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Is it still worth buying a top quality FM tuner or should we turn to internet radio and DAB?

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  • Is it still worth buying a top quality FM tuner or should we turn to internet radio and DAB?

    Yes I ask this question of the HUG as I feel quite sentimental towards FM radio, BBC radio in particular and worry about its' future. Is the indulgence of a Magnum Dynalab tube analogue FM tuner still a justifiable purchase as internet radio contunes to grow in listening figures and DAB hangs-on despite being largely unwelcome? Do any of our Canadian HUGgers have a view on MD tuners?

    Maybe people feel that BBC radio just isn't what it used to be. Dynamic compression and digitisation of the analogue signal being two commonly mentioned problems...

  • #2
    That's a tough question to answer. Certainly the days of "less compressed" FM have come and gone I think. I still own and love my MD102"T" tuner, and recently had my vintage Sansui TU-717 re-aligned and updated.. it's still a champion. It runs in a smaller secondary system with my Harbeth P3ESR's.

    However, given that the majority of stations are playing mostly heavily compressed dreck and are compressed even further for the auto market, I would say that the "writing is on the wall" for those of us that still value the FM band as a quality media delivery format. Here in Toronto, there are a few stations that still "deliver the goods", but the majority fall into column b of being pretty BAD ! One of the best is Jazz fm 91.1 .. you can visit them at www.jazz.fm to sample their content.. they do stream content as well.

    I do use and enjoy internet radio. With some higher bitrate feeds it can be enjoyable, certainly as much so as (and in some cases moreso !) than the more compressed FM dreck being passed off as "quality signal". My suggestion would be to snag a used MD tuner .. or perhaps one of the more respected vintage tuners that's been well cared for, and enjoy. Get a good antenna, and hang on until the last quality station "signs off". I find that radio still has a place in the world.. it is (or can be) a great way to enjoy and pick up on new artists.

    Comment


    • #3
      Hang on 'til the bitter end!

      Double D...

      I nearly did buy a used MD100 last week, it was a bargain but I lost out to someone much more decisive!

      I think I really should go for one, we've probably got at least 10 years of BBC Radio 3 and 4 FM radio to go before the final swith-off. It's really a now or never situation isn't it? I remember Paul Messenger in Hi-Fi Choice magazine debating this 5 years ago...I think you've convinced me, all I needed was a little reassurance!

      (admission: I have a dream of listening to the Queen's speech on BBC Radio via Harbeths!)

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by GregD View Post
        ... Do any of our Canadian HUGgers have a view on MD tuners?...
        I own the small Magnum Dynalab FT11. I really enjoy listen to the FM via this unit. For sure, I dream about a MD's tube tuner but it is not in my priorities.

        We already discuss this on the HUG but we have some excellent radio stations here in Montreal.

        Ah yes, a good antenna worths it! I use the ST-2.

        Sebastien

        Comment


        • #5
          I would say spend no money on a tuner - there are internet streams that, with the right DAC, will better any tuner.

          Those who prefer analogue sources should note that almost all broadcast music has a digital origin, and all lines from studios to transmitters are digital.

          Any stream at or better than 128 kb/s MP3 ought to be at least as good as the best FM Tuners, provided the digital path is clean and the DAC good.

          In UK DAB is very poor. The Freeview (DVB-T) and Freesat (DVB-S) and Virgin Cable Radio streams at least match, and probably better FM. Any internet stream over 128kb/s is worth an audition - there are many with higher bitrates. The BBC Radio 3 HD Stream (UK only) at 320 kb/s AAC is superb.

          In my experience once at or better that 128 kb/s MP3 (or the 192 MP2 streams from DVB or Cable) the dynamic compression applied before transmission limits the music quality more than the digital compression techniques.

          Radio Swiss Classic at 128kb/s MP3 I find consistently clear and open. "Loud" channels like Classic FM are poor in comparison.

          My Quad FM Tuner is in the attic. My Squeezebox feeds my DAC, and I listen to good music from all over the world. I rarely listen to my own collection of CDs ripped to FLAC. I always was a radio man - now the internet offers me more choice and better quality than I could find with a good FM Tuner.

