I first learned of the Sony XDR-F1HD AM/FM tuner when I visited the home of a friend of mine, a gentleman who appreciates both great music and fine equipment. I was very interested in listening to his latest tuner: He had recently acquired a Sansui TU-9900, at great expense from eBay, and had sent it to the very talented Ken Bernacky at Stereo Surgeons in West Hartford, CT, for a full diagnostic and restoration/upgrade. This tuner is a beautiful piece of work, and on stations with a strong signal the sound is absolutely superb on my friend’s system, composed of McIntosh electronics and PSB speakers.
What drew my attention, however, once I had taken in the gorgeous TU-9900, was another tuner: A little plastic box with a digital LCD readout. My friend said that he had read about a killer Sony HD tuner, and had purchased Amazon.com for $60 (regular price $80, but with a $20 mail-in rebate at the time). He said that it was really impressive, and added that it gave his new/old Sansui, of all things, a run for its money. We listened to a variety of classical and jazz music on the Sony and, sure enough, while it wasn’t quite the match of the Sansui on very strong stations, it was phenomenally sensitive and selective, and pulled in stations clearly that did not even register on the Sansui (even with a rooftop antenna). Intriguing? You bet!
I wasted no time and bought one of the Sony tuners, installing it in my system shortly after. I don’t have a rooftop antenna, and so used the dipole that came in the Sony’s box. Right from the start, I was stunned at the range of stations that I could receive, clearly and without static or distortion. The sound quality was excellent; in fact, this radio sounds meaningfully better in analog mode than it does in HD (which, by the way, means “Hybrid Digital”, not “High Definition”). Unfortunately, in its stock form there is no way to “shut off” HD reception to force analog reception. I will provide more on a solution to this drawback below.
For comparison I pitted the Sony against some formidable vintage competition from my collection (all of which had been restored in the past year or two): A Yamaha CT-1010 tuner, a Yamaha CR-2040 receiver and a Marantz 2600 receiver. As I discovered with the Sansui TU-9900, the Marantz tuner section sounded perhaps a tiny bit better than the Sony in analog mode. But, much as it pains me to admit (being a lover of vintage gear, especially tuners), when it came to sensitivity and selectivity, the Sony walked all over the heavyweights. On the Sony, FM stations 50 or 60 miles away came in as clear as a bell, and sounding as good as strong stations. When trying to tune in these stations with the vintage tuners, I’d get static at best, and sometimes couldn’t even find the signals.
There are some drawbacks to this cheap tuner: As noted above, you cannot “force” analog reception if an HD signal is present. There is no mono/stereo indicator. There are 20 presets for each AM and FM frequencies, but if the power is interrupted for more than a minute or two, you lose the memory. The unit runs pretty warm. It looks like “black plastic crap”. Yeah, the case is made of plastic. On the other hand, radio enthusiast Brian Beezley has identified on his website (http://www.ham-radio.com/k6sti/xdr-f1hd.htm) a number of modifications that you can perform on this tuner to cure most of the annoyances listed above, plus to further enhance the sound quality. If you are handy with a soldering iron, this site is for you. If, like me, you are not, go tohttp://www.radioxtuners.com/Sony%20XDR-F1HD.htm where Mike of Radio-X tuners offers many of Beezley’s modifications. For the record, I shipped my tuner off to Mike (a fellow audiokarma.org member) who, for under $100 performed some excellent modifications that allow me to force analog reception, that extend the memory presets, and that extend the headroom and improve the high frequency response. The result: A tuner for which I paid (in aggregate) about $180 that matches the sound quality of any $500 tuner that I’ve heard, and substantially exceeds any analog tuner I’ve heard in terms of sensitivity and selectivity.
Folks, this is no mirage. For $80 you owe it to yourself to try this unit. Hell, buy two in case the first one breaks. The Sony XDR-F1HD is now the primary tuner in my primary system; it’s that good.
System Used for Review
- Speakers: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.1
- Pre-Amplification: McIntosh C712
- Amplification: Yamaha MX-D1 Stereo Power Amplifier
- Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3 Subwoofer Amplifier
- Analog Sources: -Sony XDR-F1HD Tuner
- VPI “Classic” Turntable with JMW-10.5i Special Edition Tonearm, Grado Reference Sonata Cartridge and
- Herbie’s Way Excellent II Turntable Mat
- Linn Sondek LP-12 with Ittok LVIII Tonearm, Sumiko Blue Pointe Special EVO III Cartridge, Mose+Hercules II Outboard Power Supply, Cetech Carbon Fiber Subchassis and Armboard
- Digital Sources: Yamaha DV-S5860 SACD/DVD-A/CD Player
- Toshiba SD-3950 DVD player with Vinnie Rossi mods
- Apple iPod Classic, 160 gb
- Cables: Mapleshade Speaker Wire, Blue Jeans Cable, Ultimate Cables, AudioQuest, ProSolutions and AR interconnects
from aﬀordableaudio, By Peter D’Amario