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A directional FM antenna on a rotator will produce better results with a midrange tuner than a top of the line tuner with a fixed antenna.
Most tuners today, even cheap ones, have excellent sensitivity. Actually, unless you live in the country (fringe area) sensitivity is not all that important. For city dwellers, where there are many stations, selectivity, multipath and adjacent channel rejection is the important parameter.
The quality of the audio amplifier circuits is something that high end tuners can brag about, but unfortunately the audio quality is often limited by the signal broadcast by the station, so that a midrange tuner is as good as it gets.
Eldartford & 4yanx make an interesting comment... what's the sense in spending MegaBuck$$ for a quality tuner to pick-up stations that the bean counters control and supply with the least expensive broadcast equipment they can get away with? I wonder what priority quality has in their broadcast equipment when they know the bulk of radio listeners do so when their cheap digital gear isn't available. Seems like there are too many variables totally out of ones control to invest too much in a tuner.
Eldartford's response has been the "on the money" advice for the last 30 years (if not more).
Assuming a tuner of decent quality (more on that in a moment), the quality of the antenna that is used will affect what is heard more than spending huge sums on a tuner. The signal (both AM and FM) that is received will be greatly affected by where you live ... especially if you live in an apartment house or any structure that has lots of metal (window and door frames; fires escapes; tin ceilings).
Most equipment manufacturers produced better sounding tuners 30 years ago, when FM was viewed as a viable source. It is as though most manufacturers don't remember how to make a good radio. Most moderately priced tuners that I hear, sound "processed" ... as though the frequency response range has been compressed in addition to the compression that the stations add .
As an alternative to expensive tuners, I use vintage receivers from the mid to late 70's (Marantz 2216B and 2240) as tuners in my systems. The mid 70's were a time when good FM tuners were the norm. As for antennas, I use tuneable rabbit ears, as spending more on an antenna for use in a NYC apartment house is textbook insanity. Most stations are picked up with a strength at the just under the highest level on a strength meter. The resultant sound is very listenable and enjoyable, given the quality of the signal. The retro look is also pretty cool.
If you go the vintage route ... receivers from Sherwood (7000 series); Pioneer (#x# series; i.e. 636 or SX series); Marantz (22XX series) will set you back about $150 or less. If you go with vintage tuners, Kenwood, Marantz, and McIntosh made some excellent ones.
Check out www.fmtunerinfo.com
There are some very good tuners manufactured today, but there are plenty of vintage tuners that are better and can be had for less.
You will also find that different tuners can be better at different things - some are very sensitive, some a very selective. There are a lot of compromises to make based on what your needs are.
Ugh.. Cleanup post. Price and performance often have little to do with each other UNLESS we're talking about particular models within a given Japanese manufacturer's line.
Audiophile brands for the most part have never built a truly state of the art tuner. McIntosh did, once, the MR78. Audiolab did, once, with the 8000T. Accuphases are decent, but not really THAT special. Rotel did, one, with the RHT10 and RT990BX, but those were basically Yamaha knockoffs with certain parts upgraded. H/K did some interesting stuff with the Citation 23, but they aren't really an "audiophile" brand per se.
Read TIC (website above). It will learn you up good. Don't buy audiophile brand tuners. They will rip you off good. Tuners are by far one of the most complicated devices to design and build, and just as difficult to buy for many.
Truly good state of the art tuners being made today? NONE. No one has taken a genuine stab at it in years. Accuphase reportedly may have something on the horizon, and if an when it is offered, it'll probably be the best current offering by a long shot.