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SoundStage! Update

Gift-Giving, Audiophile Style

December 1, 2006

Each holiday season brings all manner of articles on gifts for audiophiles. They have a predictable structure, listing a few inexpensive accessories, then a pricier piece of electronics, and finally one very expensive product, often a speaker, that's introduced with "For those who were especially good this year…."

Bah, humbug! Just because we're audiophiles doesn't mean we can't be pragmatic. In this spirit, I'll recommend only one gift for the audiophile on your list, albeit two different variations: a high-performance AM/FM radio. By "high-performance," I don't mean "audiophile-approved" -- abundant with trivial features meant to entice audiophiles, like tubes, instead of what's most important for a radio: great reception. A high-performance radio is one that does two things well: pulls in distant stations, and differentiates well among those near each other on the dial. If your audiophile will accept only sound that's of the [sniff, sniff] highest quality, buy him a good tuner to connect to his high-end system. Even then, it will need to pull in stations and not run them together.

Where I live -- 100 miles from the nearest big city and surrounded by mountains -- a good radio is a necessity, especially because my wife and I love talk radio, specifically National Public Radio, which aspires to fairness and depth and often accomplishes both. I love it when someone e-mails Diane Rehm while she's live, prefacing the message with "I know you won't read this on the air…," and she happily reads it, using it to begin a new discussion. If you watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh, you'll think that NPR leans far to the left. If you simply want to hear in-depth news coverage, thought-provoking commentary from various perspectives, and discussion of topics you won't encounter anywhere else, NPR is for you.

Back to radios. Because of where I live, NPR, which is on FM, is not easy to pull in, even with the help of local repeaters. Fortunately, I've found two radios that do it well and don't have audiophile price tags.



Grundig S350


The first, TEAC's Premium Edition R1 ($129), is small in size and contemporary in styling. It has built-in rechargeable batteries, and its telescoping antenna gives it the hundred-mile-range we need. It comes in black or white, and there are versions with cool built-in LCD clocks ($169). All have bass and treble controls, and can accept input from a line-level source. Connect a portable CD player and you have a completely portable audio system.

When the weather and mountains conspire to make things tough for the TEAC R1, we pull out the big-gun Grundig S350 ($149), with its extra-long antenna and highly sensitive tuner. The Grundig has a fine-tuning control that helps lock in stations better, along with a plethora of useful features, including short-wave reception. Like the R1, it also has bass and treble controls. While the S350 costs around $100 on the street, the identical Tecsun BCL2000 costs less and comes in red and black instead of the S350's silver finish.

How's the sound quality of these radios? Clear and intelligible to my ears, but then I only use them for listening to NPR. For music, I have something in the house that works a leetle bit better....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com

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