar Hill is the highest point around Dallas so it's the perfect place for most transmitters.
On to 88.7, KTCU, to the west. Both tuners liked the signal on this day but only in narrow. The Kenwood shut to mono while the Onkyo held onto stereo but with more noise. When manually switched to mono, both tuners shared the same good signal characteristics. I turned the antenna to the east in hopes of capturing 88.7 in East Texas but there was no tropospheric help in the winds this day. What I did notice was the T-9090II's ability to track 88.7 in the west. In the past, the L-02T usually ruled here and it was able to pick up the signal, but never as clean or over as much antenna rotation as the 9090II. Turning to our other problem test signal, 88.9, KETR, which is 50 miles away, we find the Onkyo was able to hold a slightly cleaner stereo signal. This station was most enjoyable when switched to mono in either tuner. I'll shorten this review and finish with some observations at the other end of the dial. Again I found the auto circuits in the 9090II to be overactive at 104.9, which is 45 miles away, and 106.7 at 56 miles away. When I manually switched to wide mode, both these stations came in loud and clear. I did notice, I was able to pick up a weak Spanish language station, 107.1, west, at 70 miles away but couldn't capture another at 107.1 only 32 miles east. It must be all those trees my antenna looks into, toward the east. The T-9090II proved to be as sensitive as a 12-year-old jumping into puberty and, as such, needs a little direction and control for me to live with. And just like any teenager, be careful which buttons you push! Winner in sound? The L-02T. Winner in DX? The T-9090II. Well, that tears it - I need to get this Kenwood aligned! search eBay for T-9090II
The TU-X701 is an attractive tuner having good clean lines and a digital display with a muted orange numbering system. The orange display is a nice change from the "me too" pale blue so often seen. This tuner has two antenna inputs, switchable from the front panel. (Is this necessary for those with a good outdoor antenna and rotor?) Station selection is a two-step process. You touch a number, the selected station frequency appears, flashing, and you must then push ENTER to listen to that station. At first, I thought "gimmick," then realized it helps the listener find the station sought without having to memorize the whole number pad. The original station continues to play until ENTER is punched.
For a while, things didn't look too bad for the Sansui in the DXing department as it easily pulled in the "local" weak stations. 88.7 west, 104.9 northwest, 88.1 north and 104.9 north were no problem, but the true test came when I tried to capture KTPB 88.7 well over 100 miles to the east. Well, it was a no go this time out but I was able to capture KTCU, 88.7 from the west, coming in loud and clear off the back of the antenna... on the L-02T, that is. The Sansui was pulling nothing but noise. I was consistently able to grab more weak signals through the L-02T. With the antenna pointed toward a local station's transmitter, both tuners appeared equally quiet with little background noise. When I did catch the Sansui giving more noise, it was usually because I hadn't directed the antenna with good precision. The Kenwood kept things quiet over a wider antenna swing.
I grabbed this Sansui off eBay a while back following the recommendation of a friend whose ears I trust, and he was right! Now for the sound, A/B tested against the L-02T. Before you read the comments below, hear this. This Sansui has one of the sweetest, cleanest midranges of the tuners so far in the Shootouts. The Sansui TU-X701 shares a connection with the Luxman T-117, which is the Sanyo LA3450 IC, and that common thread shows. I had to listen very carefully to hear subtle differences against the L-02T. The Sansui held its own but gave up a little to the Kenwood from the deep bass through the lower midrange. The midrange was clean, precise and sweet - more exact and even sweeter-sounding than the L-02T's, but seemed to give up a touch of ambiance retrieval. The highs were soft and laidback except for a narrow band of sibilance noticed during speech - softer than the L-02T's highs, with slightly less energy, and the soundstage was slightly smaller. This may go hand-in-hand with the feeling of slightly less ambiance information. After all is said and tested, the TU-X701 ranks up there with the other tuners for best sound quality in an inexpensive stock tuner, and it invites long listening sessions. Like the Luxman T-117, it just missed the Class -C- rating because of the slight lightness in the bass and lower midrange. Many of us believe "the music is in the midrange," but for a tuner to make Class -C-, it must have more of that bass magic originally in the music. In the end, I say, highly recommended.
I was almost afraid to "fix" things inside the TU-X701 BUT pulled six old caps before and after the LA3450, then installed four Black Gates and two pieces of wire and this gave the tuner even better sound quality. Now, who among us is up to the challenge of building a "to die for" audio stage to follow that LA3450 chip in this Sansui or the Luxman right below it? Winner for best all-around tuner? The L-02T. Great sound, good DXer. But our shootout king was wounded in the midrange. Is there a tuner doctor in the house?! search eBay for TU-X701
Shootout #44 (posted 07/14/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Meridian Model 104 Winner: L-02T
I was quite excited when Jesse added this little jewel to his collection. And I do mean little as it is the smallest FM tuner on our Shootout list. It measures only 5-1/2 inches (14 cm) wide, 11-3/4 inches (30 cm) deep and with feet, just over 2 inches (5 cm) high. That's not counting the funky 1-1/4 (3 cm) switches on the front, MUTE, TUNE and STATION. STATION has seven selections from 0 to 6, and I assume 0 is mute. Positions 1 through 6 have corresponding tuning slugs that have to be adjusted with a very small jeweler's screwdriver. See, I told you it was a jewel. After adjusting a slug to the station of your choice, you flip the TUNE switch down to fine-tune that station. These adjustments are similar to those on the Magnum Dynalab FT-11. The Meridian is an "always-on" tuner.
Opening up this jewelry box shows a tight, no-nonsense space crowded with a toroidal transformer, an HA12411 (that plugs in) LPF filter, a bi-FET (LF353) buffer amp with four 10uf 16-volt caps around it, and one large supply cap an inch away. Unfortunately, it only has a positive supply for the audio stage, so we have to keep all the caps. There is a dust-sealed module that reads "Boothroyd/Stuart & Partners. Registered design 1979." One reason I was hungry to try this tuner is because of Boothroyd/Stuart's reputation for designing for sound quality. They were among the first, if not the first, to try to fix the sonic problems of the compact disc in its infancy. There is no fancy wide/narrow, muting, blend, or extraneous noise-reduction circuitry in the 104 tuner, as far as I know.
DX play was all but forgotten on this little guy and I just sat and listened. What I first noticed was it killed the L-02T! It was open, airy and lifelike while the L-02T was dark, closed-in and lifeless. Wait, this can't be right! What's going on? I checked both tuners. All switches on the L-02T were set correctly, auto, wide, etc. Oh, wait... I'm trying to listen to 107.5 but the antenna is pointing 160 degrees away from that station's transmitter. The L-02T had shut down to near mono while the gimmick-free Meridian was playing happily along. After adjusting the antenna correctly, I started listening again. Well, the Jewel of the Meridian turned out to be the high point of my day. While the bass was rich, warm and wonderful, it still couldn't quite match the L-02T for depth and dynamics. But that midrange! Here we have a real treat. From the lower midrange all the way to the top, these two tuners were very close sonic twins. The Meridian sounds much more like the L-02T than other tuners we've pitted against it. There is a hint more midrange openness to the Meridian and a little loss of perceived front-to-rear depth. This may come from the slight loss of bass and dynamics compared to the L-02T. When I get a tuner that sounds this nice, I usually turn the L-02T off and enjoy it. That is the plan for this jewel all weekend. It may be small but it sure does shine. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for Meridian
OK gang, hang on to the antenna as we spin around the airwaves.... First stop, 88.1 KNTU: College station, jazz. The L-02T sounds more focused on solo voice. On the 8000T, vocals stepped back in the soundstage and center images were more diffuse.
88.5 KEOM: High School station, '70s rock. They didn't have classes like this when I was in high school. Sound? Hey, it's '70s rock. At times you could hear a touch extra weight of the L-02T's bass.
88.7 KTCU: College station, rock, classical, more. Weakest local area station we can see up here. The L-02T came through, in narrow, as usual. The 8000T's signal was not acceptable, with more noise than signal. This was surprising and disappointing because the 8000T tunes in 2.5 kHz steps, and has a narrow mode and 5 filters.
88.9 KETR: College station(?), variety. The 8000T gave a clean crisp stereo signal with some background noise. The L-02T didn't like the signal and when letting it choose the stereo separation, it shut to mono while claiming stereo.
89.3 KNON: Listener-supported, volunteer DJs and non-profit. They play a crazy variety of everything but "normal" music (if I have the right to decide what is normal). A pattern is developing with the two tuners. The L-02T has more weight to its bass, while the 8000T seems to go as deep but sounds lighter. The 8000T's mids are more laidback and less focused. The highs of the 8000T are more extended while staying delicate and never harsh.
92.5 KZPS: Classic rock. I've heard these songs for over 30 years. They are all memorized and some still are favorites. It was hard to hear any small differences here. A rock station is a rock station.
101.1 WRR: Classical. I believe it's the second-oldest FM station in the U.S. Owned by the city of Dallas, which is sucking the money and life out of it. UGH, politics. Good sound, IMO. Piano solos showed a noticeable difference in the two tuners. The 8000T was lighter but more realistic-sounding of the two.
104.9 KTCY: Mexican music. Was unable to hear a big difference in the two tuners here.
106.7 KKDL: Dance music. A fun coffee break from serious A/B tests but it was here that showed the L-02T as the tuner with the edge on bass fullness and weight. An interesting study of what recording engineers can do with sound.
107.5 KOAI: Smooth jazz. Heavily processed signal. There are constant, but varying background noise problems. They also add copious amounts of bass to the music to make it more inviting, no matter what you listen through. A great test for a tuner's ability to reproduce that last degree of bass energy.
The differences between the tuners under test were less noticeable in the afternoon than when I first started testing in the morning. I left the Audiolab on all night and the warmed-up signal was definitely closer to the L-02T. OK gang, you can step off the spinning antenna, our flight is over. Hope you enjoyed the ride. Sonic conclusions are, the Audiolab's sound changed after several hours, becoming much closer to the L-02T's. This is a wonderful-sounding tuner in the same vein as the Philips AH6731 and Luxman T-117. Background noise was always low or nonexistent. The midrange was rich and realistic-sounding, but less focused. The bass went deep but didn't have that final degree of authority like the L-02T. The highs were right on and were an added asset to the final sonic picture. Inside was a DIY dream. There were over 30 polypropylene caps peppering the boards, 5 ceramic filters, the MPX chip was an LA3450, the audio stage backs right up against the RCA jacks and the power transformer is a large toroidal with a wall shielding it from the analog stages. Recommended, but the winner is the L-02T. search eBay for Audiolab
I've been sailing on the audio seas longer than I realized. I first jumped in the water with a Sansui tube receiver purchased while in the Air Force in 1967. Two transistor receivers later, sometime in the '80s, I reached for that lifeboat called high-end audio. Two waterlogged old memories came to mind when I put this Carver in my system. Twenty or so years ago, I saw my first TX-11 and heard Magnaplanars for the first time. Back then, neither was in the budget for this sailor, but things changed as my thirst grew. Since then, I've owned and loved Maggies but wasn't as impressed with a Carver TX-11 that drifted my way. I first sat down and listened to this TX-11b solo and was rewarded with punchy bass and pleasant, articulate mids and highs. When A/B tested against the L-02T, it became clear that the TX-11b's bass wasn't as full or deep, so no new scuttlebutt there. The midrange and highs still brought a smile and I had to finally admit that this was a much better-sounding tuner than the original TX-11 (at least the one I owned). The TX-11b images very well and though the mids and highs were a touch lighter than the L-02T's, they were pleasant and nice on the ears. The soundstage through the Carver was flatter and it didn't give the holographic sonic presentation of the Kenwood. Sorry for the bad pun, Mr. Carver.
DX tests started at 88.7, KTCU, with both tuners in narrow. Here both tuners had good to fair signals but when switched to wide, the TX-11b lost the battle. Swinging the antenna to the east proved the L-02T capable of capturing KTCU's signal from the west but the TX-11b chose to jump ship and swim to 88.5's stronger signal, almost drowning in a sea of noise instead. Our other weak neighbor, 88.9, was a more friendly port in the storm as both tuners were able to capture and hold their signals under the cloudy and rainy conditions of the day. I must close this review with a tour of AM stereo, a rickety lifeboat, IMO. This is the first time I remember listening to AM stereo. The Carver manual says to keep AM de-emphasis switched on and, after listening to it both ways, I agree. It was interesting and strange to listen to AM in stereo. While interesting, it still sounds like AM, well, better AM or maybe really bad FM. I found two stereo stations, 770 KAAM which played many songs so old they were obviously "electronically reprocessed for stereo" (remember those?) and 620 KMKI, Disney radio. The winner for everything but AM Stereo? The L-02T. search eBay for TX-11b
The first thing I noticed on this Pioneer was the different wording on the face: Digital Direct Decoder TYPE II. Aha, the new and improved version of the previously reviewed paternal twin, the F-90. We shall see. The F-99X is a thin black digital tuner with colorful lights and a display that is, thankfully, on the safer side of gaudy. There was a nice surprise waiting regarding reception quality. On the torture test at 88.7 to the east, both tuners held a clean signal in narrow mode. The best signal for the Pioneer was centered at 88.75. When centered at 88.7, the Pioneer was swamped by 88.5's more powerful signal. In all the DX tests, the Pioneer was quite impressive around the dial. The only advantage the L-02T seemed to have was its ability to fine tune, because of its infinitely variable capacitor, as opposed to the F-99X which can tune in 50 kHz steps only - better than most digital tuners which tend to tune in .2s or .1s, but still not analog.
