Magnum Dynalab MD 208 receiver John Marks, October 2005
Until vintage-kit maestro Peter Breuninger can get around to writing up the joys of 1970s Marantz receivers, both quad and stereo, one's old-school hankerings are in good hands with Magnum Dynalab's MD 208 FM-only receiver (100Wpc, $2975). Chip Stern gave the MD 208 receiver a full and enthusiastic review in January 2001. I included it in one of the systems I suggested for Victoria's Secret lingerie model Rebecca Romijn in The Fifth Element" of May 2002 (Vol.25 No.5). It is a good example of what I was talking about a few columns ago: good products that remain in production may tend to fall off peoples' radar screens. (Beware "the tyranny of the new": the MD 208 has remained essentially unchanged since 2001. However, by the time you read this, Magnum Dynalab will have made available an optional phono-input card, retrofittable to units already in the field.)
The Magnum Dynalab MD 208 combines an FM-only tuner and an integrated amplifier in one handsome, slightly retro-styled cabinet. (MD also makes an integrated amplifier that is in essence an MD 208 without the tuner. But with all that music on the air for free, I can't see why anyone wouldn't choose the receiver.) The front halves of the side panels of its chassis are adorned with thick, sculpted pieces of hardwood trim. The display panel is bracketed by two pivoting-needle analog meters, one for tuning, the other switchable between signal strength and multipath. The middle of the display panel is given over to two LED-segment numerical readouts. One indicates volume or the selected input, the other the station tuned to. Tuning is analog, via a large knob with a very silky feel.
The MD 208's sound falls slightly on the smooth side, as distinct from hyperdefined. This very slightly forgiving sound is wonderful with most recordings. FM radio, however—especially, in my opinion, male announcers' voices—might benefit from some slimming down and sharpening up. Most male announcers seem to cultivate a chest-heavy vocal production, which is exacerbated by certain microphones' "proximity effect" of a 6dB/octave bass boost. I find it annoying, but you may not. (Johnny Carson, I'm told by someone in the know, had a reedy and somewhat annoying speaking voice, which is why his iconic desk microphone was an antique ribbon design with a figure-8 pickup pattern. Such a microphone has a very strong proximity effect and a very sweet top end.)
The MD 208's volume control is on its left side. I find the right side a more intuitive location. You may not care. Input selection is accomplished by paging through all the inputs in order by repeatedly pushing the Input button. If you use only the Tuner and the CD input, going from CD to Tuner will involve several button-pushes.
One other issue is that although the MD 208 has a tape output, it does not have a tape loop as such. Similarly, its Process mode allows the connection of an HT processor that will override the MD 208's volume control while using the MD 208's power amplifier to drive your front channels. But again, that is not a loop. While the MD 208 does have Preamp Out jacks, it does not have Amplifier In jacks.
The only situation where all of that would make a difference is if you wanted to use an outboard equalizer or a processor such as Rives Audio's PARC, which requires both a "send" and a "return"; ie, a loop. Very much on the plus side, though, is the fact that the MD 208's front Power switch is actually a standby switch; your volume, input, and station selections are saved and will come right back up.
The MD 208 quietly exudes class and is a delight to listen to. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to any music lover as the foundation of a high-quality music system that is long on performance and convenience and short on needless expense and complication. Are there better-sounding ways to skin a cat? Of course. But they are firmly in the land of diminishing returns.—John Marks