Vintage Hi-Fi Info
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*See our NEW Hi-Fi Blog page
lots of New Sections since Jan 2017 that add a wide range of Hi-Fi & Tech related subjects plus opinion on Hi-Fi News 1970-1980 as we read through.
Includes New Articles on this page's subject. This page has been updated & read through with 2017 ideas & with an Index to navigate.
Headphones, Tuners & Tone Control
PAGE INDEX...↑ TOP
Be aware this page has sections written since 2010, some later page sections are duplicated in theme as written earlier as it states we've noticed. But for how hard it is to edit & risk losing interesting info, it all stays if it's been read through in 2017 to see it makes sense, if a bit on the random, but that's the appeal of Blog-type sites. Enjoy.
The deal with Headphones is how loud (db) and the voice coil resistance (ohms) affects how natural, loud or false sounding it is.
Thankfully (as of 2013) we've found some Headphones now that we can happily use & continue with our Amp testing. But you'll need to read on as the game of finding Headphones is a totally unknown exercise as no-one knows their products anymore & learning specs can help find ones worth a try it still doesn't mean you'll get the right ones. Now we know (again) how totally jumping in a mud puddle the game of buying new Hifi items is. Headphones are take it or leave it, no upgradecing possible & we did try. The Audio-Technica M20s were basic after all, but served us well. It won't hide the rough sound of some other amps we tried to better. The difference M20 to M50 is like the 6" bass driver compared to the 12" one & the M20s are in the past. How you use Headphones matters too: for the best Vintage Hifi or for mobile phone or soundcard headphone amp, the sort of headphone you can use varies. MP3 on a mobile is little better than a MW portable radio of old. Many Headphones as with Loudspeakers are Fake Sounding to make cheap items sound better. But as no-one knows what they are selling today or apparently tried them in the way we do, we type it for you.
There are good basic headphones that we have been using for a few years & then the awful fake boom & tizz sounding rubbish that paying EXTRA gives you. We were quite disgusted at how Dishonest the sales pitch is on the supposedly better ones noted below. No wonder people are happy listening to rubbish Hifi if these false sounding Headphones & Speakers is the deal they get. We use FLAT response Tannoy Golds from 1969 & know how bad & artificial the 1992 Tannoy 609s sound, with boomy bass, recessed midrange & lousy treble.
Overall we are now glad we got rid of the M20s as we know they were cheap & bass was light. The weeks in limbo until we found the letter M50s was not fun though, but the outcome of determination pays off eventually. "Out of the strong came forth sweetness" as the Syrup tin says.
Audio Technica ATH-M20 ↑
2013 Verdict on new stock ones: Too flawed now to bother & we tried 3 pairs. These were the ones we've been using, a measly £38 new or less, not impressive at all, eh? Older Ones had a great natural sound with a sine wave sweep being correct to how we hear it on our Speakers. But the current ones are lousy. As low as £26 on Amazon in March 2013. With a full size Neutrik jack plug as the supplied small one is very weak, you just solder the lacquered wires to lose the coating & solder. The M20 vinyl ear cushion covering is long gone, lousy quality, but they don't break and we've trod on them & raked them off the floor many a time. But we dared to take them apart in view of buying a new pair as these were getting too tatty if sounding good & them being the same, oh dear. ATH-M20 are clearly nothing like ones sold 4-5 years ago... 2/10 NOT RECOMMENDED as sound is supposedly flat but now is seriously flawed on the treble. The current ATH-M20 recipe now is clearly different to our old ones which we'd rate 6.5/10.
Audio Technica ATH-M50 ↑
Verdict: The only ones that are any good.
£105-£120 in 2013, "S" version for straight cable for items far away. These arrive & the natural thing to do is look at them, nicely made, good cushions, the solid type of 6.3mm jack with the screw-in 3.5mm one like the 30s & 40s have. Putting them on blocks a good amount of external noise out. Before even running them in to tidy the sound, what is here is a lively honest & punchy sound. The sound certainly isn't the awful fake M30 & M40 sucked-out midrange but has extra bass due to the 45mm drivers & 38 ohm that the 700s lacked. The more midrangey sound of these is good on more neutral amps. These do need a good running in & then can be used with Bass set flat on the Tone, the M-20s needed almost full bass. The M50s are basically a bigger sounding version of the early M20s with more volume as bigger drivers & the better construction. We knew the M20s were modest & bass wasn't as deep as Speakers, but they were good for what we used them for.
We are glad the M20s were no good as the M50s are a better item & are now as Neutral on the Treble & Midrange as the M20s but with a little more gain as the drivers are bigger. We get amps we like again to sell so we've revisited several already & the opinion generally was much the same using either Headphone. But one we thought was too hard & upfront sounding now sounds right with the better response of the M50s, so the Yamaha CR-1000 has got quite a different review now, compared to the previous one since overwritten. As they were more expensive they don't end up on the floor now & seem to be well made and no problems beyond the 3.5mm jack needing a bit of WD40 to keep it good in the 6.3mm jack adaptor that screws on the cable.
Having used them for a while, they run in to give a smoother treble. The closed cup can 'honk' a bit on upper bass if played louder which restricts the ultimate rating. Having compared the same tracks on speakers to headphones, the speakers are much fresher sounding as you'd expect, but are subject to room resonances. 9/10 RECOMMENDED for the £120 price you'll have to spend a lot more to see any benefit & then the risks of the fake sound may upset. After 4 years use overall we rated them 9/10.
2017 UPDATE... now there is an Audio Technica ATH M50X version on Amazon. These have a removable cable. Amazon reviews say they don't sound as good at the original ATH M-50. In using ours, they sound great after 4 years regular use if they did need quite a bit of time to run in as high treble was edgy. The headband plastic covering now flakes off & the earpads we're on the second pair of replacements, the first started cracking, the unofficial second ones were too uncomfortable if the recently bought newer ones are softer & have a bigger hole to fit your ears. These are "Leather" ones, if it's soft vinyl, as sold on ebay by "pro-audio5" PA5 store. The "prams4baby" ones are the harder uncomfortable ones that get sweaty too. Still with the original cable & plugs too.
Audio Technica ATH-AD700 ↑
Verdict: Lousy & uneven. 4/10 NOT RECOMMENDED as not really Hifi though the midrange is nice, the rest isn't.
Audio Technica ATH-M30 & ATH-M40s ↑
Verdict: Laughably fake sounding. 2/10 NOT RECOMMENDED unless what you are listening to is an i-pod or phone & the false sound will suit it, certainly as far from Hifi as is possible.
THE REASON WHY: ATH-M30FS & 40FS have 60-65 ohm voice coils
Ghastly false Boosted Bass, huge Dip on Midrange to boost the Bass & a Weedy Treble to bring out the roughness many Transistor amps have. Clearly aimed at Morons who know nothing about music quality. What you get is a very loud bass, a deeply recessed midrange sounding extremely bad together & something resembling treble amid this.
GOT GOOD HEARING TO START WITH? ↑
How good is your Hearing? If you are over 30 & never had your ears syringed then your hearing range will be limited by earwax. A relation was always complaining about Bass irking him & clearly wax in the ear against the eardrum vibrated itchingly at lower frequencies. To have clean ears is as important as what you hear it on. There is a good test tones one HERE on an Aussie site.
You Play Songs in your Head on Lo-Fi. ↑
Unless we are unique, a human can keep songs in their head & replay them at will, if usually only replaying a short bit though if you concentrate you can play the whole song if you've learnt it. You play them in Lo-fi sound in Mono, try to think of a stereo track & you'll only think of it as Mono. Also a loud Bass note you won't "hear" played as a bass note, but oddly the bandwidth limited sound you hear Phone music as, ie The Drifters 'Under The Boardwalk' starts with a bass intro but Phone music creates a pretend no-bass version that still sounds feasible. Psycho-acoustics indeed.
So buy Vintage Headphones then? ↑
Sadly not. Headphones started with WW2 moving iron ones & that thin sound you hear on old films must imitate them, little better than an old telephone of the pre 1970 era. We had headphones occasionally from clearances as well as knowing the AV room ones at school, the grey ones with the mic arm. Even modern looking ones of better than cheap were still the lesser item on using that old Philco-Ford amp noted elsewhere. Detail was good as up to your ear but treble was lacking & they were not comfortable to wear too long, our ATH-M20s we can wear for many hours now the vinyl covering has worn away. Whether any Vintage Headphone could sound as good as the ATH-M20s, with how flat response they are & not shy of treble or even 10Hz boops can be noticed, is probably unlikely. The modern manufacture to give such a light diaphragm to give the full response is why' Old ones we ripped apart are just small paper speaker cones or a heavy corrugated plastic film.
About time Tuners got a page again, we had one until 2013 so it'll be added on at the end. We are becoming tired of finding good amps with duff tuners, time to dig deeper & write up this page. More will be added as we hopefully get successes fixing Tuners, we have three duff ones as of writing.
Tuners give Free Music, you need no License to use a Radio Tuner though duty used to be paid in the UK as old valve radio labels show. Depending on your tastes in music or news-chat type shows, the UK isn't really that good for using Tuners, though regional stations seem to be more numerous Up North, around London-Herts it's really the BBC stations, Classical, Pop Stations & 80s Oldies stations. In USA they get so much more about Vintage Music & a lot of this can be heard online or by podcasts and saved shows you can access.
