Fixup.net's Modded Sony SRF-M35: A Review
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Matt

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I've just today received my fixup.net-modded Sony SRF-M35 portable radio and I would like to share, for anyone's future reference, what it sounds like.

All comparisons in this review will be against my current home rig and all of the headphones I've previously owned. That's how good this unit is. I've heard my father's Rotel AM/FM receiver in his hi-fi system, and though I do recall being quite pleasantly pleased with the sound, I wasn't quite as impressed as this (naturally, this warrants a critical re-listening to the Rotel unit).

This review is preliminarily being done with the ultra-controversial Sony MDR-W07 ("POS VITEs"), but I will edit it tomorrow to include futher full review with some Sony MDR-V6's.

[small](Disclaimer for trainspotters: yes, the W07's have a rolled-off top end, an upper-midbass hump and a rolled-off extreme bottom end, however, they do offer astounding transparency for what they are and a full, expansive sound. They are perfectly capable of portraying a great soundstage with good instrumental separation, assuming a good source, they "do" instruments with disarming realism for what they are, etc.)[/small]

Prior to hearing this unit, I never would have thought that FM could sound this good or contain this much sonic information.

The fidelity is amazing from my local classical station, which I have toured. Though I only had a short while to look at their equipment, judging from what I saw and what I'm hearing, it's definitely top-notch.

The words coming to my mind are "lush, tubey, expansive, detailed, wide soundstage, euphonic, micro-details."

The next stop on the dial is my local "Greatest Hits of the Sixties and Seventies!" oldies station. The announcers voice is rich with the realistic, delicious timbre of his voice, mixed with an uncanny crystalline clarity. How neat. I'd expect this sort of sound from maybe a CD recorded in-studio and sent out to me, not the radio itself. Excellent.

Steve Miller Band, "The Joker." I've just had one of the famous "heard something I'd never heard before" moments. Steve rolls his r-r-r-r-r. Cymbal crashes float off into oblivion really well. Guitars sound pretty good. There is a definite sense of distance and soundstage going on with the wah-wah guitar solo. That is so neat, something I've never heard before on FM.

OK, on to the local Mindless Smoove Jazz station. Fidelity is about at audio-cassette level here. Also sounds rolled off at the top with a diminished soundstage. This watered down tripe deserves crap broadcast, anyways. No real magic here. Cymbals sound great, though, very nice before they're rolled off at the top...plenty of trailing-off.

Classic Rock station: Rolling Stones "Wild Horses." Extremely clean whilst also being very pleasing to listen to. Guitars sound great. Vocals are pretty damned present. There is again a solid, definite sense of distance to the distantly-mic'ed parts (in this case, the melodic guitar mixed in the middle). Again, the "little things" like the residual reverb to guitar twangs, cymbal trails, etc. are all intact. I'd go so far as to say this is solidly on par with some consumer crap CD portable, probably better in some areas.

Rap/R&B: the bass on this thing is stunning; deep and extended, much moreso than I'm even used to in my car, with a semi-decent, well amped system. Very smooth and rich, but clear like a CD. Rolled off at the top, but not too bad. Contributes to the euphonic sound, I suppose. This station has a very CD-like character to it's sound, you can tell it's CD-sourced, which is an interesting conclusion to be able to draw an FM broadcast.

The more I listen, the more this unit becomes a "consumer grade crap PCDP" quality sounding unit in my mind (For a radio, though, that's a really, really good thing).

This statement of general quality potential assumes good reception, of course. I'm getting perfect reception on about 40% of my local stations, with 40% being slightly degraded, say by 5%, and about 20% being degraded 10% or more).

AM radio has it's usual extremely-rolled-off-at-the-top, compressed sound, it's good on this unit, but not nearly as good as the FM reception. I don't know much about the full potential of AM, so screw it. I can hear it, it sounds on par with AM in my car, maybe a bit more nice and realistically constituted, but not by much.

Variation on the theme:

I hooked the unit up via a RadioShack mini-to-mini into my JMT Altoids amp. The first words in my mind with this configuration were "more digital-like," i.e. clearer macrodynamics but more sterile. There was a concurrent loss of soundstaging and loss of much of that appealing, expansive lushness of the experience as a whole. Sadly, much of the magic was lost.

However, through the JMT, I could easily tell that the transducers were being driven with more authority and the sound had a more yang (in the male, "active" sense), rather than the previous yin (in the feminine, "passive" sense), quality to it. This manifested itself in various ways, notable ones being the movement of orchestral horns to a spot more in the foreground and with more of an up-front edge to their timbre. Again, this had a more digital-sounding character, and with notably less resolution.

This, of course, could have merely been a function of the fact that since the unit has no true line out, I was just using the headphone out and reducing fidelity by passing it through a radioshack mini-mini and then reducing it again through the amps circuitry (especially the finer points like soundstage and microdynamics). Had I a better mini-to-mini and a real line out, surely things would have been better.

Niggling problems: there are two I have come up with: the first is the lack of perfect reception on some stations. This can't be helped, I'd imagine, and isn't entirely the unit's fault, I'd suppose. The second problem is this endless hiss that stays constant in loudness regardless of where the volume control is at. Of course, I am using the ultra-efficient headphones that allowed me to hear the very slight hum of the EarMax Pro, so while I'm not entirely discounting this phenomenon, it gets knocked down a notch for that.

