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Thread: A Flock of Tuners....

  1. #1
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default A Flock of Tuners....

    As mentioned at the tale end of my write up on the history of the Leak Trough-Line FM tuner, I felt I should do a companion piece on the sound quality of Leak Trough-Line tuners, well here it is. This was an interesting and challenging project to embark on as it is the first time I have ever compared the various tuners I own.

    The tuners up for comparison were the Leak Trough-Line 2 and Trough-Line 3 which are used in combination with an EAR FM valve stereo decoder, the Leak Trough-Line Stereo (which has its own stereo decoder), The Rodney Hanna Trough-Line Stereo and as a quality reference the Revox 260S FM tuner.

    The system used comprised the following...Chapter Audio Preface Signature pre-amplifier, Chapter Audio Couplet power-amplifier and Anthony Gallo Ref 3.1 speakers. Cabling was Atlas Marvos speaker cable, Audience AU24 rca-rca interconnect, and the fixed cable? that comes with the Trough-Line Stereo (a weakness that can be removed by rewiring and placing rca sockets on the chassis.....a project for another day.) Power cables used included Audience AU24 hooked up to the Chapter electronics, TCI Boa Constrictor to the EAR decoder. Most of the tuners have fixed mains cables so no choice was possible (one of the Trough-Lines has the option, but a technical issue shortened the period of use, so no other make of cable was tried).

    System used for the review


    The biggest challenge was to find away to do fairly quick swapping between the tuners. In order to facilitate this a number of things were tried. Firstly a T splitter was installed at the end of the aerial cable, but after some non critical listening it was found to compromise aerial voltage to much so was abandoned. The solution lay in fitting each Trough-Line with a flying lead wired with a 75 Ohm Belling Lee connector from the aerial connection at the back of the tuner. The fitting of these flying leads allowed quick plugging and unplugging between tuners and the coupler used to join aerial to tuners was less of a compromise than the T splitter.

    Another problem (which was solved several years ago, or so I thought) raised its head...overall aerial signal strength. It is well known that the Leak Trough-Line tuners lack the sensitivity and selectivity of modern tuners so the base line quality of the FM aerial must be much better to achieve best sound quality and keep noise low or absent. The sensitivity among the TL tuners varied slightly and with the TL2 having, surprisingly the best (this should not be the case, as the later tuners were improved in this area. I am left with the conclusion that the TL 2 is in the best nick/set up and the others are not ? Servicing will be required). The TL 2 also required the FM booster I use to be switched off for some radio stations and on for others (all the other Tuners bar the Revox needed the booster to be left on). However switching from distant to local solved this problem, thus leaving me free to sit and listen rather than running up and down the stairs (the best place for this booster/amplifier was to be placed half way between the aerial [in the roof space] and the downstairs living room, in an upstairs bedroom; just above the living room)....despite this being good exercise it was a pain in the ass.

    First up was the Rodney Hanna Trough-Line Stereo (from here on the RHTLS), you may wonder why, would it not be more logical to start with the TL 2...well the wiring of the aerial made it more convenient to start with the tuners on the Clearlight Audio Aspeckt rack. There was a definite warm up period of about an hour with the sound becoming less congested and more open. I choose Radio 2 as the test station as it provided the best mix of music plus male and female voices. Unlike other reviews this one is more about the overall sound impression as opposed to a blow by blow comparison of pre selected music...with no access to the Radio 2 schedules I was stuck with their choice of tunes.
    Radio 2's tune selection was on form and a number of songs came up that I know including Stevie Wonder-Living for the city. The sound from the RHTLS was strong and rhythmic with excellent sound staging and image placement, however the bass was a bit woolly and the treble slightly rolled. The RHTLS main strength lay in the mid-range and the overall sound was very enjoyable but a little stereo typical of how valves are meant to sound, warm and soft. I switched to the Revox next and was immediately struck at how similar the sound between it and the RHTLS was. However after a few minutes it became clear that while there were some similarities in tonality the bass and treble were different. The Revox had a slightly brighter treble and a slightly more open bass but lacked the magic of the RHTLS mid-range the sound was also slightly flatter lacking the image depth of the valve tuner. In order to illuminate warm up as an issue I left it on and tuned into Radio 2 for later listening.