Tuners as separate items or built into Amplifier Receivers generally either work perfectly, are a bit off, eg the FM Stereo might not work as it 'drifted' until some minor MPX adjusting is done, or they are faulty & when they are faulty you are best getting a Tuner expert to work on those as we'll not tackle dead or faulty Tuner stages beyond typical fault finding. The chance of a Tuner stage having a fault is actually very rare based on amps we've had. Some need minor adjusting & if they don't work, we just leave them be. The Hifi stages are our interest though we have had much success with Tuners Transistor & Valve, getting deep into them when they are faulty & requiring alignment gear is not for us. Fault finding Tuners requires generators & then the transistors being a different type might be unavailable & to find equivalents is much harder than audio stage ones as we've tried. We can Service & Upgrade tuners by just recapping including losing non-critical ceramics if required, usually as much work to do as the amp stages, though the results can transform a muddy FM into a beautiful open sound, the difference recapping the valve Sansui 500A tuner stage was a huge improvement. We don't touch the 'Front End' part of the Tuner, only the later sections. To upgrade a Receiver usually means we do not do any Tuner work unless you request it.
US AND TUNERS ↑
These days we're not too bothered with Tuners if the Retro style a Receiver has over the Amplifier version adds a lot of appeal & to have it working, if rarely use it. Radio 2 gets used the most often, to avoid the Pop Stations & for the fact on FM it's clean and uncompressed so Speech is a good way to test a Tuner sounds good. The typist first got a Radio aged about Six & it was rarely off, even during sleep(!) until the early twenties. Capital Radio 194 was the favourite station back then, the DJs were familiar & Capital was a good station in it's early days, the advert jingles "The Big Red Building In Petticoat Lane" whatever that was for. Help A London Child week was boring listening as are Charity-thons on TV, you had to pledge money to hear half a song be talked over. Michael Aspel used to be on in the morning and by about 7pm it changed to Health Issues talk shows & a relation on hearing this sort of 'woman's talk' it was suggested another station was found. Adults don't realise kids have no idea what those words are... A slight retune at that time of day found Radio Luxembourg 208 who played a livelier amount of music beyond the UK chart playlist. It faded in and out at will but was always tuned to when Capital went adult talk. Soft Cell's 'Tainted love' always seemed to fade out as he wailed "...owww Tainted Love", you rarely heard the whole song, but it was the best station. Later finding Reggae, with Capital's David Rodigan, Soul with Greg Edwards'Soul Spectrum' mostly slow rather than Peter Young who played R&B & Northern & more reggae on Radio London 206 with Tony Williams, the Sunday lunchtime show used to get recorded onto tape & played back, still got some of it, Version Excursion, Papa T Feel Irie & all the noises added over the tracks like a DJ session, all in the early Dancehall era. Davis Rodigan played Johnny Ace's 'Pledging My Love' in about 1984 & mindblowing tune & the distant odds of finding the MCA reissue the next weekday won out in a ex-jukebox pop box which was nice. The scene soon faded away as do most good things, but did find Reggae Pirate Radio which was broadcast to the world in our earlier Records incarnation. Big Shout Out To The Brixton Massive sort of shows aimed at a few local people, but they played some fine tunes. Sadly that all went by about 1990 as Kiss FM started as the FM dial finally got some use past 100. This wasn't a problem before on UK made Hacker Radios, but they only go up to 101 so you miss all the local stations of today. Not quite sure when radio lost the appeal, but looking at the Number One singles list they seem to fade off in knowing them by the time of Mr Blobby in 1993 with Shaggy, Doop & Whigfield by 1994 only known from TV use. Probably as the car driven then had a duff radio & was tired of the pop stuff by that age anyway & couldn't be bothered to put a CD player in as CD-R only started in 1998, sick of cassettes in cars as they chewed. Hearing the Radio again, mostly Radio 2 or Local Stations is interesting, if the mindless chatter & bland music gets the Don't Touch That Dial message ignored. Hearing the awful autotuned moron pop that Capital churns out, all heavily compressed is mind numbing. No wonder Gaming is more popular.
UNDERSTANDING TUNERS ↑
is not so easy, but we're getting tired of having a great amp, like the Trio-Kenwood TK-140X & the Tuner doesn't work correctly. It's always FM that's the problem, in the age of Internet Radio, to listen to MW, LW or SW is redundant though there will always be die-hard users. The FM Tuner is a Front end, where it detects the signal from the aerial input. To fix that would need test signal gear. Then come the other stages, as the Sony STR-6120 tuner stage shows it's IF stage, Limiter-Detector Stage them Multiplex (MPX) which then goes to the selector switch with other inputs or Phono. Once there is a signal detectable in the Tuner, fault finding shouldn't be too hard. But then the issue of aligning. The amateur will always fiddle with the coils & pots which makes more mess as the ferrite cores crumble or get jammed up cracked, as well as the correct settings being so far off correct that it doesn't work right or things like the dial scale is smaller than the tuned range as it's gone way off. Then MPX can be set wrong or drift due to aging but often it can be easy to sort, as long as the fiddler hasn't fiddled. We've upgraded a valve phono stage twice & the improvement is huge. Transistor tuners mostly have ICs though a few earlier ones don't. Some are set out so nicely to make repairing easier, but some are a mess & unreliable. If the Tuner board is nicely laid out & labelled it'll be much easier, but the Trio-Kenwood ones are mostly only found with the Circuit Diagram, the full service manual long lost, to fix those is hard therefore, but made even worse by the fact Trio kept updating the Tuners, the TK-140X has two distinct versions.
TUNER WORK WE'VE DONE ↑
We've actually sorted out quite a few Tuners, but only ones that Worked in the firstr place. Minor alignment isn't too tricky, if care with the fragile Ferrite cores is important, as where do you get spare ferrite cores from, apart from junked tuner boards naturally. We've recapped the Sony STR-6120 receiver's excellent Tuner stage more than once now & it's layout helps teach how Tuners work. The Trio WX400U 1963 valve receiver we recapped fully from the stages after the front end & also the ill-fated 1966 Sansui 500A sounded great for being upgraded. To dig into the front end section isn't recommended as certain items are critical. Many receivers have been adjusted to be right on FM Stereo, but beyond that getting faulty ones working again realy hasn't been attempted. But it knocks the value of a fully recapped camp hard & limits it's appeal as be sure any Receiver owner puts the Tuner on save playing their own music.
ALIGNING TUNERS ↑
To do this, some can be done via the meters & listening to get the maximum lecel and least distortion or noise. But on somer, you need a FM signal generator to put onto the aerial input. the Yamaha CT-1010 needs 98kHz & 108kHz signals. To think you can just tune the station to that sadly is redundant as the tuner will pick up noise or a Station, assuming the Tuner pointer is spot on in the first place. To buy a Signal Generator is at least £500 for new or less for used ones, never knowing how accurate they are. To pay that to fix a few tuners doesn't seem worth the outlay, so really the only option beyond repairing faults is to get it done by one with the test alignment gear. Fiddling with cores & presets may get it sorted, but the risk of setting things even more off or cracking the fragile ferrites is the risk. But in 2015, how many repair shops will have the gear to do this right? No CD can support 98kHz & assuming a computer program could generate this, would the Soundcard not limit this? The Soundblaster Recon 3D we use only outputs up to 96kHz if digital sampling on making recordings can be much higher at 192kHz & pro ones probably higher still. so no Soundcard could deliver 98-108kHz so end of that.
IC STAGES IN TUNERS ↑
There is a dedicated Tuner website fmtunerinfo.com that goes very deep into Tuners for how they sound, but as they are USA based, they get a huge lot more Stations that Little Ole England does. As with audio, excessive junk in ICs that are often general purpose ones does limit the fidelity. To most Tuner users, if it plays FM ion Stereo, then that's good enough. Most Tuner users use The Radio as background music, not critical listening so if it sounds ok, they're not bothered. But this is a site about The Excellence Of Hifi Revisited. ICs will lose the ultimate quality of a Tuner signal, but the thing is, apart from Radio 2 & the Classical stations, all other UK FM is horribly compressed for Car Radios, based on age old ideas from the 1960s. You'd need to be a seasomed FM junkie to tell the difference between an IC & all transistor design, but the truth again is so many coupling capacitors are fizzy ceramics, you'd really not notice until the tuner was upgraded. Only once you've heard an upgraded FM Stereo Valve Tuner then you will understand, the Sony STR-6120 tuner is perhapos the best vintage tuner there is, along with the ST-5000(F)(W) from 1967-68 that the 6120 uses. The ST-5000 needs careful buying as they aren't multivoltage, just the UK, Japan or USA voltages.
WHERE DO YOU GET TUNERS FIXED & ALIGNED? ↑
The $64,000 question... fear of these old tuners & cracked ferrites will put many off. We have tried to get Tuners fixed before, but the trouble is if the Tuner is faulty, be sure someone has got in there & fiddled first. This can result in cracked hex holed screw Ferrites as they need a little care & preparing not to break them. Then there is the risk of not finding what naffed the Tuner first, as the settings could be so far off you'd never get there. We had one tuner a while ago that got fiddled & for the want of trying, it took absolutely ages to actually "find" the correct settings without having the FM Generator after a fault was noticed. We'll get it sorted ourselves somehow, a challenge that needs doing & it can be done without FM signal generators if your patience is good. But the trouble is, the Trio-Kenwood TK-140X we have sort of workls as FM is very low volume, all the transistors on the FM-MPX boards are good, but Muting doesn't do anything as it's already muted by the fault. These amps only have the circuits findable, not the full service manual as we have with the TK-66, this shows far more alignment details. But Trio forever altered their tuners in the 1967-69 era & the KT-5000 tuner we have now has a very different set of boards to the one on the Solds page. The fear with Tuners is therefore ferrites, fiddling, fault finding & farque-knows what. We had one quote that was many times in excess of what a working one would cost to buy. The idea was we don't want the hassle so they outpriced the job as they cared for their sanity.
