Written by 7:42 am Analog • 17 Comments

My favorite FM Tuners

As FM radio tuners recede in prominence, replaced by Internet radio, Steven Stone lists some of his favorite FM tuners from days gone by.


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When
I ask folks of my generation about their earliest recollections of listening to
music a majority say something like, “I remember listening to the radio under
covers (so my parents wouldn’t hear) after I was supposed to be asleep…” Most
point to the radio, FM radio, as their first electronic connection to music.

I
know that listening to Murray the K (the fifth Beatle) was my introduction to
rock and roll, soon followed by college radio stations such as WFMU. After
several years with receivers, including a Harman Kardon Nocturne, I graduated
to an FM tuner. I thought I’d list, in no particular order, some of my favorite
FM tuners over the years. 

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Pioneer Tx-9100 – I still have one of
these sitting on one of my equipment shelves. I’ve never had it adjusted
or repaired and it still works perfectly. And while it doesn’t bring in distant
stations as well as a Fanfare, Magnum Dynalab, or Scott 310-E, its performance was not too far behind. Also the TA-9100 includes a very good headphone amp, making
it a super late night all-in-one listening station. Since it’s only worth about
$150 on the used market, and would cost at least $40 to ship anywhere due to
its heft, I’ll probably keep this one forever… 

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Fanfare FM1 – I used an FM1 as the tuner
in my big room system for over five years. It always worked perfectly and was
among the most sensitive and selective tuners I’ve ever owned. I’d still have
it except I listened to over-the-air radio so rarely that it sat, unused for
months. It was worth too much to sit idle, so I sold it.

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Magnum Dynalab Etude – This was my favorite
high-end tuner because it sounded so neutral. Especially on live broadcasts of
the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Friday afternoons, the Etude sounded better
than any readily available commercial recording of the orchestra. I used it with the Signal Sleuth and FM-1 antenna, both of which I still own and use.

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Scott 310-E – Some collectors claim
that the Scott 4310 was H.H. Scott’s finest tuner (it was certainly Scott’s
most complex tuner), but I found the 310-E to be the best-performing Scott
tuner I ever owned. It isn’t the prettiest because it looks more like an early
Scott Solid-state component than one from Scott’s golden age, but it was very
stable and had that slight euphonic tube-given warmth that made even the rudest
music sound listenable

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Scott LT-110/Ampex L-110
tuner

I’ve only seen one example of this model, which was the one I purchased from
“The Audio Exchange” in Cambridge, Ma. Back in the early 1970’s along with a
matching LK-72 integrated amplifier. Both were built from kits by Ampex in
their factory and outfitted with an Ampex faceplate. I kept the tuner for years
because it was so rare and such a good performer – it was the equal of the
Scott 310-E on all but the most hard to receive stations.

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Marantz 10B – I never owned a 10B,
but I listened to quite a few over the years. But, any audiophile who doesn’t
lust after a Marantz 10B is probably wired wrong. Just the looks and the feel
of its tuning wheel are enough to make almost most audiophiles with the
disposable income reach for their wallet. Why didn’t I succumb? Too cheap, I
guess…

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McIntosh MR 77 – I owned a fully
tricked-out MR 77 for a few years. It always performed perfectly and it had
that Mac look, but I always felt it was a dark and hooded sounding tuner, and
when you consider that FM hasn’t got any appreciable signal output above 13
kHz, it had to be some serious attenuation for it to be so noticeable. It was
built like a tank. 

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Dyna FM-3 – I’ve had at least
three different FM3s over the years. The best one was a heavily modified FM-3
that had a very early front panel that looked more like an FM-1. Except for an
intermittent physical transformer hum (to fix the hum you had to put a VPI
brick on it) it worked exceedingly well. When properly adjusted, a Dyna FM-3 makes
an excellent and inexpensive FM source. And Dyna made enough tuners that
they’re easy to find and fix.

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Sony XDR-F1HD – This Sony was my last
FM tuner. I bought it for $50 and it was easily the best tuner I ever owned in
terms of signal sensitivity and selectivity. Too bad it sounded so “meh.”
Everything was there, but it was all so gray and ordinary. I kept it for a
couple of years, and then sold it.


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Sonos and Logitech – I only listen to FM
radio via the Internet nowadays. Both the Sonos and the Logitech wireless music
systems deliver FM radio with better fidelity and convenience than over-the-air.
With the Sonos I can even search for my favorite programs, such as Prairie Home
Companion, and it shows me when the next show will be playing. And while
stations broadcasting 64 Kbps or less sound worse than over-the-air FM,
broadcasts of 128 kbps or greater sound way better than over-the-air FM.

 

 

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