Carver TX-11 (1983, $600/orig $550, photo) search eBay
The TX-11 was a favorite of some DXers in the '80s (here's a 1983 review) and had a reputation for being very quiet in mono on weak signals. Back then, very few knew about filter modifications, and a tuner with great adjacent channel rejection was a revelation (until the Onkyo T-9090 came out in 1984, the McIntosh MR 78 was about the only other option for DXers). Although there are always those with differing opinions, the majority now find the TX-11 mediocre-sounding or worse in stereo, with poor separation. Our contributor John V. adds that the TX-11 has "fair to decent bass, but the top end sorta sizzles - no real extension or details." Our own view is that most good vintage tuners are only one or two narrow filters away from being as good as, or better than the TX-11 for DXing, while also satisfying audiophiles. As to the possibility of modifying a TX-11 for improved sound, our DIY audiophile panelist Jim owned one for awhile, but "wasn't impressed with the sound and looking in on those multi-tiered boards of digital madness made me back off trying to improve anything." Our contributor Girard, the proprietor of the DXFM website, likes the Denon TU-1500RD and Onkyo T-9090II for DXing but says, "I think the worst of the 'big name' tuners I tested here was the Carver TX-11. It has great specs when connected to a communications analyzer, but it sure went to H*** when exposed to the signal levels I have at this location." DXer Bill N. says, "The TX-11 was a great DX tuner for its time except that it had a really funky echo when making stereo signals sound static-free. The tuner itself was very sensitive and OK for overload (not great) and so-so for selectivity unless you replaced most of the filters. Problem was that replacing the filters made the S-meter useless (it always showed full scale or close to it). Also, it had a ton of front-panel presets. I sold mine when I moved under the transmitters in Hartford as it just couldn't handle the overload." Our contributor Richie points out that the U.S. version he owns has larger, easier-to-see LED lamps than his Japanese model, and the U.S. version's sensitivity is better. The TX-11 usually sells for anywhere from $60-150 on eBay, but even lower is possible (the all-time low is $32 in 9/05). The recent high was an inexplicable $229 in 2/06, so apparently not everyone has read this review. Someone paid $256 for a mint one in 10/03, and one poor guy paid $375 for one in 4/02 that had a sticker on the box that said: "Latest Circuit Refinements. All Sonic Improvements." What does that say about the audio quality of an "unimproved" TX-11? [EH][JR]
Carver TX-11a (1986, $730, photo) search eBay and
Carver TX-11b (1989, $800, photo) search eBay
These pricier successors to the TX-11, both of which are among the few tuners with AM stereo capability, apparently featured improved sonics on FM as well. Our contributor Noel reports: "I talked to the Carver people about the differences between the various TX-11s. They said forget the TX-11, Carver put a lot more in the audio stages in the TX-11a, and really put all they had in the TX-11b." Our contributor Lance says, "I was shocked at how much better my Carver TX-11a sounds/receives compared to the Nakamichi ST-7." Our contributor Richie, who wanted to listen to a noisy weak station, adds: "I sold my [Sansui] TU-919 and got a mint condition TX-11a. What a difference. It pulled in that station nearly noise-free and when pressing in the multipath noise limiter it's as clean as new linen, without killing the stereo separation. It's one quiet tuner and it looks good too. Critics say the sound is mediocre -- I say it sounds great and crisp." John Byrns says, "The AM reception of the MCS 3050 is better than the TX-11a - it doesn't have the high noise level of the TX-11a. Unfortunately, the sound of the MCS 3050 is very gritty and sibilant on both AM and FM, while the sound of the TX-11a is undistorted save for the background hiss." The TX-11a can sell for under $150 (with a low of $91 in 11/05) to way over $300 ($400 in 7/03 and $368 in 5/04) on eBay. The similar-looking TX-11b usually sells for $260 to around $400 on eBay, but seems to provoke bizarre behavior in naive bidders: three spendthrifts ran up the price of a TX-11b in a sealed box from $300 to $960 in 11/03, and in 1/04, two nuts ran up the price of an average TX-11b from $333 to $605 and two more chased each other from $309 all the way to $775. See how one TX-11b sounded compared to many top tuners on our shootout below:
Shootout #46 (posted 08/04/03): Kenwood L-02T vs. Carver TX-11b
I've been sailing on the audio seas longer than I realized. I first jumped in the water with a Sansui tube receiver purchased while in the Air Force in 1967. Two transistor receivers later, sometime in the '80s, I reached for that lifeboat called high-end audio. Two waterlogged old memories came to mind when I put this Carver in my system. Twenty or so years ago, I saw my first TX-11 and heard Magnaplanars for the first time. Back then, neither was in the budget for this sailor, but things changed as my thirst grew. Since then, I've owned and loved Maggies but wasn't as impressed with a Carver TX-11 that drifted my way. I first sat down and listened to this TX-11b solo and was rewarded with punchy bass and pleasant, articulate mids and highs. When A/B tested against the L-02T, it became clear that the TX-11b's bass wasn't as full or deep, so no new scuttlebutt there. The midrange and highs still brought a smile and I had to finally admit that this was a much better-sounding tuner than the original TX-11 (at least the one I owned). The TX-11b images very well and though the mids and highs were a touch lighter than the L-02T's, they were pleasant and nice on the ears. The soundstage through the Carver was flatter and it didn't give the holographic sonic presentation of the Kenwood. Sorry for the bad pun, Mr. Carver.
DX tests started at 88.7, KTCU, with both tuners in narrow. Here both tuners had good to fair signals but when switched to wide, the TX-11b lost the battle. Swinging the antenna to the east proved the L-02T capable of capturing KTCU's signal from the west but the TX-11b chose to jump ship and swim to 88.5's stronger signal, almost drowning in a sea of noise instead. Our other weak neighbor, 88.9, was a more friendly port in the storm as both tuners were able to capture and hold their signals under the cloudy and rainy conditions of the day. I must close this review with a tour of AM stereo, a rickety lifeboat, IMO. This is the first time I remember listening to AM stereo. The Carver manual says to keep AM de-emphasis switched on and, after listening to it both ways, I agree. It was interesting and strange to listen to AM in stereo. While interesting, it still sounds like AM, well, better AM or maybe really bad FM. I found two stereo stations, 770 KAAM which played many songs so old they were obviously "electronically reprocessed for stereo" (remember those?) and 620 KMKI, Disney radio. The winner for everything but AM Stereo? The L-02T.
Source of reviews: http://www.fmtunerinfo.com
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