When A/B testing, the F-99X held its own with a low-noise, quiet background on problem stations. As has been the norm, the bass power from the L-02T was richer and fuller than this contestant's. Sweeping that big dose of reality under the rug cleared things up nicely for our study of the midrange and highs. Things throughout the rest of the range came forth in a sweet, clean presentation that was most pleasant to experience, although somewhat lighter than the L-02T. This is probably because of the harmonic richness added by the L-02T's extra bass power. Again, what was noticed and much appreciated was the Pioneer's very quiet background, something the L-02T gets right that a lot of the shootout tuners haven't. We can now add the F-99X to that list. When it came time to listen to the F-99X alone, I knew my review work was over and it was happy hour. Recommended. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for F-99X
The SAE 8000 is a nice-looking tuner with a red digital readout. This one was black, 19-inch rack-mount style. The sound was pleasant enough but not involving, and there was more background noise on all stations when A/B'ed against the L-02T. There was a noticeable narrow-frequency ssss type sibilance. Whether this is common to this model or just that this piece could use an alignment, I do not know. The sound was more forward and more diffuse than the much more "sonically correct" L-02T. I never felt irritated by the SAE's music presentation but never felt involved, either. Judging by this piece, it's a tuner for background music, not a serious tuner source for a serious sound system. If anyone reading this thinks FM isn't as serious a source as vinyl, CD, tape, etc., think again. That is why we keep striving for the best tuner and when we can't find that, we rebuild an existing one. SAE fans or collectors may choose this one, but not me. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for SAE 8000
It is a habit of mine to spend hours listening to the tuner under test after the critical A/B and DX tests are over. These sessions give insight into subtle irritations, listener's fatigue or other problems I need to share in the reviews. Kind of a final overview as to whether I would want the tuner permanently in my system. The KT-1100 turned out to be on that short list. Not necessarily because it got everything right like the ones at the top, but because it was quite tuneful and had my toes a-tappin'. There is a similar heritage in the design and cosmetics of these two Kenwoods and I was enjoying the KT-1100 so much, I felt guilty as though I were flirting with my girlfriend's little sister. Going head to head with the L-02T, the KT-1100 had a flatter soundstage with a more extended but nice treble. As usual, the bass didn't go quite as deep as the L-02T's, but this was noticeable only on songs that had the extra bass energy. On most songs, I couldn't notice a difference. Musically, another nice keeper.
The back has a 50/75 microsecond switch and 120/220 volt switch. Inside there is one 4560 op-amp and three 6556 op-amps in the low-pass filter and audio section. To this audio purist (sorry Kenwood), op-amps, instead of passive devices in the LPF, looks like an area that could hurt the sound. Just an observation. On to DX, the KT-1100 was good but the L-02T came out ahead again. At 88.7, the L-02T kept a large stereo image but with some background noise. The KT-1100's image shrank, but had less background noise. Also, the KT-1100 would occasionally lose the signal and "go to black" while the L-02T held onto this weak signal with consistency. As usual, 104.9, 88.1 and 88.9 gave no problems on either tuner on this fine sunny day. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for KT-1100
I've chosen the beginning of this review to recap my thoughts on the Kenwood L-02T. There are, thankfully, a growing number of excellent-sounding tuners that have spent time on the Shootout shelf. I say excellent in contrast to very good or just OK. The excellent badge is signified by the -C- symbol in the Shootout rankings. To describe the Kenwood L-02T, I would say it has a very natural sound with an excellent three-dimensional soundstage. The individual images are often pinpoint and focused, while remaining full-bodied and lifelike. This depends on the recordings, of course, as with any source, but this tuner always seems to bring home the goods. The dynamic contrasts are excellent and I've not noticed better with any stock transistor tuner. The apparent front-to-rear imaging is very believable. Voice, musical instruments and sounds have a solid, tangible life that helps make the whole listening experience something to look forward to. The only real downside to the L-02T is that the highs aren't as extended as some good tuners. If I could only tie the Philips AH6731 highs on.... Now that would be THE tuner!
Now, onto the Kenwood L-02T vs. the McIntosh MR 80 Shootout. Oh, the poor old Mac. What an act to follow after all the praise just showered on the L-02T. Well, have heart, all you Mac aficionados, this Mac sounds very nice. A very pleasant sound indeed. It has been in the system for well over a week and may stay there even longer. This Mac must weigh at least forty pounds [including cabinet, I presume? -Editor]. Because my back was bothering me, I've listened to the MR 80 lying down, standing, off-axis and lying on the floor, with the most uncomfortable listening position being the normal, on-axis stereo position. This variety of positions gave me good insight into the sonic charms of the MR 80. The trouble with many of these tuners, or maybe their saving grace, is they can sound different, sometimes very different from the L-02T and still be a pleasure to listen to. Case in point this time, our MR 80. There was no harshness, hardness, or brightness, and no slight "mechanical" sound like I observed in the MR 78. Nothing came forth that would send it plunging to the bottom of the Shootout barrel. The bass was rich, the mids had body and a musical life to them, while the highs were close in character to the L-02T's but with a touch more extension. During the obligatory A/B tests, I found some of the Kenwood's magical properties missing or diminished through the McIntosh. The soundstage was flatter and the images were more diffuse and didn't float in their own space.
Turning the antenna toward our DX tests, we first land on 88.7 KTCU. The MR 80 was quieter than the L-02T with both tuners in their narrowest modes. The MR 80 labels its selectivity modes Narrow and Super Narrow. Even though the stereo lamps on both tuners were lit, with occasional flickers, the sound was hardly more than mono. An interesting sonic difference was that the MR 80 sounded more muted and distant while the mono signal from the L-02T continued to present a more open, lively sound. When trying to listen to both tuners in the widest mode, the MR 80 still came out on top with the quieter signal. Swinging the antenna east to our other problem child, 88.9 KKTR, the MR 80 again bested the L-02T, slightly, with less background hiss but at the price of a more narrow stereo image. On medium to strong signals, no problems were encountered on either of these great tuners. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for MR 80
Shootout #51 (posted 09/13/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. NAD 4155 Winner: L-02T
I see this NAD as an attractive, medium gray tuner with clean lines. While it stood alone in the ring, I was confronted with a pleasant sound and nice, punchy bass. The midrange was clean and articulate, but there was a touch of extra sibilance noticed on spoken voice. When the L-02T stepped into the ring, the NAD still impressed with its bass power. The midrange, however, had a slightly thinner sound that robbed the music of some life. The highs blended nicely with the mids and were never what I would call bright-sounding.
When I proofread these reviews, I realize my judgments may seem harsh on some Shootout "victims"? This really isn't the case, as most of the fifty-plus tuners, so far, have a pleasant enough, acceptable sound. The problem is, there are a few tuners out there that get most everything "just right." These few with "The Right Stuff" are, simply, way above average in the world of tuners. Upon rereading this review a few months after writing it, and seeing where I originally placed the NAD on the Shootout list, I had to ask myself why I gave it such a relatively high rating. There are tuners below it that sound, well, nicer BUT less dynamic, less lively. This seems to happen when some tuners have their outputs taken directly off the MPX chip (no buffer circuit). On such tuners, you get a pleasant enough sound that most of us could live with, but you lose some of that excitement found in a real musical experience. The added buffer circuitry can, IMO, both add to and take away from the final sonic picture. We may gain better bass control and extension but lose some midrange pleasantness or, when we get lucky, everything improves for the better. When it was finally time to put this review up, I left the NAD in its original list position.
Within the DX ring, the NAD refused to see 88.7 KTCU but locked onto 88.5 instead, and with a clean signal. Off-tuning didn't help and the next thing it received, besides noise, was a signal on 88.9. The L-02T was able to capture 88.7 only because of its narrow mode. With both tuners tuned to our other weak neighbor to the east at 88.9, both tuners were able to hold a stereo signal, but with some background noise. One interesting thing occurred during testing. I had both tuners tuned in to 107.5 but forgot to adjust the antenna, which was more than 90 degrees off. Under these conditions, the NAD became noisy and bright compared to the L-02T, which kept its normal sonic balance. Adjusting the antenna brought things back to normal. The NAD had no problems with local stations with average or above-average power. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for NAD 4155
This Revox is an attractive tuner. It reminds me of test equipment seen in the past. It has quite an interesting look which is much nicer than the basic black of many more modern digital tuners. Some DX tests first.... going around the dial, we got the following results. At 88.1, the L-02T gave a clean stereo signal while the B261 switched to mono, a real surprise as this doesn't happen too often, but then it was learned that 88.1 had transmitter damage and was under repair during these tests. On the weak college station at 88.7, the Revox impressed with its capture of the signal and was just a hint noisier than the L-02T. Both could only hold a mono signal. At 88.9 both tuners again switched to mono. Needless to say, there were some were strange signal conditions during this review. The Revox was very aggressive in choosing mono on all but the strongest of stations. On 107.5, which often has noise problems, the noise was more noticeable through the Revox.
On to the listening tests. The B261's bass was punchy but like so many others before, didn't have the weight and depth of the top tuners reviewed. The midrange was pleasant enough but slightly forward, as were the highs, plus the highs were not as smooth and controlled as the higher-rated tuners. I was disappointed after the Revox B760 but then again, all Kenwoods and Sansuis are not sonically equal to their family members at the top of our list, either. The winner? The L-02T. search eBay for B261
The L-02T never ceases to amaze me in how deep the bass goes, and with more punch than most tuners. The ST-9030's bass was full and rich-sounding even though it didn't have the final depth and punch of the L-02T's. As a matter of fact, this Technics reminds me of the Sumo Charlie, with its lower midrange hump that also gives an apparent sense of bass. The 9030's whole sound was pleasant, but kind of bland and more one-dimensional than the L-02T's. The higher frequencies of both tuners gave no problems during music playback. Although the L-02T sounded more "right" I saw no serious sonic sores on the challenger. All in all, a pleasant sound, but I was less inclined to tap my foot while listening. I believe the ST-9030 uses the same audio op-amps as the Kenwood KT-7500 and may benefit from some DIY upgrades. The rack-mount styling and clean lines should attract those who favor this styling, me among them. The 9030 has a button for Narrow or Wide which is labeled Auto/Wide. Therefore, in Auto, the tuner chooses when to switch to the narrow bandwidth. I hate not being in control.
At 88.7, the L-02T held a nice clean stereo signal while under tests this day. The ST-9030 had some interference problems with other stations, plus there was breakup of the signal on loud voice and music signals. Neither tuner was listenable in stereo during these tests. At 88.9, the 9030 held a better stereo signal but suffered with more background hiss. The dial pointer was pretty far off, so take this review with a grain of salt. I feel this tuner may be more out of alignment than most so far. Winner? The L-02T. [ST-9030 Ricochets] search eBay for ST-9030
Shootout #54 (posted 10/09/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Sanyo Plus T35 Winner: L-02T
Well gang, let's go fishin'. I'll start by giving you the hook, line, sinker and the catch.
The HOOK: What is going on here? Is it legal for a Sanyo to sound this good? In 1968, while stationed on Okinawa, I noticed that Okinawans owned mostly Sanyo products while selling Sony and Sansui to us GIs. Did they know something they weren't sharing?
The LINE: This is a great-sounding tuner. Every once in a blue moon, a tuner lands on my shelf that just sounds RIGHT! It makes you want to just sit, close your eyes and listen. This Sanyo has that seductive characteristic. This has happened before with the Philips, a Sansui or two and of course, with the Kenwood L-02T. I can't explain why any one certain tuner is capable of this. The next Sanyo may not possess this magic. Just some thoughts I wanted to share before I dissect the sound. The sound, in toto, is tuneful, balanced and invites long listening sessions. The bass, while not going to the bottom of the well, definitely got its feet wet. Bass punch and bloom had the same sonic character as the L-02T, if not the bottom reach. The Sanyo's midrange takes a step or two back in the sound stage from the L-02T's. While the L-02T has a very focused midrange, the Sanyo has a more laidback, slightly diffuse approach. The highs had a touch more sparkle than the L-02T's, but never seemed out of alignment from the total package.
The CATCH: This is the second Sanyo through here this year. The first played on my work bench one day and then went crazy, throwing loads of RF, and never played music again. This Sanyo under review had trouble turning on this morning. Whether this is a flaky on/off switch or something more ominous about to happen, I don't know yet.
The SINKER: Sonically? Highly recommended. Mechanically? Proceed with caution.