TONAL BALANCE OF TUNERS ↑
Beyond the De-Emphasis issue, where some brands don't set it for UK use, see Wikipedia for the variants, some tuners are too bassy & dull, yet other can be so well balanced they are a joy. Some receivers can have a great tuner but a lousy amp stage, the NAD 300 1977 receiver being one we remember. The Yamaha tuners are usually softer sounding than others, if the CT-1010 tuner is very crisp. This is a strange tuner to match the Yamaha Ca-1010 amplifier it is as big, but enough space for a pair of shoes inside. There is a top range Yamaha tuner, this seems to be a second-best, but it still has ICs instead of doing it all-transistor.
TUNERS IN RECEIVERS ↑
We listen to all Receiver Tuner stages as they need testing to sell & occasionally adjusting just slightly. Many are OK but unremarkable, often a bit blurry & not very bassy either. Some can be very accurate sounding, others too muddy to enjoy, but nearly all have ICs that may put off purists, but they'd buy the separate Tuner box version and still get ICs. Valve tuners are noted elsewhere, for being 1960s they are blurry & unremarkable but upgrade very well.
COMBINED TUNER CIRCUITS ↑
In some receivers, the FM & AM tuner is a separate section, but on some the last amplification stage was put on the Phono board. This only seems to be with 1967-69 receivers by Trio-Kenwood, some Sansui & the 1967 National-Panasonic. This is a bit awkward for upgrading as it's possible to get into oscillation if the Phono stage is upgraded like other Phono stages can take. Sansui in 1969-70 also put the Aux input through a big resistor & then into the Phono stage too, so the poor Phono board had three uses & some added Tape Head EQ too. Not good design.
EARLY TRANSISTOR ERA TUNERS & MUTING ↑
Very early transistor receivers often have valves or nuvistors in, as the FM Front end wasn't possible to get right until the FET was used, though some 1967 ones used early ICs, the FET was preferred. The 1967 receivers still use the large germanium diodes, but as with Japanese Germaniums these usually still work right, our 1967 Sansui 3000A tuner works fine if it has no loud interstation noise. That noise is the AGC going full volume on finding no signal & the worst one we found for this was the Leak tuner with the Stereo 70, Stereofetic probably named. Muting Circuits are good really only if you use a purpose made roof aerial which 99.9% of tuner users don't. The Yamaha tuners from 1977 are best tuned in with Muting & stereo off then switch to Stereo or you hear nothing which is confusing until you know why, we always put the Muting off when sending them out.
TUNER DX-ING? ↑
This is for those who can get a huge amount of Distant Stations using top grade aerials. It is an enthusiast section of Tuner use & Hifi News used to report on what distant station was picked up one night in the earlier years. With Internet radio perhaps the DX-ing is now obsolete, but there will still be interest in things archaic, if for the fun of it, or seriousness perhaps. The Tuner needs High Selectivity & no AFC to only pull in strong stations. But to 99% of tuner users, the Tuner is mainly used for free background music.
TUNER OPINIONS ↑
We've not had many separate Tuners, only 1969 Trio-Kenwood, 1971 Sugden, 1977 Yamaha & the Leak Tuner as the 1969 version for the Stereo 70 & the Delta tuner, both basically the same. As with all Hifi, the British Hifi sadly is way behind the sophisticated Japanese product especially in the pre 1972 era. UK FM stations are annoyingly few & to sit to listen for 20 minutes & not hate some autotuned modern pop insulting noise is not easy. Also the News on most channels is annoying being told misery that you couldn't care less about after a certain age, if liking to know what's going on in a general way, not wanting the details much. Others may care more for Selectivity for Long Distance FM.
• VALVES: RECEIVERS TRIO WX-400U & SANSUI 500A ↑
The Trio is the one we rebuilt as noted on the Valves page. The Tuner originally was dull & muddy sounding, FM was more like MW. we write on getting it back looking sad. The Tuner needs some work as it was better before & the magic eye crosses past max so it's out of line after it's excursion. We also rebuilt the Sansui 500A valve tuner & it being 4 years later was a better tuner than the Trio, if the amp itself was poor. The Trio tuner is enjoyable rebuilt if it's not as clean sounding as it is in need of aligning better. The sound is clean with the sibilants of female news readers being clean if not as clean as better later Transistor tuners. But the Cool Factor of a nice Valve tuner instead of a dull pile of ICs is far more pleasing.
• SONY ST-5000 TUNER ↑
There are two versions as with the 1120 amp, the first & very rare one from 1967 has 3 lever switches in the middle plus 'Solid State 45 transistor' on the front. The back label shows ST-5000W. The later 1968 FET version ST-5000F(W) has a slider instead as well as 2 rotary controls. Ignore the 117v back panel label, it is Multivoltage as are all Sony with the black plug block unit. Oddly in Feb 2015 both versions are on ebay USA, an early one with a 1500 serial is high at $500. The inside of the first version looks very different to the F version & the underneath of it is fascinating as so early. The first one supposedly dates from May 1967 & the F version from Feb 1968 though there will have been very few first ones made, ours is a 4000 series serial. The F version seems to still be sold in 1976 in some countries, so the first one is the rare one & looks better with either 1120 or 1120A. On very first try, it came with the revisited barely used TA-1120A below if the tuner more used, both had been used on 117v only, so first try on 240v revealed it worked fine with FM getting Stereo with ease. Very early Tuner with a rich sound, much richer than the STR-6120 which has the ST-5000F tuner stage. Inside the top, the front can contains the tuner gangs, a huge item. The back can has the IF board with a remarkable 18 adjust coils & 1 adjust pot. Our one was rack mounted but at least it was kept fully adjusted so it works right, to find a non worker would be a huge job to adjust. The two meters are round bakelite. Underneath reveals more unusual boards & shows the tuner was long used as some repairs in here. Only the top IF board has ceramics, the MPX just has electrolytics & poly film caps. Interestingly the Sony 2SA455 IF board transistors are Germanium yet the 2SC401 black ones are Silicon, so the 11 transistors are Germanium, the ones by the adjust coils, early technology indeed. 2SD28 & 2SC318 regulators are Silicon. The looks are quite plain if smart, the 5 lever front early one looking more purposeful than the later F version. To unscrew the fascia to clean takes 3 top bolts, 3 middle bolts & 4 lower bolts, revealing a perspex tuner 'glass' with 9 bolts holding it on. See how many screws & washers you can lose. The front tuner box came with M3 20mm 'penny' washers explaining the shadows. 12v bulbs are used, the one on the right fascia that barely shows needs the tuner dial moving to get to, great fun. Trying it on speakers with the 1965 Sony TA-1120 it tunes in with ease & grabs Stereo readily, AFC was a little off perhaps when switched on. The Sound was "very MW sounding" we thought, rich but treble was lacking & detail therefore not too good, if the basic sound & level of hiss overall was good, the between station noise wasn't a problem. No doubt it needs recapping & the De-emphasis may still be for USA setting as it was a USA used item, if the 2 pin mains plug can be used with the amp mains sockets.
• TRIO-KENWOOD TUNERS 1967-69 ↑
These sadly aren't very reliable. We've had the 1967 TK-140E, TK-140X twice as well as a few lower powered receivers, also two of the KT-5000 that matches the KA-6000 amplifier. The TK-140 ones all had faults some nearly some just dead. The separate KT-7000 tuners always work as better laid out. But sadly the 1967-69 receiver ones are just too amateurishly made & we read note of "good Japanese receivers with unreliable tuners" in a 1970 Hifi News, they mean these Trio-Kenwood ones. The trouble also with these early ones is you never get the full service manual, only the circuit. But when we had the TK-66 we got the full service manual which is th only one we've seen, no pdf ones are this complete. The TK-66 one was a decent 25w one & to tell what's in it may help. List of parts is of limited use, covers 7 pages. Then a chassis top view with parts labelled with red pointer lines & similar for the under view. Then board layouts which is useful as the boards aren't much labelled. The schematic is on a double fold out page & repeated on a glossy insert double page with the TK-66U & TK-66T EU & UK versions regarding voltage connections also the DIN 'RP' socket. the last 2 pages are adjusting bias after transistor replacement & tuner cord stringing. There are 3 pages on Alignment details. Most of this is like any other Tuner aligning, 300 ohm carbon resistor dummy load & various signal generator frequencies probably familair as with other tuners. But we found when the front end or Muting doesn't work, where do you go from there? Tuners aren't important today but it still hits the sell price if they don't work. Got another TK-66 & one of the TK-140X back late 2016, same old problems. The TK-66 did work a bit, we recapped it & the volume improved but gradually it weakened to giving a slight meter movement & now dead beyond the hiss. What fails in these will be like any hifi fault, but to get reasonable sound & have it fall away shows issues. To align these earlier Tuners with many ferrites is a real crap shoot.
