ADADuo_Scott.qxp 5/8/2006 4:46 PM Page 1 Audio Design Associates Duo Tuner Don Scott A U D I O D E S I G N Associates (ADA) was founded nearly 30 years ago by Peter McKean and Albert Langella. I can remember stopping at the company’s exhibits at several early Consumer Electronics Shows and thinking, “These guys are nut cases. Who cares about multi-room audio?” Well, now I am eating my antiquated thoughts because bigger magazines than this one, for example the January 2006 issue of Architectural Digest, suggest that no home designer should do a job without such a system in it. Frankly, I concur; no truly competent designer should do a top-flight job these days without including both multiroom audio and multi-room video. ADA was the one of the first to go into this field and apparently will continue to be a leading innovator in multi-zone/multi-source audio and video. For instance, the company now will install for you their iHome Multi-Center. In conjunction with the MusicGiants Network, an early leader and specialist in highquality downloads, ADA offers extensive music libraries from the four major record label groups as a new source of quality audio throughout one’s home. As new technical products emerge (first HDTV and now HD Radio) I too, as a reviewer, am caught up in the advertising hype. “I got to have HD; I must; no way around it!” Consequently, the ADA DuoTuner caught my attention because it is one of the few professional-grade HD products available and offers an abundance of features and configurations that just might satisfy my new craving. I would not even let UPS bring it to me, I rushed to White Plains, NY, myself and was graciously loaned a review sample. By “Duo Tuner, ADA means that the unit is a two-slot tuner that can be fitted with pairs of AM/FM with HD/WX modules, either two Sirius or two XM modules, or either one AM/FM with HD/WX module accompanied by either a Sirius or a XM module. Licensing agreements prohibit mixing Sirius and XM in the same unit, probably to avoid some type of inter-galactic war in your listening room. I choose a Duo Tuner with AM/FM with HD/WX and XM for review to avoid this difficulty. Two modules share the same controls and common display; antenna inputs are separate, as are audio outputs for each module. This Volume 11, Issue 5 means a preamp or integrated amplifier with switching between two pairs of RCAs will be needed to listen to either radio source if the tuner is divorced from a multi-room system. An optical output is provided for HD Radio; it is an option on XM and Sirius modules. How It Looks This Duo Tuner is an attractive slim-line black model, basically designed for rack-mount usage, but it will not be ashamed to show its face in the open. It is a rather large tuner, at 19 inches wide by 17 inches deep and just 2 inches high. The display is green with yellowish lettering. Three smallish click-type controls coupled with momentaryclick in/out switches mounted on the same shafts provide for changing all modes and functions: AM, AM HD, FM, FM HD, WX, scroll modes of text data for normal RBDS and HD, manual station tuning, channel select for XM, preset select, mono/stereo, and high filter to slope-off noise. Also, XM displays of Category, Channel select, Preset number, Artist, and song Title are possible. Basically, if the tuner can be operated at near eye-level, over39 ADADuo_Scott.qxp 5/8/2006 4:46 PM Page 2 is that this tuner has exceptional phase linearity and can easily reflect what is broadcast. The music selection singled out to evaluate the Duo Tuner via the same program was a selection by Tom Hazelton at the Riverside Church, NYC (late 2000), Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, very similar to the Proof of the Pudding Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C Tuner evaluations usually have Minor featured at West Point the two primary considerations: R.f. day before and very similar prowess and overall audio in organ tonal footprint. quality, and it is extremely Cranking the two well-searare to find a tuner with both. AudioSource The Duo Tuner excels in You might not expect a great soned AMPOnes and the isobaricboth categories on FM. It tuner in a multi-room configured Amrita Monitors offers good sensitivity, coufull-bore, the tuner mutated pled with 20-dB adjacentsystem, but ADA has one. deep, deep individual notes channel selectivity, and this had unusual clarity, with no allows reception of any stabloating or sameness. The