Are analog AM/FM tuners still a viable hi-fi source?

They definitely are in the case of analog FM, but there are four key considerations.

The first and most obvious one is the contingency that broadcasters continue to use the analog 88 – 108 MHz FM band in Australia and elsewhere. Once these broadcasts cease, that’s it.

The second is less obvious and that’s source material quality. With good, uncompressed source material, the quality achievable with really good FM tuners is extraordinary. Stations like ABC Classical and some of the smaller independent stations playing CDs and records can deliver excellent sound quality via a quality analog tuner, much better than the compressed, lossy streams on DAB or digital radio.

My beloved Marantz 125 tuner never ceases to amaze me with its richness and space, playing stations like these, even when they are sometimes digital streams being re-broadcast. It has a lot to do with how they are produced. However, many commercial stations, run compressed, thin-sounding streams that sound bad on whatever you play them – DAB or analog FM.

Third, the antenna is critically important with analog FM tuners. A proper roof-mounted FM antenna will boost signal strength, reducing distortion, multipath signal issues and noise for the cleanest reception and best sound quality. Without a good rooftop antenna, you will not achieve full quieting and maximum noise and distortion performance.

The fourth consideration is tuner alignment. AM/FM tuners often have between 10, 20 or even 30 separate alignment stages that require high-performance RF alignment equipment, and a deep knowledge of how to use it. These alignments need to be done periodically, say every 10 – 20 years, as components age and change.

Good tuners, properly aligned often have 0.1% distortion or less. If you haven’t heard a really good, well-aligned and well-fed analog FM tuner playing a good broadcast, you need to before it’s too late! As you might expect, being a radio nut, I have this equipment. The work is involved though and utilises some fairly kooky test and measurement gear. Whilst I have most of what’s needed in most cases, I may not be able to align every tuner.

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