• 1966 AKAI AA-7000 RECEIVER & OTHER 1965-66 TUNERS ↑
We had two of these Akai, one worked perfectly on AM & FM, the other no AM if FM was there if not great. A lot of adjusting later FM Mono is pretty good but can't get FM Stereo. Oddly did swap the Nuvistors from the other one & it worked, so may need new ones. Early Tuners like Fisher, Pioneer & this Akai use Nuvistors & some of the earlier ones use small valves. For the fact the amp stages are fine, to have a duff tuner may not bother some buyers, if it hits sell prices. Some Countries are having FM turned off so they have as much use for a Tuner as UK folks do with Old style TVs. But a time will come when a Tuner in the UK is obsolete, but think of AM tuners, in the 1960s we read there were some expecting AM to be ending, but still here. Things only end if there is Money to be made & there was for Analog TV frequencies. Safe to say AM & FM will be around for many more years.
• SANSUI TU-D33XL ↑
Having the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X here, why not try a tuner that would match it. The only analog broadcast Digital tuner we've ever had beyond Car ones was the Realistic STA2280 & it wasn't very good. The top of range one would be the TU-D99X & there are several in the series. There is the 33X, 55X. 77X, 99X & 99AMX. These are FM digital tuners witrh the 99AMX having AM but our basic 33XL is FM, AM & LW. Never seem a LW in a digital tuner before, very strange the lowest model has this, must be rare? To just try one was the idea, unaware it was a rare model. Tuners aren't much wanted & even a 99X only made £59 on ebay early 2015. all are the same slimline size, no huge amp size tuner like the Yamaha CT-1010. The 33XL has less memory & user buttons. The 33X has spaces for feet to stack on top, if the higher models don't. Looking at the 99X circuit, there is a lot inside it in transistors & ICs, if the 33X will be more simplified. The fact is a valve tuner can do all this with valves & a digital tuner needs so much more. Inside is one main board, 3 sub boards mounted upright like the AU-G90X & the power supply board which has very small capacitors, this could easily upgrade. 9 ICs of various size, some ribbon cables, still quite a few transistors. The FM stage has enough adjust pots & ferrites & 2 of the 10.7MHz ceramic filters. a bracing metal rod hoilds back & front solid inside if the sides are just thin plastic. It's decent enough for general use if not enough spec & filters for the DX-ers who'd only buy the top models anyway. As you can imagine, we've played many tuners, just to see they work right so know the general sound of Tuners. This modest tuner even with a quick bit of wire goes 3/3 on the signal if FM stereo can still be noisy, therefore it's optimistic. Auto tune works well & manual tune if you have a better aerial. The usual stations are displaying the usual frequency right so it's accurate. The sound is requiring full treble +5 on the using the AU-G90X amp & the bass is a bit too thick sounding so is more realistic on -2 on bass. The trouble with UK FM is only Radio 2 at 89.1 & the Classical station at 91.3 are uncompressed, the others are very obviously limited for Car Stereo use & known tracks sound unlike how we know them from the vinyl. Overall the sound is pretty decent, the Stereo is wide if detail & finesse isn't really here, it sounds quite artificial if still good enough as background music. we don't play Classical but the 91.3 station sounded too dense not detailed. Comparing the 1963 valve Trio WX400U tuner, the Trio is more natural sounding if it needs a better aerial to get a signal, the sound needs about +1.5 on the treble if bass is right. The Trio is more pleasing overall if the Sansui is still more precise, does more with a weak signal if there is upgrades in the Sansui to better it. Back to the Sansui from the Trio valves, the Sansui is far more precise if colder. The Trio valves just has more delight if it's more aged-retro sounding. The Sansui tuner really is just adequate with nothing much of finesse to recommend it. Maybe we'll look for a 99 if the amps stays longer.
A Listing of Tuners In Receivers ↑
These are found as Tuner units or more commonly as in a Receiver. Just a few lines on opinion by brand, in no pasrticular order beyond remembering the best ones first as typing. Sony the STR-6120 tuner is certainly an excellent one with good sound, easy Stereo & upgrades to be excellent. Trio-Kenwood as the valves 1963 Trio WX400U receiver, as original it was acceptable if quite weak & blurry sounding, but once fully rebuilt it sounded very nice with fine Stereo. Sansui the valve Sansui 500A got rebuilt before the Trio valve & it similarly improved from acceptable to excellent, certainly the best sounding valve Tuner we've heard, Stereo in valve tuners is a delight, if the rest of the amp was disappointing. Yamaha tuners in receivers generally are decent but quite soft sounding, treble rolled off & too bassy, if otherwise accurate & easy to get to Stereo. The 1977 CT-1010 tuner is a much crisper sounding tuner, the first one we had sounded great & is much more advanced, if sadly the one we have as of typing doesn't get Stereo, so perhaps it'll be a teaching tool as we need to know Tuners better. Only ever had one bad Yamaha tuner in a CR-800, every other one was fine, so assume user damage there. Trio-Kenwood as transistor era, the 1967-69 ones are cdifficult, we've had the TK-140E from 1967, tuner didn't work & two of the TK-140X from 1969, the first one had a dead front end, the second one we'll try to fix though Trio service manuals are usually just the schematic making repairs very difficult, though the proper Trio KT-66 paper sevice manual with the full board layouts. The tuner that we have with the KA-6000 amp is the KT-5000, there was an earlier KT-7000 that matched too. The KT-5000 is all transistors, but looks a little scrappy as do the 1967-69 tuners, the treble de-emphasis is not set for UK use though a minor alteration sorts it to reveal a decent but not Sony STR-6120 quality. The Sugden tuner we didn't like as it had preset buttons you had to use presets hidden inside the tuner to access, pretty useless for most users we'd expect & frustrating for the buyer when new to have to faff around with it. Leak transistor tuners were generally just the same boards in 1968-72 amps. They were not bad sounding if the Tuner for the Stereo 70 was crudely made with tuning parts that stuck so we had to file them down so it actually worked, also other bad construction with some parts very amateurish looking. The ill-fated Delta 75 receiver is mainly the Leak tuner boards with an amp haphazardly built around it. Bang & Olufsen tuners we know from the Beomasters & these were generally good sounding if still quite crude. The 1986 Tandy-Radio Shack-Realistic tuner was pretty lousy, it could get a 5-bar strong signal & still not get Stereo, we found this on the one we bought new & one bought to try. Not even trying to align it got reliabvle results, it worked only sometimes. The NAD 300 receiver from 1977 had a very clean sounding tuner if the rest of the amp wasn't so good. The NAD 160 (a) tuner is good but undistinguished. The Harmon-Kardon 930 receiver was a bit disappointing until we upgraded it & on trying the tuner on fitting the bulbs it was one that caught the ear, a precision of sound balance with the benefits of detailed MPX Stereo with the amp design. It makes compressed stations sound more bearable as did the NAD 300. The tuner doesn't take as much space as some, can ICs TA7027M x2 and the MPX MC1307P are typical, but the good sound can't be denied even with ICs
Those were the more memorable ones. To go through the Top Amps page to remember any further ones, but most were acceptable & most worked fine. Some tuners such as Armstrong & Hacker needed a MPX board bought to plug in. This sounds archaic perhaps, but the truth is UK Radio was very slow in going Stereo, we remember BBC Radio 1 used to share Stereo FM with Radio 2 & only go Stereo on the Top 40 or other major shows, this was the late 1980s. Other brands as we've had were adequate, problem-free, so for example Goodmans, Hitachi, JVC, Marantz, Pioneer, Sansui & Sony tuners were reliable.
OTHER RADIOS & RADIOGRAMS ↑
As with most youngsters of our era, we had portable radios, Ghetto Blaster portable large cassette players if CD was later. The family junk shop was a good source of Radios & things to try so we saw lots of the cheaper end of Audio as well as plenty of Radiograms. Most radios as you see on ebay are ugly things, who'd want them but we found two again. Had a 1958 portable the 'Ultra Transistor Six' years ago & oddly still got two wide dome-topped back screws in the bits box! Got another one since & it works. A smart looking deco-styled radio, out of a sea of dull looking radios, this is the one we liked best. It's still pretty cheaply made, as a portable was hardly a premium item adults bought, in the same league as Dansettes & other portables of the era. What are the odds of finding 2 obscure radios you used to have (more below), on ebay within 10 mins of looking, not knowing names just a good memory picture from decades ago? Had other portables, Hacker, Roberts the usual model style, Grundig Party Boy, remember another one with a mains adaptor inside it overheated & also a Russian Okean 205 big radio, equally obscure but was the other found-fast one. Some big 60s radios with car aerial & power sockets. Odd radio tape players, tiny pocket radios, mini portable clock radio & more, all long forgotten & the multitude of dull looking radios you see online means refinding most is pretty unlikely. Lots of Hacker & Roberts still around & we've had a couple of each, the Hacker ones were the most impressive sounding. Even had some big radio tape left by an odd person who broke into the garden shed in about 1974 & just left it behind, nothing was gone. Called the Police as at that time might have been a bomb, but it wasn't but the cops still kept it! Not seen one yet on ebay. Also had a few big 80s cassette radio portables that are now collectable despite not sounding that good even then. Having good memory & a few old pics helps us find the models we used to have. Having too much naive interest in making them "better" means used to have is the story. Oh well they were cheap then. At that age, sound quality didn't matter, one 1940s radio we noticed had a huge resonant bassy sound if dull on the treble compared to the tinny clock radio tuner, the big rich boomy sound was liked, if very unrealistic. Most Radiograms sadly are pretty much junk though a very stylish Murphy 1949 radiogram A138R was ours & we got the tuner working as it had drifted. another Murphy was a 1936 A30C floorstanding radio, with a mains powered speaker magnet, that never worked until we took out the mummified capacitor block & put in some small modern ones of the right voltages, suddenly it worked again. The A138R has since been discovered for it's early hifi quality & the look of it would make you want it, the A128 is equally design wonderful. Got those two together with a 1951 floorstanding Murphy TV but as it was all open, the way it was stored corroded controls & the CRT pins if the case was nice, sold that to a delighted buyer but it probably got a few sets cobbled together to make this a working one. The radiogram we still have is one of the very first 'modern' type ones, the 1932 Pye G/GR upright gram, about the size of the wind-up era ones if with a Garrard electric motor. The Pye G radio used to findable, but the gram we've only seen twice for sale, if we don't check now. These old grams are often over-repaired, our one had a new transformer & lots of parts altered by an insensitive repairer. We didn't like that, so got a G radio & swapped the innards to get one all original, pepperpot capacitors still in it, if long dried out with modern ones tagged underneath. It works but it's not it's best. But it's as original as it could be so it stays & gets plugged in once a year perhaps. Put a card inside to seal the open base so it won't age unduly, it is 83 years old now. The aged distorted sound is hypnotic & very eerie. Another 'radiogram' type item we liked in about 1981 & got another in the 1990s was the Pye Black Box stereo, not the square box one, but a coffee table glossy topped item with only a record player in it, pity they didn't put a tuner in the right side. To show how bad thinking was in 1981, a relation who owned the 1981 used Pye actually cut a big hole in the left lid to fit an 8 track player into it! Beggars belief, but sadly that stupidness was the idea then, ripping out the insides of wind up players to make drinks cabinets. Idiot people did used to buy the butchered empty cases but we never saw ones converted, as be sure they will have looked awful & binned. Other awful ideas we see even on the Decca Decolas is some fool taking out the 78-only deck & putting in a cheap multispeed one, usually by cutting away the original wood so it'll never be repaired right. On a brighter note, we had a rather plain but original & working late 1930s Decca gram that was a fore-runner to the Decola though the buyer so they shipped it to Japan after we put it on ebay, but the shipper never packed it inside so all the valves fell out onto the grille inside base, but they survived fortunately. We do miss the scene of junk shops & finding gear like this, it's how we got into records & hifi in the first place. It was great fun at times, but where do these things get sold now if not on ebay, local auctions maybe.
