August 2016: It has been 10 years since Jim Rivers wrapped up his renowned Shootouts series. While no one is going to attempt to duplicate Jim's effort any time soon (81 side-by-side tuner shootouts? Are you kidding me?!), we thought we'd open up a forum to encourage members of our FMtuners group and others to perform and write up their own mini-shootouts in whatever format they like (within reason!). Contact our Editor/Webmaster at ericATfmtunerinfo.com (replace the "AT" with an @) for some basic guidance and approval of your proposed test subjects and methodology.
McIntosh MR500 vs. Onkyo T-9090 vs. Yamaha T-85 vs. modified Sony XDR-F1HD (8/13/16, photo)
Here's Owen R. to kick off the page:
I am a total newb to the tuner world and I apologize if I use some technical terms incorrectly or am ignorant of certain basics. I fell down the rabbit hole while trying to get one station in my local area to come in cleanly and with as little noise as possible. I found the fmtunerinfo.com website and I got hooked on tuners.
My McIntosh MR500 was compared and contrasted to an Onkyo T-9090, a Yamaha T-85, and a Sony XDR-F1HD modified by The XDR Guy. All tuners went through both a Marantz PM7000 with Boston Acoustics A60s and a Denon DRA-685 with Advent Prodigy Tower IIs. All tuners used the same basic folded dipole antenna mounted on my second-floor bedroom wall. My wife and I did blind interchanges with the tuners and made notes to determine which one simply sounded better in comparison. We compared using four FM stations with about four songs on each station. The stations were chosen based on signal strength, ranging from high to low. The comparison focused on sound quality since the XDR was head and shoulders above all my other tuners for sensitivity and selectivity.
Side Note: I first acquired my XDR unmodified, so I was able to compare it against this tuner lineup prior to mods. It was total crap with regard to sound quality when compared to all of them, basically awful. I had serious buyer's remorse after about two minutes. I sold the XDR to the "XDR Guy" with only a slight loss that I chalked up to a trial/rental fee. The FM and AM sensitivity, though, were incredible. Selectivity is not much of an issue where I live due to the low number of high-power stations nearby. I sold some stuff on eBay so I took the proceeds and contacted the XDR Guy and asked for the tuner back with his full complement of mods. I was very happy with what I received back -- a major improvement to sound quality. I was also able to pick up 13 more stations on FM and 10 more on AM, but I'm not sure whether this was due to the XDR Guy's alignment for FM or possible weather/atmospheric changes.
Best Overall Sound Quality
1) McIntosh MR500
2) (TIE) Modified Sony XDR-F1HD and Onkyo T-9090
4) Yamaha T-85
The Sony and Onkyo were very close, basically indistinguishable from one another for sound quality when there was high signal strength. Once the signal strength went below "3 bars" on the XDR, sound quality fell off to below even the Yamaha, but at least there was no noticeable noise. The Onkyo's form factor is awesome, whereas the Sony looks so cheesy and unimpressive. I was expecting more from the Yamaha with regard to sound quality, but perhaps the problem is with this particular example since I strongly believe the AM is way out of alignment on the T-85. I can't pick up anything out of the area whereas the Sony is picking up stations over hundreds if not thousands of miles away every single night.
In my humble and inexperienced opinion and with modest equipment, my wife and I agree that for any FM station with at least moderate signal strength (which according to the T-9090 seems to be about 35-40 dBf and above, and on the MR500 about 4 or 5 LEDs up the signal-strength meter), the MR500 is without a doubt the best-sounding of the four. I donít want to use too many pretentious-sounding adjectives, but it was just overall fuller, deeper, richer, and just plain more enjoyable. So much more enjoyable that I truly find myself audibly exploring songs to see how many instruments and sounds I can identify. I have not even come close to wanting to do this with any other tuner. It is a true pleasure to listen to.
Once the signal strength goes below a certain point the noise really becomes an issue with this tuner, but I can at least tune the MR500 to what I believe is mono by not tuning it to the point that it locks onto the station, but rather staying off the center frequency by about 0.1 MHz. This works well with talk stations like NPR. Itís a digital readout, but doesnít tune like the XDR -- as I adjust the MR500's tuning knob I get continuous tuning, much like an older analog-style tuner.
I like the MR500 very much. It's my go-to tuner for local FM. I will be selling the Onkyo and Yamaha now that this comparison is complete. I only use the XDR for pulling in distant FM stations, HD stations, and AM DXing.