Shootout #55 (posted 10/18/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Meridian Model 504 Winner: L-02T
First impression? Smooth, sweet sound. This Meridian has a clean, articulate midrange that always remained musically inviting. The bass is good and the highs are smooth and detailed, being neither recessed nor forward of the total package. When thrown up against the L-02T, I think the perceived smoothness is partly the result of a less punchy, less full bass. There appears to be less of an overall sense of dynamics. I sometimes preferred the Meridian's midrange over the L-02T's, though, again because of its smooth sonic character. On my solo tests, I really liked the overall sound and knew it could be enjoyed for hours without listener's fatigue. After so many tuners have passed through the Shootout corral, I realize, as sweet-sounding as the Meridian 504 is, it can't quite grab that Class -C- brass ring. For that prize, a tuner must have deep bass, dynamics, natural highs and a pleasant, listenable midrange - that Class -C-, "does everything right" package that can take an FM devotee all the way there. On DX and ergonomics, I was unable to force this tuner to stop on either of our weak test stations. It turned its British nose up at all but local stations with acceptable signals. Want a good-looking, pleasant-sounding tuner? Then it's recommended. search eBay for Meridian
The B&K is an attractive black digital tuner with clean lines. Most of the Shootout tuners reviewed are loans from a very small group of serious FM tuner collectors and TIC contributors, but once in a while I just have to buy one for myself. Call it product identification with B&K, if I need an excuse. One of my first successful quests into audiofoolia was a satisfying setup of a B&K amp, Maggie SMG A's and my first handmade preamp. This tuner reminded me of those early B&K days, so out came the checkbook. I left the tuner on for a couple of days - as a matter of fact, it looks to be always on, but when you hit the mute switch, the display turns off. Besides search and set switching, there is MONO, WIDE, MUTE and DX switching. The DX setting, when engaged, gave more signal strength bars on the display. Manual tuning is slow but you can memorize eight stations. A look inside showed a simple layout with a short audio signal path to the outputs. While listening one-on-one before the A/B tasks, I was impressed on hearing a smooth, sweet, laidback sound that had no sonic problems from bottom to top. The biggest difference compared to the L-02T was, as usual, a loss in bass punch. But the sound from the midrange on up was similar to the L-02T, with the B&K's highs more extended but pleasant. Where this tuner loses out to the L-02T and most others in -C- class is in that more dynamic, lifelike presentation - the area that helps take me a touch closer to imagining I'm in the audience.
The rankings are getting very crowded and there are so many tuners in the Shootout list that are a cut above any mass-market also-ran. There has been no real reason for me or my small band of tuner collectors and contributors to buy any real junk. As you know, some time ago I felt it was necessary to create the -C- class of tuners, for tuners that give us just about as much as we could really hope for in a stock tuner. I always came away from my listening sessions very satisfied in that smallish -C- class group. The -C- group always has very good bass, great sound through the midrange, and sweet, non-fatiguing highs. They always seem to give that extra little something. Now I feel it is time to create another class of very good tuners to follow the -C- class. And what shall we call it? -M- class, I think. Those above average tuners that give us a good "-M-idrange," good bass and highs, but maybe not always in that rare, more seamless combination of everything that makes the -C- class just right. The -M- group should all be keepers, but may be just shy of that "I'm there" feeling. I want to add that I feel most fortunate to be able to listen and review all these great tuners and it has definitely spoiled me. Along with being spoiled, I've become very picky, and any tuner in class -C- or -M- would probably have sounded GREAT to my ears five years ago. Seeking audio perfection can be very expensive! Starting with this review, the -M- class tuners are identified on our list. There are a ton of great FM tuners out there and I hope each one of you can get to enjoy at least one.
Testing for DX on 88.7, both tuners were doing great on this sunny day. With both tuners in mono, narrow and the TS-108 in its DX mode, I was able to hear good, clean signals. Switching both to stereo mode, the TS-108 had the wider stereo spread with some faint background hiss. Switching both to WIDE mode, the TS-108 kept the stereo image but with more hiss and intermittent interference from 88.5. The L-02T's circuits knew better than I and shut to mono, resulting in much less hiss but an equal amount of interference from 88.5. Even 88.9 gave less problems than usual with nice stereo signals through both tuners. When I returned to 88.9 later in the day, the earlier good signal had diminished and both tuners had some background noise as hiss. This was more noticeable on the TS-108. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for TS-108
The Sansui TU-417 tuner is nothing more than a little dog in a big doghouse. Sansui had a good marketing strategy way back when. In the TU-x17 series, there were five tuners: the 217, 317, 417, 517 and on top of the pack, the 717, as their big dog. The underappreciated TU-517 is basically a TU-717 with minor differences. Sometimes a good bargain to be had there. With the 217, you got a nice-sounding, slim (for the time) tuner. When you dished out more money for a 317, you got panel lights. Dish out a little more of your hard-earned money for a 417 and you got the same tuner in a case the size of the 717's, with even more light bulbs! The 217, 317 and 417 are basically the same tuner. Now on the 417, you do get a bigger power transformer and a few added capacitors in the power supply, but the circuit board, circuit and even part identifications look to be identical in all three. As a matter of fact, any of the three could be repaired or DIY modified with each other's schematics.
Rounding up the usual suspects for DX tests, there were no obvious problems on stations with good signal strength. Where the TU-417 stumbled was on the weakest local area stations. At 88.7, the L-02T was able to grab and hold a stereo signal but with some background hiss and a quiet mono signal, both these tests done in narrow mode. The TU-417 has no narrow mode and was not able to hide from 88.5's incessant intrusions in its attempt to tune in 88.7. On our other weak station at 88.9, both tuners performed OK but the TU-417 had noticeably more background hiss. The L-02T was in wide for this test.
It never ceases to amaze me how nice these old Sansuis sound. The TU-417's bass had a warm, rounded sound that was quite pleasant, although when switching between tuners, it was obvious that the L-02T still ruled. The 417's sound through the midrange was sweet and inviting. The imaging presented was slightly less focused and there was some loss of dynamic contrasts in the music. The highs were also smooth and sweet, more so than the previously tested TU-217. In solo listening tests, the differences faded as the music flowed from the TU-417. I've already stated that this is essentially the same tuner as the TU-217, but it did sound slightly better. What factors involved are just guesses but maybe, the bigger power transformer? The extra capacitors in the power supply? The alignment? By luck, a better set of filters? This tuner's dial indicator was near dead-on across the board, with the signal strength at max when center tuned. All in all, a fine showing. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for TU-417
Ha! Accuse me of favoritism, will you? Another Kenwood has clawed its way close to the top. The sound was quite nice but I wasn't crazy about the controls being on a remote. It did have lots of gadgets, though, some of which were wide/normal/narrow bandwidths, high/low sensitivity, and two antenna inputs. The face is clean with a muted amber (yellow) display. The remote volume came in handy to level match the two tuners. As many know, I use an alps pot to level-match tuners and it involves lots of adjusting back and forth from couch to controls, so the remote made the process somewhat simpler for this review. One interesting feature was that the tuner automatically chooses wide, normal or narrow mode when changing stations or when using the rotor to pull in a station. You can manually override this, but I'm not sure I like this "I know what's best" mentality. Some people must have their gadgets.
On 88.7, the L-1000T automatically switched to narrow mode. When placed in wide mode, neither tuner could capture the signal. A lot of this has to do with atmospheric conditions and possibly, the station, as I've been able to receive a fair signal from the L-02T in wide on other occasions, in other reviews. In narrow mode, the L-1000T was the noisier of the two. I was a little surprised that it was able to control 88.5 interference better than most tuners have in the past. At 88.1, both tuners played fine and I stopped awhile to enjoy the jazz. At 88.9, the L-02T usually goes into mono in auto mode but will play stereo when manually switched. While both tuners held stereo signals, the L-1000T was slightly quieter and cleaner-sounding. Neither one was a clear winner in controlling 107.5's problematic background birdies and grunge.
The L-1000T's sound? Very nice indeed. The bass goes deep, and there were hints of our L-02T's extra fullness. At times, the L-1000T even gave a few hints of its own - like a sense of slightly more dynamic punch in the midrange. A quick guess is this may be the result of better decoupling around the op-amps or the different op-amps used. The treble was more extended, but remained pleasant-sounding. The character of the midrange and treble moved the sound slightly forward when the tuners were readjusted to match the bass. During all tuner tests, every attempt is made to match tuners through the midrange first, to observe differences compared with our benchmark tuner. Not many have matched the L-02T in bass extension, but a few surprises are just around the corner... stay tuned! I enjoyed the solo listening sessions with the L-1000T. All in all, a very good-sounding tuner but after all is said, reviewed and done, the winner is the L-02T. search eBay for L-1000T
This Accuphase was a top dog while running with the Kenwood on the DX track. It is a beautiful champagne gold, definitely more attractive than this L-02T sitting on my shelf. The acid test of 88.7 KTCU showed both tuners holding clean signals in their narrow modes. The Accuphase gave a wider stereo image even though its stereo lamp extinguished on this weak signal. The L-02T sounded like nothing more than mono while its stereo lamp remained on. Of course, there was slight background hiss through the Accuphase and that disappeared when the mono button was pushed. The two were equals in grabbing and holding most signals. The T-109 is an impressive DXing tool.
My first impression was that the Accuphase was the sonic equal of the L-02T. It was time to roll up my sleeves and clean my ears for some serious listening. The Accuphase's bass was deep and powerful, closely matching the Kenwood. The T-109's highs were more extended and just slightly forward, but without irritation. Both imaged well, but the Accuphase didn't give that sense of depth that I always feel through the Kenwood. I heard nothing unpleasant while listening to the Accuphase on its own, but when critical A/B tests started, the L-02T consistently presented slightly more air and ambience with the music. The Accuphase was ultimately less inviting of the two for music enjoyment. That being said, this tuner was not bad, especially for bass freaks. The winner? The L-02T. search eBay for T-109
Occasionally, before a review, I throw a tuner on the shelf and just listen. It's a kind of mental health exercise to escape from the clinical A/B/DX work these Shootouts sometimes become. This Sansui was one of these tuners and the experience was rewarding. The TU-S9 gave nice, clean, noise-free stereo reception. The bass was deep and full, the midrange was smooth and laidback, and the highs mated well for a neutral, natural-sounding package. The total package was very enjoyable and I was pulled into a long listening session. When forced to stand toe-to-toe with the L-02T, the TU-S9 still stood proud with a good bass quality, but lost a bit of the L-02T's fuller bass weight. There were similarities through the midrange, with the TU-S9 being a shade lighter. I find it hard to describe that special "it" that makes me want to continue listening or want to hurry through a review. It can't always be described with more bass, better imaging, sweet highs, etc. but when "it" is there, that tuner climbs close to the top of the Shootout list. You've probably guessed that I feel that this overachiever has "it." The Sansui TU-S9 should satisfy a wide range of listeners in search of good sound on a budget. I could surely live with it, even in my position of having access to so many exotic tuners.
When running through the DX tests, the TU-S9 was occasionally able to see 88.7 when off-tuned to 88.8, but the signal was not listenable. The L-02T, in its narrow mode, had no problems. Both tuners were able to capture and hold good signals with very little noise when tuned to 88.9. On strong to medium-strength stations, the TU-S9 was clean and quiet. Winner? The L-02T. Your Wallet Winner? The Sansui TU-S9. search eBay for TU-S9
It has been a long, successful reign for the king of stock tuners. He has either mowed them down as they stepped into the ring, or at least gone all 10 rounds for the win. Boxing fans know it's hard to defeat the champ, especially if it's a close match. Well, the champ is champ no longer. Enter the Accuphase T-109V. When a good company builds a product at a price point, any product, we expect the best for our money at that point. If we shell out more money, it's usually because we expect an even better product with more features, longer life or whatever. I believe Kenwood did that with the L-02T. Their customers got their money's worth - and it appears Accuphase has come through, too.
I knew this day would come. The Shootout King has been sonically bested in my system. Let's not beat around the bush: this Accuphase IS the smoothest-sounding stock tuner in the Shootouts to date. The similarities between it and the L-02T are many. Both have great bass in my system, and both have an excellent midrange and imaging properties. I've always considered the L-02T's upper midrange and treble to have the most desirable sound of all the stock tuners tested, but, to me, the Accuphase beats it by just a little. The higher notes, cymbals, triangles, violins, and even down into female voice had a silky smoothness that the L-02T hints at, but the Accuphase delivers. The total sound is slightly more forward, compared to the L-02T. This was not a defect, just different. The Accuphase's highs give a little extra feeling of life to the music, a sheen and finish to the notes - this has been mentioned before, in tuners like the Philips. And the T-109V's bass satisfies like only a few have. Keep in mind, these differences were very subtle, as they usually are with the top tuners. Not night and day, but noticeable. I found myself listening more and more and reviewing less and less. I kept thinking I heard small differences on the first station chosen, but never was sure until I tuned in Dallas's classical station, WRR, where the differences were more obvious. Again, I caught myself listening more to the Accuphase and less to the L-02T. As I settled in and chose different music formats on other local stations, my appreciation of this tuner's sonic attributes continued to grow. At this point in the Shootouts, this would be my tuner of choice. It has a wonderful sound and is definitely more pleasing to look at than this big black box that's the L-02T.
When it came to DXing, the Accuphase held its own all the way, even grabbing and holding 88.7, KTCU, the 3,000 watt college station in Ft. Worth. It worked like no other before it. The only caveat was that on weak stations with background noise, the noise was more noticeable on the Accuphase than on the L-02T - the downside of those more extended highs. Doing a 180 away from KTCU, both tuners were able to occasionally grab KTCU off the rear of the antenna. But surprise, surprise. While the Accuphase did nothing more, the L-02T was intermittently swamped by 88.9 to the Northeast. This test was while searching for KTPB, our other 88.7 station, but it was not found. This was on a rainy, overcast day.