          Comment


          • #6
            We are fortunate in Australia to have strong FM Channels still. DAB is in it's infancy, and unloved by the majority. For classical music lovers ABC Classic FM is a broadcast from a Govt run entity - The ABC Broadcasting Corp - and it has so far resisted attempts to limit bandwidth (there was one disastrous attempt last year for a week which lead to such a howl of very vocal protest they back peddled very quickly). Similarly we have a wonderful community station in Sydney - 2MBS FM that broadcasts classical and jazz in all it's glory. The commercial stations, of course, engage in the "loudness" wars which, apart from content, make them unlistenable - they are like having someone shout in your face all the time.. Interestingly 2MBS has started broadcasting in 64k online: and it sounds pretty decent as well. Although I agree the higher the bit rate should equate with a higher quality, in practice I have found this is often not the case: which I assume is a result of compression and bandwidth allocation.

            It's amazing to me that the music starts out as digital but for reasons I can't explain (and which still do my head in) sounds wonderful in analogue through my tuner. Joyful, dynamic and very very sweet. Much like vinyl. I don't get the same effect from the digital stream: no doubt down to my Tuners excellent analogue stage.

            I used to own a Squeezebox 3 and agree it is a terrific gateway to the world's great station's : WGBH in Boston has some terrific content. It is amazing that you can scan the world's stations and be listening to Radio Swiss Classic, Prague, WGBH and some samba in Brazil all within seconds. Great bit of kit.

            If you didn't own a tuner already I would be hesitant to buy one: unless you come across a classic for a reasonable sum. The heyday of the tuner was in the 70's and 80's. There are some bargains to be had but many need a good service. Any of the Accuphase's are good. The big Sansui's are well regarded. Locally the Meridian 204 was a cracker and should be available for not much on your side of the pond. Not sure I would be shelling out several thousand for a MD unless you were certain your area had good broadcasts. ALthough there is great fun in tuners and amazing content: I especially love tuning into a live broadcast of a concert that occurs most Friday nights. The quality is superb and it is my way of supporting live music (being geographically challenged).

            Lastly a good tuner relies on a good signal: it's worth getting a dedicated aerial installed for optimal enjoyment, particularly if you have (as we all do now) digital tv.

            Kind Regards
            C

            Comment


            • #7
              Trying to choose a radio

              Thanks for the responses guys, very interesting. I really need to look into internet radio properly, I once found a Swiss jazz station that played great stuff, but it kept stopping and buffering all the time. Obviously the computer and internet connection are key.

              I occasionally see MD tuners for less than a thousand pounds and it seems the easiest option on the face of it, although they are known to benefit from a good ariel.

              When faced with the possibility of all those extra great stations you've mentioned, it does start to look slightly poor value investing in an expensive FM tuner. I go round in circles!

              Comment


              • #8
                There is still something alluring about FM Radio! The sound is very analogue and even the occasional RFI is acceptable, like an old LP playing on a turntable! One accepts these idiosyncracies because we love what analogue radio can do for fatigue-free listening. Yes, internet radio offers a plethora of stations around the world and musical genres that is just simply amazing. Any station with at least 128 kbps through a good DAC will provide acceptable musical enjoyment but somehow 'digititis' makes long listening quite fatiguing. I have been lusting over a Accuphase T1000 for the longest time! Is it worth it? Argh ... this question can only be answered by the ear of the beholder!

                Comment


                • #9
                  BBC Radio through the TV (and a DAC)

                  In the last few days I have connected my Sony LCD TV (which sits on top of my hi-fi rack) to my Cambridge Audio DAC Magic via optical digital and then onto my Nagra preamp. This was not to listen to TV through my main system, but to try the Freeview digital radio stations available on TV.

                  The sound is really surprisingly good - better than DAB, it seems. I have been listening to a lot of BBC radio 3 and 4 and have played far fewer CD/SACDs since discovering radio again.

                  I find that not knowing what music is on next and hearing things I've never heard before makes it quite exciting. Yesterday I heard Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements and was gripped, yet I always thought I didn't like much 20th century classical. A real eye-opener. The speech programmes on radio 3 and 4 were really interesting too.

                  So, for me radio still has a lot to offer and to be honest, my Sony TV/Cambridge DAC combination provides ample sound and programme quality. I may still go for a fancy FM tuner but I feel quite happy with this simple setup.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi Denjo
                    I have an Accuphase T101. It is a really superb tuner and, I agree, FM is so listenable.
                    Thoroughly recommend Accuphase tuners. The T 101 is over looked and IMHO undervalued.
                    Cheerio
                    C

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GregD View Post
                      So, for me radio still has a lot to offer and to be honest, my Sony TV/Cambridge DAC combination provides ample sound and programme quality. I may still go for a fancy FM tuner but I feel quite happy with this simple setup.
                      Greg, see if you can get a decent feed from a computer to your Cambridge DAC and try Radio 3 HD - that is 320kb/s AAC, and try some of the other better quality radio streams. Try also Linn Radio

                      http://radio.linnrecords.com/

                      which streams at 320 kb/s

                      If you like what you hear, but don't want a computer hooked up all the time try a Squeezebox or similar.

