Towards a Tuner Hierarchy

A Tuner Hierarchy? Yuk! How pretensious. How ludicrous. Okay, let's get the qualifications and reservations out of the way.

It's virtually impossible to rank precisely the sound quality of such varied stereo equipment. There's subjectivity involved, system dependency, problems comparing tube and solid state, vintage and new, and so forth. Great pieces of equipment are each beautiful in their own way. Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all. You don't have to play if you don't want to...

But many buyers would love to have a place to start -- a rough guide to collective experiences with various models of a given component, and there are plenty of collectors, reviewers, sales folk and plain audiophiles with plenty of knowledge and opinion to draw upon.

Note: I've had personal experience with only some of the tuners below and have relied on the opinion of others for tentative conclusions about the remainder. In some cases (especially the last few) a model might be included with no firm grounds for its relative ranking at all -- these await YOUR input to better place them in the 'tuner hierarchy' (eww!). The point is for people to step forward, to add, 'correct' and reorder the list. Of course in many instances there will be no agreement, and even a final list will be partial and controversial, but that's the limitation of an experiment such as this.

So, whether you've heard twelve or just two of these tuner, chime in with your own opinion on which was your favourite ticket to free music 24/7. Give us your own ranking. Or if you want to point to a professional review in print that disputes the order below, let's hear about that too. The list is partial (many all-stars are missing: some classic Macs, Pioneers, Scotts, Fishers, etc.) and most certainly wrong on a number of scores, so help fill in the gaps and make it better. A few listed may not even deserve to rank on sonic quality but are included due to their long association with 'supertuner' status. Go ahead, beat them down if you don't like them.

The ranking is based SOUND QUALITY only -- let's not make this even more complicated (not yet anyway). It will be posted elsewhere as well to generate more feedback. Personally, I'd love to see this done with every component category.

sequerra FM-1
sequerra FM Reference Classic
marantz 10B
linn kremlin
accuphase T-109
magnum dynalab MD-108
magnum dynalab MD-102
kenwood L-02T
meridian 604
naim NAT 01
naim NAT 02

rotel RHT-10
yamaha CT-7000
tandberg 3001 and 3001a
audiolab 8000T
fanfare FT-1
accuphase T-100
accuphase T-101
sansui TU-X1
revox B-760
onix BWD-1
musical fidelity A3
musical fidelity X-PLORA
sumo charlie
kenwood L-01T
kenwood KT-917
kenwood KT-700T
kenwood KT-600T
mcintosh MR 78
mcintosh MR 80
meridian 504
magnum dynalab etude
roksan caspian precision tuner
sansui TU-9900
sansui TU-919

yamaha T-2
rotel RT-990BX
magnum dynalab FT-101a
magnum dynalab FT-101
proton AT-670
creek T-43
audio refinement complete tuner
magnum dynalab FT-11
quad FM-4

nakamichi ST-7
yamaha TX-2000
yamaha TX-1000u
yamaha TX-950
adcom GFT-1A
adcom GFT-555 II
nec T-6E
pioneer elite reference F-93
onkyo T-4711
onkyo T-9090 II
carver TX-11A

(last section in particular needs more info and opinion)
Interestung idea.
A local dealer absolutely RAVES about the Audio Refinement Complete Tuner, but when I asked him if I would gain a tremendous amount over the tuner FM section of my old NAD Monitor 7400 receiver, he agreed that NAD made superb tuners for those 7100 and 7400 receivers. (My system comprises VA Parsifal Encores fed by Aleph P and 2 monos.)
The sound of local uncompressed non-commercial broadcasting...especially WGBH (Boston) live VERY gratifying. Except for reduced HF resolution, I sometimes
can't believe the quality of the signal!
I suppose some tuner cognoscenti will summarily pooh-pooh my experience in favor of the classic Day Sequerras, Macs, etc., and indeed having this otherwise-pedestrian NAD hanging around with unused amp sections is clunky, but do I truly have a significant cost-effective upgrade path here? Happy Fourth to all! Ernie
My suggestion would be to visit Jim's rankings on A real cornicopia of tuner ratings and rankings!