Winner by a nose, the Accuphase T-109V. Now we have a problem: this is a loaner and I won't be able to use it as our new Shootout standard. And believe me when I tell you, we tried and tried to buy it, but the owner would not budge. And he says it isn't even his best-sounding tuner. Can't just one tuner satisfy him? Sheesh! How many tuners does one person need? We also tried finding one *out there* but they are either very rare or the current owners have no intentions of letting theirs go. So with the L-02T staying as our benchmark for future Shootouts, I am going to have to rate the T-109V above #1. I will rate the Accuphase as number "1 PLUS." Now for some notes and caveats.... I was told this tuner was the one presented at a CES show by Accuphase. The questions going through my head are "did Accuphase fine-tune it? A little extra care matching parts? Filters?" Probably not, but it is something to ponder. I know I must sound like a mother hen protecting her chick, the L-02T, but I felt this information needed to be shared. The winner is... I can't say it. Sorry.
This Onkyo has a polite, pleasant sound and images well. The politeness extends into the bass, so we lose that excitement of the big dog's bark. The 4310R is considered a DX tuner, and owners should be able to search the dials for long periods with no fatigue. This machine can search in 250 kHz steps, which was useful in off-tuning 88.7 to get away from adjacent channel splatter from 88.5. At 88.7, both tuners were able to hold a stereo signal in narrow. The Onkyo had more steady background hiss than the L-02T, but the Kenwood had occasional distortion which was noticed on voice and music. With the L-02T fine-tuned and the Onkyo set at 88.725 and both set to wide mode, the Onkyo held a slightly quieter signal. The noise in wide came from the interference from 88.5. I would guess the L-02T has a "wider" wide allowing the more prominent noise from 88.5. The Onkyo has a display to boast of its DX/Local switching. The tuner chose about 50/50 between the two automatic settings on twelve stations tested. The Onkyo wasn't as aggressive as the L-02T in closing to mono with both tuners set to auto mode, but on these weaker signals, there was more background hiss than on the L-02T when the L-02T was manually switched to stereo mode. In the final results, the Onkyo impressed as a DX machine and didn't offend as a music machine. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for T-4310R
Kyocera stands for Kyoto Ceramics. The company was founded in 1959, and as they grew, they merged with Yashica cameras and later jumped into the hi-fi arena. They used their ceramics in their cameras and in their hi-fi gear (hey, when your game is widgets, use the widgets). This tuner is really a beautiful piece of hi-fi, IMO. It also sounds quite nice, or at least I thought that at first. From the moment it was turned on I liked it. Time spent alone with the Kyocera was a pleasant experience and no warts appeared to blemish the music except for a little extra sparkle at the top, barely noticeable at first. I actually thought it was a faint cymbal, but it continued on too many songs. When the T-910 was pitted against the L-02T, it became clear this was some type of added artifact. Shades of digital! Pressing on, I noticed slightly less bass. The Kyocera's overall sound was less focused, but still pleasant - a nice sound that never irritated, but now I knew the tuner was making a little of its own music and this was no karaoke contest. If this faint, occasional ringing is a circuit problem common to this tuner, I would steer clear. If it's an isolated and fixable problem with this one piece, I would want one of these beauties myself. Winner, the L-02T.
When the DX tests began, the Kyocera slipped some more. When pointing to KTCU on 88.7, to the west, the T-910 couldn't shake 88.5. The L-02T was able to bring in a fair signal from KTCU, but with 88.9 occasionally breaking in on the music. On a different night, different problems occurred. I was able to catch 88.7 by off-tuning the Kyocera to 88.8, and on this night it was quieter here than the L-02T, which had faint background noise. On another weak station, 88.9, both tuners were happier. When I tried to capture 88.7 to the east, our old faithful L-02T waited patiently for his lady, 88.7, to occasionally waltz through the room. The more aggressive Kyocera would grab any lady close and have a go. When tuned to 88.7, he would grab 88.5. When I tried to discourage him by tuning to 88.8, he grabbed 88.9 who was close by (as far as the antenna direction was concerned). The stronger stations gave neither tuner any trouble. I tried in vain to capture KKFC in Oklahoma, but on those occasions both tuners showed their same nature as when waiting to dance with 88.7, east. The T-910 has a button labeled Multipath. Yes, it works... kind of. While trying for a better, less noisy signal at 88.7 west, I engaged the multipath. The noise cleared up, but 88.7 vanished and the stronger signal from 88.5 came in, nice and quiet. Not what I wanted, but it did have a quiet background. search eBay for Kyocera
I will consider this review an official new beginning. As we begin our second full year of Shootout reviews, it is appropriate, IMO, to start this new series with a Kenwood. After all, it was a Kenwood that started this whole Shootout business. We never dreamed it would have grown to this level of interest and yes, work! By new series, I mean there have been many changes. I've added new shelving and new acoustic treatments, reworked the input antenna connections as well as the switching, level controls and wiring, and I will be using new amplifiers. Like the 300B amps they replace, I built them, but this time I used Heathkit iron, all new parts and a circuit designed by a friend who passed away in 2003. I began the amp project before his untimely death, so this was not a sentimental whim. He built his pair in 1992 and I instantly fell in love with their sound. They give a little more power than the 300B amps and may be closer in sonics to most readers' systems because they are a push-pull circuit with feedback, not single-ended. The subwoofer I mentioned recently in our Yahoo FMtuners group will not be used during Shootout reviews because, as much fun as it was, I felt it masked sonic differences in tuners during the A/B tests. Also, the antenna has been raised higher, which has changed the parameters of the DX test results. For one thing, I have been receiving KTPB 88.7 more consistently. Also, at Eric's request, I will be trying to find better DX tests at the top end of the band. For this review, it will be KKFC 105.5, with a power of 20,000 watts. KKFC is 123 miles north but unlike KTPB 88.7 at 100+ miles east, there are no large trees in the yard blocking the signal.
In an effort to get *comfortable* with the new amps, I reviewed for a second time a few tuners for which I had already completed Shootout reviews: the Sansui TU-417, a Magnum Dynalab FT-101, a Kenwood KT-5020 and this KT-990D. The TU-417 review was posted as Shootout #57, but the others had not yet been posted and existed only in draft form. I will be updating those original reviews before posting them. During the honeymoon phase with the new amps, I spent many days A/B testing not only different tuners against the L-02T, but many against one another with the big guy turned off. Much was learned and I'm happy with the new amps as a reviewing tool. Please note my three rules for measuring Shootout results, as described in the revised introduction at the top of this page. I also wish to thank Bob Fitzgerald for his input, technical information and polish of this finalized Shootout review and, for that matter, his help in all previous Shootouts.
There is a growing mountain of tuners from previous Shootout contests and this time we add the Kenwood KT-990D to that mountain. So, it's all in the family as these kinfolks, or should it be Ken-folks, compete. There are Kenwood tuners from the base of this growing mountain of tuners to the very peak. Will the 990D be able to climb to the vaulted -C- cliff of the mountain? We shall soon see.... By luck, I found myself with two KT-990Ds at the beginning of this review. There were no identifiable differences in sound between the two of them when A/B tested, kudos to Kenwood there. The 990D I had originally listened to through the 300B amps did have a slight edge over the other in RF performance on weak stations. On the rear panel, this 990D had the advantage of North American or European voltages, 75 or 50 µS de-emphasis, 50 or 100 kHz spacing for FM, and 9 or 10 kHz spacing for AM. To change between the kHz spacing settings, you must flip the switch, then power down and restart your computer. Oops, I mean your tuner. The other 990D was built for the North American market only. The 990D with the spacing option enables the user to tune in 25 kHz increments, even better than the labeled 50 kHz increments. Very nice.
The KT-990D's front panel switching consists of Program, Active Reception, RF Selector (distant/local), IF Band (wide/narrow) Rec Cal, Sens., Level (high/normal), Auto (stereo/mono), FM/AM, Tuning Mode (auto/manual), and A/B of presets 1 to 10 with memory button for a total of 20 channel choices. Inside the 990D, we see it uses an LA3350 MPX chip to generate the subcarrier, but the actual "Direct Pure" linear multiplier MPX work is done with an MC1495L. There are also four 4560 op-amps on the board, with the MPX used to buffer the audio signals. I found three ceramic filters marked CF1, CF3 and CF4. I could not find a CF2. There is a chance that filter two is an LC network similar to that found on another Kenwood tuner schematic.
The L-02T and the KT-990D are definitely from the same family tree, sonically. The 990D is very smooth, clean and laidback, with no irritations even after long listening sessions. There are slight differences, however. While the sound was quite similar, the L-02T gave a touch more dynamic contrast and more extension in the bass region - nothing that stands out at first, but after serious A/B study, you notice it. All in all, the KT-990D had a most pleasant, clean sound, and it is recommended. At the end of the climb, the 990D had to stop and rest just shy of the -C- cliff but should feel no shame competing sonically against his higher-climbing cousin. I'm placing this Kenwood at the top of our -M- class. There is such a small degree of diminishing returns measured against cost, in my opinion, that there would be very little reason for most people to spend the extra money on an L-02T or other megabuck tuner.
Turning to the DX tests.... On a clear, cloudless day, the KT-990D was swamped in waves by 88.5, but 88.7's signal from the west held a constant center stage. The L-02T held an acceptable mono signal on 88.7, but with too much background noise for real listening pleasure. Trying to pull in 88.7 west on a rainy, mild, very cloudy day, the KT-990D had a much bigger problem with assaults from 88.5, while the L-02T held a stereo signal with some flicker of the stereo lamp. While rotating the antenna from west to east on 88.7 on the cloudless day, I got these interesting results. As 88.7 KTCU to the west faded, 88.5 KEOM, to the south, swamped the 990D. The L-02T was able to brush KEOM off completely and grab KTPB 88.7 from the east as the antenna swung into that alignment. At 88.9, the weak signal caused no real DX problems except for a loss of air and stereo separation in the 990D. Results at 88.9 were similar on both clear and rainy days through the 990D. During the rainy weather, the L-02T held a better stereo signal at 88.9. At 105.5, KKFC, from Coalgate, Oklahoma, was captured by the L-02T with a fair mono signal, while the 990D had nothing but multi-station noise on the cloudless day. During the tests on the overcast day, the 990D was able to catch 105.5, faintly, from time to time while the L-02T had better results with less noise from other stations. KKFC's signal consistently drifted in and out through both tuners. As a DX machine, the L-02T proved a touch better. search eBay for KT-990D
Only days before this Quad review was originally to be posted, we were accused of being biased against Quad in our FMtuners discussion group, then against Sony on Audio Asylum. Naturally, all this is untrue. When a certain manufacturer is under-represented in the Shootouts, or not represented at all, one possible problem is availability - 90% of the Shootout tuners are loaners. The other problem is that the Shootout reviews are an ongoing project, so no matter which tuner is reviewed next, we will always be leaving out someone's favorite or one someone is curious about. Given enough time, we should be able to review most from the days of old to tomorrow's winners (or losers).
The Quad FM4 is an attractive, two-tone gray, with one red and seven yellow buttons that control station selection and memory. The large knob provides a silky feel and fast tuning. The rear panel, left to right, has an IEC "in" socket plus an unswitched "out" socket; next is the fuse and a switch for 200/240 volts or 100/120 volts; next, left and right RCA outs, then a five-pin socket providing the same function; and last, the 75 ohm antenna connection. Inside, the AC and power supply are completely enclosed in a solid steel cage, a nice touch. There is a memory battery marked 4.8 volt and the MPX chip is marked TCA 4500. There doesn't appear to be a buffer after the LPF. There is sound-dampening material glued to the top and bottom of the case but it's losing its sticking power, which became a real problem when removing the case. Caution is advised if you need to get inside. The FM4 wasn't designed as a DX machine but I had no problems with local stations. The L-02T had some trouble holding KTPB 88.7 on the morning of these tests, but the Quad could only jump between 88.5 and 88.9 as I tried to fine-tune. When tuning to the weak station at 88.9, it gave neither tuner any problems. Our most problematic local station, KTCU 88.7, was coming in nicely for a change and even the Quad did well, but with some interference from 88.5. As would be expected, the FM4 could not find KKFC 105.5, which is 120-plus miles away, but the L-02T, in narrow mode, pulled it in for the best reception yet from this Oklahoma station.
The sound? The FM4's midrange was open and airy without being thin or too light-sounding. I sensed that this tuner reproduced all the resolution each station was capable of giving. The highs were a touch forward, but never unpleasant. The problem was in the bass, or lack of it - and not just compared to the big, boss bass of the L-02T, either. The Quad's bass seemed more rolled-off than many tuners that have gone through the Shootouts. There was more bass than the previously reviewed Denon TU-850, though. This tuner may be a good choice for apartment dwellers who want to play their music loud without bothering their neighbors with bass boom. After my original review, motivated by the questions raised by the Quad enthusiast in FMtuners, I borrowed the Quad for a second time and listened through the new amps, and it was again tested against the L-02T. No new surprises, except to add that it is a pleasant-sounding tuner that would satisfy most casual FM listeners. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for FM4
As mentioned in the Kenwood KT-990D Shootout, Bob helps me polish these reviews with his technical input and more. I wish to acknowledge Eric's efforts also, as he proofreads my reviews. That is surely a tightrope walk with my writing style, between proper English and letting some of the Texanese through.