                      A Squeezbox Classic can be had for about 150 on eBay, a Squeezebox Touch new for about 200. They say the Touch has a very good internal DAC and may be as good as your Cambridge DAC. I have not heard the Touch.

                      I am listening to Radio Swiss Classic by Squeezebox and Beresford Caiman DAC as I type this in Cyprus.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Concerti View Post
                        Hi Denjo
                        I have an Accuphase T101. It is a really superb tuner and, I agree, FM is so listenable.
                        Thoroughly recommend Accuphase tuners. The T 101 is over looked and IMHO undervalued.
                        Cheerio
                        C
                        Hi Concerti

                        Wow! The legnedary Accuphase T101! That is a real gem and a rare find!

                        Best Regards
                        Dennis

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Yes I was lucky Dennis, the T 101 is a lovely tuner. Sometimes - the sun shines

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Lovely FM

                            Forget about DAB : FM sounds way better (my tuner is an Akai AT93L) comparison with best quality DAB (+) : DAB sounds "dead / dull" (remember : The audio bit rate for a Red Book audio CD is 1,411,200 bits per second or 176,400 bytes per second...)

                            Not convinced? Read this :

                            http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/index.ph...-/192-dab.html (or buy a GOOD tuner) :

                            http://www.fmtunerinfo.com/shootouts.html

                            (I HAVE a really nice DAB+ tuner (but almost NEVER listen to it - because it sounds "dead" to me...) ) (I only use it for stations I can't receive on FM because they are too far away...)

                            Of course, when you don't have a good amplifier and speakerset (or bad ears) you maybe don't hear the difference...

                            I listen more to FM than CD... (my cd player is a sony cdp x55 es in near mint condition) I prefer listening to the heavenly sounding akai fm tuner...

                            {Moderator's comment: Maybe to your ears, but you know why don't you? FM radio transmission uses audio compression and audio EQ in dramatic quantities to give it, to the ears, a fatter, louder sound. You hear that. DAB has no such processing and what you hear is the feed that actually leaves the studio. You may not like it but DAB is just passing on that audio as is. The article you quote misses the point and is just entertainment.}

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Compromises, all round

                              The two quoted articles are both a decade old, by the way. Moreover, the comparative test of all these lovely big tuners is completely subjective and uncontrolled. Beyond that, I could not agree more with the moderator. FM is an old technology with serious limitations. Frequency response is restricted, distortion is quite high, and S/N ratio is pretty bad (noise is audible). Hence, engineers have to fiddle a lot with the sound to make it presentable to the home listener - and they do.

                              DAB on the other hand does not make me very happy either. It is a technology that locks you into a low standard. Every time technology improves, the gap between that standard and what could be done gets bigger, as was evident when Britain as an early adopter was locked into DAB while other countries that started later could decide for the better DAB+ standard. Even that, however, is not quite up to the level of CD Red Book, and there too, buyers of hardware have been locked into an imperfect standard
                              I think, DAB(+) will go the same way as dedicated word processor machines (remember those?).

                              The real future is already here, and it is called internet radio. Every time bandwidth gets cheaper, internet radio stations can and do upgrade their bitrate, with the best of them like BBC Radio 3 already at the 320 kbs that research seems to have shown as the fully functional equivalent of CD Red Book. Remember losslessly compressed Red Book requires only about 700-800 kbs, so mp3 at 320 kbs does indeed not loose that much, and as I said, research shows that at that bitrate the loss is inaudible. Below 320 kbs, the loss will indeed be audible (I think I can just hear that at 256 kbs), but FM was not perfect either - far from it. You have to weigh one kind of imperfection against another, but for me the choice was clear. We still have an excellent Quad FM tuner, but we no longer use it. Internet radio via a Google Chromecast Audio just sounds so much better (on a very revealing system), and it can only get even better when bitrates go up in future.

                              Finally, there is an attractive bonus: portals like TuneIn will give you access to thousands of radio stations all over the world. In my temporary apartment in Paris I can listen to Dutch radio, BBC radio 3 (though sadly only at low bitrate), or to my favourite New York NPR station.

                              Comment

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