An A-Shopper Review


The Dynaco (Tube) Tuner FM-3:
An Inexpensive Pleasure



Often times we forget that of all the audio components, the lowly tuner poses the largest source of musical learning experience. Yet, it is the most neglected. How many audio enthusiasts lavish as much care in buying a tuner as they would on their other components? Not many. This writer spent several months with the FM-3, and it opened my ears to the simple (and inexpensive) joy of listening to the diverse repertoire of musical material available through the FM waves. Come back to simple listening pleasures.

Brief Description

Dynaco is a household name often associated with tube audio made for end user assembly. The company manufactured a complete product line, many of which can be found occasionally in the used audio market. The company's products still attract a loyal following even after four decades since their genesis. Examples of their products are the ubiquitous (and recently revived) Stereo 70 amp, Mark III and IV mono amps, and the PAS preamplifier series. David Hafler was lionized by the products he created then, and this contributed to his success when he returned to the audio scene in the late 70's with the Hafler line of audio components.

The FM-3 is an FM only tuner using a complement of eleven tubes. Its dimensions are 4 x 13 1/2 x 8". The unit sports a silver gray faceplate and very simple clean lines with angled top and bottom edges similar to their PAS preamps. The Dyna insignia in aqua is screened on the top left hand corner. The brass tuning knob is on the middle right side. On the middle left is the volume control also in brass, with the off on slide switch directly underneath. The back panel has the output jacks, one electric outlet, fuse holder, and three antenna input screws. Overall, the package reflects the typical Dynaco look of utilitarian simplicity. The illuminated signal strength and frequency indicator are color coordinated with the Dyna insignia and provide a nice accent, especially in the dark.

Provenance

The particular unit under review (Serial no. 9342827) was acquired from Chimera Labs, a used audio outlet specializing in tube components. The owners were then getting rid of their inventory to finance a foray into tube amplifier design and manufacturing. The FM-3 that I purchased from these gentlemen is a factory assembled unit with all original tubes and no modifications. It was the second component in my incipient attempt to rebuild my system. My thinking then was that having always heard music through transistor tuners I should try at least try a tube unit to find out if there is audible difference.

There is a difference

The following equipment were used to evaluate the FM-3: Magnum Silver Ribbon Antenna, Audible Illusions Modulus 3 tube preamplifier, Classe' DR-9 amp, all connected through an Inouye power conditioner, Sound Dynamics 300Ti Speakers with Sound Anchor stands, Kimber 8TC speaker cables and MIT interconnects. I've had these components for several months so I can quickly perceive differences when other components are introduced.

Prior to evaluating the unit, I had the entire system playing for about two to three hours before any serious listening. In this instance, I simply had the tuner turned on to my favorite station as it was warming up. In reviewing equipment, I first look at the whole or macro level performance of the unit and then scrutinize the relationship of the parts to the whole. In addition, because a tuner should also be able to pull in radio signals, I listened to various rock, country, and classical radio stations within the Dallas Metroplex.

Previous to this, I have owned seven transistor tuners from Technics (two from these guys), Yamaha, NAD, Pioneer, Kenwood and Nikko. Most of these transistor tuners, I recall, were afflicted with a steely quality. On some of these in fact, one would clearly notice the sibilance and the constant sizzle of the cymbals. It's a matter of degree really. At its worst the highs can become irritating. As I mentioned before, I am very sensitive to sibilance and over emphasized highs.

Pleasantly, the FM-3 does not possess any of these irritating signatures. Like its glowing brethren, it rounds out the sharp edges. More important, it retrieves the dimensions--the body if you will--that is often missing from music amplified by other tuners. Mind you, it is not equivalent to a direct feed from a record player since there isn't much of depth to begin with; nevertheless, a good enough semblance is recreated so the mind doesn't have to work as hard to appreciate the perception. It gets the midrange right as well. Because of these sterling musical qualities, listening becomes a more enjoyable and soothing experience. I was content enough to listen several hours a day via the FM-3.

Where are the weak spots?

The FM-3 has several as a matter of fact. First, it does not have the convenient features that go along with tuners of recent manufacture. You get no remote, preset memory, mute, timer, and other bells and whistles. You're talking austerity here, only the things necessary to get the job done right. Nothing extra. Second, it could do much better in the terms of clarity. While magical in the midrange, it does not retrieve as much detail as it should, especially in the high and low frequency ranges. It is subtractive. Third, It's bottom end is a bit loose and could sound a bit tubby on some systems. Four, it does not pull in as many stations as its newer counterparts. This is its biggest flaw, if one wants a truly outstanding signal retriever.

Another Caveat

Tubes deteriorate over time. Mine did after providing me ten-hour daily service for seven months. But remember, these units were manufactured in the 1960s and early 70s. While somewhat disappointed, I wasn't really surprised. It's something one expects with tube equipment. An acquaintance has had his FM-3 for several years and it still works beautifully. I subsequently also bought that to compare with my unit and, just recently, sold it.

Conclusion

The Dyna FM-3 is one of those rare inexpensive tuners that is both musical and cheap. It can be had from $40 to $100 tops, depending upon its condition. It certainly will not play forever. It doesn't have the bells and whistles. It is picky about the stations that it will select. On the other hand, it plays great MUSIC all the time. At those prices, especially at the lower end of the range, one should consider this tuner a throwaway bargain. The FM-3 rates 2 clefs (out of a maximum of 5).

by Rome Castellanes


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