For those looking to a purely functional radio tuner, this has to be it. For $120, I'm certainly not grumbling for this lightweight tuner at this purchase price. Where I come from, there are none other this cheap.
This is a follow-up review on the Sony ST-SE200 AM/FM tuner. I couldn't resist the urge to update my fellow audio enthusiasts and audiophiles on my true thoughts of this Sony tuner.
I've had the chance to evaluate the SE200's performance more thoroughly over the past year. Since acquiring more and much more advanced tuners, I've had the ability to compare the SE200 to "real" tuners.
First off, since my first review, I installed a standard F-jack on the back panel to replace the highly inferior speaker-type antenna jacks. Simply put, there was an incredible improvement in reception quality. Noise levels on distant stations were dramatically reduced, signal overload was reduced by about 50%, and signal selectivity was ever so slightly improved. How much more would it cost Sony to make the F-jack standard on the SE200? Personally, I think it would cost LESS! Anyway....
After a year of "budding" into a serious audio enthusiast, I've grown to appreciate not only a component's performance, but its build quality as well. With that said, the SE200's build is absolutely TERRIBLE! This tuner is feather light, sounds completely hollow (it is!) when I do the knock-knock test, and has flimsy construction. After only six months of owning the SE200, the support prongs that keep the top of the metal cabinet aligned with the faceplate broke! There were two components stacked on top of the tuner--a cassette deck and an equalizer for a total of 15 lbs. Sad.
I originally rated the selectivity of the SE200 as fair. After comparing the SE200's selectivity with the same antenna on my $350 Pioneer digital HT receiver's tuner, I was greatly disappointed. Where there were strong local stations (>10 miles) and adjacent (+/- 0.2 MHz) stations located some 40+ miles away, the SE200 received the adjacent distant stations with high levels of interference from the local stations. My Pioneer receiver, on the other hand, has little difficulty in selectively tuning distant stations adjacent to locals. To be honest with you, my $30 and $100 boomboxes have better selectivity than the SE200! For $200, I strongly believe that Sony could've used sharper filters in the SE200 for more selective reception.
I had a chance to use the SE200 in an RF environment that more FM enthusiasts are accustomed to. Here's the scenario...the closest 100kw FM transmitters are 10 and 20 miles away, with a 50kw FM transmitter about 5 miles away. The SE200 had almost no overload problems, with the only exception being a slight image of the 50kw (88.5 MHz) station appearing on 100.5 MHz, where there was no station within a 100-mile radius. Selectivity was still poor, though.
If there's one good point I need to make about the SE200, it's that the SE200 does a reasonable job at preventing front-end overload, but ONLY when compared to inferior tuners. Inferior meaning the tuners on my Pioneer HT digital receiver and boomboxes. Although the receiver and boomboxes have better selective tuning, they will overload on a paperclip antenna! So I do have the give Sony credit for giving the SE200 a respectable dynamic range.
If there were one rating on the SE200 I'm really disappointed with, it would have to be its stereo separation. For $200, one would have to expect better separation than 35 dB! That's the lowest rating I've ever seen! Even the cheapest A/V receivers have separation ratings of 40+ dB!
Sound quality isn't all too good, either. FM stereo broadcasts sound harsh, with too much emphasis on treble. Audio is too "bright" on the SE200. However, after I reduce the treble controls on my equalizer, the SE200 is listenable. Bass is strong and smooth (what I like), and midrange is natural all across. However, the noticeable lack of good stereo separation prevents me from being able to use the SE200 in a hi-fi system. The SA50ES and F-99X are used instead for hi-fi listening, as they have both a wide soundstage and pleasing audio response.
This tuner is would be good for someone just getting into serious FM listening, who lives at least 5 to 10 miles from powerful transmitters, doesn't have the immediate available funds to purchase a high quality tuner, and isn't listening through a hi-fi system. Another scenario where one might want this tuner would be for a background sound system, with a local station being tuned. Otherwise, I would not recommend this tuner to anyone who enjoys and is serious about FM radio.
In conclusion, I would say that Sony could've done a lot more with this tuner for the price. Poor construction, lack of selectivity and separation, and harsh audio response prevent me from giving the SE200 a higher rating. Its overall performance is fair, so the SE200 gets three stars. Two stars on value for lack of quality across the board, and charging more money than needed.
