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Orban Pumps Classical Station

User Report: Audition by Optimod 8600 makes engineer change plans

ARLINGTON, Va. — Doesn’t it always figure?

By the time you submit a capital budget request and a PTFP grant application for a particular piece of equipment, an upgrade of that item is released — yet you can’t buy the newest model because the Public Telecommunications Facility Program won’t let you make a monetary change in a grant.

That’s what happened to us last year. By the time we received our grant for an Orban Optimod-FM 8500, the 8600 already had hit the stores.

Timely break

Fortunately Bill Sacks — formerly of Straight Wire Audio fame, and now running and with his wife Kim — called me with a question: Did we want to play with an 8600 while he was having fun at the NAB Show?

We took him up on it immediately.

The new 8500 already was a significant upgrade for us. We’ve been running Optimod 8200s for many years; even after several refurbished models they still did a credible job on classical music. However, when we installed the 8500 using the factory “Classical 5-Band” preset we stepped up to more openness, better peak control, more apparent loudness without any apparent loss of dynamic range and a more listenable sound.

Phil Simon’s earlier review of the 8500 sums it up very well (Radio World, March 30, 2005). Since WETA is playing in virtually every doctor’s office within 40 miles, the increased listenability helps us, particularly during fundraisers.

After all that, we weren’t sure how much more we could expect from the 8600; but the difference was apparent from the first.

The improved quality and openness of the sound in the high end (we are using the factory Classical 5-Band MX preset) was apparent immediately in A-B switching between the 8600 and 8500. To me this really is the main difference between the processors.

We’re using the 8600 internal delay to feed our HD Radio exciter and the composite outputs to feed our analog exciters. I’ve always preferred the sound of the FM signal to that of the HD Radio anyway and I believe that the 8600 makes the analog sound better than the digital on a good tuner, such as the Sony XDR-F1HD.

My problem now is to figure out how to pay for the 8500-to-8600 upgrade.

Mike Byrnes is chief engineer at WETA(FM) Radio.

For information, contact David Rusch at Orban in Arizona at (480) 403-8300 or visit