Rotel RT-950BX Tuner

Continuing our examination of Rotel's current 900 series it is the turn of the better of two tuners in the range, currently priced at £200. Only 72mm high on its drum feet, the RT-950BX is of standard 440mm width but only 280mm deep, considerably less than other units in the range. In practice this means that if, as usual, the various items are stacked it will occupy top place, which could be advantageous in bringing it up to eye level, when its rather deeply recessed fluorescent display panel will come into full view. Once powered-up by the large push-on/push-off switch (with red LED indicator on the left) all further controlling is accomplished by two groups of push-switches which have a satisfying snap action when gently pressed. It is worth noting that the tuner's internal power supply is energized as long as the mains remains connected, so as to sustain the memory for any preset conditions; this memory will hold for approximately 72 hours after the tuner is unplugged.

The main group of two rows of six sensibly sized buttons in the middle of the panel are concerned with the selection of up to 20 pre-tuned transmissions culled from any or all of the three wavebands covered; ten by direct selection and a further ten by holding in a + 10 key. Allocation of programmes to be preset is simple and straightforward with the aid of a twelfth button labelled Memory, to be operated immediately before the chosen preset button, which is then locked on to the transmission being received or to a known frequency. The second group of push switches is used in the initial selection of stations for allocation from the three wavebands, and the largest is a rocking type which causes the tuner to traverse up or down the selected band at the appropriate frequency increments. On the MW and FM bands, but not LW, the latter operation can also be automated, with stops at each reasonably strong signal received.

The display panel progressively indicates five level s of incoming signal strength, the waveband and frequency currently tuned, and the preset number if appropriate. There is also a stereo light, a centre-of-tuning indicator and a duration of memory mode reminder. Lastly, as the AM section is provided with two alternative degrees of 'selectivity ', this is also displayed. An AM aerial is included which takes the form of a flattened loop on a plastics frame that clips into a socket on the rear face of the tuner, its connections attached to a couple of adjacent terminals. One of the latter can also be used to add an external aerial if required but the loop must be left connected as it forms the aerial tuning coil. Al so on the rear face is the male coaxial socket for an external FM aerial (although a one metre long in-room substitute is provided its use cannot be recommended since, although it may provide an apparently adequate signal from local transmitters, it is prone to multi path reception and subsequent distortion) . Further along are the twin left and right audio channel phono socket outlets accepting the 950mm OFC gold-plated phono-to-phono lead supplied; lastly there is a permanently attached two-metre length of good grade sheathed mains lead.

Removing the matt black painted steel cover shows that the entire tuner proper is built on a single large printed circuit board on to which is plugged a small vertical subsidiary board holding the panel display and switches. All the components used appear to be of good quality and the layout is open and accessible with everything identified. The only heavy component, the power transformer, is bracketed to the adjacent steel side panel, avoiding the risk of cracking the board in transit. Mains input and voltage selection links are protected with a cover on which is printed a warning.

Tuner performance has reached a zenith these days and only the smallest improvements are possible by attacking minor areas of weakness. Differences between makes in parallel price brackets are probably of less importance than securing a cosmetic match and makers are hard put to provide any compelling reason for choosing theirs. However, I have noticed recently that extra attention is being given to the AM side as more and more stations are forced to give up their dual-band occupancy to provide additional programme outlets for the growing number of people and institutions who want to become broadcasters. That is the case here, where Rotel have incorporated switchable wide/narrow filters in the AM circuit. During daylight hours it proved possible to use the wide setting to enhance the quality of a number of transmissions in the manner of an amplifier's Loudness control but, as I write in the last days of January, by 4pm as night-time propagation conditions approached, the interference level from European stations forced a retreat. Happily, some of the more enlightened transmission engineers have taken this phenomenon into account and reduced the levels of compression and limiting, now common in AM operation, during these more favourable hours.

The FM performance of the RT950BX was such as to provide excellent reception of all the transmissions relevant to my area and a wonderful se lection of others aimed at surrounding districts. For example, no less than five of Classic FM's transmissions were acceptably received (they must be congratulated, by the way, on gelling a near nationwide network on the air and in capturing over four million listeners in a few short months). One or two of the 'difficult to separate' broadcasts, now becoming more commonplace as more transmitters are crowded into the FM band, defeat ed the Rotel but one needs a more elaborate (and expensive) tuner with variable selectivity in both the RF and IF sections to deal with this, albeit with reduced quality. I thought that these parameters were nicely judged in this tuner, which was stillable to render excellent reproduction of the best broadcasts, very close indeed to the top performers in this aspect, such as the new Quad 66FM. I suspect that most people who choose this tuner will do so because it is an appearance match with their other Rotel equipment. It is nice to advise them that in addition they are assured of a fine result.

Rotel RT-950BX Tuner photo