This is the second in a trilogy of Kenwood DLLD tuners that started with the KT-990D and will probably end with the KT-5020. DLLD stands for Direct Loop Linear Detector and is Kenwood's implementation of a phase lock loop detector, only seen on top performance tuner models. The KT-3300D seems to be Kenwood's most serious effort of these three. For starters, it is an FM-only tuner. Inside we find a potted power transformer, an MC 1495L, used in the Pure Linear MPX decoder, as with the 990D. There is a board or circuit, both in this model and in the KT-990D, that I cannot explain. Bob is looking into this. It is marked D.C.C., and in the KT-3300D it is at the rear with all the pots on top. It appears to generate a distortion-canceling signal that is mixed into the signal to correct for IF filter non-linearities. IC 20, 22 and 23 are 5532s and used in the MPX decoder circuit as buffers, inverters and filters. IC 21 and 24 are NJM4560D, used as composite buffers and L/R audio output amps. C141 and 142 (10 µF 25V) blocks DC at the inputs to IC24. C147 and C148 (47 µF 10V) blocks DC at the output. Q47 and Q48 are FETs used to mute the output to ground, while Q46 and Q47 are FET switches that operate de-emphasis switching locally, driven by a rear panel switch. The fixed outputs see 1.7 K ohm resistors in series, then 1.2 K to ground, before exiting on the fixed jacks. The variable outs take the long way home, from the rear, via ribbon cable back to the front panel volume pot, then back to the rear panel variable output jacks. A solid copper-colored cage covers the front end, but with holes supplied for insertion of alignment tools.
Among the many features on the front panel are a quieting control with a slide switch going from *distant* to *normal*, modulation off/on (a small digital meter), IF wide and narrow, an RF selector like the 990D with either direct or distance selection, a variable volume control, and last but maybe not least, two antenna inputs. All golly and wow features from maybe little to probably very useful value, depending on your needs. What worried me, or at least worried my minimalist DIY "fix it even though it ain't broke" mentality, was the audio stage sitting between the power transformer and the power supply and the power supply board sitting next to the front end. But I'm not one of the engineers or technicians who designed it, my job is to just listen. And as the taste determines my fondness for a wine, the sound determines my fondness of a tuner, so let's listen....
I'm still on honeymoon with the new amps. Not only do they sound good but they are, or will be, more cost effective than the 300B amps. I've spent many long hours doing Shootout reviews and 300B tubes cost from $60 each to $150 to ???. But I have a lifetime supply of old stock 6L6 type tubes, and even spare OEM transformers if ever needed. While on the honeymoon, my enthusiasm for the Shootouts has been rekindled and I've been on fire swapping lots of tuners in and out of the system. During this interesting Kenwood DLLD trilogy, I've also thrown the M/D FT-101, Rotel RHT-10, Sansui TU-417, Quad FM4, and Revox B760 into the mix, just listening and A/B testing different tuners against one another. I had almost forgotten how much I liked the sound of the Revox B760.
I first dialed in 88.7 to the west when turning to our DX games with the KT-3300D. In wide mode, the 3300D captured the signal but with unacceptable noise from 88.5 to my south. Off-tuning to 88.75 cleaned the signal up considerably. The L-02T gave a fairly quiet stereo signal on 88.7 with some flicker from its stereo indicator. After switching both tuners to narrow mode, the 3300D still had the much noisier signal and 88.5 still made its presence known. Again, off-tuning to 88.75 helped. Things improved even more for the L-02T in narrow. After rotating the antenna in search of our other 88.7 to the east, I was presented with a better than normal signal through the L-02T (better, at least, for the winter season). The 3300D abandoned ship and let 88.5 take over the helm. This test was in narrow mode only. Stopping at 88.9, neither tuner was able to capture and hold a steady stereo signal today. Although mono was the order of the day, both tuners passed that test with fairly good sound. Our new long distance test at 105.5, KKFC in Oklahoma, came in waves of noise, worse than usual, but I was able to occasionally recognize this country music station's signal. The noise was tolerable through the L-02T but the 3300D made me keep the volume knob turned down.
As usual, I listened to the tuner under test one-on-one for a while. The KT-3300D had a pleasant, punchy sound and definitely rates in the "keeper" group. When thrown into the ring with the L-02T, it wasn't embarrassed but I heard these differences. As usual, the bass was richer and fuller through the L-02T, but the 3300D's bass was better than most. The 3300D's sound was slightly diffuse and a touch lighter through the midrange than our king. There wasn't that *in the room* focus as with the L-02T. The 3300D's treble performance didn't embarrass and was very good. All in all, a recommended tuner. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for KT-3300D
Shootout #67 (posted 03/23/04): Kenwood L-02T vs. Magnum Dynalab FT-101 and FT-101A Winner: L-02T
If a pretty girl wears a certain summer dress that all her suitors favor - a dress that shows off her charms perfectly, gets her many compliments, more dates, etc. - I think she would wear it often. At least until it becomes old and worn. I picture the original FT-101 as such a pretty girl. Its special look and that first favorable review, so long ago, have sold her to many a suitor. But that same girl (tuner) has changed through the years, if mostly on the inside. Her inside changes have been described and will be again as we learn more about her. Not long ago, this pretty girl bought a new dress, but it looks very much like the old one (she's no fool). The last Dynalab FT-101A (now called the MD-90) eventually changed to blue and yellow lighting in place of the old red and green. The name change from FT to MD was probably to distance themselves from the Fanfare FT-1A. The faceplate's lines are now subtly softer and rounder, but the old and new dress were cut from the same cloth. She's not going to mess with success. BUT, is she really a fun date? Would you marry her? Or is she just another pretty face with no real personality? I think I'll ask her out one more time and decide.
This double Shootout covers an *early* Magnum Dynalab FT-101 and the *final* version of the FT-101A, hereafter simply called the 101 and 101A. Consider this Shootout a bigger brother matchup of the earlier FT-11 *old* and *new* Shootout.
The 101, our first date: The sound from this 101 was very nice, and pleasant listening sessions were enjoyed while it stayed in the system. The bass was good, the midrange was articulate and the highs were extended and not irritating. When A/B test time came around, the L-02T proved more three-dimensional, with a better sense of front-to-back depth, but the 101's image height and width were good. I did notice the highs took a step forward in the sound field and the midrange a step back when compared to the L-02T. This 101 brought back memories of my first 101, bought years ago, and I preferred it over the 101A in this survey. Her beauty still shines through and I enjoyed listening to her.
The 101A, the last date: The 101A was fairly smooth-sounding, but with that smoother sound came a more bland presentation. You lose a sense of dynamics, bass punch and weight compared to either the L-02T or the 101. I also noticed more background noise on some stations through this 101A against the L-02T. The old girl still looks good, but I think she's changed too much for a serious relationship. I think the girl may have multiple personalities: The final 101A has no high-level output as the earlier 101s have. The chipsets inside have changed and there is no audio buffer stage as there was in earlier 101s and 101As. Of earlier versions with both high- and low-level outputs, I've often heard people say they preferred the low-level output, but I preferred the high-level output in my first 101. But the final version's low-level out is heard through a new set of ICs, using the same MPX chip as the FT-11 *new*. The older 101, 101A, Etude and FT-11 basically have the same audio section. When it came to our attention that the last 101As had no audio buffer but take their audio output off the MPX chip only, and a different MPX chip at that, I very much wanted to try one out - hence this double review. You should be able to tell which 101A you're contemplating purchasing by whether it has one or two sets of audio outputs. Things have gotten pretty confusing, as she's changed often through the years on the inside. I have photos of at least three versions and have been inside many more. They never seem to look the same. You should weigh your options before you buy, particularly if you plan any DIY upgrades. Because of the long run of this popular tuner series, I'm sure Dynalab has had to deal with many parts changes because of supply and customer feedback, and probably through efforts to improve her. So that's a few thoughts as to why she can be so "moody" inside, but man, she still looks good to me in that summer dress! Winners? The L-02T, the 101 next, and the 101A last.
DX tests on the 101 start with my new choice for torture tests, 105.5 KKFC, in Coalgate, Oklahoma (20,000 watts). It's about 122 miles from me, a little further than 88.7 KTPB (63,000 watts) at 105 miles east. Plus there are no trees in my yard in KKFC's direction! For better DX tests, this should meet the requirement of a weak station at each end of the dial. The L-02T was able to hold a signal from 105.5 with occasional drift. The FT-101 was able to see the signal but was forced to share the space with 105.3, a local station. At 88.9, both tuners did very well during tests. 88.9 usually gives the L-02T trouble. The L-02T kept ahead of the game when swinging the antenna toward 88.7 east, and was able to grab 88.7 with long slow fades in and out. The FT-101 would jump between locals 88.5 and 88.7 when I tried to fine-tune. Both tuners were in manual, mono and narrow modes, as they were in the beginning of the next test at 88.7 west. Both tuners being analog tuned in their own way, I was able to off-tune to suppress 88.5's interference for a good mono signal. Tuned to 88.7 proper, the 101 was bothered most by 88.5's interference. Switching both to stereo, wide, manual, I was still able to get an acceptable signal from both tuners when off-tuned to around 88.8. The 101 had more background noise and spit in this test.
DX tests on the 101A also start with 105.5 KKFC. Both tuners were able to find 105.5 but the L-02T was able to reject most noise from locals 105.3 and 105.7. The 101A let all three in the ring. At 88.7 west, both tuners did fairly well, even rejecting 88.5. The same did not hold true at 88.7 east, where the L-02T did fair in capturing this weak signal but the 101A was able to grab only a fraction. One strange thing was when 88.7 east would fade, the L-02T played mostly random noise while the 101A pulled in 88.7 west from the back of the antenna. Different from the norm, the L-02T grabbed a better signal than the 101A from 88.9. I've mentioned in previous Shootouts that this station can give the L-02T trouble in stereo mode (not necessarily in auto), and some tested tuners have been quieter in comparison. [FT-101/101A Ricochets] search eBay for FT-101search eBay for FT-101A
Well, it seems I've painted myself into the proverbial corner and it's no one's fault but my own. I chose the paint. I chose the Shootout rules. If you've read the Revox B760 review, you may recall the beginning of my realization that there are thick clusters of great tuners that defy the "this is better than that" definitions. I finally gave in by creating a -C- class and, later, an -M- class for the better-sounding tuners. How do you really rate the taste of the cream at the top? I've done it by setting my standards and having a benchmark. But, never forget, this is just one man's opinion - one set of ears. Can you imagine having ten serious FM tuner collectors or FM listeners in a room and trying to make an agreed-upon list? Or choosing a ratings list from the individual tastes of our 1,600-plus FMtuners group members? Not to mention everyone else who lands on and reads this TIC page. All this verbiage is leading up to something, right? Maybe I'm just waiting for the paint to dry. My rules, my paint choices say I have to rate the tuners by the ones that sound best to me. I can't help it if not every tuner at the top of the list costs a fortune, and I can't help it if some expensive tuners sound like... well, don't sound as good as I think they should.
I knew there had to be at least a few sleepers out there: little-known, inexpensive tuners that offered great sound, great reception with good DX properties, too. The KT-990D was one. Well, tuner gang, there is another and I can't help it if it's another Kenwood. It isn't an old model and doesn't (necessarily) need parts upgrades, either. Eric sent one to me for a Shootout review and 15 minutes after hooking it up, I was on the horn asking to buy it. Looking inside was a pleasant surprise, not only because it looked DIY-friendly but because it uses the same audio op-amps as the L-02T. There is one before and one after the MPX chip. Unfortunately, this tuner doesn't use a - and + supply here, so the simple class A bias and certain other DIY tricks may be out, but HEY! - it ain't broke, anyway. This Kenwood KT-5020, the KT-990D, the KT-3300D and the L-02T all use the 4560 op-amp in different configurations in the MPX and audio sections. This may account for some of the sonic similarities found so far, along with the Kenwood engineering. Again, it was obvious that the sonic signatures were cut from the same cloth. Into the second full year of Shootouts, Bob may add more technical information when it is available. Below is his report on the KT-5020, KT-990D and the KT-880D, to be reviewed soon.
Gangs: Looks like 5, but 2 are in LO, so really 4 by traditional count.
Ceramic filters (narrow): 3
Ceramic filters (wide): 2 + LC type
Filter before MPX?: No (from what I can tell at least)
MPX: "Direct Pure" linear muliplying circuit
Output amp: NJM4560
The KT-5020 was always a pleasure to listen to. On an occasional song, there were hints that the L-02T's bass was stronger - not deeper, but a touch more powerful. The midrange of both tuners was excellent and the 5020's slightly more extended treble stayed sweet with no unpleasant hash. The soundstage didn't have quite the sense of depth of our L-02T, but imaging was excellent and precise. This is a wonderful, clean, quiet-sounding tuner that embarrasses many higher-priced contenders. I was so enthused after *discovering* this tuner, that I held up finishing the review until I could buy a couple more and experiment with DIY work inside. A simple DIY will be posted soon on the Jim and Bob's DIY Mods page. One thing I discovered was a consistency of sound among several 5020's. Again I say to Kenwood, good work! So here we have two Kenwoods with a significant price difference. The KT-5020 sells for $80 or less on eBay and the L-02T has had bids as high as $1,825.
