Improving XDR-F1HD Audio Quality

A great option to improve the XDR's audio quality is to completely replace the stock audio preamp circuit with a new audio board based on a high-bandwidth opamp.  Details about the audio preamp board upgrade:  

  • Uses the ultra-premium high-bandwidth Linear Technology LT1632 opamp
  • Nichicon MUSE coupling capacitors
  • Much flatter frequency response, within +0 dB / -0.2 dB from 20 Hz to 20 KHz
  • Distortion cut in half
  • S/N Ratio >80dB (exceeds specs for HD Radio)
  • Audio signal headroom is doubled, so no chance of clipping on "hot" HD stations
  • Phase-correct with original XDR audio, improved "phase coherency" (reduced audio phase shift).
  • Resistors and capacitors in the audio path are hand-selected for matching Left & Right performance
  • Silver-bearing solder is used on all connections and there are no jacks or sockets
  • Only through-hole components used.  No surface-mount parts.
  • The circuit board is a high-quality 4-layer design with power & ground layers, silkscreened & solder masked.

New custom audio board for the XDR-F1HD.  Exact parts used may vary due to availability but will always be equivalent or better.

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​Background: Measuring the XDR's FM Frequency Response from Antenna In to Line Out

Data suggests the XDR's analog audio preamp circuit has drooping treble response.  What if Sony did that on purpose to compensate for a corresponding treble boost in its digital processing?  Seems unlikely, but not impossible.

To test the aggregate frequency response, I used my HP 8903B Audio Analyzer to generate clean audio test tones at selected frequencies.  The test tones were fed into a Panasonic FM Signal Generator and used as the modulation source during testing.  The Panasonic then generates an FM signal at the selected frequency on the FM band and modulates it with the HP's audio test tone.  This is essentially broadcasting precision test tones on 97.3 MHz.

Analog FM frequency response is usually stated as being 30 Hz to 15 KHz so that's the range I measured.  (In the graph, the 30 Hz figures are capacitance-related anomalies and should be disregarded: The XDR’s bass response is down only about -0.18dB at 20 Hz with my audio mods.)

Note About FM Pre-Emphasis: FM radio uses "pre-emphasis" at the broadcast side, and a corresponding "de-emphasis" at the receiver side.  It's kind of like the RIAA curve used for vinyl records.  In North America, the standard is 75 microsecond pre-emphasis.  I used reference data found online to calculate the expected deviation from flat response, then compared the expected deviation to the actual measured deviation.

Test Setup:

  • HP 8903B Audio Analyzer reference output was set to 2.3V RMS @ 50 Hz.  That Voltage level is accepted by the FM signal generator's external modulation input as being at a correct level..
  • Panasonic VP-8191A FM Signal Generator was set to use the HP Analyzer as its external modulation source.  I used 75 KHz modulation level.  The FM generator's RF output level was set to -55 dBm @ 97.3 MHz.  I believe -55 dBm corresponds to 65 dBf.  That was connected to Antenna In on the XDR, using a 50 Ohm to 75 Ohm impedance matching cable called a "Twelfth-Wave Transformer".  Note that the FM signal generator is mono.
  • The XDRs were tuned to 97.3 MHz.  With a -55 dBm signal at its Antenna In, the XDR is well into the 3-bar signal strength range.

Test Results:

The table & graph show the measured overall frequency response for Unmodified and Modified XDRs, from Antenna In to Line Out, with compensation for FM de-emphasis.  In the graph the 0.00 line is the 50 Hz reference, with deviation in +/- dB from there.  The treble dropoff on the Unmodified XDR from Antenna In to Line Out matches up pretty closely with the same measurements when confined to the XDR's analog audio preamp circuit.  

Disregard the 30 Hz measurements: They're anomalies related to circuit capacitance.

Conclusion from this data: The XDR's treble droop is in its analog audio preamp circuit, not the tuner module or DSP section. It can be corrected!

Bench Testing New Analog Audio Board

Measuring % Distortion @ 1KHz, 0.35V Input Signal Level

Sony XDR-F1HD Audio Performance

Sony gave the XDR amazing reception capability, and its DSP section is very high quality.  But its analog audio preamp can be made much better:

  • Flatter frequency response (treble restored)
  • Reduced distortion
  • Improved S/N Ratio
  • ​Doubled headroom for "hot" HD stations (no clipping)

The audio analyzer plots below compare the unmodified XDR audio preamp to my custom audio upgrade board.

All voltage levels RMS