    Close up of the Rodney Hanna Trough-Line Stereo and Revox 260S


    I switched to the TL Stereo (bought recently) and all was well for about 20 minutes until the Gremlins struck again (I will have to banish them from the house, they have been way to active recently) The sound level dropped off...retuning brought it back, but again after about 20 minutes it went again. The volume output had been a bit lower than the RHTLS but not by much so I wasn't overly concerned...looks like it needs serviced. It should be pointed out that in away, vintage tuners (and these Leak's are at least 40 plus years old) are like classic cars in that they seem to need lots of initial TLC, to bring them up to speck.

    Sadly I was forced to abandon the TLS and switch attention to the TL 2 (finally) and the TL 3. Both of these tuners need to be used with an external stereo decoder, in this case one by EAR. After moving the aerial cable I hooked the TL 2 and switched it and the decoder on, with about half an hour of warm up I had a listen.....very nice, but the afore mention aerial gain issue raised its head as slight distortion. Radio 2 had the most signal strength and initially I solved this by switching the up stairs amplifier off. After discovering that using the local and distant switch, to solve this I sat back to listen properly and it was clear that this combination was the overall winner. The slight thickness in the sound present on the RHTLS and to a lesser extent the Revox was absent the TL 2 and decoder was open detailed and articulate in the bass, treble and mid-range. However at times I thought I could just detect a slight phasiness in the overall sound...perhaps there is a slight mis-match between the decoder and tuner, nothing another service won't sort out. The TL 3 and decoder was not as good as the TL 2 and decoder pairing, the sound lacked focus and coherence, but not by much. However, and heres that word again a service may solve that.....?

    Trough-Line 3 and Trough-Line 2

    Trough-Line 2

    EAR valve Stereo decoder


    Despite the things that went wrong I think its clear that when it comes to Leak tuners that the use of a quality internal decoder(not original) will allow a Trough-Line to compete with a good quality tuner like a Revox and while different (and those differences may be your preference) in my opinion the sound is more musical, enjoyable and kinder to modern compressed music and broadcasting quality; than the Revox was in the context of this review. At this stage I should mention that the almost ruthless transparency of the Chapter amplification, surprisingly favored the valve tuner....I had thought it would be the Revox. The lack of any kind of noise in the Chapter Audio amplification will reveal any present from the source, and while the Revox was more *silent* as is the norm with solid state and the Trough-Line had slightly more as was evident from putting ones ear to the speaker, background hiss being more obvious; the valve tuner was however to my ears better.

    As I like to be fair before posting this review I wanted to give the Revox another listen, allowing it a longer warm up period so I listened to it again the following day. As I suspected it was better some of the slight thickness in the sound was gone and everything was more open and detailed. However I also wanted to give the TL 2 and EAR decoder another listen....I made a significant discovery in doing this. I decided to move the Leak tuner to the main rack, from the book case it normally sits on, in doing this the 3m connecting lead I normally use to hook the multiplex output to the decoder, was replaced by the lead that is hard wired into the EAR (nothing special), I took a listen and my mouth hit the floor. The slight phasiness to the sound was gone. A very three dimensional sound reached my ears. A track from the new Pren tenders album was playing and Miss Hyde stood in the room, her band playing around her. Tight articulate bass underpinning the song, I switched quickly to the Revox the sound was two dimensional in comparison lacking the colour richness and quality of the TL 2. Up next was the Kinks and Waterloo Sunset (Radio2 was really ticking all my boxes today), the sound was fabulous as was Michael McDonald's vocals on the following track from the Doobie Brothers. Ian Dury also sounded wonderful during Hit me with your rhythm stick...heady stuff.