On to DXing, we spin around the dial with these results. At 88.1, jazz, both tuners were quiet and clean-sounding. On occasional music, such as recorded live in jazz clubs or halls, the L-02T proved it still had a slight edge in bass information. At 88.7 to the west, KTCU was just not there on the day I searched and the reason was that far, far away in East Texas, KTPB was coming in strong. The tropospheric powers that be were out in full force on this day. In narrow mode, the L-02T was even able to catch and hold a stereo signal but with background hiss. The KT-5020 had trouble from neighboring 88.5 but when off-tuned to 88.75, I was able to listen without interference to a nice mono signal. Next we go to 88.9, a station that sometimes gives the L-02T's auto (stereo/mono) circuit fits, and this day was no different. The L-02T's stereo indicator would flicker and the signal would flutter. When switched to mono, things calmed down. The 5020, on the other hand, was happy with 88.9's signal in stereo. At 106.7, a dance music station, the L-02T's stronger bass was sometimes brought to light as was the 5020's extra treble energy. The station's signal isn't the greatest, or maybe it's just the recordings.
On DX tests performed more recently, I got these results. In stereo/wide mode and tuned to 88.7 to the west, I was surprised to see the L-02T was having as much trouble fending off 88.5 as the 5020 contender. I off-tuned the L-02T to 88.75 and 88.5 disappeared. Trying the same trick with the 5020 brought results at 88.8. In narrow/stereo mode, both tuners held much cleaner signals. The L-02T remained in stereo, but the 5020 collapsed to mono. When I swung my APS-9 to the other 88.7, to the east, I was able to capture the signal fairly well. I heard it through the 5020 also but it was very, very weak, and recognized only because I could A/B the two tuners. Again, I had to off-tune to hide from 88.5 on the 5020. Now, I wonder how much this 5020, or many other potential candidates, could be raised several levels in DX capability and even sound quality, if- IF, one of our pioneers in matching filters, adding Ammons boards and doing proper alignments could go in there and "do their thang"? Finally, I swung the antenna north toward Oklahoma in search of 105.5. Through the L-02T, I was able to find the signal but it would drift in and out, sharing time with 105.7, a local station. Occasionally, I was able to hear 105.5 through the 5020 but the signal was being walked all over by locals 105.7 and 105.3.
There are at least two versions of the KT-5020: one version made for North America and one with switchable power supply voltages and switchable between AM 9/10 kHz steps, FM 50/100 kHz steps, and 75/50 µS de-emphasis. Looking inside, I think this tuner could easily handle DIY experiments and mods, but the truth is, it reminds me of the Philips AH673/6731. It's one of those rare tuners that ain't really broke, so why fix it. AND, it isn't old. After the A/B Shootout against the L-02T, this 5020 was drafted into the tuner "shelf shuffle" and was compared in every which way with the others mentioned over the past few months and, of course, reviewed again through the new amps. My rating dropped one notch from the first draft after direct comparisons to the KT-990D and Revox B760. Early on I thought the 5020 was better than the Revox but the more I listened, the more I felt that the Revox won out in bass extension. The final results are the Revox, then the 5020 and then the 990D. But the ultimate winner of this Shootout? The L-02T. search eBay for KT-5020
I turned the Technics on and let it "cook" for a few days before any serious listening. Many of the tuners under test don't get the use and abuse the L-02T gets, so they deserve a bit of warm-up/burn-in time. The first thing I must note is that before this tuner landed in Texas, it had a couple of problems that Bob F. repaired. In Bob's words, he "had to fix two separate problems - one was the display, the other was in the power supply. I put the lid back on, and it sounded pretty good, so I let it be. These complex ones like the ST-G7 need a full service manual to do an alignment correctly. I usually only touch complex later digital ones (without a manual) if they seem off in a *big* way." [Since Bob only repaired and did not modify this tuner, it still qualifies for the Shootouts. - Editor] Because of the ST-G7's complexity and the fact that this one had problems, if you consider buying one of these tuners, you should make sure you trust the seller's description.
My listening notes describe the ST-G7 as tuneful, articulate and precise. The bass presentation was a pleasant surprise and impressed over many tuners in past reviews. Only on an occasional song was I aware that the L-02T dug a little deeper. There was nice ambience and air through the Technics' midrange, too. Voice and instruments were precise and well-articulated (no fuzziness here). The upper mids and highs were slightly more forward compared to the L-02T's, but never seen (heard) in a negative light. On some tuners, I've described a forwardness that irritated or at least distracted me from the intended musical presentation, but not so with the ST-G7. I would compare the Technics and the L-02T to listening in two different but nice music halls, one lively and one well-damped. While listening to a mostly jazz college station, I preferred the Technics. On a smooth jazz station, I preferred the L-02T. On most other stations and venues, I enjoyed the unique sonic character of each tuner. Occasionally, it needs to be noted that there are, IMO, at least 50 musically satisfying tuners that have suffered through the Shootout system. If you're reading these reviews as a guide, you have many choices, regardless of my numerical rankings. This Technics ST-G7 joins that growing tuner gang.
The following DX results were noted. At 88.7, to the west, both tuners were able to capture a fair to good signal. The L-02T fared better, as the Technics had more spit and sputter in the background. I also noticed the L-02T was able to capture and hold 88.7's signal through a greater arc in the APS-9's swing toward and away from the station. The measurements here were taken in mono and narrow modes. The ST-G7 calls its wide/narrow modes Normal and Super Narrow (whatever sells the product, right?). Swinging to 105.5 in Oklahoma, the Technics could not find the signal and was continuously swamped by locals 105.3 and 105.7. The L-02T was able to slice through the muck and bring in 105.5 with a continuous drift from a faint to a strong signal. Both tuners were able to catch and hold nice signals from the fairly close but weak 88.9. This was achieved in several modes. I could force wide and stereo from both tuners with very little background noise. I say force because in auto modes, the Technics jumped to Super Narrow mode and the L-02T jumped to mono. Given the results so far, I was not surprised to see the Technics have trouble finding the 88.7 that is 100-plus miles to the east. On occasion, I could barely hear it hiding behind local 88.5's much stronger signal. Again, the L-02T rose above the also-rans and captured 88.7 for an almost acceptable signal. If this ST-G7 is a fair representation of others, I recommend it for music but not for the true DX fan. search eBay for ST-G7
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Last year, I raised the APS-9 15 feet over the rooftop, primarily to attempt to more consistently grab 88.7 east's signal. On recent attempts, it has been harder to capture and I've seen 88.7 west's signal much more often (off the back of the antenna, of course). I've blamed it on the time of year, weather conditions, etc. While working on my normal DX report for this tuner, I spent extra time trying to pull in 88.7 east, but attempts over several days still brought in 88.7 west more often. Upon further investigation, I learned that 88.7 west's power was raised from 3,000 to 10,000 watts in April. Just a note as future DX reports may not be similar to older results.
And so, starting with the DX report, we got these results. I had a good clean sound with both tuners tuned to 88.7 west, with both in mono but with the L-02T in narrow mode. In stereo mode, the ST-8080 actually gave a cleaner signal when the L-02T was switched to stereo/wide mode. Then, through the L-02T, there was occasional splatter from a much stronger signal at 88.5. When the L-02T was switched to stereo/narrow mode, the tables turned and the L-02T had nice stereo with a very quiet background. The ST-8080 had some background noise but now neither had problems with 88.5. On our other under-powered local station, 88.9, the ST-8080 gave a stereo sound, while the L-02T's stereo signal was very narrow with the stereo lamp flickering or going out. The L-02T hates this station! I was finally able to find 88.7 east during the third set of DX tests, but only on the L-02T and there was constant fading to nothingness. 88.7 west occasionally pushed its way in, as noted in the beginning of this report. The ST-8080 wasn't able to find 105.5 or 88.7 east. It just wasn't designed for DX games but it did nicely on locals, both strong and weak. To finish, the L-02T found a weak 105.5 signal that would drift completely in and out.
The ST-8080 has clean, smooth lines and looked very much at home sitting on the shelf. I'll give the good news first, which is always the most fun to report. The bass was punchy, strong and believable. The midrange was articulate and fun to sink into during listening sessions. The upper mids and highs came more forward into the room than the L-02T's, but didn't irritate like some tuners with this characteristic do. The weight of the bass didn't dig as deep as the L-02T, but didn't feel lacking when listened to alone. This tuner was difficult to place in the rankings. On the one hand, I enjoyed its musical performance, but on the other hand, the upper mids and highs were noticeably on the wrong side of neutral to rate too high on the list. But still, it is a nice music-making machine for those on a budget, those who love its looks, or just for the incurable collector. And... there looks to be easy access for DIY upgrades. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for ST-8080
This Luxman is an attractive silver with a dark woodgrain vinyl case. The wood case is also the chassis frame - when it's removed, you have a skeleton with no metal top or bottom. There is a metallized sheet of... paper? covering about 40% of the inside case. Luxman saved money on several fronts with these shortcuts. Soundwise, the T-115 gave nice punchy bass. Upper mids and highs took a step forward compared to the L-02T. The midrange was OK, but I preferred the L-02T without much study. After a long listen, I was certain: the T-115 has OK sound but is easily bested. Winner? The L-02T.
The T-115 was unacceptable in the longer-distance DX tests, such as 88.7 east and 105.5 north. Both are over 100 miles away and the Luxman only saw locals 88.5 and 105.3 during this test. Local tests started at 88.7 to the west. Testing with closer but weaker than typical stations, the Luxman was swamped by 88.5 while searching for 88.7 west. The L-02T did well. At 88.9, both tuners had no problems this time out. On one other less than optimum signal, the Luxman had noticeably more background hiss than the L-02T. search eBay for T-115
OK, you DXers, this one may be for you. Because of Onkyo's reputation, I went straight for the throat... of the antenna rotator control. First, I pointed north to 105.5 in Oklahoma. Both tuners were able to capture and hold this station's signal fairly well. The Onkyo gave me a signal with a somewhat quieter background than the L-02T did. Both tuners did well rejecting stronger locals at 105.3 and 105.7. Turning the APS-9 toward 88.7 east, both tuners saw the other 88.7, to the west, off the rear. The western 88.7 has increased its transmitting power, as previously mentioned in a Shootout. Fine-tuning the antenna, I was finally able to see 88.7 east, but the two 88.7s took turns pushing and shoving to the front. Swinging to the western 88.7, I had to off-tune both tuners when in their Wide modes to reject the stronger, closer 88.5. In their Narrow modes, both tuners pulled in 88.7 west in clean, quiet stereo. Even though KTCU, 88.7 west, has changed the DX testing with their increased power, I'm happy to add it to the few stations I truly enjoy. Finally at 88.9, the Onkyo was slightly quieter than the L-02T on Day One. The next time out, both tuners did equally well here.
On to the sound quality department.... When A/B tested, the L-02T won out as more dynamic and slightly richer-sounding. The somewhat lighter presentation through the Onkyo had no real negatives when listened to one-on-one. The treble behaved itself, adding nothing artificial. I listened to the Onkyo over several days without the L-02T. The sound was pleasing and never irritated. It goes on the growing list of good guys, and it can DX, too. Recommended. search eBay for T-4500
This Perreaux is an attractive thin-line tuner that's described here. No obvious sonic problems were noticed during my pre-shootout listening tests. It had a nicely balanced presentation, top to bottom. Even during long listening tests, I never sensed that subconscious urge to turn it down or off. When A/B tested against the L-02T, it lost some ground in warmth and richness through the lower midrange and bass. Dynamics were not quite as... dynamic. But it always sounded good when the notepad dropped and the ears perked up. It will never cease to amaze me that so many of these tuners tested can sound so subtly different, one from another, and still deliver the true pleasure that is music. Winner? The L-02T.
DX tests: On a rainy afternoon, looking east to 88.9, both tuners did well in stereo. I caught hints of more hiss on the Perreaux during moments of program silence. I knew it was foolish to try the serious long-distance tests, but I did. With the antenna pointing to 88.7 east, the L-02T picked up KTPB fairly well. The Perreaux chose to listen to local 88.5. The L-02T picked up 105.5 to the north as well, with drift, but the Perreaux chose to capture local 105.3. 88.7 to the west was off the air during my tests. search eBay for Perreaux
The Restek Metric's face is black with gold buttons and tuning knob, and all display information is in red. When I first hooked it up for my one-on-one listen, its nice bass was the first thing noticed. The midrange was well-focused and the highs were sweet and extended. Stereo imaging was excellent. It was enjoyed at length with no problems on strong stations. Next came the A/B tests. The Restek's highs were more extended than the L-02T but remained sweet and natural-sounding. The bass was about as deep and seemed, for lack of a better word, faster. The soundstage took a step forward compared to the Kenwood's. All in all, the Restek had a clean, exciting sound that many will enjoy and some may even prefer. Where I preferred the L-02T over the Restek Metric was in the lower midrange through the midrange. There was more body and, to my ears, more life to the music. Another slight problem was that the Restek needed to have over 4 bars of signal strength, equivalent to about 50 dBf on the L-02T's meter, before there was a quiet background. I enjoy listening to some stations with weak signals and some background noise is fine, but I needed to point this out.
DX play: There is no wide/narrow switch on the Restek, but there is a noise filter. The L-02T was happy with 88.9's signal today. It played with less than its normal flicker of the stereo lamp. Both tuners had some background noise. The Restek played in stereo with more background noise and occasionally would automatically jump between stereo and mono. Both played well when switched to mono. Through the L-02T, I was able to hear 88.7 east on occasion. The Restek was swamped with local 88.5 until off-tuned past 88.75. When tuned to 88.7 west, the Restek was able to catch the signal with some problems from 88.5, this also when off-tuned. The L-02T had worse problems with 88.5 in wide but none in narrow mode, as should be expected. Winner in sound and DX? The L-02T.
