38 Share of Audio Pie Chart - source GfK
Radio remains the king of audio consumption according to GfK, an international research company that concerns itself with such matters. Average Australians spend three hours and 23 minutes listening to audio every day, and two hours and 12 minutes of that is radio. So what’s happened to the market for tuners?

Tuners are stand-alone radio receivers that hook into your existing stereo, making the music sound better. Lots of stereo amplifiers have tuners built in, but separate tuners generally do a better job. They used to be a must-have for audiophiles but dealers now tell me that market has all but died.

Clearly Australians are still listening to radio so why have we stopped buying tuners? It may be that we can’t find them. Let’s face it, if you’re sinking $600 or more into a tuner you probably expect to get AM, FM and DAB+ digital radio, and DAB+ is where the problem lies. Australia is one of only a handful of countries using this broadcast technology and there aren’t a lot of manufacturers these days that make products in handfuls.

This explains why the only NAD tuner available, the C427 at $599, offers just AM and FM. “It isn’t a big seller for us, but it is a great tuner and we keep it primarily for regional customers who have no prospect of receiving DAB+ broadcasts,” Importer Michael Thornton Smith said.

38 Yamaha TD500Yamaha, a company that usually covers every base with several layers, has just one tuner available, the TD500 ($629). “DAB+ hasn’t quite peaked for us,” spokesman Shaun McMahon said. “From a multinational’s perspective having the ‘+’ version doesn’t help much with manufacturing costs either.”

Maybe it’s that DAB+ disappoints the purists. The format lets broadcasters choose between fewer stations at better sound quality or more at less. They’ve opted for stations over quality. Thornton Smith says another issue is internet radio and streaming music services with radio-like capabilities, like Pandora. “Internet radio generally offers better sound quality for local stations than DAB+ does, and gives us radio from all over the world,” he said.

Both Marantz and Denon no longer offer tuners. “I don’t hear many disappointed calls for them,” importer Ralph Grundl said. “Internet Radio seems to be the radio of choice these days.”

38 Rotel T14Rotel, however, is the champion of tuners, offering four, two with FM and DAB+, and two with an additional AM band. “There are indeed fewer tuners in the market today but we feel the category still has opportunity,” importer Sam Encel said. “As other markets transition from analogue to digital there are mixed feelings about whether customers will follow the DAB+ route or jump directly to streaming-based tuners. So Rotel’s T14 ($1199) has network streaming as well as DAB+, AM and FM. And the T11 ($599, with AM, FM and DAB+) is doing well in markets with DAB+.”

38 Rotel T11Since FM hit the airwaves in 1975 AM has been the poor relation in radio and is often dropped on devices equipped with DAB+. This, industry folk say, is because AM stations are all available on DAB+ anyway at FM sound quality. Fair enough until you leave the metropolitan area and DAB+ isn’t available anymore. A couple of dealers said also that having AM and DAB+ in the same device can lead to interference unless expensive shielding is included.

“I haven’t heard that AM and DAB+ interfere with one-another,” McMahon said. “I thought the exclusion of AM was more a cost issue because a chip to support DAB+ and FM is less expensive than one that supports all three.”

Sangean, a veteran brand in radios, has a recent entry on the market with its $549 WFT3. It offers FM, DAB+, internet radio and Spotify. Onkyo has two, the T4030 with DAB+ and FM at $429 and the T4070 with AM, FM, DAB+ and streaming for $1499.

Australian companies Digitalview (www.digitalviewstore.com.au) and Altronics (www.altronics.com.au) have offerings available on-line. Altronics has two AM/FM models at $299 and $349, and two FM/DAB+ models at $295 and $399. Digitalview has two FM/DAB+ models, one with the ability to pause live radio for up to four hours ($399) and another rack-mount model intended for professional installations ($899).

Published Octoebr 2016

 

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