Monday, July 27, 2015

James's Charlie and SAE

The low serial Sumo Charlie with rack handles (indicating final alignment by James Bongiorno) is a remarkably nice sounding tuner.  As with the non-handled Charlie, there is reduction of ambience, but not nearly as much.  The quieting is just as good or better.  It is able to hold the weakest of my favorite stations, KSYM, in wide stereo.  That was just the trick, I thought.  Then I brought back the other Charlie and unlike the week before, it was now holding KSYM in wide stereo also.  Shows the need for quick A/B switching when testing tuners.  Even if you can remember the sound or reception objectively, it can differ from time to time.

If Charlie can't hold KSYM in wide, it has to be switched to the inferior narrow.  Actually I had no need to use the Narrow IF in my one day testing of the handled Charlie, and I forgot to do so, but it would be interesting to see if it sounded better too.

The handled Charlie has the punchy bass and clear highs that I associate with the Marantz 20B, which I think Bongiorno may have worked with when he was at Marantz in the mid 1960's.  I suspect that is where he learned the best way to align an IF, or at least the Marantz 10 and 20 way, and he carried this knowledge with him to SAE and Sumo.

And speaking of the Bongiorno sound, I unpacked the SAE MkVIII to check it out, and it had, fuzzily, a similar sound.  This was the first tuner whose design could be more or less fully credited to Bongiorno.  He had been hired to save the MkVI tuners, but he had to work with what SAE had already done.  On the MkVIII, he was given a free hand to make a cost-reduced tuner nearly as good (and it could actually be better).

Despite my belief that air capacitor front ends are better, I actually though the Charlie to have better sound than the SAE MkVIII.  The SAE was slightly noisier, though, and the punchy bass and clear highs were a tad less punchy and clear, respectively.  Perhaps it needs a front end alignment, which would be possible I think, or a refurb.  An IF alignment isn't possible because it uses potted IF modules.

Both these tuners have issues not revealed by the eBay sellers.  The Charlie has the thing I fear the most.  It has a serious smell problem, like the Marantz 2130 I now have in storage because I couldn't bear the smell inside my house.  A previous owner must have been a heavy cigarette smoker.  In all the equipment I've bought on eBay, I've only seen this problem with 2 different FM tuners.  I will not be able to keep this Charlie permanently in my house, though it seems OK now in the garage room which has the best ventilation.  But it sounds so good, I can't just return it or toss it either.  I have to continue with my Investigation of the Bongiorno-sound tuners!  My ultimate goal would be not just to determine how they differ among themselves and compared with other tuners, but why.  Just how exactly was the Charlie aligned by Bongiorno, and how did that differ from what Sumo did after Bongiorno left?  What did Bongiorno know about the IF alignment of the Marantz 10/20 and are they different fundamentally from other tuners?

The SAE has a problem with its numeric readout.  Not just the broken segment claimed by the seller, but an additional and far more bothersome problem right now.  It doesn't show the station frequencies accurately at all.  It is way, way, way off.  When tuned to 90.1 it shows 80.5, which isn't even a valid FM frequency.  When tuned to 88.3 it shows a number in the 70's.  But then once and awhile the number displayed will briefly snap to the correct number, and then back.

The numeric display on the SAE is utterly unlike that on the Charlie.  The SAE only shows the correct number (or whatever it shows) when you are actually tuned in to a station.  Until you are actually tuned into a new station, it shows the number of the station last tuned in.  So it's not as helpful as you might think.

Sadly the motorized Kenwood KT-413 isn't very good at all, and just as FMTunerInfo says.  But I'll add more.  The motor is very fast, even when switched to the "slow" position, and I think that is part of the problem.  Sometimes it actually skips over stations going one way, but finds it in the other.  One wonders how accurate the tuning is.  Anyway, the sound is noisy and wimpy and utterly unlike the Charlie.

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