If tuners were wives, I would be in jail for having too many. As a matter of fact, I would be before the judge once again for cohabitating with this new lovely. The DA-F20 is a unique beauty that will never be accused of being just another "me too" black audio box. I'm happy that this review starts off the Shootouts for 2005.
I set up the L-02T and DA-F20 on a quiet, rainy night. This was actually the third or fourth attempt to complete this review as it's been one strange series of interruptions and changes at Tuner Central, Texas. Earlier listens showed a lot of promise that proved true this time around. I started the DX tests with 88.7 KTCU in Ft. Worth. Since KTCU increased their power output, 88.5 causes less interference during tests, at least on better tuners and with my directional antenna setup. I also fear that attempts to find 88.7 KTPB Kilgore, Texas, will become more difficult. Both tuners were able to reject 88.5 and receive a good stereo signal from KTCU, in both wide and narrow modes, but both had some background noise on this still-weak signal. The L-02T seemed to suppress the hiss-type noise slightly better. I rotated the antenna from west to east in an attempt to capture our other 88.7 in Kilgore. Neither tuner could find KTPB but the L-02T captured KTCU off the rear of the antenna, while the DA-F20 produced only noise as I fished between locals 88.5 and 88.9. On another day, with different weather conditions, I was able to get waves of music signal from KTPB, better through the L-02T than the DA-F20. For another DX acid test, we point the APS-9 toward 105.5 in Oklahoma. The DA-F20 could not find anything usable between locals 105.3 and 105.7, while the L-02T was able to find 105.5 in intermittent waves. 88.1 KNTU in Denton, Texas came in clean, loud and clear on both tuners.
The DA-F20 was a pleasant sonic surprise. It held its own against my benchmark and I found myself doing more direct listening and less A/B comparing. I almost felt compelled to just sit and listen. On many a Shootout night, listening has felt like work, but with this tuner, it felt like a vacation. Before I pick the nits between it and the L-02T, I'll sum it up with a few direct words: clean, fast, precise and musically involving.
Now, next to the L-02T, the bass wasn't quite as rich but seemed quicker, by just a touch. Both tuners had dynamics working for them. The Mitsubishi's midrange was very focused and believable. In comparison, the sound was a step more forward. It definitely kept me interested in the music. The DA-F20's highs were more extended while still sounding like a real part of the music. Stereo imaging was precise. The midrange seemed just right with a nice open quality. Everything seemed just about right, to such a point that I gave up looking for flaws between the two. It was seductive in a toe-tapping, not sleepy, sort of way. Finally, I turned off the L-02T and just enjoyed this new wife... err, tuner. search eBay for DA-F20
The new year lifts the moratorium on reviewing Kenwood and Sansui tuners. My first thought, an evil thought, was to review the KT-7300, then follow up with a Kenwood KT-6500, 5500 and more. I'm sure there are other Kenwoods in the warehouse. But, I'll be nice. And besides, there are some really beautiful and, I hope, great-sounding, hard-to-find tuners waiting patiently at our Texas warehouse. Can you spell Classé? Onix? TAG McLaren? Cambridge Audio?
I've heard from several guys that the KT-7300 was a sleeper - a sonic sleeper and maybe more. Mods anyone? My Nashville connection delivered one so we could find out. It doesn't have a narrow band for the DX crowd or those within some problem reception areas, but straight off, the KT-7300 passed two requirements: it had no offensive, added brightness in the highs, and good, punchy bass. I enjoyed the time spent during the initial listening sessions, without the L-02T getting in the way.
Now we get down to the real work while A/B testing against our standard. When the KT-7300 was thrown against the L-02T, I noticed a slight loss of resolution. It didn't have the ambience and extended detail to musical notes through the mids and highs like the L-02T does. It reminded me of the Yamaha T-2 review where I said there was a "slight loss of harmonic richness to instruments." Well, the KT-7300 sounded more involving than the Yamaha. It also had sweeter highs and didn't drift. Did I mention the bass? Another plus, the reception was better than other inexpensive tuners such as the Sansui TU-217, etc. I didn't have any surprises in the DX tests and the KT-7300 did well on weak to strong local stations. Of course, it couldn't find the distant stations that a good tuner with wide and narrow would have. I do believe it is a very nice tuner for those on a budget, those who don't really need a super front end, and all you DIY experimenters. As a matter of fact, this one will go under the iron as soon as possible. We may add it to the growing list on Jim and Bob's DIY Mods page. I just HAVE to know if that loss of inner detail is caused by old parts and wiring flaws or by the design itself. Winner, the L-02T. search eBay for KT-7300
I never should have looked inside the Cambridge Audio T500 before starting this review. I usually don't, but it felt SO light. The circuitry takes up about one-third of the empty chassis. Now, this doesn't necessarily make it bad, but old-timers and the not-so-old who equate quality with weight and lots of circuitry should leave the screws in place. The face is a clean, rather stark silver with a blue backlit LCD display. If the tuner is on a shelf at eye level or higher, the display information is illegible - it practically disappears - but with the tuner sitting below eye level, things are fine. This may have been true with other LCD tuner displays and I never noticed, since I usually test them on a lower shelf. The tuning knob is interesting. In preset mode it chooses only your pre-selected stations as you dial, but in normal tuning mode, you can dial through all possibilities. By touching the left and right arrow buttons, the tuner stops at each capturable station. This is a current-model tuner that sells for $279.
The Cambridge has aggressive circuitry that switched to mono way too soon for my tastes. 88.1, 95.3 and some other stations that I normally enjoy in stereo played only in mono through the Cambridge. Keep in mind that this was using a roof-mounted FM-only antenna pointing directly at the towers. Also, the T500 could not capture local 88.7 because of the more powerful 88.5, while the L-02T could pull in 88.7 when off-tuned.
The Cambridge's sound was less focused and a bit more forward than the L-02T. Bass did not compare at all. The sound was open and bright, but not irritating. I never could warm up to this tuner's sonic presentation. I think there are many choices out there, old and new, that might please most enthusiasts more. search eBay for Cambridge
Well, we're on a Shootout tour of the United Kingdom now. We've just left the Cambridge and now are sitting here with the Onix. Our next planned Shootout adventures will be visits with a TAG McLaren P3 series and a Linn Kremlin. The last three share the common design feature of a detachable power cord and all three look like high-end audio jewelry. Not that I would ever be swayed by good looks. Beauty is as beauty does - it's what's inside that counts, right?<
I love the styling of Onix gear. The looks inside and out instill confidence in quality and craftsmanship. The rear panel reads: "Made in England TU39 Limited Edition FM Tuner Designed and built by Tony Brady." There is a warning, too: "Warning: This unit must be earthed." Inside the Onix is a huge toroidal transformer and a giant 15,000 µF 63-volt capacitor between the power supply and main board. Chips include a TDA1578A, a TDA1576 and an LM324N. Tuning is done through a Bourns 20K pot. Four ceramic filters were seen.
I was able to capture KKFC 105.5 in Oklahoma with both tuners in narrow mode, but the L-02T was slightly better at rejecting other stations. On a rare day, both tuners were able to grab 88.7 in East Texas, but only for a while. Again, the Onix had somewhat more noise from competing stations. When I turned the antenna to the west, both tuners were able to capture and hold KTCU 88.7 while in narrow mode. I was able to listen in wide mode one afternoon when off-tuning both tuners to hide from 88.5. On other days, this was futile. The Onix closed to mono when 88.7 was weak. The L-02T did likewise in Auto, but switching the L-02T to Stereo from Auto held a fairly good stereo image. As it should be, neither tuner had any problems with local stations.
The overall sound of the Onix was punchy (dynamic) and fairly smooth. Long listening sessions never irritated. Bass was very good but wasn't quite as full as the L-02T's (how many times have I said that?). At times, the Onix's highs had an added sparkle that didn't always come across as neutral - a little added sibilance. The midrange, while smooth and sweet, seemed to have a little less life and air around the music compared to the L-02T. These were small differences, so don't read too much negativity into the comments. Times spent with the ONIX alone were pleasant times indeed. Recommended.
This Onix must have seen life on a coast or in a home without climate control. There was a fine layer of rust on all the external screws. Looking inside, I found two tantalum coupling capacitors at the output jacks. This was surprising to me, as the rest of the audio path looked above average. Two short, tinned wires went to the RCAs from the circuit board. They were fairly large, maybe 16 gauge. After finishing the normal Shootout review, I replaced the fairly tarnished RCAs, the short 16-gauge tinned wire, the two 10 µF 35-volt tantalums and all the rusty screws. The tantalums measured 10.32 µF and 9.88 µF. For replacement parts, I used new RCAs of similar quality to the old, 22-gauge pure copper wire and two 33 µF 20-volt Sanyo OS-CONs, and replaced all the rusted screws. I used 33 µF because I had no values between 4.7 µF and 33 µF. The Onix was left on and driving a load for 24 hours. I didn't really expect miracles after the mods, but there was less sibilance. The midrange was still smooth and pleasant while the overall sonic character remained unchanged. search eBay for Onix
This Hitachi has the typical digital tuner "black box" look but is softened a touch by wooden end caps. This tuner's 75 ohm connection requires you to strip your cable and fasten the shield under a ground connection on one post and the center lead under the other post. Inside, we have four ceramic filters, a power transformer encased in plastic, and a replaceable battery for memory backup. The faceplate is labeled with RF and IF bands. The IF band is your typical wide/narrow. The RF band switch chooses between single or double mode. Bob F. explains the possible design: "On tuner designs that have a strong RF signal selection, typically the selection button bypasses the RF amplifier stage. This prevents overloading the amp and mixer for very strong front-end signals. In some designs, it also bypasses one of the RF gangs, of which there are two in a typical 4-gang digital tuner. The other gang is at the antenna input, and at the local oscillator. This may be what they mean by single or double (gang) RF. There is no way to tell without a schematic."
DX tests: First, both tuners sought 88.7 east in their narrow/stereo modes. The sound was acceptable through both, with the Hitachi having more background noise. On this day, the sound was best in mono through both tuners. When forced into wide/stereo mode, the Hitachi automatically mutes. When switched into wide/mono mode, the Hitachi was swamped by 88.5 to my south/southeast. As usual, the L-02T tried to blend to mono when directed to 88.9, accompanied by a flickering stereo lamp. The Hitachi chose to play in stereo, but was much noisier. In my search for 88.7 east with the L-02T, I was able to capture it but with long fades, when 88.7 to the west came in. Unfortunately, with the Hitachi, 88.5 took over completely on fades. The same held true while pointing the antenna north toward 105.5 in Oklahoma: The L-02T held a stronger than usual signal with little fade, while the Hitachi was swamped by local 105.3. If this tuner sample is typical, DX'ers may wish to look elsewhere.
Sound quality tests: Now for some better news. The FT-007's bass goes deep, with nice punch. The midrange was focused, airy and pleasant, even during long listening sessions. The highs were nice with no artificial sound added. When A/B tested against the L-02T, a loss of midrange warmth was noticed, as was a sense of overall dynamics. Winner? The L-02T. search eBay for FT-007
Shootout #80 (posted 12/27/05): Kenwood L-02T vs. Linn Kremlin Winner: L-02T
The Linn Kremlin is an attractive little black box with clean, no-nonsense styling. The controls are even hidden behind a nearly invisible panel. For my personal taste, they took the clutter-free design a bit too far: the station call letters and all other information disappear after about 15 seconds, leaving only two green LED bars. Programming and working the tuner wasn't user-friendly, at least for me, but I found the owner's manual on Linn's website and things quickly fell into place. The Linn shares remote codes with the Creek OBH-12, which I use as an A/B switcher when testing tuners. Because of this, I had to be a little careful when pushing buttons on Linn's and the Creek's remotes. This tuner was not designed for DX fans and it was frustrating when attempted, so no DX report will be provided.<
Musically? The Linn has a fairly nice sound, very articulate and precise like the top dogs. Bass was OK, highs were extended and sweet, and the midrange was very slightly more forward. Imaging was great. But, unlike my top favorites, the Linn lacked the same natural "listening satisfaction factor." The precise imaging and clean, articulate presentation should appeal to many an FM music lover, if not exactly to me. I've grown too fond of the Kenwood L-02T's rich sound and even more so of our latest generation modified KT-7500. In the Linn, there wasn't that same natural richness through the mids and on down into the bass. The highs were extended and were always pleasant during listening, though. I never felt listener's fatigue while enjoying music through this tuner, one on one. I rate it high for its clean, clear reproduction of music and voice, but fairly shy of the top (especially for the money). Where to place this tuner in the lineup was a really tough call. While I really enjoyed its precise, articulate sound, I ultimately longed for that seductive, musically involving richness I've found in many other top tuners - even some that fell short in the areas where the Linn shined. Winner? The Kenwood L-02T. search eBay for Kremlin
Shootout #81 (posted 02/12/06): Kenwood L-02T vs. Burmester 978 Winner: TIE
Listening tests: Most everyone knows it. I'm spoiled. Spoiled, but so very lucky. How many people on this planet have folks email them on a regular basis wanting to send their tuners in for a review? Not many, methinks. To top that off, I live within five miles of a warehouse that houses over 140 very nice tuners. A warehouse I like to call the Texas Tuner Warehouse (thank you Jesse). So, I'm spoiled and lucky and there begins the heavy guilt. I should be on Cloud 9, right? Or at least satisfied. But with this gift comes a price: work. It takes a lot of work to have all this fun doing the Shootout reviews, but it's work mingled with pleasure and surprises. The latest surprise and pleasure is the Burmester 978.