    Trough-Line 2 and EAR Stereo decoder placed on the Clearlight Aspeckt rack

    Rear view of the Trough-Line 2 and Ear decoder...note short wire which carries the mutiplex output signal into the decoder


    Presenters voices lacked a degree of chestiness that was present on the Revox and the other Trough-Line tuners. Studio sounds stood clearly revealed as did a semblance of the Studio acoustic; not much but enough to paint a three D image with the presenters having their own space. In many ways what I was hearing was similar to the difference in sound between vinyl and digital, but in fairness both of these formats have more musical information present in the signal than FM radio....however the analogy is a good one.

    I thought that I might have to rewrite my conclusion after listening again on day two and indeed I am but only to reinforce my findings that the TL 2 and EAR decoder combination when connected via a short lead (do remember this factor) offer the best radio I have heard so far (I have not heard the Day Sequera, Naim Nait radio or some of the other well liked radios) so I can't say this is as good as it gets but for me I am happy. I can't, however help but wonder what a top flight serviced Leak set, say from the workshop of Graham Tricker might sound like...ummm? Would this be much better ?

    I think its clear that the TL3 and TL Stereo I also used during this test were not up to par. Will they be as good as the TL2 plus EAR stereo decoder ? I suspect the answer is more than likely no, but after a service it will be interesting to do this comparison again....as they say there is more to come. It is also important to say that if you are going to buy a Leak tuner then perhaps it might be better to buy one thats fully serviced and set up, rather than doing the E-bay thing (unless you get and absolute bargain....do such things exist on E-bay ?), to guarantee you the best performance. Another thing that is clear, regardless of the source of your purchase, you will need an excellent aerial set up and one that allows tweaking to suit a vintage tuners needs and particularly a Trough-Lines. My aerial set up covers this, but could be better and it is probably because I am in line of sight of the broadcast mast that I * just* get away with it...you have been warned.


    Regards D S D L


    Edit No part of this review can be reproduced without written permission...content is copyrighted to ...NK
    Last edited by Dalek Supreme D L; 13-12-2009 at 21:57.
    Regards Neil

  2. #2
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: A Strangely Isolated Place in Suffolk with far away trains passing by...

    Posts: 14,300
    I'm David.

    Default

    Wow, another great user review...

    I suspect the EAR decoder has its line-out impedances set for modern amps, wheres the Leaks, like the Quad FM2 and 3, may prefer the amp to offer 50K Ohms at least, but not knowing your amps at all, I cannot say.

    I must say that I'm generally disappointed with FM radio these days on the tuners I have (FM2, FM3, Cambridge T55 and Arcam Delta 80). The Cambridge, in some ways, stands head and shoulders above the others in reproduction of reverb and atmosphere, but splatters badly on over-done sssibilant modulation (a big problem with modern compressed broadcasts). If I ever get funds, I'd like to have it re-capped and re-setup to see if alignment can fix it, although it was a slight weakness when new.


    Into the AVI's 20K Ohms, the Quads either sound boring as hell (FM2) or just dull (FM3). The Arcam sounded brighter but two dimensional as well. With the Crofts 100K Ohms, the Arcam sounds much more comfortable, so I ought to dig the Quads out of the loft and try them again..

    Thanks again Neil. The Revox I should never have sold was the A76, which was soooo good all round (long story).
    Tear down these walls; Cut the ties that held me; Crying out at the top of my voice; Tell me now if you can hear me.....................

  3. #3
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default

    No problem Dave...I enjoy doing these reviews. Its funny about the cable...it had not dawned on me that sitting the decoder close to the main system and using the tuner out in the open would be an issue, but it very much was....the 3m of cable ruined the sound. I should point out that this isn't the interconnect to the pre-amplifier but the cable that carries the multiplex information.

    The Chapter audio kit is not particularly fussy about what is hooked up to it but is pretty ruthless about revealing any sonic short comings both in terms of performance and recording sound quality. However in saying that when things are optimal, its very good. I have found it interesting taking a break from valve amplification....and will do a write up about going back to valves in due course.


