Reviewer: Mike Healey
Source: Audio Refinement CD player, Bel Canto Design DAC2, Technics turntable
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Refinement Complete integrated, BVaudio P1 preamplifier
Amp: BVaudio PA300 stereo amplifier
Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Haydn; Soliloquy Model 5.0 (for review)
Cables: Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables, Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects, Analysis Plus Digital Oval, 2 x Audio Magic Xstream power cables, 2 x Shunyata Research DiamondBack power cables
Stands: Sumiko Foster & Lowell Standards, Soliloquy speaker stands (for review), StudioTech Ultra 5-shelf audio rack
Powerline conditioning: Shunyata Guardian 4-HT
Sundry accessories: Cardas Signature RCA caps, Bybee Plug & Play speaker purifiers (for review)
Room size: 11' x 17' with 9' vaulted ceilings
Review component retail: $850

I needed a change in my life. I wanted to get back to the source. Not the source that Wayne Dyer talks about (and even sits on) in his latest self-help video, but actual source components. No matter how many tweaks or fancy cables we add to our systems, we still have to use the source. And if the source is not strong in your system, a Jedi master you will not be. So I requested the Creek T50 AM/FM tuner with RDS and the Goldring GR-1 turntable (review forthcoming) from Music Hall Audio. Surely two sources are better than one? The shipping box for the Creek Audio T50 contained one tuner, one SRC-1 remote control, two AAA batteries, one power cable, one set of spindly R/L interconnects, one thin wire
to be used as an AM antenna, and one owner's manual and registration card. The owner's manual includes the specifications for the tuner, which are also available on the Creek website. The Creek T50 has a handsome silver-brushed aluminum faceplate with one power button, six buttons for tuning/presets, one digital tuning knob and a vacuum fluorescent display. The T50 weighs around 10 lbs. and is small enough to make my diminutive Home Essentials audio rack seem roomy (Attention Kmart shoppers: Mine was on sale for $15). The back panel is efficiently arranged as well, with one set each of inputs and outputs and multiple antenna connections: Coax FM input, 75-ohm and 300-ohm wire FM inputs and wire AM inputs.

Set up is very simple: 1) Plug in the supplied power cable, 2) connect the supplied spindly RCA interconnects from the tuner to your preamp/integrated amp, 3) connect AM and FM antennae (the receiver comes with a wire AM antenna, you'll have to source your own FM antenna), 4) drop batteries in the remote control, 5) flip the power switch on the back of the tuner, 6) press the power button on the front of the tuner, 7) set your preamp to run the tuner signal through your speakers, and 8) begin reading instructions if you haven't already.

The instructions are particularly important to glean some understanding of setting the presets and using the remote. I had to re-read the sparse instructions on setting and scanning through preset stations. You can store up to 29 AM stations and 99 FM stations - which should be enough for even the most cosmopolitan audiophile! The remote control is large, but light as a feather compared with the bulky aluminum remote from my Audio Refinement Complete integrated. The Creek remote looks simple enough; however, it covers an entire suite of Creek products that I do not have. I found it distracting considering that I only used the Up and Down buttons to scan through stations. At least all the remote control buttons related to the tuner are British racing green in color.

Because I move components around a lot, I frequently turn the power on and off in my system and, I confess, I sometimes forget to turn off the power switch in the back of the tuner before unplugging it from the wall. When the tuner was plugged in again (with the rear switch still On), it displayed the last station selected and was not in stand-by. I had to press the front power button to put the tuner in stand-by and stop the music signal. This was not a problem for me, but I am mentioning it to prevent a new user from sending an unwanted signal through their speakers. I'm thinking of those late night listening sessions over beer when a component is switched out but the volume is still set pretty loud so when the amps are turned on: Whammo!

I was thrilled to see that the T50 has a tuning knob. Ergonomically, knobs are much easier for me to use than pressing and holding down a button to tune in a different station. Big hands + tiny buttons = disaster. My parents used to have an old Scott receiver with a heavy tuning knob. As a kid, I pretended to be a safe-cracker, tuning in just the right frequency to open the safe. The knob on the T50 has a nice feel and turns in detents without clicking. Each detent is a decimal on the tuning frequency. Because I'm old school, I used the knob. I also take notes with paper and pen. For those so inclined, the T50 also has up/down tuning buttons which are large enough for people with big hands. Also, using the up and down buttons on the faceplate or the remote will scan all the way through the frequency spectrum and start over again automatically; however, the tuning knob can only
scroll from the highest frequency to the lowest, and vice-versa. This wasn't a problem, just something else I noticed.

The display was easy to understand and was legible from my futon 9' away. The display has two settings: Dim when the tuner hasn't found the optimal setting for the station; and bright when the tuner is locked into the station. The tuner can also tell you to tune up or tune down to get the strongest signal strength. The display shows two lines (- -) once a station is tuned properly. The T50 also has RDS text messaging which displays the station call letters and frequency (i.e. WCPE 89.7). Some stations also broadcast slogans or the titles of the songs they are playing. The additional text messages can be distracting as they scroll repeatedly throughout the entire song, and I even noticed some misspellings. However, my wife and daughter both enjoyed this feature, so maybe I'm just being a grump.

If you want the best performance from the T50, you must get a decent antenna. However, you don't have to spend a lot for good reception. How distant you are from your favorite stations will determine the type of antenna you need. Some people swear by dipoles, others use powered antennae; still others get good results after spending $100 on a whip antenna. Art Dudley in Stereophile recently recommended a Yagi antenna from Radio Shack. What's a Yagi? Well, after looking it up in the dictionary and running a Google search, I found that Hidetsugu Yagi was an electrical engineer who invented the directional antenna. The Yagi antenna is like the old TV antennas people used to attach to their chimneys. Radio Shack has one for less than $25. If I owned a quality tuner like the T50, I'd get a Yagi. The antenna should be placed either in the attic or on the roof, and you may have to rotate it to improve reception. For this review, I used an old $10 RCA antenna that was originally connected to my TV (ours is a cable/satellite-free home). I placed my antenna on top of a spare speaker stand where it was easy to rotate for better reception.

Be sure to properly ground any antenna mounted on a roof or in the attic! It figures that I would ask for the Creek T50 when the hurricane season in North Carolina had an early start. There were also quite a few thunderstorms this summer. Extreme audiophiles may get a thrill by connecting their most costly components to what amounts to a large lightning receptor. Personally, I just disconnected and reconnected the antenna a lot. What, me paranoid? You bet.

For those so inclined, the T50 can be tweaked. Aside from replacing the feet or arranging your love beads on top of the tuner (no, I have not tried this), you can add your own power cable and interconnects. I exchanged the stock cables with the affordable Audio Magic Xstream power cable ($99) and the Audience Conductor interconnects (prices starting at $146/pair). Spending less than $300 for an antenna, power cable, interconnects and a cheap coax cable (our local Dollar Store has a supply costing $1 each) is not exorbitant and justified by the improvement in sound. To my ears, the tweaking further refined the sound of the T50 without hampering its musical strengths. The T50 is like a pug dog you can pamper without spoiling it rotten.