With internet radio becoming more popular than ever, fewer people are turning to traditional tuners for radio listening. Internet radio has several advantages over traditional radio – internet streaming means no separate antennas are required, there are literally thousands of stations to choose from, and many of the devices that allow you to stream internet radio are multi-function devices, such as Cambridge audio’s own stream magic 6 upsampling network music player.
However, internet radio does have limitations. Firstly, a relatively high bandwidth internet connection is required, or the audio will break up and buffer and be unlistenable. Many internet stations also stream at a very low bitrate, meaning that the music can sound horrible when played through your hi-fi system. This is where traditional tuners are a must.
The Cambridge audio 651T is just 1 of the many tuners available on the market. It supports dab, dab+, FM with RDS and AM, meaning that all broadcast bands are covered. The 651t is also future proof – it supports the dab+ band, which allows you to benefit from high quality dab+ stations. At the time of this writing, dab+ is not currently available in the UK.
Unlike many tuners on the market, the 651t takes things a step further. It features independent digital and analogue stages, meaning it will get the best from all digital and analogue broadcasts. The tuner features separate antenna connections for each broadcast band, and is supplied with 3 wire antennas to get you started – 1 for dab, 1 for FM, and 1 for am. For serious radio listening though, you’ll benefit hugely from outdoor antennas, especially when listening to dab broadcasts.
A remote is also included, that can control other Cambridge Audio Azur equipment. Unlike some cheaper remotes the Cambridge is a pleasure to use – the layout is simple, the buttons don’t need to be pressed hard and it’s comfortable to hold. It’s also solidly built, and just the right weight, balancing perfectly on your hand as you’re scrolling through stations or adjusting the volume.
The front panel of the tuner features a clean layout – to the left of the central display are a standby button, used to switch the tuner in and out of its eco-friendly <0.5w standby state. 5 preset buttons are included along with a shift button which when pressed allows you to access preset 6-10 from the front panel. Next to these is the display, and to the right of this are the band, auto tune, select, – and + buttons. It’s that simple!
The rear panel features a wealth of connectivity – separate connections for FM, AM and DAB are catered for, as well as a standard IEC mains socket. The tuner also has RS-232C, IR, and control bus ports for use in custom installations, or to integrate the tuner into a full Cambridge Audio system. There's a standard set of RCA outputs for connection to your amplifier.
So, most importantly, how does it sound?
The dab portion of the 651T features a Wolfson WM8740 24-bit digital to analogue converter (DAC). Unlike some dab tuners that sound very closed and dull, the 651T has a very open, slightly warm presentation. You can’t expect perfect cd-quality audio from any dab tuner – the overall quality depends on the station selected and their methods for compression. However, the 651T makes even the highly compressed stations listenable. It’s a pleasant listen.
The analogue bands sounds just as good. The AM could do with being a little more wide-band, however it’s perfectly listenable. I also liked how there was no jump when pressing the +/- buttons to tune through frequencies on the analogue bands – it was just like turning an analogue dial, and made the tuning process much more enjoyable. The analogue bands also support auto tuning – holding the + or – buttons will automatically search for the next or previous station with a strong signal.
In summary – the tuner is a pleasure to use, and sounds great. If you’re looking for a decent tuner for your hi-fi system and you’re serious about radio listening, this is the tuner to get. Install some decent outdoor antennas, and enjoy the music!