The great pantheon of hi-fi is full of iconic, highly celebrated products about which reviewers wax lyrical – Linn LP12, Technics SL-1200, Naim NAP250, NAD 3020, Quad ESL-57, Celestion SL6, etc. – but what about the forgotten, fallen heroes? Denon’s TU-260 tuner is one such example, an absolutely cracking product that was always far too good for its lowly £130 price point, and absolutely adored by its owners yet largely overlooked by the press of the day. When it was finally replaced by the TU-1500AE in 2006, after a sixteen year life – remarkable for a tuner, then and now – few people noticed and the general reaction of the press to Denon was, “what took you so long?” Yet for a time, everyone in the audiophile community knew someone who had a TU-260, or had owned one themselves. Basically, it was the tuner you bought if you wanted great sound but couldn’t afford a Magnum Dynalab, Leak Troughline or Naim NAT-01.
It is an exercise in considered minimalism, sporting a crisp fluorescent digital display (yes, really!), tuning buttons and station presets. in 1990 that was pretty luxurious, but by the time the mkII version arrived a decade or so later, it was necessary for any modern tuner to have RDS and AM (lest we forget, national networks like Virgin Radio and TalkSport had surfaced on the AM band, giving it a new lease of life), and that’s what it got. Another luxury that the mkII gained was a rotary knob on its fascia, which made tuning a little less fiddly, and a sensor for the optional remote control. Forty station presets were now standard and the company claimed improved sound quality, although this was marginal because both are superb in this respect.
Sonically, the TU-260 gives a wonderfully open and spacious presentation, imaging right out of the speakers and falling seemingly miles back if you’re listening to a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast. Indeed, it makes almost all modern tuners sound claustrophobic and ‘shut in’. Tonally it’s excellent too, with a deep, rich and warm character that’s totally at odds with the average, nasal, gritty, tinny presentation. The Denon sounds ‘expensive’ in a way that you simply don’t expect if you look at its flimsy pressed steel casework and ultra slimline dimensions. Altogether, it gives a highly natural and musical sound – one that thrives with high quality source material yet that still beguiles when you’re listening to a horribly compressed Radio 1 chart single. One just can’t believe the refinement and breadth of abilities at the price – either when new, or now when it sells for pennies at car boot sales. If you’re a fan of analogue radio, this tuner is well worth fishing around for.