tion within reason. To do tuner is not overly bassbetter on adjacent-channels, without splatter between stations, it hour weekly organ-music program, heavy or bass-shy, but if used in a would take a customized tuner, but “Pipes and Pizzazz,” hosted by John system were a little extra bass heft is then the narrow bandwidth most Vanderlee on WVKR (91.3) from needed, it might sound lean, but likely would slice the edges off a Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, that’s not the tuner’s difficulty. signal where the HD digital data one of the better-sounding analog Midrange and high frequencies had the right balance, and low distortion FM stations in my area currently. resides and negate HD reception. Featured on the program were proved itself not only in the voice Pitting the ADA tuner against some very good upgraded or cus- several selections played by Tom recording I mention above, but also tomized tuners I had on hand, Hazelton, widely known as the in the correct harmonic structure including a Magnum Dynalab FT- “Dean of the American Theatre that did not muddy up low-frequen101, Luxman T-12, Audiophonics Organ.” Mr. Hazelton passed away cy tones. Background noise, white ST-3120, and a stock PSE Studio III, March 13, 2006, and the program noise between four to seven the Duo was not exceeded as far as was primarily a memorial to this kiloHertz, on weaker FM stations took on a non-peaky softness rather station pulling power was con- excellent artist. One Wurlitzer selection was than the typical annoying hiss, cerned (that is, in sensitivity) and only slightly bettered in selectivity. recorded at the old Paramount which indicates very low intermodThe PSE tuner, however, had a Theater, which now houses the ulation distortion. The tuner also slight edge in overall life-like pre- Schwartz Athletic Center for the incorporates a mild high-blend on sentation with super-low distortion, Brooklyn, NY, Campus of Long feeble signals that works very well, but the concern here is what can be Island University as well as the pre- preserving stereo separation and purchased in 2006, so the Duo served organ still used at Blackbird’s minimizing noise in the analog FM Tuner can inhale a little pride games and for concerts, although I stereo mode. through its two fans. In the HD understand there may be some mode, reception was what was water damage to the building that is FM HD Audio expected: It takes a lot of signal now being repaired. What was In simple terms, HD radio is strength for HD recovery, about four impressive via the DuoTuner was designed to provide enhanced times as much as analog. It is a sys- not so much the organ’s sound, but fidelity of normal stereo programtem misdesign, in my opinion any- the “liveness” of a three-minute pre- ming and allows up to eight addiway, not the fault of the tuner; sentation by Mr. Hazelton about the tional channels of lower fidelity protherefore, an antenna that gathers history of the organ (1995). I could gramming, all piggy-backed on the lots of signal will be needed unless hear multiple reverberations off the same station. One problem conthe tuner is used close to a HD sta- ceiling, floor, and sidewalls along ducting a contrasting evaluation tion’s tower lights. The Magnum with his point source voice. A look between analog FM and HD FM is Dynalab Model 205 Signal Sleuth at the picture of the ceiling in the having apples with apples. I can’t may be of some help here with gymnasium yields clues to the mul- imagine management of a station boosting low signal levels. Also, see tiple refection points off this decora- insisting that the engineering staff a coming issue of TAV for antenna tive masterpiece and what I was make sure the old analog system hearing on the personal recording of sounds superior to the new HD, but tips to aid reception. Audio quality evaluation is a lit- the program’s host. To reproduce all I can imagine the other way around; tle more involved, but I had a the ambience is an unusual audio consequently, I think the truth will chance to align my live-music trait, because normally only two- be hidden, at least with the way memory brain cells the day before dimensional presentations can be broadcasts are likely to be received. voting “Yeah!” or “Nay!” on this heard, not four. What this indicates What I have noticed is that when all operation is a breeze; just read the book. Two rather-quiet mini fans cool the unit from the right side, and the resulting noise was barely noticeable because the fans are operating at half voltage. Internal construction looks firstclass. 