The F-26 tuner, like the other components in the Series 20 line, received carefully design engineering to push the technological envelope on tuner design. In true audiophile fashion, it featured FM only. It was a higher performance, lower profile design compared to the F28 tuner. Pioneer employed newfeatures and circuitry having: Quartz-Locked Touch Sensor Tuning, an elaborate "Clean Pilot" system for cleaner high-frequency, and a Parallel Balanced Linear Detector( PBLD) for vastly improved signal-to-noise ratio and detection efficiency.

This tuner also featured automatic wide/narrow IF bandwidth slection. The F-26 was design with a large power supply and two 6000 microfarad power supply capacitors, a muting level control on the rear panel, adjustable stereo/mono signal switchover, adjustable muting control, and gold plated terminals.

The semiconductor count in the F-26 was mind-boggling. There were 11 Field Effect Transistors, 19 ICs, 68 transistors and 59 diodes. Its frequency response was 20 to 15kHz. Other specifications could be listed here, but suffice it to say the F-26 could easily hold its own with far more expensive and esoteric FM tuners then on the market. Examples in good condition are much sought-after by Pioneer collectors.

The F-26 had an M.S.R.P. of $1000.00.

The quartz-synthesized F-26, which was Pioneer's most expensive tuner, is very rare and seldom seen on eBay ($770 in 3/02, $785 in 6/02). Our panelist David, on his Ricochets page, calls it one of the three best tuners ever.

David's top three tuners: the TU-X1, L-02T and F-26

I am increasingly of the belief that the Sansui TU-X1, Kenwood L-02T and Pioneer Series 20 F-26 are really in a class by themselves. I hear much bigger differences between stations overall than between these tuners! However, none of these tuners sound identical and each has different merits and weaknesses. In my system, with my FM market, I rank the TU-X1 #1, the F-26 #2 and the L-02T #3 (on a sonic basis). Each can make a claim under various listening/RF market conditions as the best production tuner made. There may be others, but none that I have seen or heard yet. All three embarrass all of the more recent digital tuners that I have compared to them. There is a gap between these three and the next best tuner that I have heard and measured.

I noticed that I had to reposition my speakers to get the best out of each tuner. For example, the TU-X1 has so much stage width (separation) that placing speakers too far apart yields a hole in the middle and diffuse sound (as Jim notes in his review). This effect can also be a problem when trying to optimize a system for CD versus LP. The TU-X1 has better frequency extremes (both measurable and audible) but will not show those advantages if the speakers are bandwidth limited, placed so that they have ragged frequency response, or in a system optimized for LP instead of CD. The L-02T appears to favor smaller speakers, because many smaller designs don't have the extreme bass extension and to a lesser degree extreme treble smoothness of larger (read this as 3 - 5 way, not physical size) speakers. Placement of the speakers can be further apart with the L-02T. The bandwidth compression scheme of the L-02T's IF appears to hide or at least diminish some of the low-quality nasties so prevalent in broadcast radio these days, but also makes it prone to certain types of external interference. The F-26 is not as sensitive as either of the other two tuners, but possesses an ease and naturalness in the mid-treble (especially on an excellent classical station) that is not always present in the TU-X1 & L-02T. Overall, I would place the F-26 a little behind the TU-X1 and L-02T under most (but not all) listening situations. Note that the F-26 stages a comeback if you have a station that requires the narrow IF for decent reception due to a crowded dial, multipath, etc.
The idea that the F-90 or F-99x is in the same league as the TX-9500 II or the TX-9800 is laughable. The Front End Sensitivity MIGHT (jut might) be in the ball park but the audio quality just isn't and won't be. The 9500 II and the 9800 is a close relative to the F-26. The F-93 was the last statement product by Pioneer to coalesce everything they'd learned into a "final statement" product. (Stereophile recommended it, a fact not often shared by anglophile or Onkyo tuner enthusiasts....) Listen for yourself because the 93 sounds more like a 26, 28 or even a 9500 or 9800 than it's ever sounded like my 91 or any of the thrift store also rans that TIC shootouts blew upskirt smoke into. My rankings are the 93, 9500 II, 9800, (no particular order) and then the rest (also in no particular order). The M-D's I've owned were disappointing, but the MD 205 (and the Carver TX-1-11 NR unit) are both useful (if defeatable) tools with any very good tuner.