RADIO RAMBLINGS... ↑
Another interesting radio was Gran's big transistor one with a big plastic handle on a big 12" wide radio, the Beolit 608 or 609 with the white push buttons, white speaker grille & medium blue case, can't see it being the non-FM one, this was a family radio, but so hard to remember an item you last saw age 11 perhaps? Ebay browsing throws up a few familiar looking ones too, but does one want a collection? If they're attractive ones perhaps more yes than no, but look at galleries of ugly designerless boredom on over 90% of portables and you wonder why people bother. Rogers, Hacker, Bush... done surely. Look at that Ultra though & see something very different. Never liked military-styled NAD for the same reason. Not seeing many of the hefty 60s ones though. One mean heavy one with all-chrome grilles & black padded vinyl, or maybe 2 like that? Possibly a Dynatron as TP30A and another look like it. Dynatron made lots of odd furniture styled music systems, once items of desire & social status, but now going unloved at the style is now seen as naff & the hifi a bit too ordinary. Calling a player the 'Mazurka' is cool though. Car aerial & power sockets & speaker at the back to rest on the dashboard. Not seen any yet. An early National tape-radio looked familiar too, had some cranky old thing you turned a silver knob to get the tape functions working & it had to be held in play or it didn't work! Collecting is addictive if slightly pointless. Wasted youth wrecking old electronics eh? Who was given an old TV when 12 & proceeded to wreck it too & then the TV tube scared one somewhat as some little sod, one and the same proceeded to hammer it until it started hissing. Moved so fast? Rather! Yes, remembering valve radios had now, a nice white bakelite onem maker forgotten, but it matched that Bush TV styling you always see, a huge monolith of a 1940s radio with a rich plummy tone if not much crispness.
The Hacker Radios are still much loved, but the problem for today's user is the FM strangely only went up to 101, whereas tuners from the 1960s went the full 88-108 range, though B+O only went past 104 with the 4400 in 1977. Having lived the 80s radio world, in fact over 100 there was pretty much nothing until the 1990s with Kiss FM & a classical station. Now the 102-108 range has lots of stations these limited range tuners are inconvenient. You can't beat FM for great sound, it seems DAB is still as lousy as when it was first out, though today's listener uses the Internet or TV Freeview/Satellite/Cable for radio. We'd not listened to the radio since the early 1990s really, having no need for it, but since getting the Sony STR 6120 a few years back, it's nice to hear it again, though you're sometimes forever "touching that dial" to be rid of bland modern pop, though some retro type music & the stations with older music shows, not just Capitol Gold forever stuck in 1962 & 1976.
This next is the Tuners page from 2013, it may duplicate some of the above...
These may seem a little out of date for UK users now with DAB & Internet radio, but they are still alive & important parts of a Hifi setup & Free Music. So if you like the retro look of your amplifier, try to find the tuner, or buy the Receiver model. Buying the matching Tuner is usually a much harder job, though as of typing we have 4 here now: Ferrograph 20+20 & it's tuner; Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 and the KT-5000 matching FET tuner, though the KT-7000 is an earlier version of the similar; Leak Delta 30 & the Delta AM-FM tuner as well as the Sugden A48 & the R21 tuner. The Yamaha CA-1010 has the CT-1010 tuner, one we've just bought, so see the Yamaha page. The Luxman L100 has a T-110U tuner matching the styling, in late August 2012 surprisingly 4 were on USA ebay, but only fixed 110v versions.
UK based FM today still has the BBC stations, Classical & Regional ones on 104-108 MHz. This is the problem though, until the 1990s FM was 88-100 MHz only & the rest was for Police & other services, so you could listen to the Police channel until they changed things. The standard for USA tuners inc ones made in Japan was the full 88-108 MHz range, though some UK makers used this too, most didn't & Hacker were still only 88-101 MHzin the mid 70s missing a large part of the FM band that came in the early 1990s. The B+O Beomaster & the Sugden A21 go to 104MHz but still miss the Regional stations like Jack FM & other ones we get here in Watford. AM-MW used to have lots of Channels in our listening days. More specialist stations are on Digital Pay & Freeview & Cable-Satellite TV boxes.
In UK radio stations are not that good & never were really, BBC Radio channels, some commercial, some local & some talk. Sound quality is very compressed on the non BBC ones & even BBC isn’t totally uncompressed.This is why it’s hard to find the matching tuner to an amp, but eg the Luxman L-100 amp the 110 tuner 4 were on USA ebay, none on UK or Europe! UK buyers at the time were still using old wood or Bakelite valve radios or tinny transistor radios.
Tuner Stage ICs Only ICs in Tuner stages at very low levels & in Moving Coil Phono initial stages are a bit more acceptable, if still a bit of a compromise but where do you go to escape them totally? FM with ICs in the later stages as the volume reaches line level is still as bad as a Tone section with ICs really.
Our Use Of Radio. We've never bothered much with Tuners & since losing interest in current music in about 1990, we've only really started playing Tuners again in 2009 when we got the first Sony STR-6120. The Tuners we heard range from Car Radios to portable 'Ghetto Blaster' type cassette radios as well as portable ones. The first 'Hifi' we heard FM on was the Hacker GAR500 music centre we bought in 1986, oddly the parent's set-up had no Tuner & really the only Radio of any sort heard as a pre-teen was a Car radio! Wierdo, eh?! Not everyone cares about Music in the same way, though 8-track tapes were around, mostly compilations of Motown, Tom Jones & Engelbert & that 'Country Life' country-pop one, all not liked except Joe South that's not really country & the corny "Rhinestone Cowboy" one, but "Ode To Billy Joe" always got the change track button pressed! Remember Aretha Franklin too, her loud voice sounds good in Hifi, but on cheapo 5" car speakers it was awful & the speakers got covered over. They should have bought a better system, eh?
Looking on ebay.uk you'll find plenty portable radios by Hacker & Rogers & these were mainly how UK listeners tuned in & mostly to Medium Wave. UK FM only went 88 to 100 until the early 1990s.We used to listen to London area radio, Capital 194, Radio London 206, Radio Luxembourg 208 with it's sea-shore sound & sometimes Radio 1 275-285 meters Medium Wave as it was then, pre FM-VHF properly sorting itself out in the early 1990s, some shows were AM only, some were FM only as BBC shared it's FM transmitters amid it's Channels like a "best of". In Northern England there was more interest in Regional shows, but sadly too far away for a Southerner to listen to...
USA were clearly the leaders, with Commercial Stations aimed more at target users, Black Stations-White Stations & the like. As with anything popular, scandal like Alan Freed's 1959 Payola bust rocked music into the more Pop years that were 1960 after the paid-for hits stopped. Payola was great for music lovers & certain R&B hits would have stayed Regional Hits, not sold well enough to gain a UK release. Look at our Record Listings for some amazing tracks that got issued in the UK. Pehaps they are too familiar to today's Record Collector, but in their day they were totally different to tame ballad pop that was in the Top 20 Hit Parade before Elvis & Bill Haley.
Some tuners can pick up a strong signal even with a bit of wire we use just to test. Bits of wire are not aerials & as non directional pick up all sorts of noise that makes FM stereo multiplex too noisy. How good a tuner is depends on how much it can receive weak stations & keep the noise levels low as well as how much they drift, AFC helped on that. Few people ever bothered to fit any sort of Radio aerial after the days when you needed a 20ft aerial for use in the 1920s, indoor aerials & those cheap T shaped ones as well as portable radio type aerials are adequate if you only need to listen to stronger stations. Some TV aerial sockets have an FM connection. Despite being advised you need a good FM aerial by the hifi magazine writers again few ever bothered is our view on it.
