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Radio Road: REVIEW: Arcam T31 Tuner by Luminator

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REVIEW: Arcam T31 Tuner

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Model: T31
Category: Tuner
Suggested Retail Price: $1000
Description: AM/FM Stereo Tuner
Manufacturer URL: Arcam
Model Picture: View

Review by Luminator on August 29, 2008 at 10:50:38
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for the T31

Because speakers are totally dependent upon the upstream gear, and completely at the mercy of the room, reviews hardly ever translate well into readers' homes. Because tuners rely on available local stations, there's no way of knowing how a tuner will perform in another home, let alone in another city. Only a select few people have those devices which convert a line-level source into a radio signal. This is the right way to gauge how accurate to the source a tuner is, but unfortunately, I'm not one of those select few who has such devices.

So what are we supposed to do? Keep quiet and not share experiences? Or tell others what was used, and at the same time caution that the results may be radically different elsewhere? Tricky, tricky, tricky.

Rather than be silent, I'd rather forge ahead with my take on the Arcam T31 tuner. I'd rather speak up, risk being wrong, and be corrected. Whether I'm accurate or not, at least we'll have something to talk about.

At home or work, internet radio is not for everyone. And many people do not want to invest in Sirius or XM satellite radio. There is still a demand, no matter how small, for AM/FM in the home.

Take, for example, San Francisco's 102.1 KDFC. Supposedly, it's one of the nation's most popular classical music stations. At my parents' place, regardless of tuner or antenna, I've always had to fidget, in order to lock in 102.1. If San Francisco residents can't get the Bay Area's classical music station, is it any wonder why classical music here is dead?! Alas, the Arcam T31 was no different. I had to aim the antenna at odd angles, in order to receive KDFC cleanly.

Oddly enough, when I brought the T31 to a colleague's Financial District office, it (the T31) received KDFC cleanly, regardless of where we threw the T-antenna!

At home in the East Bay, I expended considerable effort, in order to get KDFC. Here was the #1 classical station, and I was getting no signal strength! But turn the Fanfare FM-2G a certain way, and the signal strength meter lit up light a Christmas tree! KDFC then came in clearly and quite beautifully. It was then that I realized that the T31 had the potential to rise above my other tuners. I've blogged about some of those, but for the nitty gritty on the T31, click on the links below:

Part 1 - faceplate, remote
Part 2 - back panel
Part 3 - interconnects, powercords
Part 4 - RDS
Part 5 - antennae, AM, powerline conditioning

If you choose to use the Arcam T31 with throwaway cords, it is going to sound bland and ho-hum. The T31 does respond mildly to powerline conditioning, powercords, and interconnects. While I'm not going to stop you from spending more on accessories than the T31 itself, you do not need $$$$ associated gear for the T31 to perform well. It sounds just fine with the API Power Pack II, Kimber Timbre interconnect, and basic Kimber PowerKord.

Compared to my other tuners, the T31 is refreshingly free of bass boom (unless, of course, that is what the station is broadcasting). The sound can be clean, with nice openness in the middle of the soundstage.

KDFC's sister station, 96.5 KOIT, is a lite rock staple. KOIT is probably ten times as popular as KDFC itself. A real acid test for a tuner is for it to play KOIT all workday long. Is the sound good enough, that office workers don't go nuts, yelling at the office manager to turn it off? Is the sound good enough, that your co-workers stop what they are doing, and take notice of the music? When KOIT played the Corrs' "Breathless" the other day, the answer was a resounding yes. It prompted my Tenant Administrator to remark, "They sound heavier (and better) than Def Leppard." [Mutt Lange has produced both the Corrs and Def Leppard. He added so much distortion to Def Leppard, that they don't sound tough or heavy. Many listeners have opined that if you took away the scratchy vocals, Def Leppard would sound like, well, Shania Twain].

If you bring home a new (unused) T31, be aware that it may take two weeks of being constantly on, in order to burn-in. A new T31 [I've used three samples] will sound smaller, more opaque, not as focused, and less open than a fully burned-in unit. But really, two weeks for a tuner is nothing.

I wish Audio Asylum would put an optional box for "Review Weakness." I would unequivocally state that there is no way of predicting how a tuner will perform anywhere else in the San Francisco Bay Area, let alone your house. Be that as it may, I do feel compelled to report that the Arcam T31 showed me enough strengths, that I feel I should open debate, and encourage others to check it out.

-Lummy The Seahorse

Product Weakness: display is too small, "Belling Lee" FM coax requires an F-type adapter, no balanced outputs, remote doesn't work very well, AM is nothing special
Product Strengths: silver faceplate, no bass boost, plenty of presets, no hum

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: Mark Levinson No. 431, Simaudio W-8
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Mark Levinson No. 326S, Simaudio P-8
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Adcom GFT-555II, Classe Tuner-1 and CT-10, Fanfare FM FT-1A, Parasound T/DQ-1600 and Halo T3, Sony ST-S550ES
Speakers: Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home, Thiel CS2.4, Totem The One
Cables/Interconnects: Nordost Odin, XLO Limited Edition
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Bay Area radio stations
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Arcam T31 Tuner - Luminator 10:50:38 08/29/08 ( 15)