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Reviewer: John Potis
Review component retail: $299 in matte finish, $350 in high gloss Cherry

I love radios. As an avid news and talk-radio junkie, I've got radios all over the place. I can walk around the house and never be out of earshot of a radio to never miss a word of dialog. And as an audio reviewer, sometimes it's just nice to flip on a radio for some music and flip off all issues of sound quality. Such has been the case with my Tivoli PAL radio for what must be going on three years now. I keep it by my side at the computer and often have it playing as I write. It's small, easy to use and doesn't clutter up the room. It also sounds much bigger than it has any right to with its tiny three-inch speaker. But only since I brought in the Quest 601P Classic Radio did I realize just how bad it really sounds.

As the importer of the Opera Consonance lines of tube and solid-state components, I can't imagine that many readers wouldn't know Quest For Sound's Stephen Monte by now, the man behind the Quest line of table radios. However, the Quest R601P tube radio is not an Opera collaboration but rather one with Chinese manufacturer V.A.L. Audio. Sez Monte, "I met V.A.L. Audio through Opera at the CES show 2 years ago. He told me he was making some amplified speakers with tubes. We started talking and I told him I was interested in antique tube radios and would love to have new production tube radios made that looked like old-style vintage radios but sounded superb! Well, one thing led to another and we communicated back and forth and here were are. And they did a superb job on these radios, far more than I expected for the cabinets in fact."

Superb indeed. Standing 8.5 inches high, 12 inches wide, about 8 inches deep and weighing a hefty 15 lbs (tubes and transformers, babe!), the Quest R601P is a much larger affair than any of the Tivolis I've seen and multiples of my PAL. With a larger 4-inch driver in a much larger enclosure, there's less magic involved in the Quest's elevated performance. It's bigger and it sounds bigger. Monte claims the shielded 4-inch speaker has a frequency response of 70Hz to 16kHz backed up by an amplifier response of 30Hz to 20kHz. The speaker is rated at 82.5dB and the amplifier at 10 watts.

What just may be as cool as the way the Quest R601P sounds is the way it looks. Actually, I think it looks even cooler. With a big back-lit dial, a magic eye tube that indicates signal tuning and a beautiful Cherry-finished MDF case, the R601P makes quite the statement. My optionally priced dark Cherry high-gloss loaner looked fabulous with a shiny finish that still leaves me scratching my head at this price. From the front panel, the user rotates one knob to turn the radio on and then adjust volume. The second knob selects between FM, AM and the auxiliary input located on the radio's rear. Turning to the R601's rear panel, one finds a perforated back that lends a peek at the glowing tubes and the fairly sizeable transformer inside. Tube compliment? Dual 6P14 triodes said to possess rich sound to do quite well with broadcast devices. A 6F2 is used as a rectifier.

A bit lower on the apron is the IEC power inlet. The included power cord has so much molded plug attached that scooting the radio right up against the wall isn't practical. I suspect this may not be entirely unintentional in that the tubes do generate a fair amount of heat within their small enclosure and some ventilation space is a good thing. Moving on, there are inputs for both the external AM and FM antenna, plus you can use the selector switches to opt for the internal antenna which I found to be sufficient for the stations I listen to regularly. There's also a 1/8-inch mini headphone plug that outputs stereo. An RCA record out jack is intended for connection to a small subwoofer if you insist though I do quite like the balance of the R601P as is. Lastly, there's the single auxiliary RCA input of dubious worth. Stereo versions of the Quest radios do add stereo inputs so I'm not sure what realistic value the mono input provides here.

In use, the Quest R601P was a complete joy and exceeded all my expectations. I've already commented on its looks but it bears repeating - this is a great looking radio. The Cherry is beautifully stained and finished and as the pictures will attest to, the chassis shows off a beautiful grain. Its sound is really good as well. It's bigger than my other radios and it sounds it. It offers more true bass than all the other radios in the house and its midrange performance stands alone as very open, clean and natural. There's some real treble, too. It won't stand comparison with the best tweeters around but it's nicely balanced and very musical. By a good measure it's the best table radio I've ever heard.

At twice the price of my PAL, the Quest R601P does lack the portability and rechargeable battery but in all other ways, it skunks the PAL. Where sound, looks and tuner performance are concerned, we're not even close to diminishing returns. The Quest R601P plays in a different league.

Its tuner picked up stations the Tivoli didn't even know existed. Selectivity and rejection were much better too. It separated out signal from clusters of distant stations in a way the Tivoli never will. It pretty much just ignored all interference and locked to the stations I wanted.

The Tivoli is a little radio that sounds much bigger than it is. Compared to the Quest R601P, however, its output is opaque, unbalanced and very muddy. The Quest R601P has a much more open and natural sounding midrange that not only trounces the PAL but sounds very good by any account. A side-by-side comparison of the radios illustrates that the Quest R601P isn't quite as warm as the PAL whose warmth comes at the hands of an elevated lower midrange that intrudes on its vocal clarity in a major way. The Quest R601P is much more transparent, detailed and open sounding. Its treble performance is also very good though not overdone enough to make weaker stations sound irritably sibilant. In other words, its sound is open, clean and friendly. It also plays much louder without distortion.

When Stephen Monte asked which of the Quest radios I'd like to take a look at, I asked for the least expensive in the line. There are several others including stereo models which are powered by EL84s - awfully chic for a table radio! Anyway, I'm glad I started at the bottom because if the baby of the line is this good and this much fun, the rest must be killer. If you're looking for a great radio with a way above average tuner that looks as good as it sounds, do yourself a favor and see if you can audition the Quest R601P. It's a seriously good component that will bring a level of performance I frankly never expected in a table radio. It may well have you scratching your head both over the level of quality and the performance for the dollar - as well as how it ever came to be that you settled for so much less until now. One thing's for sure though. You'll never settle again. Not at these prices.

Manufacturer's website

: On April 2 2011 reader Larry Benjamin wrote in: "Based on John's review I purchased a mono and stereo version. Got a good deal on two new ones off eBay from a dealer's close-out. It turns out they're a piece of shit. Both burned out after a couple months. Just got the stereo version repaired. After 6 hours—it was a pain in the ass to disassemble and diagnose—and $150 later the repairman said it came with EL84s. The tubes overheated and burned out, taking out some resistors with them. I was told the EL84s are not designed to work with those circuits. He replaced them with 6H15 tubes. Probably the same reason my mono version burned out. Please revise your review to warn people against buying this radio! I can't really blame John Potis since he didn't test it long enough for it to fail."