40 tuner. On March 26, 2006, Kenneth Dake, Director of Music at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City, gave an organ recital on the Cadet Chapel Organ at West Point, NY, where the Curator of Organs, William Chapman, had just tuned 185 ranks of the 355-rank organ. Needless to say, I enjoyed a live audio extravaganza. Then, gilding the lily, the next morning, I listened to a one- the audiophile voice ADADuo_Scott.qxp 5/8/2006 4:46 PM Page 3 going to HD, the soundstage is well-controlled and judicious set- that” as chief engineer of two AM more expansive and the sound is tings of analog compression and and six FM stations. Consider this: brighter. This may be caused by limiting. Reproduction of familiar The 38-kHz subcarrier used to intentional differences in new pro- big-band era music floored me. Bite transmit the L-R portion in the curcessing of the analog audio, or it on brass was superb and voices rent analog FM transmission system could be that HD is better. were perfect. I will concede this: is an AM subcarrier using the FM However, at this time, I do not think The ADA Duo-Tuner is about as main carrier as an electronic wheel so when comparing the best of good as you can buy for analog FM barrel. Consequently, what is coneach. Also, because the digital HD or HD FM reception. I did not have sidered all FM is actually half AM. signal must use “look-ahead limit- means to test the audio though the Then, has AM proven to be inferior? I don’t think so. My point ing,” a buffering delay of being that there is not now about three seconds is used. nor was there ever anything Correspondingly, the normal old analog audio must also The Duo is about as good as technically wrong with AM, but the limitations of transbe delayed, which throws you can buy for either mission techniques dictated additional digital equipment into its audio path. This is analog or HD FM reception. by the FCC and modern skunked-up AM sections of usually done with an AD tuners and receivers. Some converter, digital processing may remember in the old with delay, then a DA converter. Thus, since one apple is tuner’s optical output, but the man- days listening to top-forty and other made slightly rotten, a true A/B ufacturer states I would not hear formatted stations half way across much difference because the tuner the nation at night on any decent comparison cannot be made. On the analog side, I have run already incorporates a superior car or home radio. WOWO, Fort Wayne, Indiana had an on-air sloand have heard some super-quality quality 24-bit DA converter. Could I have gotten superior gan: “The Highest Fidelity Station in analog stations, ones where I can’t imagine radio sounding much bet- reproduction playing the same CD the Nation,” and it just might have ter. For example, about 15 months or vinyl at home? I question that. been. WNEW, NYC, 1130 AM, also ago, I vacationed in Naples, FL and Farther north and in the present, I made this claim for a short while in became fascinated by the dynamic find exceptional audio finesse from the late ’50s. How does the AM section of the range and pristine sound quality of the evening music on WNYC (93.9) radio station WAVV (101.1), in New York City and general pro- ADA tuner sound? Muffled on regulicensed to Marco Island. Therefore, gramming on WJFF (90.5), lar AM, as typical, and far better in I contacted the engineer, Al Baxa, Hydropowered Radio, Jeffersonville, the HD mode using NYC’s WOR and did some investigation. There NY. (This station generates its own signal. Speech now had crispness and clarity in HD, like it is supwas nothing unusual: Music was power for the studio.) posed to, not to disappoint the transferred unto an AudioVAULT emperor. Note that good analog hard-drive system, analog from then AM Evaluation on through a Harris Medallist conI believe that most current HD response above 10 kHz is possible trol board, Optimod 8400 audio reception product manufacturers are with AM. The Sansui TU-S77AMX processor, Mosley PCL-606 com- purposely doping their tuners’ cir- and TU-D99AMX tuners of the ‘80s posite microwave link, Broadcast cuitries to favor HD; otherwise, why were good out to 13.5 kHz, with a Electronics FX-50 exciter and a 20- buy it? New has to be better. The sharp notch at 10 kHz to prevent year-old Broadcast Electronics emperor’s new clothes must set the whistles between