Sony ST-SA50ES. larger.
Sony ST-SA50ES. larger. (two FM antenna inputs with switchable RF attenuators, dual FM IF, about $175 used). bigger. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
Performance and Operation top
The Sony ST-SA50ES is a very good AM/FM tuner from about 2000. Its signal to noise specification is extraordinary: 86 dB in stereo, and 95 dB in mono! It even has a signal strength meter that reads directly from 16 dBµV to 70 dBµV.
On FM, it offers dual antenna inputs, two IF bandwidths and a switchable RF attenuator for serious listeners. It uses a 6-gang varactor tuner.
The dual IF bandwidths let you optimize either ultimate fidelity, or greatly improve selectivity as needed.
Two antenna inputs let you skip an antenna rotator, and instead have each antenna pointed in a different direction for different stations.
FM has no RDS.
AM is only mono, with no adjustments. It comes with a very nice 10.5 x 5" loop antenna with 10 feet of coax, which is too bad because strong signals (above about 8 on its meter) lead to audible distortion. Sadly, the AM section needs an RF attenuator, but has none.
The preset memories (four banks of ten each) each remembers which band (AM or FM), which antenna, which IF bandwidth and the RF attenuator position for each station.
There is plenty of ability to program station names, but only computer programmers will figure it out.
As the photo shows, the buttons are impossible to read except in broad daylight.
The tuning knob rotates freely without damping and without clicks. I prefer Chrysler car radios of the 1990s which had clicks in their tuning knobs, this thing is better than up/down pushbuttons, but not by much.
There is no conventional auto scan function. You can scan to the next station manually, and you can let it program all the presets for you automatically, but no way to let it run and let you stop it when you get to a good station.
You can set all the reception options yourself, or tap the ASM button to let the ST-SA50ES optimize reception for you.
ASM stands for Active Selection Mode. It selects the best antenna attenuator (ANT ATT), intermediate frequency bandwidth (IF BAND), and FM MODE (Mono or Stereo) settings for each frequency automatically.
With ASM active, it takes a few seconds each time you recall a preset because it takes a few seconds for it to optimize itself. This is bad for fast scanning.
The case and knob are all-metal, but the inside of the box is mostly air. Let's face it, good FM stereo radios today take up less space than a pencil eraser in an iPod nano, so even a tuner this advanced needs very little space. This isn't the 1970s any more; we no longer need all the room for the mechanical tuning capacitors and so forth of the Kenwood KT-917 to get similar performance. In fact, this modern tuner sounds much better than my KT-917 on real signals!
This Sony ST-SA50ES sounds great, even with a crummy antenna. It has superb channel separation, and better rejection of multipath distortion than my KT-917.
This ST-SA50ES is superb for listening to your favorite known stations, but even with a tuning knob, still a pain for just tuning around to see what's out there.
Ergonomically, this tuner requires a programmer to understand it, which is most of you guys reading this
The polarized power cord is unusually flexible. Styling is a subtler version of the SCD-XA777ES.
The biggest negative of this tuner, at least for a radio engineer like myself, is that the signal strength meter goes away a few seconds after it's tuned in.
While tuning, you'll see the signal strength bar graph for a few seconds:
Sony ST-SA50ES, showing signal strength meter while tuned. larger.
And after it's tuned, the bar graph goes away as shown at the top.
The good news is that there is a special display that reads directly in dBµV:
Sony ST-SA50ES, showing signal strength meter while tuned. larger.
This signal display is easy to call up by pressing the DISPLAY button and it stays on, but it has no frequency display.
Sony really taunts us with the options of FULL or SIMPLIFIED display, and DIM or BRIGHT, but even in FULL, the bar graph extinguishes in a few moments after tuned.
The FM Mode manually selects stereo, mono, or high-blend. With all the smarts in this tuner, it isn't smart enough to select blend automatically.
Sony claims with the 0-9 buttons we can dial frequencies directly, but even with the users manual, I can't figure it out. On my Mercedes, just hit *937 for 93.7 FM, for instance; on this Sony, who know?
It tunes in 100 kHz steps, which are too wide to be useful for notching-out interference, so I wish it just jumped in standard 200 kHz steps to stay on-channel.
The Auto Store modes don't work as advertised. Even if I selected 70 dB minimum signal strength, it stores everything.