On listening to some FM stations through 2 quality receivers, FM we were surprised to hear is very distorted through the heavy compression on UK stations. Bass distorts nastily as the dynamic range is heavily limited to sound better in a Car. Well cars of today are much quieter than 20 years ago, so the need to compress surely is redundant? We've never bothered yet with a DAB radio & hear it's pretty useless if you drive longer distances you'll lose signals far too often. Radio 2 sounds good on FM & does on the TV digital stations, but the compression on stations between 100-108MHz & Capital FM is truly ghastly. Using FM & rightly expecting clean sound is still not the case & we've read for decades of complainers about the quality yet no change!
Many 1970s amplifiers are actually Tuners with Amplifiers or Amplifiers with Tuners depending on which means more to you. The "Monster Receiver" Wars of 1977-79 were based more on receivers & the amplifier versions generally were the lesser powered ones. But who needs an amp over 60cm or 2 feet wide that weighs 40kg and delivers 300w? All a silly sales hype & who has 300w speakers? We looked through the HFYBs & found very few capable. Very unlikely most of them ever put out over 50w in reality in their useage. The BBC broadcasting on FM in the late 1950s & then the advent of FM Stereo Multiplex by new Tuners & Receiver Amplifiers by late 1963. FM broadcast by the BBC started the Hifi revolution as people could experience such high quality sound after the rich bassy warble of a Pre-War radio.
FM tuners over 30 years old may need alignment. The manuals tell you in detail expecting you to own complex generators & the like, but for the amount of presets to adjust, it can be done easily once you've got the idea. Wild adjustments when you are hearing no FM sound will make it very hard to align properly, so unless some fool had been in there twiddling, make sure the rest of the FM including switches & aerial connections is right first. FM Multiplex adjusting to actually get Stereo is often found adrift, but a few correct adjustments deal with it, based on strongest meter readings & then gentle adjusting.
FM de-emphasis is required & differs around the World, 50µs time constant is used in UK & Europe. In North America and South Korea, 75µs is used says Wikipedia, but some Tuners have odd values like 25 or 30µs. Pre-emphasis is like cutting Vinyl records, boost the Treble to get a better S/N ratio & then cut it down in the receiving tuner. Some tuners sound too bright or too dull if there is no switch, Trio-Kenwood sound too dull for UK users, but a minor capacitor change sorts that. All the Time Constant means is like RIAA EQ for Records, boost or cut of a frequency to tailor to a defined response curve. Whether Digital DAB uses anything like this is for you to Google.
MW & LW tuners are barely used today & the stations that use them are of Minority use in all it's meanings. Again subtle adjusting will improve, though checks on other parts again are needed if there is no sound, blindly adjusting in hope will only cause more work to correct.
There isn't that much interest in Tuners in the UK simply as the Channels aren't that great or that many. Digital DAB or Digital TV has many more, from Rock to Indian & Arabic channels that aren't on FM. USA & European users will have a much larger amount of Stations to pull in with large rooftop aerials.
TV analog has just been turned off in the London region & that's probably the end of Analog, or Analogue as we used to call it, forever. Few care now, but since buying our first TV we've read Teletext with Breakfast for over 25 years! Now we watch TV instead & with News online, oddly it seems long ago now. Teletext was at it's peak in the early 1990s especially with the Holidays & TV pages in the multitude, but by 2000 many services stopped & what was just a DOS based system with simple graphics made out of big pixel blobs. There are likely many nostalgic websites with screenshots of long-ended features, like ITV Turner the Screw cartoon, the Bamboozle guy, Blue Suede Views, The White Line Warrior & the like. The last time we had an old 405 line TV in the 1990s you could tune into a basic line test card, but there is absolutely nothing except Psychedelic Dreams in the haze (correctly called Raster) on the 625 line screen now & if you still have a CRT TV as you bought a good one that's still going so why buy a new one yet sort of situation, turning the TV onto the haze is miserable, there's not even a blank screen unless you disconnect the obsolete tuner inside the TV. Freeview we have on the DVD player & it's mostly crap beyond a couple of channels that are on Sky or Virgin Media. Stupid name for a company, how many guys turning up get called "The Virgin Man" is here...?
Radio Analog was supposed to be turned off by 2015, but recent reports show only 30% are using DAB & we don't either. BBC not being able to charge a License Fee if the whole country couldn't receive Radio digitally is the problem & probably will be for 20 years at least, or longer until those stalwart Radio listeners fade away too. You can still pick up Medium Wave on a 1920s Radio, we have our 1932 Pye G-RG that picks up MW loudly still. How would the Vintage Radio & Vintage Hifi market be if the beloved Wirelessess of Old couldn't play sound? Radio is still an important thing, "Wireless" and "Blue Tooth" is just Radio & Digital TV & Mobile Phones are just variants of Radio.
Tone & Loudness Controls ↑
This topic has been argued over for decades. Some find them essential like us, some consider them no better than a turd on a dinnerplate. Tastes will always vary as will matching of hifi items as well as the music source which in our experience can often be not balanced correctly, ie the bass, midrange & treble are not at "live" or believable levels at any volume.
This is an Odd Page Section...
Written quite a while ago (2010) but never edited & as we found it amusing it stays. For our Current Hifi playing, at a time when the Pioneer SX-838 was a new arrival, Tone on the ATH-M50-s is always set flat unless the amp is still original & bass is a bit light. But we play Vinyl recorded to Digital half ignoring the RIAA curve, playing it flat over 1kHz, negating the need for Tone Controls. Therefore we are rating Hifi with Music tracks that bring more out of the Music that typical Dull Sounding music sources. On using a typical Phono or Tuner stage, we need to add Treble to make the sound we are used to, but Tone stages differ in their turnover point. Our way puts things at an equality with Headphones playing on amps with Tone set flat. We've been trying amps on Loudspeakers now, go see that page. On Speakers we find the Tannoy Golds need Bass & Treble to sound right & on an amp well designed, this is no problem. A Tone Stage should be Flat sounding when set to Zero & there are some amps that are far from Flat with a recessed midrange that is not very natural but one Top Amp we recently added a bit more Midrange as other amps showed it as lacking on playing it on Speakers. On Headphones it was not very noticeable. There are many design factors in why Tone Controls are needed & most of them are because the Design is substandard. For the fact we play Music recorded from Vinyl to Digital, recorded with no RIAA EQ roll-off over 1kHz & have been since CD-Rs were new. It negates the need to use any Treble Tone gain & for our testing it makes a very level playing field as we can play amps Flat & not be rating the effect of the Tone Control which can vary. Some Amps only offer a pointless 5dB of gain & some cheaper 1970s ones go as high as 18dB of gain which on a 10w amp quickly gets into clipping. The usefulness of some Amps having 3 stages of Tone Turnover is marginal as usually there is one that is typical with amps & two tighter rolloff. The Pioneer SA-9500 has 100Hz, 200Hz & 400Hz and in us using it, it could do with a 300Hz as 400Hz is a bit much. In Treble it has 2kHz, 4kHz & 8kHz of which only 2kHz we've ever used. Users of this amp with differing speakers will find more use perhaps for the others. The SA-9500 has a Tone On-Off switch that switches in or out the Tone Circuit, other 'Source Direct' type amps are not so honest as noted below.
Are Tone Control Amps Needed & Wanted? ↑
Look at the modern cheap amps on Amazon: they mostly still have Tone Controls as buyers want them. So they certaintly are Wanted. Are they Needed? Depends on what sort of music you play. Music made since 1977 often needs no Tone or EQ added as the Recording has been balanced. But the further back from 1976 to 1925 when Electrical Recordings started, the higher the need for Tone Controls & many times you'll find a recording (or CD transfer of older music) so lacking in Treble that the amp's 10dB gain doesn't touch it. In the days we recorded to CD-R from 1998 onwards when the Philips one was introduced, EQ was badly needed on pre 1977 tracks & often ones later could be made to sound more the sound we liked from the track, bringing out the sound better etc. But the trouble there was the Analog Graphic Equalisers put in a loss to the music that needed the EQ to bring back up as was found comparing the Vinyl to the Recording. Plenty of early recordings pre 1957 have varying EQ levels for the pre RIAA recording curves & often early 78s are cut flat, so playing an old 78 on modern equipment adds EQ where it's not needed, explaining why LP & CD transfers are so bad: they should have understood the game of EQ.
Only Tone Control Amps ↑
You'll note all our amps reviewed in these pages have Tone Controls, we're not going to try any without them as it's not the whole hifi experience to hear flat music at a level lower than it was recorded at & have no chance to alter the sound. The era 1958-1980 has very few amplifiers without Tone & many have fully defeatable Tone or the old Middle setting should be good enough. The Linn type of amp was actually designed without them to be cheap to make & the opinion that less circuitry is better again is rubbish when they use excessive transistor (or IC) stages to boost up & then NFB back the volume level killing the sound but having high specs. If we had a listening room as big as a Recording Studio with a wall of high power speakers & the desire to listen to music at it's full volume always, then would we need Tone Controls? Probably, what are Mixing Desks for? But as an example, on using the Yamaha CA-1000 as we recapped sounding great on Vinyl, these No-Tone advocates aren't taking into consideration how different a batch of pre 1980 Records are EQ'd by the Recording Engineer. Some are Mastered too low volume, some are too dull sounding on Treble creating a thicker bass that is more prominent & then you get those that are heavily limited on Bass. Some are cut overall well balanced but can be Bright & Harsh on the Treble and Upper Midrange. What do you do? Apply some Tone Control Gain or less often Cut. How you want your Music served up is entirely Your Opinion & may be based on your Hearing Curves, your precision or otherwise of what a correct Tonal balance is. To deny the User a choice or expect them to Pre-EQ every track in the name of "Better" is a lie. But if everyone liked the same things, Hifi life would be dull. Being of the Mindset to Appreciate Nain-Linn-Mission etc appears to be a cliquey world grown by the Hifi mags & for Naim to still be selling the things means that buyers do like them, forever 'upgrading' and being caught into the 'dream' Naim offer which is clever marketing. The unique variant of the old DIN socket they use demands more brand loyalty buying their cables.
