Audiolab 8200T Tuner

Dating back to the early eighties, Audiolab's brand proposition was always a little different to the likes of the stripped-down, minimalist Exposures of this world. Even then, its products were bristling with facilities, and not silly ones either, but useful real-world features that made the user experience all the nicer. Nothing has changed 30 years later and the 8200T offers precisely this. It boasts AM, FM and DAB, and the idea is to deliver these as effortlessly as possible - a task at which the Audiolab excels.

The large tuner knob plays a useful part in this, not quite as nice as the Arcam T32. The LED display is also lovely, easy to read from a distance, but not glare inducing and has a handy signal strength read out. The minor switchgear feels good and is duplicated on the remote control. Overall build and finish are to very high standards, with particular praise due to the sleek brushed aluminium fascia. The pressed-steel casework is very good too, but just a touch more resonant than the more expensive Arcam. Operationally, as well as being very swish to use, this tuner proves adept at picking up weak signals with the supplied 'wet string' aerial, but of course like all the others here, should be used with a better quality twig!

Here's a really good across-the-board tuner that makes a great case for investing more than the cost of the already decent $450 Yamaha T-D500, for example. Spending the extra $300 buys you a wealth of extra detail, insight and depth. Rather than appearing on a two-dimensional plane, you now fi nd that in BBC Radio 4 plays, for example, some voices and sound effects hang back or sit wide stage left or right. Likewise, on Radio 3, live classical concerts fi ll the room with sound, the 8200T giving a convincing recorded acoustic - something that can't be said for many CD players! Schumann's Paradise and the Peri has wonderful air and space, and is very well defi ned. Noise is pleasingly low, with none of the hiss of the Sansui for example, and this tuner is able to draw the listener in and keep him or her there. The Arcam and Myryad are even better in this respect, both having a slightly more fulsome sound - by contrast the Audiolab is a little tonally 'dry', lacking the richness of the best of the rest. You'd never say it is thin and reedy like the Sansui, but it doesn't quite muster the full flavour of the recording.

Still, this suits the 'festival of compression' that is Heart FM. With everything sounding like it has gone through a sort of musical sausage grinder, the delicacies of Freeez's AEIOU aren't there to be heard anyway, so the Audiolab just gets on with the job of pushing it out in a pleasantly musical, propulsive way. Lower frequencies, although not quite up to the Myryad or Arcam standards, are still strong and punchy, and the nice tight rhythm of the bass synth makes for a snappy, foot-tapping rendition. The result is a wellbalanced, but sharply etched tuner that works nicely with a wide range of material and gives a clean, detailed and matter-of-fact presentation of whatever you care to throw at it. It straddles the bridge between budget and high-end audiophile tuners extremely well, and its wide range of facilities makes it about as much as many will ever need.

Audiolab 8200T Tuner photo