    Regards D S D L
    Regards Neil

  4. #4
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: A Strangely Isolated Place in Suffolk with far away trains passing by...

    Posts: 14,300
    I'm David.

    Default

    P.S. Re above - the cable supplied by Tim for the decoder isn't just an ordinary patch-cable it seems to me. I know that the decoder info is at 19 and 38KHz, but even so, a thoughtfully specified wire (probably a small patch cord in truth) may be better for this than a chunkier mega-strand jobbie...

    How much was the EAR decoder and do you know if it's still available?
    Tear down these walls; Cut the ties that held me; Crying out at the top of my voice; Tell me now if you can hear me.....................

  5. #5
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DSJR View Post
    P.S. Re above - the cable supplied by Tim for the decoder isn't just an ordinary patch-cable it seems to me. I know that the decoder info is at 19 and 38KHz, but even so, a thoughtfully specified wire (probably a small patch cord in truth) may be better for this than a chunkier mega-strand jobbie...

    How much was the EAR decoder and do you know if it's still available?
    Hi Dave

    The EAR decoder was bought along with the Trough-Line 3 (one in the oak box, though I have had my Trough-Line 2 in this box as well) S/H from a dealer in Scotland Retro-Reproductions...I can't remember exactly what the cost was..perhaps about 250 for both or there abouts. I really wanted the decoder and I quite liked the oak sleeve, even though it was an owner custom one, and not an original Leak sleeve (the wood is nice...however until Chris (The Grand Wazoo) said it was oak I didn't know that).

    The EAR decoder is no longer available. I think it was available ready built or as a kit...I suspect this one might be a kit, but I am not sure; not having both to compare. I haven't seen another one offered S/H and I have been looking but not that hard so they may be more common than I think.

    Regards D S D L
    Last edited by Dalek Supreme D L; 27-05-2009 at 14:01.
    Regards Neil

  6. #6
    Join Date: Apr 2008

    Location: Redcar By The Sea - Sand With Everything

    Posts: 1,818
    I'm Andy.

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    Hi Neil

    Great write up, as always. Really like your style. Only wish I could be as creative with words.

    Will have to give it another read through later ( on nights at the mo ) though you have wetted my appetite to the possibility of dabbling my toe into the Tuner pool.

    Andy - SDDW
    Andy - SDDW

    Lead Tutor - Electrical HV/LV Training and Authorisation


  7. #7
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default

    Thank you Andy. I appreciate the comments about my writing style...its nice to know that people think I have one, and that they enjoy reading my words.


    Regards D S D L
    Regards Neil

  8. #8
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default Additional Thoughts On the Rodney Hanna Trough-Line Stereo

    Hi Guys

    I have been playing around with interconnects Audio Note ANV and Kimber KCAG mainly just to see if any of my findings would change with a swap of cables.

    Well in regard to the Revox no, but with the Rodney Hanna Trough-Line Stereo the answer is yes. Having re-read my review I now feel that perhaps I damned it with to faint praise. The overall findings haven't changed the Trough-Line 2 plus EAR valve stereo decoder still give the best sound (changing interconnects here does not change these results, regardless of connecting cable used it is excellent), but the Rodney Hanna gives more with different cables.

    Front view. Tuning indicator light on far right of fascia is not original to this Leak but a Rodney Hanna addition.

    Rear view


    With the Audio Note ANV (two .5 m coupled together) the sound is more open and detailed with less thickness. The warmth I reported on, is reduced, its still a sweet sound and still musical, but more detail is present and the gap between it and the TL2 +decoder is narrowed. Using the Kimber KCAG makes things slightly to forward and adds a slight edge to treble detail. Once again (for what ever reason) cables make a difference/improvement and in this application I prefer the sound of the Audio Note ANV.