stations that are BE30A transmitter. In broadcast fashion industry on fire. This slanti- spaced 10 kHz apart. It sounded brands, this is the considered good ng to favor the new seems particu- like FM, especially when decoding equipment, but I think the key was larly apparent to me on AM, and I the Kahn system for AM stereo: All the simplicity of the audio path and am speaking from “been there, done the highs were there, but very smooth, perhaps superior to conventional FM because it was not saddled with a transmit pre-emphasis and receive de-emphasis curve used on FM. As with all AM tuners, the best antenna to be found is the only way of getting any AM stations at all in HD. There is only one antenna input to serve both the AM Audio Design Associates Duo Tuner, dual-slot configuration, $2,195. and FM sections of the ADA tuner. Audio Design Associates, 602 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, NY This is not the best way to go 10605, phones 800-HD-AUDIO, 914-946-9595, www.ada-usa.com. because the directional pattern of a loop antenna is needed to reduce Associated Equipment noise from undesired interference Two AudioSource AMP One amplifiers strapped mono, B&K Pro-5 and signals. ADA does make a commodified preamplifier, Amrita Monitors, BBE Sound 482 Sonic biner for AM and FM antennas, but I Maximizer, Magnum Dynalab 205 Signal Sleuth, twisted pair intercondid not have one to evaluate at the nects, and ATS Reference Series “Platinum” #12 speaker cables. time of writing. N O T E S Volume 11, Issue 5 41 ADADuo_Scott.qxp 5/8/2006 4:46 PM The Weather Band Page 4 This is a nice feature to make you aware of normal forecasts and dangerous weather conditions. ADA has purposely altered the response for speech clarity. No complaints, it got my area weather stations clearly using several FM antennas, which are certainly not optimized for the 162-MHz weather channels. XM Performance tem, so hopefully you’ll find some meat in my opinions. My reference XM unit at this time is an early Sony DRN-XM01 car and home tuner, which has bettered previous units with superior dynamics, bass extension, and less listener fatigue. All this aside, how does the DuoTuner reproduce what XM dishes out, good or bad? Happily, I found it was fairly close to the reference Sony. Coupling it with a BBE Audio 482 processor, which corrects for phase error between error from the tape dubbing or extreme audio processing, improved stereo separation, less smearing of highs, and increased presence was quite dramatic. The Duo Tuner XM module and the 482 are electronically in love with each other, whereas that was not so with the Sony. Conclusion Yes, I like the Duo Tuner. Considering that some of the past Evaluating XM is not an easy task and present great FM tuners cost because it is not a flawless audio nearly $5,600 and do not source. Some channels, include HD, XM, or Sirius, especially the CW and clasthen $2,195 does not seem sical groups, are quite out of place for a quality acceptable in overall audio I like ADA’s Duo Tuner. component. Therefore, I vote quality, most likely because It is a quality unit which “YEAH!” If you already own the music is taken directly an ADA or similar multifrom CDs. However, other comes at a fair price. zone system, individual channels often have phase modules can be added for error that sounds like the $995. ADA also manufacmusical selections were tures three additional tuners dubbed from tape onto a hard drive with the heads on the lows, mids, and highs in reference and a receiver: Tune Suite, a fourtape playback deck misaligned and to an internal standard, I liked slot tuner with one module and balnot optimized for each tape trans- w h a t I h e a r d . W h i l e o n e c a n anced outputs for $2,499. Addiferred. I find this disgusting in this argue that something else in the tional modules are $600 each. Also, modern audio era. If you want to audio path is not beneficial, I there is the HD-Pro, a dual-slot HD hear this effect at its extreme, listen would agree if the test case were Tuner designed for the broadcaster untarnished audio; however, XM for $3,500 and a Suite 8100 multito the Preview Channel. The Duo Tuner the fourth XM- is mostly not and needs electronic room receiver with HD Radio, XM equipped unit I have had in my sys- p o l i s h i n g . B y l e s s e n i n g p h a s e or Sirius for $4,199. Musical Sounds 42 the audiophile voice SE Engin.
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