There was a short period in the history of hi-fi when many people considered this tuner to be the best in the world. It wasn’t a universal view, but along with the Yamaha CT-7000 of a few years before, this was one of the iconic Japanese super-tuners of the nineteen seventies. At the time, Pioneer was a great innovating company (if you want a sense of how it regarded itself, the clue is in the name), and its flagship hi-fi equipment wasn’t to be sneezed at. The TX-9500 II was surely the company’s finest ever hi-fi tuner.
Its lineage can be traced back to the TX-9100 (1973) and TX-9500 (1976) models, which shared similar specifications. The 1977 update differed externally from its immediate predecessor in a few small details – whereas the earlier model’s fascia had switches for power and MPX filter, plus controls for Muting Level, a large aluminium tuning knob and a function knob adorning its front plate, the TX-9500 II does away with the MPX filter switch on the front and has IF Band (wide or narrow) and multipath instead. The main display sports the usual two meters – signal strength and tuning – with LED beacons for stereo, and wide and narrow IF. Four tiny sliding marker segments run across a small groove behind an extruded lip that lies above the main controls. Needless to say, the big Pioneer was superb to use with a nicely weighted, silky smooth, heavy flywheeled tuning knob – important in the days before presets because ubiquitous.
Surely the company’s most complex analogue tuner ever, its (420x150x365mm, 9.1kg) case sported no less than 3 FETs, 11 ICs, 34 transistors and 23 diodes. Pioneer boasted that the tuner’s three newly developed FETs enabled FM reception “no matter how far you live from the transmitter”. As with most high end Japanese tuners, the TX-9500 II has a choice of wide and narrow bands; the former had a “surface acoustic wave filter to take advantage of strong stations” and the latter had “five ceramic filters to remove the noise and interference” from weak stations. Pioneer’s multiplex circuit was claimed not to rob the sound of depth and presence, unlike conventional multiplex circuits.
Inside, there were dual-gate MOSFETs and a 5-gang variable capacitor boost FM front end giving a superb sensitivity figure (for its day) of 1.5uV (IHF). The FM IF had 7 ICs with differential amps, 4 ceramic filters (with 2 elements each) and a wideband linear detector. At the rear are connections for AM/FM aerials, multipath (horizontal and vertical), fixed/variable phono sockets and fixed power lead. Quoted specifications were absolutely state-of-the-art for that time, with 77dB signal-to-noise ratio (stereo), 35dB selectivity (wide) and a capture ratio of 0.8dB (wide).
The Pioneer TX-9500 II became a firm favourite in mid seventies high end systems, all over the world. Super-sensitive and seemingly able to pull a clean, noise-free signal from the most meagre of aerials, it was way ahead of its time in terms of RF performance. Even by modern standards it’s a very able performer with a consummately neutral sound and eerily devoid of grain, sibilance or harshness. The Pioneer has a wide variety of tonal colours, is warm and smooth and sweet, yet never sounds leaden. Timing is excellent, with an energetic and musical presentation allied to a dextrously tuneful bass. Like many classic high end Japanese tuners, the Pioneer has excellent spatiality combined with neutrality, plus impressive dynamics.
After spending two decades with prices in the doldrums (most had been selling for £150 or less), prices are now on the move northwards. Expect to pay £500 for a mint, boxed example, or half that for a slightly marked specimen that perhaps requires servicing. Get a good Pioneer TX-9500 and fix it to a decent twig, and you’ll have a great way to play AM or FM radio – with oodles of class and retro style too.