To Those Who Say Tone Controls Not Needed... ↑
It entirely depends on what Speakers or Headphones you use, read our separate pages about how fake some sound, boosted bass, limited midrange & scratchy treble. One Headphone we used needed near full Bass, the current one can do well with zero or 1-2 on the Bass. Treble depends on the quality of the source, vinyl needs Treble boost as it rarely follows RIAA & even then RIAA makes it too dull sounding. We've been recording our Records to Digital in a certain way that isn't true RIAA as we want the detail & designed our Valve Phono stage to fully resolve all treble detail. Speakers are room dependent and Bass - Treble lift is useful to have though once you've set it how you like the settings rarely get altered unless TV plays a loud bassy Club scene when you are watching after midnight. Tone Controls may be useful in certain situations, the fact new amplifiers still contain them means the buyer requires them & uses them. It's like Food, accept the bland 'generic' flavour as delivered, or enjoy it more adding some Salt, Pepper & Spices.
Naim Bragging about 'No Tone' in 1976... ↑
In the 1976 HFYB Naim arrogantly brag "how good" their very basic amp is as it has no Tone Controls. The War on Tone Controls began here, folks. By 1979 their full range of Ugly Stuff was NAP 160 50w power amp, NAC 12S preamp, NAP 250 70w power amp, NAC 32 preamp, NAP 120 40w power amp, NAC 22 preamp. So we go look & see what they are bragging about... But HFE & others show no circuit diagrams. One site has one but it's reported as 'unsaf' so we're not looking at it. So there ends our 'Research' into Naim as there is nothing to see. We do not like Naim & their ilk for their selling ideals & even found this stuff offputting in the early 1990s. We though Grey NAD were fugly a few years earlier too. NAC 42 preamp with DIN plugs gives the idea to escape. But are Naim that bad? We have no idea. One Naim bashing exercise "sounds cheap" then says "valve stuff is well soft and mushy" showing that's the view of an idiot. All the Upgrade stuff is a real money-spinner for those who probably are more into the Owning & Bettering Hifi game than doing silly things like Play Music through it. But as we are Reviewing Vintage Hifi, perhaps we should put out 1967 ideals of Hifi (see Top Amps page) into testing a Naim or we'll never know? As appealing as a Cricket Stew though. Did see a NAP 250 power amp: looks like some Maplins kit type item. Doubled output transistors for only 70w, Tantalum capacitors & no sign any refinements at all which is why 1980s 'hifi' sounds rough & harsh. But why does the seller want to sell just the boards from the Amp for £450? Heavy-handed upgrades ahead we reckon.
Loudness Controls ↑
If you are young & aren't aware of the Fidelity part of music, the Loudness will always be on as it gives a thick bassy sound. In our younger days we did this with the Realistic receiver we had & added the IMX expander as it gave more bass too. On getting the amp again, bass was actually heavily rolled off & only adding these awful Loudness & IMX did it liven up a bit & explains why younger us used it. But hearing it more recently, it sounded laughably bad, thich indistinct muddy sound. Youth like massive bass & it's all that matters, Turn Up The Bass. We get through quite a lot of Amps & test out the Loudness to see it works, each time an "ugh." is uttered as it sounds really ghastly. Loudness would be more feasilble if it only added bass under about 80Hz to boost the fundamentals, but it often adds upto 300Hz & sounds thick & stodgy. The Loudness also boosts Treble & every time it's through a Ceramic capacitor so it sounds equally awful as gritty & edgy. So if you are a Loudness user, you are under 25 & still unaware of Hifi values. If you are older & still use it, or even using an EQ in the tape loop, then really your audio gear is not really Hifi and is clearly deeply lacking. One Hifi shop salesman said he couldn't listen without an EQ to boost the sound, but since we heard the rubbish he was demoing, it's clear he had no idea either. But Loudness is the cheap way to get a bigger sound from basic audio gear, but it's a severe compromise & always sounds awful. It's fitted on many amps simply as the buyer wanted it & even modern amps still have it as well as Tone controls.
Source Direct & Flat Response Setting ↑
The idea with this first came into being a "popular" feature in the mid 1980s with CD source direct was the thing. But looking in the Marantz PM62 we had in 1993 & tried again recently, Source Direct is not the true story. It still went through the IC preamp stage with a resistor setting the gain when the Tone stage was switched out by "Source Direct". The hype gives the idea Source in > Volume Control > Power amp & this will be the case on some amps. But Flat Setting is nothing new, the 1969 Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 as well as being a first with a MC and MM stage also has the Tone stages defeatable, not just by setting to zero. If your speakers are large & with a full sound, as well as with headphones like we've found with our Audio Technica ATH-M50s, you can actually get away with no Tone Boost at all. Your source will need to be perfectly EQd & the odds are unless you EQd it when recording it, the sound will be lacking. Source Direct & Flat Response sadly are idealistic things, in the real world some way to correct the response will be required & only the Hair Shirt wearer will not admit they need some Tone boost. We've heard "all flat" systems & flat & lifeless they sounded, no Bass at all as the items we're matched together. If you like this cold imprecise sound then you are missing out on what real music sounds like.
Yamaha CA-800II has 'Class A' and a "Tone Jump" Flat Switch... ↑
Tone Jump in the CA-1000II bypasses the Filter x3 transistors & the Tone x6, but still sees 2 coupling capacitors & surprisingly a few resistors that are in the Tone circuit with or without the Tone jump. Some the signal goes through, others are resistors to ground. Not strictly 'Source Direct' then. Class A biases the Output Transistors to be always on, read ,ore on Class A on Amplifier Types page. The Tone Jump won the amp as Original we noticed made a slight improvement to the focus of the sound, bypassing the extra circuitry. But after Recapping & adding in our usual upgrades, the Difference was no longer noticeable. At All. Class A similarly gave a Tiny Improvement, but after recapping there is no Difference & we have listened hard to be sure on both. Tone Jump & Class A make up for design weaknesses or perhaps more as a deliberate con to make out these extra features are better by limiting the Fidelity of the Ordinary stages to make the difference noticeable. Not many will max out an amplifier to the point Class A & Tone Jump make no difference.
Using Headphones ↑
as our Headphones page states, we were for a long time using Audio Technica ATH-M20 headphones which were quite basic ones but ours had such a good analytical sound if a bit less rich than the ATH-M50s we are using now as of May 2013. Tone controls still are used on the M50s, if only +2 on the Bass. The M20s needed full bass which sounds too muddy on the M50s but that's what they are for: getting a sound you like. Don't worry that others don't like your settings & as one Briggs Hifi book wisely states in their Festival Hall etc demos in the 1950s full with 50o Hifi users would also have those 500 people all itching to "set the controls properly". Recorded Sound is different to live sound as it's closer miked but dynamics are limited to fit Domestic use. Once used to one Headphone or Speaker, you can find you've done EQ in your head to "think" it how you want, the mind is a most malleable thing in thought. We used the M20s for all our pre May 2013 tests & were used to them, but after hearing the richer M50s, the M20s even if we could find the same better earlier ones, they'd not be wanted now.
The Luxman L-100 amplifier ↑
Owner's Manual sums up tone controls very neatly..."The ultimate purpose of the audio system is to make high fidelity reproduction of programme sources. The reproduction and acoustic conditions do not always match with recording conditions, and it is impossible to reproduce the same sound as the original. Also, there is no objective standard to judge a good sound from an inferior one. The only possible solution is for every listener to create his favourite sound according to hius own taste. It is therefore very important that the audio system offers a facility to permit flexible controls for creation of the best sound". This in one paragraph says many good things: objective Hifi reviews are meaningless; we all have different ideas of what is good sound or not, based on Life experience & for an amplifier to be a worthy one it should offer a good range of controls to suit every listener. Only your experience will tell you 'x' amp is better than 'y' amp, but you wish you could get a 'z' amp. The minimalist no-tone control amps that for a time were considered "better" were a bit of a con to the hifi mag's gullibility, just made cheaply withouu the need to design & make expensive alteration controls. Look inside these amps & see they may use premium parts but the circuits are basic & therefore cheap to make. The Luxman itself has no Loudness control, still found on new amps, but many switches & a high quality tone control system with many variations, all switchable to bypass them if you preferred. The Luxman L-100 once serviced is... well go read the Luxman page for more.
