At no previous time in broadcast history has the need for excellent FM tuners been greater. With the build-out of the FM band, close frequency spacing and adjacent channel interference have resulted in a crowded, noisy band that challenges receivers. Ironically, until recent years, the quality of available FM receivers had been declining while the FM band itself became more crowded and noisy. Arguably the best tuner one could buy in terms of reception performance at one point was the Sony XDR-F1HD, an unassuming little $100 consumer box with astounding FM performance that was only in production for a short period of time. Good tuner options were limited to scouring eBay for these Sony tuners or vintage analog tuners.
Fortunately, all of that has changed. A new generation of tuners based on software-defined radio technology have exceeded the best vintage tuners in terms of reception performance through the use of powerful digital signal processing. These processors-as-radio-receivers put the FM/AM front ends, tuning synthesizer, channel filtering, FM multipath improvement, demodulation, FM stereo decoding, weak signal processing, noise blanking and RDS on an integrated device and have achieved amazing performance.
"...the quality of available FM receivers had been declining while the FM band itself became more crowded and noisy."
As the broadcast engineer for Northern Community Radio, I run a small network of two full-power FM stations (KAXE and KBXE) and two translators which rebroadcast the KAXE signal (delivered over-the-air via FM receiver) from 73 and 90 miles away respectively. In addition, I use a signal received over-the-air from 85-miles away an STL backup for KBXE. My motivation to find and use the best FM tuner is high and I had the opportunity to test the Inovonics Aaron 650 FM Rebroadcast Receiver, a feature-laden model upgrade from the base Aaron 640. Inovonics’ website has an excellent model comparison chart between the two models.