Starting with the bass, both tuners presented deep, punchy bass. Dynamic punch and contrast through both was excellent. Soundstage depth through both was excellent. The Burmester had a more extended treble and this told on stations with less-than-perfect signals. But it was clean and natural-sounding, and imaging was sharp and precise. I listened to the Burmester many nights and days on its own and was always satisfied musically. The A/B tests brought forth subtle but discernible differences. The L-02T has a slightly darker and richer tonal character, while the 978 has an slightly airier sound. These differences were subtle but there. Which do I like best? It's really a draw. And my guess is 500 out of 1000 people would choose one over the other. I could live with either one indefinitely. Imagine dating twins in high school. One might kiss a little better but the other might look subtly more attractive smiling and walking toward you at the after-school dance. So, I say it's a tie. And here comes the spoiled part: I can use either one whenever I wish. Most often it will be the L-02T, as I'm not sure I want to be in possession of a $14,000 tuner on a semi-permanent basis. How does the 978 stack up against the Accuphase T-109V? That tuner is long gone and I doubt I'll see another, sorry.
This Shootout review benefited from a visit by TIC staff member Paul Baptista. His visit was short and we only listened to a few stations but I enjoyed putting him in the hot seat. He preferred the L-02T over the 978, mainly because of the highs. One station we listened to often has subtle background noise. My guess is a previous visitor, member John Via, would have chosen the 978. During his visit, John preferred an earlier Jim-and-Bob-modified KT-7500 over the L-02T or the Magnum Dynalab MD-108 that was in the system at that time. Winner? It's a tie between the L-02T and the 978.
DX tests: At 88.7 KTCU to the west, both tuners captured a clean signal in mono/narrow modes. When the antenna was VERY fine tuned toward the tower, I was also able to get a clean signal in wide/auto mode. This last test was tried at different times over several weeks. I was most impressed that both tuners were able to reject the annoying signal from closer and stronger 88.5, KEOM. These results would have been impossible without a rotator and directional antenna. But in the wide/auto mode, the Burmester's stereo lamp flickers and the Kenwood's stays off. The Burmester always had a quieter background. At 88.7 KTPB to the east, I was able to capture a recognizable signal, but only on occasion. Both tuners were equally noisy. This station should do much better but the APS-9 is facing into a giant tree in my backyard, an evergreen magnolia, so this is a year-round problem. It's interesting that while listening to 88.7, both of these excellent tuners were able to reject local 88.5 KEOM, to the south, but the Burmester displayed that I was listening to KEOM. At 88.9, both tuners gave good sound with less stereo spread than closer stations. This station presented less noise than on previous attempts. At 105.5 north in Oklahoma, both tuners did well holding on to this weak station.
The Burmester was consistently quieter on most weak station signals. As far as capturing and holding weak, distant stations, both tuners ran neck-and-neck through all DX tests. BUT, as said, the Burmester kept things quieter. It turned out to be more fun than work testing two DX machines so equally matched. I spent more time than usual DXing and listened to 91.3 KNCT in Killeen, Texas 142 miles away; 89.5 KMFA in Austin, 194 miles away; KXEZ 92.1 at 2700 watts and 27 miles away in Farmerville; and at the edge of Arkansas, KTXK 91.5, 156 miles away in Texarkana. Maybe Eric or Bruce will make a true DXer out of me yet. Or maybe this tuner will.
Fast-forward several months. I decided to borrow the Burmester again before finally publishing this review. A lot has happened in that time. Nothing obviously new or different was discovered during this second series of serious listening sessions. Since the original review was put on paper, the Shootout review audio system has remained pretty much the same, except for some resistor and capacitor upgrades. I have acquired a used pair of Dynaudio Aries speakers but still have the JMlabs, and I wanted to hear both tuners with both speaker systems. Unlike wives, it's still legal to have more than one pair of speakers. Swapping these tuners and speakers in and out proved once again that these two tuners are truly masterpieces in the art of tuner design. What more can I say?
And where do we go from here? Nowhere, as far as the Shootout format is concerned. I've decided to close the Shootout corral forever. It's been a long and grand adventure, at least for me. I wish to thank all those who loved the Shootouts as well as those who did not. I've learned from you all. But 80+ tuners is enough inside this format, especially when trying to rate them as we have. I still plan to review tuners for TIC (there are so many left!) but within a more normal review format, with no system of rating one tuner over another. There will be more information later. Thank you all. jim...
THE SHOOTOUT IS OVER!!
Rankings after Shootout #81:
1 PLUS: -C- Accuphase T-109V - Very natural sound, good bass. Pinpoint imaging. Lifelike, three-dimensional sound, smooth extended highs.
1 (TIE): -C- Kenwood L-02T - Most natural sound, good bass. Pinpoint imaging. Lifelike, three-dimensional sound.
1 (TIE): -C- Burmester 978 - Natural, open and airy sound, good bass. Pinpoint imaging. Lifelike, three-dimensional sound with nice extended highs.
4: -C- Sansui TU-919 - The prince who could be king.
5: -C- Sansui TU-X1 - Very good sound top to bottom. Big soundstage, three-dimensional. Very slight diffuse sound.
6: -C- Audiolab 8000T - Good bass, natural but diffuse sound, sweet extended highs.
7: -C- Philips AH6731 - A very natural, neutral sound. Stereo separation best with a good signal.
8: -C- Revox B760 - Great bass, lifelike midrange and extended highs.
9: -M- Mitsubishi DA-F20 - Quick, punchy bass, open, lively midrange and extended highs.
10: -M- Kenwood KT-5020 - Great bass and midrange and extended, sweet treble. Again, why pay more?
11: -M- Kenwood KT-990D - Smooth, clean sound that always pleased. Why pay more?
12: -M- Meridian Model 104 - Excellent, natural sound, good bass, no to DX games.
13: -M- Meridian Model 504 - Good bass, excellent midrange with smooth, just-right highs.
14: -M- Kenwood L-1000T - Good bass, punchy midrange, sweet extended highs.
15: -M- Sansui TU-X701 - Great-sounding midrange, bass OK, softer highs next to the L-02T.
16: -M- Luxman T-117 - Very good-sounding tuner. No real faults, top to bottom. Not as three-dimensional as the L-02T and gives up some bass richness.
17: -M- Sansui TU-717 - Good bass and midrange with nice "depth" to the soundstage. More forward than the L-02T.
18: -M- B&K TS-108 - Very nice midrange, good bass and nice, extended highs.
19: -M- Technics ST-9038 - Very good bass, nice midrange, smooth treble.
20: -M- Magnum Dynalab MD-108 - Bass OK, very good imaging and realistic midrange, extended but forward highs.
21: -M- Kenwood KT-917 - Good bass, midrange and treble. A very pleasant sound but more one-dimensional when placed next to the L-02T.
22: -M- Sansui TU-S9 - Smooth, natural sound. A budget bargain.
23: -M- Kenwood KT-1100 - Quite tuneful, but flatter soundstage than the L-02T.
24: -M- McIntosh MR 80 - Good bass, lively midrange and pleasant highs. More one-dimensional than the L-02T.
25: -M- Sanyo Plus T35 - Good bass, laidback midrange and extended, pleasant highs.
26: -M- Technics ST-G7 - Very nice bass, articulate midrange, forward but nice upper range.
27: -M- Pioneer F-99X - Follows behind the big bass dogs but the midrange and treble are where it's at. Sweet, clean, quiet and to be copied.
28: -M- Kenwood KT-3300D - Very good bass, slightly diffuse light mids and pleasant extended highs. A laidback, nice listen.
29: -M- Pioneer F-90 - Great sonics with a slightly lighter sonic presentation than the top dogs. Upper midrange and treble are top-notch.
30: -M- Sansui TU-D99X - Good bass. Bass, midrange and treble work well together for a balanced sound.
31: -M- Hitachi FT-007 - Clean, balanced sound, but less dynamic than the L-02T.
32: -M- Sony ST-J88B - Good bass, pleasing midrange, slightly forward and sweet treble.
33: -M- Linn Kremlin - OK bass; articulate, precise sound; good high frequency. Midrange, bass loses some natural warmth.
34: -M- Restek Metric - Excellent imaging, bass and highs. Midrange gave up some to other tuners.
35: -M- Onix TU39 - Dynamic, smooth, the midrange give up some "life" to others. Some added sparkle in the highs.
36: -M- Perreaux TU-3 - Nice balanced sound. Gives up some richness and dynamics to the L-02T.
37: -M- Magnum Dynalab FT-101 - Good all-around sound, treble very slightly forward.
38: -M- Kenwood L-07TII - Good all-around sound but loses some inner detail.
39: -M- Accuphase T-109 - Great bass, dry midrange, pleasant but slightly forward treble.
40: -M- Magnum Dynalab FT-101A Etude - A good, balanced sound, but slightly dry.
41: -M- Technics ST-8077 - Good bass, midrange OK. Nice treble presentation.
42: -M- Technics ST-8080 - Good bass, good midrange, forward highs but not unpleasant.
43: -M- Nikko Gamma V - Very good bass, good imaging, treble forward but not unpleasant.
44: -M- Kenwood KT-8300 - Good bass and dynamics, with a slightly forward upper midrange and treble.
45: -M- Onkyo T-4500 - Slightly lighter but a pleasing sound. Neutral, top to bottom, with nice highs.
46: -M- Onkyo T-9090II - Pleasant sound, good bass, but not as dynamic as some tuners. Great DX machine.
47: -M- NAD 4155 - Good, punchy bass. Light, articulate mids with well-mated highs.
48: -M- Pioneer F-91 - Very good bass punch and control, articulate midrange with forward highs. May be a good tuner for a large room.
49: -M- Pioneer TX-9800 - Rich bass presentation. Good midrange with a treble slightly forward that took away from the total picture.
50: -M- Tandberg 3011A - Good bass, midrange a little light, sweet treble. Very good imaging.
51: -M- Sansui TU-417 - A most pleasant sound, bottom to top. Needs good signals.
52: -M- Carver TX-11b - Punchy bass, clean highs and treble.
53: -M- Sumo Charlie - Punchy bass, good midrange, slightly rolled-off treble.
54: -M- Revox B260 - Rich bass and lower midrange. Good imaging. Three-dimensional. The highs are a little too much for my personal taste. The high rating reflects its other positive sound qualities.
55: -M- Yamaha CT-7000 - Warm-sounding bass, pleasant midrange and highs. Highs a little rolled-off.
56: -M- Sequerra Model 1 - Harmonically rich bass and lower midrange. Very seductive, but if you want accuracy, shop elsewhere.
57: -M- Magnum Dynalab FT-11 "NEW" - Good sound, natural midrange, treble nice, loose bass.
58: -M- Kenwood KT-7300 - Punchy bass, pleasant mids and highs. Slight loss of ambience.
59: -M- Onkyo T-4310R - Pleasant, inoffensive sound, good imaging. Good digital DXing tuner.
60: -M- Magnum Dynalab FT-101A - Pleasant light, airy sound. Lacks bass dynamics.
61: -M- Realistic TM-1001 - Sweet treble, pleasant mids, but the bass is not as full and dynamic as the big dogs.
62: -M- Yamaha T-2 - Very pleasant and listenable. This may be the cutoff tuner between the keepers and the also-rans.
63: Revox B261 - Punchy bass, pleasant enough but slightly forward mids and highs.
64: Pioneer TX-9500II - Clean, articulate sound. Lighter sonic presentation against the L-02T.
65: SAE Mark VI - Inoffensive sound, good background music. A mini-Sequerra.
66: Denon TU-850 - Good sound, midrange just right, treble sweet, slightly bass-shy.
67: Sansui TU-217 - Good sound when reception is strong.
68: Kenwood L-01T - Good sound, midrange slightly forward, good bass.
69: Phase Linear Model 5000 Series Two - Bass-shy, pleasant midrange and treble.
70: Magnum Dynalab FT-11 "OLD" - Good bass, dry midrange, treble OK.
71: Quad FM4 - Very nice midrange, good resolution, extended treble, rolled off bass.
72: Technics ST-9030 - Inoffensive but bland.
73: Naim NAT 01 - Bass OK, midrange OK, treble sweet.
74: Luxman T-115 - Good bass, midrange OK, treble slightly forward.
75: Nakamichi ST-7 - Muffled bass, forward midrange, highs soft and inoffensive.
76: Marantz 2130 - OK bass, midrange and treble forward and "light" sounding.
77: McIntosh MR 78 - Good bass, slightly electronic sound.
78: Fanfare FT-1A - Best through the low-output jacks, clean but bright midrange, lacks bass power.
79: Kenwood KT-7500 - Flat soundstage, better sound can be found. One-note bass. More boring than unpleasant in a long listening session.
80: Cambridge Audio T500 - Bass light, midrange forward and lacks focus, highs OK.
81: Kyocera T-910 - Pleasant sound, but what's that ringing in my ears?
82: SAE 8000 - Not irritating but not involving, either. Too much background noise.
83: Kenwood KT-815 - Bass thin, treble forward. It cries out for a new audio stage.
84: Denon TU-600 - Good sound, but not recommended because of reception problems.