On the Fixup.net site, you'll find this quote:

Quote:

"'A good FM signal played by a high-quality, stationary receiver compares favorably to a CD's sound', wrote by David H. Layer, National Association of Broadcasters, in the latest issue of IEEE Spectrum.'"


I can now say from personal experience that this is pretty much the gospel truth.

In the final verdict, though this thing isn't an Orpheus-in-a-can, I am pleased as punch with it, it is very musical, the soundstage is huge, the FM resolution takes me aback constantly, the sound is very tubey and lush and the unit is very much worth the dough. For the price and convenience, it deserves all the romance-talk above.

Thanks to Dr. Feng at Fixup for the excellent work and great musical value.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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Matt, first thank you for your extensive review.

I did some work last night and confirmed that the M35's background hiss is from its amp IC. Because this IC has no pins for external components and Sony has never published anything about this IC, there is no way so far to deal with the noise.

While this IC drives low-impetance headphones very well, I too found it is not a good match to CHA-47 alike amps and the hiss becoms even much worse. I'm going to change the DX/Local to a line-out switch and expect the best portable radio sound and total removal of the hiss.

BTW, SRF-S83 matches CHA-47 or alike VERY well. The sound is incredible - wide open, full bass and highs, almost as good as CD/MD. The background is deadly quiet. Because it uses a double-side PCB, it is very hard to make a line-out switch though. However, as it sounds so good already, a line-out is not neccessory.
 
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Matt

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The stars have aligned (I've been listening to David Essex's "Rock On" in front of my computer which is online) and I am now moved to wrap up this review of the fixup.net modded Sony SRF-M35 portable radio.

The aforementioned version of "Rock On" really demonstrates one of this radio's greatest virtues over any competition: the deep, rippling, body-vibrating bass. It's incredible and something I've never, ever heard from radio, even on my father's two-channel setup with (what I assume is pretty good) Rotel gear. The bass line is just captivating: it demands your attention with it's LIVING character.

Aside from sounding generally good, the little tremolo'ed theremin-thingie in the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" is a body all it's own, existing in surprisingly solid space (some meters in front of me, off the the left) as well as time. On most radios, I seriously doubt you'd even hear that sucker, so there you go.

I am consistently enjoying my local university classical station. The soundstage is broad and expansive, the overall sound is rendered lushly and very musically.

I tried these with some Sony MDR-7506's and I got what I pretty much expected: less efficiency than my amazing-sounding "piece of **** VITEs", the Sony MDR-W07's and a top-end roll off, but more physically slamming bass. This unit, in my opinion, hasn't the power to deal with anything but high-efficiency cans like Grado SR-60's or my MDR-W07's.

In absolute terms, this thing (and FM radio in general) cannot stand up to, say, a high-end vinyl rig (I didn't have to tell you that), but it is an incredible little wonder that is easily, easily, easily worth the $50 price tag. I feel I've gotten that much enjoyment out of it just this far.

The best thing for me is that beyond the excellent sound, it serves as an always-available musical educator. I've become more intimate and famililar with classical, for instance, due to my now relatively constant exposure. This is a great factor to include in your life, in my opinion.

Well worth it.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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mikeg

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In the past couple of weeks I got fixup.net-modded Sony SRF-S83 portable radio, and Super mini headphone amp. Dealing with Fixup was great (i.e., very responsive and quick delivery), and both units work wonderfully. The FM reception and sound of the SRF-S83 are great, there is no interferece when used near my computer, and the tiny size of these units is amazing. It's thanks to Head-Fi posts that I learned about fixup.net, and about these wonderful instruments.
 
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Matt

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Just thought I'd take a second, for any potential interested buyers, to post a follow-up to the fixup.net-modded SRF-M35 review.

First off, this radio is sounding as good as it ever did. Very tubey and musical, assuming efficient earphones (less efficient ones, such as MDR-V6's, aren't served as well by the unit's amp). The stations it picks up tend to be very good, but I've noticed that my (worse sounding and more "selective"...i.e. less musical...car stereo picks up certain far-off stations better).

With this radio, I can tell which stations are using compression (thus reducing fidelity), so this is no ghetto blasting, lo-fi POS. 'Tis a sensitive piece of electronics.

Overall, I am very happy with this radio and it definitely makes me reach for it to bring it along with me often.
 
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swalker

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how does the sony model compare to the Tivoli Pal?
 
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Matt

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...unfortunately not heard the Tivoli PAL, but I have heard the Tivoli Model One.

In that comparison, I would have to say that the Model One gets better in-a-building reception, but I wouldn't necessarily call the sound better. In fact, with ultra-efficient headphones (like my Sony MDR-W07's), the radio simply kills the Model One (first off, you get good old stereo, secondly, with the right efficient cans, it is a very delightful experience, like electrostatic cans with a tubed front end...not as stellar, but very reasonably comparable, considering the vast general price difference).

I have not tried the Model One's headphone outs...I suppose I ought to do that. I will head down to Restoration Hardware next week and post the results here.


Regards,
Sir Mister Matt
 
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