This ST-TA50ES replaced the previous year's ST-TA5ES.
This ST-TA50ES was Sony's last attempt at a serious home tuner.
The older ST-TA5ES tuner is inferior, and also uses more power so it needs ventilation slats along the top rear, meaning that if you buy an ST-TA5ES, it is quite likely that there's all sorts of dust inside clogging its works. With this newer ST-TA50ES, the case is sealed against dust.
Even in 2003, radio had been dead as a serious listening medium for quite a few years. From the 1920s until the early 1980s, radio was always the highest-fidelity consumer audio format available at home, but today, Compact Discs, iPods and Internet radio do what radio always did, but better, at home.
Getting Great FM Sound
This tuner sounds smooth, clear and clean, giving exactly what's fed into it. If you want great sound, more important than your choice of tuner is your ability to use a proper directional antenna on top of your roof, and your choice of station that broadcasts a good signal.
I used to earn my living as an FM radio broadcast engineer, and unknown to most people is that most FM stations broadcast crappy audio, compressed and clipped to beyond all recognition to sound louder than the stations next to it. On top of this, the audio is coming off of nasty automation systems that use all sorts of nasty data compression, and then this audio is passed through two dozen encode/decode stages before it gets to the exciter to get to the transmitter to get to you.
If you think you're going to hear subtle things like differences in soundstages and instrumental timbres between different tuners while listening to popular stations, think again. Very few stations broadcast anything worth hearing today. In Santa Barbara, KDB 93.7 is one of the few real stations left.
While this tuner works great with the crappy dipole antenna with which it ships or indoor antennas, that's not how to get great sound out of a tuner.
Serious listeners use directional antennas mounted as high as possible on their roof, and use an antenna rotor to point the antenna in the best direction for each station. Directional antennas increase the strength of the signal by 10 - 20 dB, and more importantly, reduce the level of competing stations, multipath and interference greatly.
Two 75Ω F-connector inputs.
87.5 ~ 108.0 MHz in 100 kHz steps.
10.7 MHz IF.
Signal strength meter reads from 16 to 70 dBµV in 1 dB steps.
10.3 dBf (0.9 µV) sensitivity for 26 dB quieting, mono.
38.5 dBf (23 µV) sensitivity for 46 dB quieting, stereo.
Signal-to-noise ratio at 40 kHz deviation: 95 dB mono; 86 dB stereo (that's 100 dB mono, 91 dB stereo at 75 kHz deviation, the US broadcast standard).
Frequency response: 15 Hz ~ 15 kHz ±0.2 dB.
0.008% THD (mono) and 0.02% (stereo), WIDE IF.
0.04% THD (mono) and 0.07% (stereo), NARROW IF.
65 dB separation at 1 kHz.
70 dB at 300 kHz selectivity at NARROW IF.
90 dB at 400 kHz selectivity at NARROW IF.
45 dB at 300 kHz selectivity at WIDE IF.
80 dB at 400 kHz selectivity at WIDE IF.
600 mV output at 40 kHz deviation (1.125 V at 75 kHz deviation).
Pair of spring-clips for antenna input.
530 ~ 1,710 kHz in 10 kHz steps.
450 kHz IF.
Signal strength meter reads from 0 to 10 arbitrary steps.
200 µV/m usable sensitivity with included antenna.
54 dB SNR at 50 mV/m at 1050 kHz.
0.3% THD at 50 mV/m at 400 Hz.
50 dB selectivity.
Each preset can be AM or FM.
Four banks (A, B C and D), each with 10 (1-0).
Each recalls all the tuner settings: Band, A/B Antenna, IF bandwidth, RF attenuation, FM stereo mode, etc.
RCA stereo pair.
13 watts, rated.
9.35 watts, measured, FM, dim display.
9.55 watts, measured, FM, bright display.
7.65 watts, AM, dim display.
7.75 watts, AM, bright display.
17 x 3-1/4 x 12-3/4 inches WHD, excluding projections.
17 x 3-7/8 x 14-1/4 inches WHD, including connectors, knobs and feet.
Made in Japan.
Anti-resonant aluminum front panel.
Off-center insulator feet.
Preset Station Naming: up to 8 characters for each preset.
Infrared receiver to select presets selected from a compatible Sony remote control.
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