AKAI AT-93: A Classy Tuner

Submitted on: 14 Feb 23

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Category: HiFi - other

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During my HiFi career, I wrote very little about tuners as I somehow didn’t like it because I had very little confidence in the signal source – local radio stations. And when you don’t have control over the source and your system, the results can vary greatly.

But it’s not that I didn’t have good (some would say top-notch) tuners: Philips 673, Grundig T6000 and T9000, Onkyo T9900 and T9990, Revox 76, Sony ST-SA3ES and 5ES, Hitachi FT-5500 Mk2, Pioneer FT-90 and FT-91, and who knows how many more, I can’t even remember anymore.

I hadn’t had a tuner in my system for a long time, but a few days ago, I came into possession of a very interesting machine: Akai AT-93.

This device is rare and quite unknown here. It should be the best tuner Akai ever made.

It seems to me that in the late eighties and early nineties of the last century, when the crisis was seriously shaking the windows of HiFi manufacturers, some of them came out with great components on the market, but the focus was already on home theaters, which marketing pushed as the ultimate audio solution for both watching movies and listening to music, so who cares about stereo? Completely incorrect, as it turned out.

At that time, things weren’t going well for Akai already, but I think they had a great team of engineers who relied on the company’s previous achievements. So they produced some great components in the mentioned series: the AM95 amplifier, CD73 player, GX95 deck, and AT93 tuner.

The tuner I’m talking about appeared in 1988 at a not-so-small price of 1,000 German marks, which is about 500 EUR, in the price range of the best Sonys, but cheaper than Onkyo T9990 (1,600 DEM) or Grundig T9000 (even 1,800 DEM).

However, Akai did a serious job: the AT93 is a great tuner that is hard to find fault with. Similar to the Akai GX-95/75 decks that engineers tried to make the best in their price range. And they succeeded, using audiophile tricks that are rarely encountered on tuners.

Some of the FM characteristics of the AT-93 are, at least on paper, fascinating.

Some of them are:

  • Quality electrolytic capacitors for audio applications.
  • Power supply section with stabilization specifically for the receiving (front end) and output audio sections.
  • FETs providing stable current supply with Zener diodes in the voltage stabilization section.
  • Fast recovery diodes in the power supply section. I remember when I installed them in Philips CD304 and some other players :), a popular tweak at the time.
  • Complete DC construction of the output section, therefore without coupling electrolytes.
  • Discrete output section: completely done using transistors – even expensive tuners mass-produced cheap operational amplifiers at the output.
  • LEDs in the output section, because they have less noise.
  • Micro relay at the output instead of signal cutoff transistors (mute transistors).

I can say that the engineers really made an effort, and I’ve seen some solutions on GX95/75 decks.

The quality of the casing, including the lid, is excellent. The tuner has two FM antenna inputs that overlap with a relay. The display is a mixture of LEDs in front of which there are transparent marks that light up when the function is active, and the rest is a vacuum display with standard information: frequency, whether the station is “targeted”, the scanning status of the frequency, range, and stereo indicator. There’s no RDS, and newer tuners make this AT-93 seem somewhat outdated. But I’m not into modes other than the station name, the AT-93 has everything it needs.

In addition to the standard functions, the one marked “Blend” is interesting, which, in addition to stereo and mono mode, has two more levels where any noise from weak stations is reduced at the expense of partial reduction in stereo separation.

All functions can be manually adjusted, while in automatic mode, the tuner does it itself, and I noticed, does it excellently. It compares the signal on both antenna inputs and chooses the better one, then adjusts the other parameters by itself. Some other tuners work similarly.

The memory has a total of 20 for all frequency ranges, and the last three are intended for use with the timer – I won’t go into detail because few people use that today.

The ergonomics of the AT-93 are quite good, and using it is quickly and easily learned.


Akai AT-93 internally

Apart from the power supply section, which heats up a bit more, there are generally no flaws with the AT-93. The attention to detail with which the engineers designed it is commendable: solid electrolytics and LEDs where their use will be felt due to the lower noise they bring. I was impressed by the output section: with almost all tuners I’ve owned, the output section is in the category of a simple headphone amplifier on cassette decks: one cheap operational amplifier, two transistors for muting, and that’s it. However, with the Akai AT-93, it’s different: there are as many as 10 transistors per channel, without operational amplifiers, and with one 4066 chip that switches which frequency range and part of the tuner is active – this chip can be replaced with something even better, such as MAX4066, for example. The output section of the AT-93 is several times larger than that of standard tuners.

At the very end is a micro-relay that turns off the outputs, instead of the mute transistors most commonly used.

All in all, great.


Sound and conclusion

In most cases, it’s difficult to determine the sound quality of a radio receiver on today’s Serbian FM stations. But with a little effort, everything can, and even nice things can be heard, for example, on Radio Belgrade 1 or the popular dvestadvojka.

Akai AT-93 wasn’t the top tuner of this company for no reason: the noise level is really low, but what surprised me is the detail that is hard to achieve with such a level of finesse. Namely, the AT-93 reproduces the notes themselves and their note endings in a way that I didn’t expect to hear from a tuner, with ease and precision yet unobtrusive and transparent. And, above all, natural. The bass is good, it has extension and punch. The dynamics, for a tuner, are quite good. One wouldn’t even think it’s a tuner. I remember quite well the sound of other top tuners I’ve had the opportunity to hear, and personally, I think this Akai belongs in that top category, but it’s far less known than its cassette and reel-to-reel brothers, and even than CD players and amplifiers with the Akai badge. For some reason, it eluded enthusiasts, but it’s definitely a great device.

I somehow truly regret that today the FM area is used only in cars and casually. The Akai AT-93 is a true example of what a good FM tuner can and should do, and that is to be an equal HiFi component.


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