    I have been listening to GF Handle on Radio 3 Richard The Lion Heart, this afternoon and I must admit I like Handle but am not so keen on high pitched almost Castrato vocals (female in this case, but may have been written for a Castrato originally), the sound is beguiling and magical. String tone is excellent and the harpsichord pure magic, where it falls behind the TL2 is in the dimension of the acoustic and the clarity/coherence the older Leak tuner creates, but its close.

    Also of interest is that the sensitivity/selectivity of this tuner is much better than the non-modified Leaks. The Motorolla decoder Rodney used needs less signal to give silent performance...excellent.

    Some of you might be wondering who Rodney Hanna is ? well he is a very talented audio (and lots of other things as well) repair man who builds and mods things in his spare time for his own pleasure, and a select few. I left the Leak in for repair/servicing and got back a thing of magic. Rodney is one of a rare breed, he can look at a circuit and not only understand it, but be able to analyse how it works, if it could be better and know how to do that. Well he has certainly worked wonders on a Leak Trough-Line Stereo which had not worked in very many years (the condition I got it in). Is this a product you could buy....ummm, I don't know. I call it the Rodney Hanna TL Stereo because that is what it now is. Being a modest man Rodney would no doubt say he just fixed it...IMHO he had done more, much more.

    Not being it great cosmetic condition I have been working on that aspect and have sorted out the black strip below the display (using a Paper Mate W10 Black Permanent Marker rather than black enamel paint as I had planned to. It needs several applications to give a good black), next up is the legends on the fascia. Anyone have a suggestion for this, something better than Lettraset....ideas welcome. I have replaced the metal sleeve it came with for the black wood Leak sleeve that came with another Trough-Line Stereo tuner....I prefer this look.

    One last thought/piece of information. Ventilation is important, these tuners get warm (lots of valves inside) so please make sure you allow plenty of air to circulate around them.


    Regards D S D L
    Last edited by Dalek Supreme D L; 28-05-2009 at 15:15.
    Regards Neil

  9. #9
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Norwich

    Posts: 463

    Default

    A very interesting review, Neil, and very difficult to A-B test with any accuracy, I imagine.

    Guess you have at least a six element array within, say, ten miles of a decent transmitting station, as I remember that my Troughline 3 would only perform properly with an eight element Antiference on the roof of my student flat in Canterbury (landlord never noticed!). My Revox (not yours; maybe an A76?) was more sensitive.

    However, my current 01 needs all the signal one can squeeze into it, whereas my Technics will sound reasonable on a bit of string. Seriously thinking of getting a Ron Smith Galaxie again, but not sure if the narrow 60s chimney will cope with it.

    Again, good work! (would loooooooove to put your TR. 2 against my 01 to see what it's all about!!!)

  10. #10
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Belfast/Northern Ireland/UK

    Posts: 15,788
    I'm Neil.

    Default

    Hi Mike

    Actually the aerial is not that elaborate, its a semi circle two element aerial which is open at the front. Its mounted in the loft and the low loss cable passes down under the floor of a bedroom where the cable goes into an amplifier out again and then down into the living room. I guess the cables probably about 30m long ish.

    Some of the Leak's need the amplifier on and some don't. The Rodney Hanna tuner works well either way but the Trough-Line 2 needs the amplifier on for most stations bar Radio2, which has the most signal. One thing the Revox does well is work with very low signal levels....I can get Manx (Isle of Man) radio with it... However when it comes to sound quality the Revox while very good is beaten by the Trough-Line 2 and EAR decoder, and as I discovered today, with a cable change the Rodney Hanna Leak now beats the Revox by a bigger margin than it did before. Still not as good as the TL2 but getting there.

    As to a tuner bake off...that would be great but I don't live anywhere near you. I must admit that living were I do...I miss the chance to meet up with you guys and do such things...it would be fun.

    Glad you enjoyed the review.


    Regards D S D L
    Last edited by Dalek Supreme D L; 28-05-2009 at 20:18.
    Regards Neil

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