I purchased the Sony ST-SE200 mainly because of its low price. Overall performance is good. Many good points, many bad points, as to be expected.As any electronics fanatic would, I opened up its case to see what was inside. Much to my surprise, it was largely empty. One circuit board occupies the entire front panel, and the other on the bottom portion of the case. I would estimate about 90% percent empty space. The unit measures 17"w x 3 1/4"h x 11"d. It fits perfectly with my other stereo components (not Sony) both in style and size. It has the usual black tone finish. Its appearance is sharp and modern. Very appealing to the eye. THE BACK PANEL Audio outputs are Left/Right RCA (phono) jacks. Spring terminals (same type used for speaker connections) are provided for both AM & FM antennas. A loop antenna for AM and six foot wire for FM are included with the unit. The AM loop provides moderate performance, great if you're interested in only local stations. The owners manual recommends using the Sony AN-1 for those desiring better reception. This active antenna sells for around $85 US at radio shops, such as Universal Radio. The wire antenna for FM is listed in the owner's manual to be used only temporarily until an outdoor antenna can be installed. This is certainly true! Reception with this wire is poor, at best. Now, there is a big problem with the terminals for the FM antenna. The connections are for a 75 ohn coax cable. However, the connections are for wires and not an F-plug! This is a big problem when reception quality comes in hand. In order to connect a cable, it is necessary to strip off the outside insulation, separating the wire shielding from the foil and winding it into a bundle. The middle conductor is inserted into the antenna input terminal, and the wire shielding into the ground terminal. This setup is a big problem, as loads of interference is fed into this area of the connection. More on this later. THE FRONT PANEL The push in, push out power button is on the very left of the panel. Also on the left are the memory scan and stereo/mono buttons. The center of the panel is occupied by the easy-to-read flourescent display. The display consists of the tuned and stereo (for FM) indicators, FM or AM, frequency, and the memory preset # if activated. Very basic display, nice! On the right side of the panel are the preset (1-9, 0/10, >10) selections, band, memory, and large +/- tuning buttons. OPERATIONS The operation of the ST-SE200 for the most part is pretty straight forward. Manual tuning is easy. Simply press the TUNING + or - buttons and you're in business. Pushing each button repeatedly will change frequencies by one kHz. Holding down TUNING + or - for one second will engage automatic tuning. The tuner will stop on any station strong enough to engage the "TUNED" indicator on the display. The automatic tuning is very slow, as it takes the unit nearly two seconds to scan over one megahertz, or 42 seconds to scan from 87.5 to 108.0. That's a very long time when compared to other tuners, even the cheap digital tuners in boomboxes! That is a definite bad point with the ST-SE200. Storing memories is easy. Simply press MEMORY, then the preset number on the panel. To set a frequency to preset 1, press MEMORY, then 1. To set preset 10, press MEMORY, then 0/10. Preset 15, MEMORY, >10, 1, 5. Preset 20, MEMORY, >10, 2, 0/10. Easy! The memory scan feature can be tricky. Referring to the owner's manual will become a habit when it comes to using this. Press MEMORY SCAN. The preset # flashes on the display. Press TUNING + to scan higher preset #s, press - to scan lower preset #s. Sure, it sounds easy, but not when you're new to using it. SOUND QUALITY The owner's manual lists the frequency response as 30-15000 Hz. It has very pleasant sound, with plenty of bass output, important to those who like music with a lot of body and punch. Its fidelity on FM is excellent, while its AM fidelity is fair. AM fidelity is great for voice, but only satisfactory for music. At least it doesn't sound muffled like many AM tuners. PERFORMANCE Okay, now let's get down to business. I can't say much about it's AM performance since all I had for an antenna was the supplied loop. Local stations came in loud and clear. Enough said. For an FM antenna, I use a set of rabbit ears (Radio Shack cat.# 15-1827) mounted on a windowsill. The window has no metal screen. The 75 ohm transformer is mounted directly to the antenna rods. The cable used is 25 ft. of custom-cut RG-6 75 ohm cable from Radio Shack. A rooftop antenna is not possible as I live in an apartment. For FM performance, the ST-SE200 was put to the ULTIMATE test. I live within two miles of several transmitters for Washington's powerhouse 100kW stations. As a result, reception of weaker signals up to 900 kHz above and below the super powerful signals are completely wiped out due to blanketing interference. Due to the signal overload and intermodulation, I installed an adjustable signal attenuator (Radio Shack cat.# 15-578) between the antenna lead-in cable and the antenna terminals. This setup works only a little bit, because of the faulty antenna connection at the spring terminals. Even though I'm able to reduce the incoming signal by over 20dB, an unbelievable amount of the strong signals from the nearby transmitters radiate themselves back into the cable leading from the attenuator to the terminals, rendering the attenuator virtually useless! All signal overload and blanketing interference remained, regardless of what the setting of the attenuator is. My solution: mount the attenuator right at the terminals. There are two screws used to mount the spring terminals to the chassis. I mounted the attenuator to the chassis with the screw by the FM terminals. Using one inch of regualar 18 ga. speaker wire, I inserted one end of the wire into the antenna input terminal and the other into the F-jack of the attenuator. The shielding connection is achieved by the screw used to mount the attenuator. Voila! Problem solved. Now ALL signals are equally reduced. By turning the attenuator a quarter turn, I was able to eliminate all overload and blanketing interference, allowing the reception of weak and distant signals, and much improved selectivity. Selectivity is fair with the ST-SE200. Reception of weak signals adjacent to strong signals was next to impossible, as to expected, since there are no options to reduce the IF bandwidth. Reception was good on weak signals adjacent to moderate strength signals. Reception of weak stations 400 kHz from strong signals was possible with no interference. The quieting sensitivity is very good. Any signal strong enough to engage stereo reception will usually come in with minimal noise. If there is any interference in stereo reception, pressing the STEREO/MONO button will eliminate the stereo effect and reduce most of the backround noise. THINGS I LIKE ABOUT THE ST-SE200 Sharp, modern look Appealing to the eye Simple, easy-to-read display Ease of operation Fidelity Selectivity Sensitivity THINGS I DON'T LIKE ABOUT THE ST-SE200 Antenna connections for FM lead-in (I plan to install an F-jack in the chassis when the warranty expires) Very slow tuning rate Needs better overload protection (a built-in switchable or adjustable attenuator would be very helpful for those who live very close to powerful transmitters) MY IMPRESSION OF THE ST-SE200 For $200, it is certainly a great tuner. I would highly recommend it for those who live in the suburbs or fringe reception areas. Sensitivity is very good. As long as you don't live too close to FM transmitters, and you you want a good, low-priced AM/FM tuner with just the basics, the Sony ST-SE200 is a good choice. Please Note: This is the first review I have done on a consumer electronics product. I apologize if I left out any information that may be useful to others. I tried to include all information I use when making a decision on purchasing an electronics product. It is my sincere hope that this review will help you in making an informed decision in buying your next tuner. Thank you.