Graphic Equalisers ↑
Are only really acceptable if you are archiving tracks & the recording needs some sound balancing, but we have tracks we recorded in the late 1990s when CD-R came out & playing them now we wish we'd just recorded them direct & then do a bit of adjusting via the Computer. Sadly using an analog EQ is like chasing your tail: you have to EQ up to allow for the losses & impedance altering adding an EQ does. Then you get distortions on tracks that are loud & got too much EQ beyond clipping. The background noise was not an issue, but be sure a Vinyl Record recorded direct compared to one EQ'd is different & preferable unless the track was recorded dull or lacking dynamics as early tracks & Reggae are often found. Today we just record one long Soundfile, chop it up, edit the starts & ends, normalise the volume & on playing them through some tracks may get de-clicked or a bit of digital EQ added. But on visting Tandy (Radio Shack) once, a clueless salesman said he only could listen to music through an EQ & that CD had no midrange. If you need an EQ to play all music, your amp & speakers are either poor quality or not a good match. There is no need for any EQ, effects, reverb, echo or even anything but mild decrackling of vinyl needed if you use the Computer Audio programs. We don't like the CD sound either, it doesn't match to the TV sound or Radio-Tuner sound balance & heavy EQ is needed to wake it up, if often the muddy sound has already been de-hissed leaving little of the original detail.
Mocking The Linn Brigade ↑
You can find a reader cheekily putting on a Linn forum about why Tone Controls are needed. One reply says tone controls cause more trouble than they fix? No they don't, if done properly. We designed our own Tone control for our Valve amps so know how it can be done well. Bad tone controls sound too thick & use ceramics for treble boost, they are bad, but mildly alter the component values & lose the ceramics for better & guess what. It's like amateurs spouting opinion without proving anything. The fool saying "cause more trouble" knows sod all except what he's been brainwashed & told into thinking. Free thought is a rarity & that's how people like it, sheep in a production line. Some other fools think you can change your room acoustics. How many buildings are designed for optimal audio performance, not even Performance Halls if you believe some. Bullshit is everywhere in Hifi, one we read said having Cats was good as they absorbed room radiations. These sites keep spouting the same names we read of in the Hifi mags, Naim, Linn, Exposure etc etc. Well look at our top amps, main brands can do it better if only on selected ones. All this degrading the signal crap, what to the excesive circuits with high NFB in search of high specs do? Read our 'What Is A Good Amp' page & look for the big red text bit. The truth is individual opinion is what they are talking, an opinion based on being told things,rather than finding out for themselves. Our site is our opinion based on fact, with the Internet opinion gets quoted as fact as a lie becomes the truth if repeated enough. The Higher The Monkey Climbs... The More He Shows His Ass, or He Is An Ass even. Keep yourself covered. Or maybe Linn-Naim etc are worried what tone controls would reveal in their ordinarily made amps & can't design them as this is clearly what the Buyer wants.
The Linn Brigade Are Kidding Themselves ↑
Reading deeper into Linn, it's all a crock really. They use Active Filters based on sodding OP AMPS, yes gritty sounding ICs to mangle their limp sound further. Anyone thinking OP AMPS have any place in Line Level Hifi is not really aware what they are doing. Our ICs page says why ICs are so bad & yet these fools use them instead of Tone controls, making more of a mess. Ugh.
Hifi is an illusion of musical reality after all ↑
Think how loud a group, a singer or an orchestra plays when you see them live. The sound is only influenced by the recording studio acoustics, the sound is as loud as it naturally is unless miked up & if you've never heard live music up close then perhaps you don't understand music as well as you think. You buy a copy of a record or however you buy today, you are buying a manufactured product that will have been limited in some way by compressors or tone adjusting so as not to wreck your average powered hifi with a huge transient peak. We use Reggae often to test with as they cut it raw, ignoring technical specs which can give some great test tracks with huge dynamics & equally awful lofi sound & noisy vinyl, all which the best hifi can deal with & serve up a tidy sound. On replaying your recording, you will likely be playing it at a volume dictated by others: those you live with or share walls with, so you cannot reproduce the same volume that the artist recorded it live at & there will be compression of your recording. MW radio & even FM pop stations today are compressed to make it all sound the same volume in a car which will have engine noise & even the worrying trend of playing music thru mobile phone speakers or those ghastly earplugs, if you ring up some Broadband etc companies, hear how they get a bass note like the start of The Drifters 'Under The Boardwalk' to be audible. You can joyfully listen to a small sound through 5" speakers with am amp with no tone controls and many have fooled themselves that Hifi is just this, unaware of what live music sounds like.
"A Dog Will Eat What?." ↑
What you'll do is use your tone controls to boost the bass or treble to the sound you like, it'll be no less unnatural than that flat boring toneless sound Hair-Shirt wearing purists insist is better. You can find yourself listening to thick muddy bass, a recessed midrange & harsh treble but as you know no better, you like it. A Dog will eat Shit if Shit is all it's been Fed. If you & your Dog like it, good luck to you however you play it & serve up your Dog's Dinner. The tone controls fill in the varying response your ears have at certain db levels & your hearing range will be different to others & you may lose higher frequency response with age & listening to traffic instead of earplugging the crap out. Decades ago, the Fletcher-Munson Loudness curves went a way to prove how your hearing varies by volume. But Loudness controls we consider unworthy simply as they are usually cheaply made & sound really bad & unnatural. We have played music in a room so loud the sound appears as a glass wall of sound & quite magnificent, so loud you can't hear it almost & zero distortion. It also leaves you in mild shock into the deal. If you play your music at PA level then you have no need for tone controls & you've probably ruined your hearing by now. But most people play music at general speech level & it requires tone control if even ±1 notch, you have the choice, unless you EQ each track you have to sound as you want it.
Buyers of Linn-Naim-Exposure et al ↑
will have read of these brands in Hifi News, Hifi World etc & believe the bits of hifi opinion between the ramblings of a fool, KK especially, and so & subscribe to that dream. Personal bias & learned opinion or experienced opinion are all. Those with extreme views you research deeper into & find out there is a reason why. If these Naim-Linn buyers are happy with their flat boring sound, then it's not important. People's hearing curve differs too, listen to music thru speakers & cup your hands around your ears. Move your ear lobes forward a tiny bit & hear the treble end get louder. Those with earwax can't take Bass as it buzzes in their ears. Humans are very suggestible creatures too, see the Top Amps page. Oh we do type a lot don't we...
Can You Do It Too? ↑
Hear a big drum hit near to you, bass is loud & hard but it dies away fast, if your Hifi doesn't reproduce the bass weight or does it with a long hangover sounding boomy then you need Tone Controls or a better amp or speakers. Hear a hammer hitting metal in real life & the huge energy release in the first milliseconds is similar to what a close miked drum sounds like. If your amp makes drum impact peaks muffled then your Hifi isn't much good. If you actually hear anyone Whistling these days, listen closely to it. Then find a song with whistling in it, many in the 1950s & 60s & hear if the crisp air to the whistle & it's level of shrillness is accurately reproduced. If it sounds harsh, too dull, too bright, too spitty then your Hifi is failing you. Treble is the hardest thing to get right. If The Whistling gets the Woman next door who's Sunbathing au naturel knocking at your door, consider it a result in both ways...
Cheaping Out ↑
But tone controls in amps are usually the area where cynical makers cheap out as they hope you'll buy their most expensive model on your next buy in 2 years time, just like all the i-Phone hype of today. They used cheap components, ceramic capacitors are not hifi items and have no place in any amp stage except MW tuners, but Pioneer SX950 is stuffed full of the buggers. An Akai amp used a ceramic for it's main treble gain & it was so ghastly it ruined the sound of the amp. We put a plastic film one in & raised the quality spectacularly. It's like the makers know exactly how good the amp can be & pare it to the bone on cost & just have it being at the limit of how good it needs to be for the mass market who aren't that discerning anyway, "Cor, 85 watts, wow" is the buyer they want. (2017 update: no-one says "Cor!" anymore...)
Unflat Speaker Responses ↑
Another thing with Tone Controls is many don't believe you need them. But as we've put on the Hacker page, a 1972 basic speaker delives sound flat, but comparing to a 1990s Tannoy 609, the 609 response is manipulated by being boosted in bass & treble by sucking out the midrange. You are being fooled.
Graphic Equalisers ↑
We remember a Tandy assistant who said he couldn't listen to music without a graphic equaliser, which is an elaborate tone control that few know how to use properly anyway. Graphics add an extra layer of haze to music as we know listening to older recordings of vinyl that we used to EQ up, unaware the EQ was making losses & our balancing merely corrected their crap effect.
Your Head Is Different ↑
If you like Bass on Max to give the sound some body, then perhaps your Speaker, Headphone or Ear response is different to the person who likes Source Direct-Flat only. Neither is wrong or right. To test your hearing balance, use a sine wave sweep from your computer audio program through headphones, set it at a comfortable level at 1kHz and then use the graphic on the computer to make bass, mid & treble sound equal in intensity to each other. You'll find bass needs quite a boost, but higher frequencies like 2kHz that sirens work on are the harshest & high treble will roll away though you can still hear 20kHz tones if your Sound Card & ears are good enough, if not it may sound like a synth as the Soundcard can't cope.
People Want Tone Controls & EQ Settings ↑
If Tone Controls were unwanted, makers would certainly take them away & save money. Even on some amps new today you'll find Loudness as well as a cheap IC stuffed phono stage, but oddly it can sound better than you think on a quick shop test until you listen deeper at home & see how overcooked the sound is. You may sneer at Tone Controls as & if you are why are you still reading this... Tone Controls done badly are Bad, but done properly there is only better adjustable sound to be had. This is why so much barely used new Hifi is up for sale: bad salesmen sold the buyer junk too fast or the buyer simply bought on spec based on a mag review. Look how many of these dull sounding Linn-Naim are for sale.
Go ask the seller what Hifi they are using instead. Odds are it has... Tone Controls.