Monday, April 9, 2012

Tuner rolling over the weekend

When the weekend began, I was listening to Marantz 20B, which has an incredibly sweet and passionately dynamic tone.  I believe has some sort of "tunefulness" coloration, it's not accurate, I think, but an enhanced rendition.  It's also fun to spin the tuning knob on (provided the muting works...mine doesn't...or you can quickly change volume...I had lost my Tact remote control for awhile and had to kneel to change the volume).  I had my remote on hand late Sunday night then really enjoyed a roll around the dial, ending up often at rock stations I would normally find unlistenable.  But the 20B makes everything sound good, and entices you with that scope to explore the dial some more.

Late Saturday afternoon, I had heard about the 3rd big pop through the speakers while playing the 20B.  This unit definitely needs a full refurb soon.  The power resistors I can see through the casework at the back are black and charred.  Fearing damaging my 20B from playing too long, I switched over to the Kenwood 600T.

At first, it was horrible.  The 600T sounded quieter, actually, but grainy and sometimes slightly strident on the now weak KPAC.  Even later, it was not rewarding to listen to.

I realized then that the test was unfair, since I was running the 20B through my Tact analog input, which sees a 16 bit digital converter with 0dB at 1.5V, while I was running my 600T throught a MSB 24 bit digital converter but which has 0dB at 10V (professional level).  Although I had thought this gave an advantage to the 600T, possibly I was wrong.

So I plugged 600T straight into the Tact, and it did sound a lot better.  But still lacking the sweetness and passion of the 20B.

Well, then, I got to thinking, I have this great Pioneer F-26 supertuner, why am I not using that?  Well, it's a long story, but I had set up the Kenwood 4 months ago so I could track the progress in getting KPAC back to full power.  After 4 months, it still hasn't happened, and I can't get quiet stereo anymore (with 40dB signal I only listen in mono).  So, without moving the Kenwood out of the pile, I could just hook up the F-26 mostly and test the signal only once and awhile (and call KPAC as soon as I can remember to do so).

So I hooked up the Pioneer, and it was far far better than the Kenwood.  It had very sweet and passionate tone, but also realistic highs and bass, so it is better than the Marantz.  It still can't top the 20B for passion, which I'm sure is an illusion anyway, and one that could actually become tiring, I think (though I haven't pushed it that far yet).

So now I was running F-26 through 16 bit converter.  I didn't like that idea, so I decided to hook it up to my Lavry AD10 24 bit converter.  But that had previously been dedicated to my Denon  5900.  So I got out my dB systems 5-selector box.  Oh, yes, that little box with rattling cover.  So I finally fixed the cover by putting Scotch clear duct tape underneath.  When the box is put together, the tape keeps the two pieces from chattering against each other.  Worked great.  So I hooked up the F-26 to the box and the box to the Lavry.  I'm using the Cardas wire between the box and the Lavry.  I'll have to get another nice wire to hook Denon 5900 to the box next time I want to use that.

After all that trouble, I wasn't sure if it actually sounded better going through the Lavry.  It had sounded OK even going through the Tact with it's inferior digitizer.

Later on Sunday, I decided I wanted to play with the 20B some more, so I switched back to the Tact analog input it's connected to.  I rolled around the dial, but then noticed that as I was playing some rock stations, quite loudly, the servo-lock light on the F-26 was going on and off.  I found that I could keep the F-26 from doing that by muting the system, so it was not being caused by direct radiation from the Marantz itself.  But I have never noticed it before when NOT running the Marantz, so it is a bit of a puzzle.  I'll have to watch for this in future.  I'm not worried if the Pioneer goes out of servo lock when I'm playing the Marantz, I just don't want the Pioneer going out of servo lock when I'm playing the Pioneer.

Back on Thursday, I had gotten angry that my 20B has only a tiny scope.  (It's probably made even worse by the fact that mine needs to be adjusted for bigger trace.)  I looked and determined that most of the other Marantz scope tuner used a larger scope.  The ones worth having would be the 10B, 150, and 2130.  The 120 is a poor performer, it is often said (but may be incorrect) that the problem is that Marantz was not using the ceramic filters in the 120 IF strip, all 8 of them, at the correct impedance.  I think I've read another version in which Marantz was attempting to build a balanced IF strip (with 4 sections, therefore 8 filters) but the filters that Murata supplied were not stable.  Anyway, I don't care to own a 120, but I'm interested in the others.  The 150 is interesting because Marantz went back to using LC filters, just as they had done in the 20B.  So the 150 might have some of the 20B sound, and in fact that is what some people say, some like it better than any other Marantz except the 20B.

 The 2130 is interesting because it may be the best performing Marantz scope tuner.  It has the best specs of any Marantz tuner, lowest noise and distortion, somewhere in between a Kenwood KT-8300 and the lousy sounding 600T.  It's the first Marantz tuner with wide and narrow IF selection.  It has a pilot canceller, the first Kenwood to have that was the KT-917 which replaced the 600T.  It has a quartz lock circuit.  So it has features and performance of a good digital tuner, but it's an analog tuner with scope.  Radio-X says it's one of the best tuners to modify for DX'ing, the filters in the narrow strip can be replaced with Ammons filter modules.  Then you have it all, super narrow IF, quiet MPX with pilot canceler, and scope.  Well, you may not have the best sounding tuner, and the front end might not be as good as the best.  It's a dual RF amplifier design, sometimes those have more IM3 than single RF designs (though, they can also be more sensitive too).  But some people, notably Ben Blish, say the 2130 is also the best sounding, as well as being the best performing and the best looking.

Despite all this, and the fact that I find the 150 rather ugly, I actually wanted to get a 150 more than a 2130, on the possibly slim hope that it might have more of the 20B magic.  But I didn't like the $999 buy-it-now unit, seemed overpriced.  A unit on auction had a current bid of $350, that seemed more hopeful.  Meanwhile, I noticed a 2130 was being sold by a Marantz dealer and authorized service center.  They said they had just aligned the 2130 and it was working perfectly.  Well that seemed better than most of the barely-functioning stuff you get on eBay, so I decided to buy-it-now.
Doing that, I told myself I'd still get the 150 on auction if I could still get it for less than $500.  I didn't bid until Sunday though, because I was also thinking about getting a turntable and some other things, and I was wondering if my Marantz madness was now definitely going too far.  How many Marantz scope tuners does a person need to have?  (Well I've spent hours in the past week reading AudioKarma blogs where it seems like the average guy has at least 3 of each one.)

Then, tooling around, I discovered one of the ultimate ultimate and rarest of the rare tuners, a Kenwood L-1000T, for sale at Audio Extasa in Europe.  I've been looking for one of those since 2002, and never seen one on eBay.  I think it's similar to the KT-6040 which is my 2nd best tuner (after the F-26) but better, it's the deluxe version of the 6040 and it has an analog multipler MPX similar to what Kenwood put in the famous L-02T.  So I snapped that one up too.

Two tuners, including possibly the best of the best (even if Anonymous Dave at FMTunerInfo doesn't say much about it), but I still wanted the 150.  So I finally put a $500 bid on it, and as the bidding was ending I finally bid $620, which set the final price to $630 for the winning bidder.

Probably good thing I lost that, buying too many tuners in one week might not be good for your health.  There are always more 150's for sale.  Who knows when I'd ever see another L-1000T?

And I've still been thinking about turntables.

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