VHF/FM radio offers great sound quality, in technical terms close to that of CD. In practice, sound quality from live broadcasts and studio transmissions can be as good as home hi-fi gets and VHF/FM, an old analogue technology, remains embarrassingly good, frustrating attempts to replace it by digital transmissions. Our measurements clearly show why.


We use a range of conventional measurements, applied with sophisticated test equipment. Our quality benchmark, an Hitachi FT-5500 MkII from the early 1980s, whose performance is used as a quality guide for reviews in the magazine, shows just how good VHF/FM can be. Modern VHF tuners fall short of its performance, as radio goes out of fashion and sales dwindle. However, the bought-in modules and parts available at present still offer very good results. It is important to use both measurement and listening tests to assess this. The Hitachi, for example, measures superbly but sound quality was hampered by mediocre analogue stages. It's the best measuring tuner, but not the best sounding one.



Hitachi FT-5500 MkII tuner is a benchmark for tuner measured performance.

Sound quality, sensitivity and selectivity are all greatly improved by the use of a good, directional aerial. Fed a strong enough signal VHF tuners do not hiss; they are silent. The difficulty is that 1mV is needed and is most locations this will only be available from an outdoor aerial, pointed at a transmitter no more than 30 miles away. It is well worth the cost of having one installed, even for the VHF section within AV receivers, which can be of good quality. Given enough signal – our measurements reveal how much is needed for 'full quieting' – a good VHF/FM tuner offers a transparent window to the studio and will provide superb sound quality and great entertainment.



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