How Many TAS Readers Listen to FM?

Robert Harley -- Fri, 08/29/2008 - 11:42

I received this letter from a reader, and frankly, didn't know how important a source FM is to TAS readers. I'd love to hear from you about how much you listen to FM, and whether you'd like to see more tuner coverage in TAS. —Robert Harley

Mr. Harley-
Pardon me for asking such a random question - as in not related to any recent article or equipment review in TAS. I have been curious for some time now as to why analog radio itself appears to be a forgotten musical medium and analog radio tuners are all but forgotten equipment in audiophile magazines today, including TAS?

I have a Magnum Dynalab MD 102 analog FM tuner, with the Musical Fidelity X-10 V3 tube buffer in between my tuner and pre-amp. The musical results are fantastic, assuming my FM signal is good. And to help me in that regard as a clear signal can be a challenge in Boston, is the Magnum Signal Sleuth model 250 which really brings in the signal and cleans it up pretty well. No question that signal strength can be an issue, and may be the answer to my inquiry. But in most instances, I can get a very good quality signal.

I question whether I am missing something that everyone else has figured out, or if I am some sort of "fringe" audiophile that still listens to analog FM as a great source of music (and by the way, it's free!). I definitely listen more to my disc and vinyl collections at home and the iPod hookup in my car, but the radio is a great solution for a music source when you want variety, you want to hear the new artists developing and you want to hear what the new trends in popular and alternative music are. Also, in Boston I'm blessed some great Sunday morning jazz broadcasts which I look forward to and have picked up many new (and old) artists as a result.

When some of my friends listen to my tuner setup, they are blown away with the purity of sound that you can get via a good analog signal and corresponding receiving equipment. Is there any possibility of an article in the future regarding this topic? Maybe the article is part retro-review of the classic tuners from the 70's and also an analysis of todays leading edge audiophile equipment focused on this medium?

-Jeffrey Mead

Blue Steve -- Thu, 01/05/2012 - 01:12

 I mostly listen to three FM radio stations in the Lincoln, Nebraska area:  a primarily classical/NPR university station, a 'classic rock' station, and especially a low power 'community radio' station that covers a very diverse range of programming:  blues, Latino, jazz, folk, blue grass, urban, gospel .  .  .
For FM listening at home, I use a Tivoli One FM radio.  The volume knob is turned all the way down to effectively kill the sound to the built in speaker.  There is a stereo line output on the back, allowing the use of a cable with a three band mini-plug to two RCA connectors going into an integrated amp.  While certainly not remotely qualifying as high end, this modest system is adequately good and allows for enjoying a range of music far beyond my not inconsidarable collection of records, CDs, SACDs, and DVD-As.  Variety is the spice .  .  .   

gfmohn -- Fri, 02/10/2012 - 18:58

Mr. Harley, my question is: when can we hope for an article reviewing the current HD/satellite radio situation? First, my answer to your question: most of my music listening is by analog FM radio. (Your question should have asked how much we audiophiles listen to FM MUSIC. Listening to NPR does not require high-end audio equipment!) I listen to classical music only. In my suburb just west of Boston, I have good reception of WHRB (the Harvard student station) and "WGBH 99.5." (WGBH, the owner, never uses the actual call letters. According to radio-locator.com, the call letters remain WCRB.) WHRB once replied to a complimentary email from me, telling me that they did not compress their signal. Since "WGBH 99.5" replaced the late, unlamented WCRB, the sound of that station is almost as good as WHRB.
I have an MD-101 analog FM tuner. It is at least 20 years old. (I bought it used.) Nonetheless, with mid-level audio equipment (VTL preamp and amp, Audio Physik main speakers, aging 3-box CD front-end, etc.), I hear very little, if any, difference from CD, When HD radio was announced, I expected reviews of high-end HD tuners to appear shortly. This has not happened. From the tone of the remarks in these forums, I conclude that HD radio does not sound as good as analog. Is this so? How about range? Range is not an issue for me, but it is for many.
In the fall of 2008, my wife bought a car with XM radio. I listened to it quite bit. It had three classical channels. On all three channels, the sound was flat and compressed (as much as I could tell from the car radio). The three channels were: old favorites (works already heard way too often), light classical works (overtures, etc.), and opera. My wife used to be professional chorus director, but she doesn't like opera. I do love opera, but I don't want to hear a snatch of it between the grocery store and the dry cleaners. So, we let the trial XM subscription expire.
I look forward to an article summarizing these new radio technologies, even if it is only to bury them as far as being of any further interest for most audiophiles. The only exception would be the interest audiophiles beyond terrestrial FM range would have in satellite radio. If I lived beyond terrestrial FM range, I would value opera by satellite very much. Full-length opera recordings are expensive! Even if the available tuners don't meet the usual TAS standards, rural audiophiles may still want to know which one is the best.

Twochannelman (not verified) -- Mon, 04/16/2012 - 14:53

My wife and I listen to FM, but it is almost always a Christian talk show or sermons by certain pastors, etc. As for music listening though, we do listen to FM now and then for music. If I had the money for any FM tuner, I would get a Magnum Dynalab tubed unit without reservation as they perform fabulously and sound absolutely beguiling for a medium that is frequency limited to begin with. Add to that the build quality and technology, and they win in my book. Please review more FM tuners (not receivers) on a regular basis; be it ones with or without XM or Sirius satellite capability. We have a Tivoli FM radio in the kitchen that is very nice and sounds great for what it is; a $100 investment for a Christmas present for my wife a few years ago.

k5E0o2eA -- Wed, 08/22/2012 - 10:27

 I listen to FM at home most days; I am fortunate enough to have some good programming available.
There are lots of good used tuners on the market.  Tuners that were state-of-the-art in their day can be picked up starting from $100 on up.
Now the bad news: I have problems on many conventional tuners with IBOC noise caused by HD Radio interference.     I wouldn't buy any conventional tuner without researching first whether it will have IBOC problems.  It depends on your stations and your tuner.  I can't understand why the audio press hasn't covered this at all.
I tried an HD tuner but it didn't sound as good as a conventional tuner.  HD stands for Hybrid Digital, not High Definition.  The bit rate is low.
Doing a valid tuner review is very challenging.  Measuring them and evaluating their designs takes engineering skill, not just golden ears.

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