I'm not an FM tuner expert by any means, but have been following many
of the threads here on FMtuners for several months, particularly to
learn more about the performance of analogue tuners of the 1975 to
1982 vintage. I am more interested in an audiophile tuner than in the
ultimate DX machine, but believe that a well executed design should
satisfy both groups of tuner enthusiasts.
On a bit of a lark I bought a Harman/Kardon Citation 18 tuner on eBay
for only $20. It was untested, and I figured if it were working, it
would a terrific bargain. I've always been a Harman/Kardon fan, and
have an H/K tapedeck and VCR in my system. At the time, I didn't know
much about this particular tuner, which is a solid state design that
dates from about 1977 or so and apparently retailed for $595. The
Citation products were H/K's flagship designs, often incorporating new
ideas and technologies, though I'm not clear how the Citation 18
differs from earlier H/K tuners. It is card based, much like a modern
PC, with a different plug-in board for the power supply,
monitor(headphone)amplifier(two of them!), meter/mute, MPX, output
amplifier, and FM/IF. Other than ease of repair, I'm not sure of any
advantage to this type of set-up, unless the idea was that different
boards would upgradeable at a later date. That idea would have been
pretty progressive in 1977, but I'm not sure if this was indeed the
theory behind the modular construction. It looks pretty impressive
when the cover is removed, though.
Anyhow, the tuner I purchased initially lit up when powered on, but
just a few minutes later it was DOA. I decided to bite the bullet and
have it repaired. Well, $177 later, I have a working tuner. There is
a lesson there somewhere about buying untested tuners on eBay, but
since the purchase price was so low, I didn't feel ripped off in any
way. What was annoying was that in addition to blown fuses and a
faulty diode, there were some transistors supposedly missing from the
tuner - perhaps it had been long ago cannibalized for parts? Hard to
know the history of a 25 year old piece of equipment. I didn't
perform the work myself (no skills) - I had it done by a fairly
reputable repair facility called the Audio-Video Shoppe in Culver
City, California. They seemed competent and relatively straight with
me, and included a plastic baggie with all the blown components they
supposedly replaced when I picked up the tuner. They warranty their
work for 90 days.
So I just got it back, and I have to say that I am VERY impressed with
how this tuner sounds. Granted I don't have a tremendous basis for
comparison - for many years I used the tuner section of a
Carver 900 receiver, which I think was quite sensitive - very good at
pulling in weak stations, but seemed to roll off the high frequencies
a bit. Recently I bought the much acclaimed Onkyo Integra T-9090-II
based on its stellar specs. I thought it sounded a little fuller than
the Carver (I couldn't actually A-B them for a direct comparison) but
I couldn't stand all the tiny lights and buttons (a very late eighties
digital design cosmetically, and therefore not to my taste at all).
So I sold the Onkyo after only a few days - I hardly listened to it at
all because I didn't enjoy using it or looking at it (a bit silly, I
Well, this Harman/Kardon doesn't have great specs by 2002 standards,
but it is the best sounding tuner I've ever had in my listening room.
A much more detailed and forward soundstage than the digital tuners I
have heard, and a very 'lively' sound, particularly on piano notes,
which have a nice bounce and jump to them - a pleasant surprise. Bass
is nicely defined without being too up front, and highs are sharp and
clear. Vocals sound great, with maybe just a faint trace of sibilance
in the highs, but not much a problem to my ear. Overall a very clean
and inviting sound.
The Citation 18 seems sensitive enough to pull in weak signals cleanly
and in stereo. A few of the weaker stereo stations in my area came in
a little bit hissy, though there is a noise filter activated by a
button on the front panel that cuts this hiss quite dramatically.
This definitely doesn't seem to be needed on stronger stations, as
this tuner sounds very quiet to me on those. Can't really speak to
its selectivity, as I haven't experimented with that much, and it
isn't much of an issue in my area.
Construction is extremely robust, with thick aluminum faceplate, and a
hefty weight of 23 lbs or so. It is easy to tune, and to my eye has a
nice appearance, although the horizontal wheel used to tune in
stations seems definitely to have been 'borrowed' from the good folks
at Marantz. The tuning meter takes a little getting used to, as it is
backwards from what I'm used to - as the needle goes further to the
right it signifies a weaker signal, not a stronger one. It is easy
enough to use once you get acclimated to it, though.
On the whole my initial impressions of this tuner are quite favorable,
and I feel as though I'll probably hang on to it for a while. I'd be
curious if anyone has a copy of the owner's manual, as I'm a little
confused about a few of the controls. I'd also like to hear about any
firsthand experiences with this tuner, and how people think it
compares sonically to its competitors from Kenwood, Sansui, Marantz,
MacIntosh, Accuphase, etc. Look forward to hearing from you guys...