Magnum Dynalab MD 208 receiver Page 3

I'm glad I didn't, but for a while I experienced the symptoms of aural indigestion: amorphous bass focus, limited bass extension, incoherent soundstaging, a lack of high-end extension, poor low-level resolution, and, most notably, a limited volume range. There seemed to be an optimal volume setting at which the MD 208 evinced a realistic, coherent tonal balance and dynamic range; below that, the presentation lacked presence, body, and tonal coherence; above it, the tonal balance seemed to go out of kilter, as everything seemed a touch too loud and glary.

Vince Stables of Simaudio concurred, and seemed to be making a mental check mark next to each symptom as I detailed them over the phone. "Yeah, it takes a long time because there's a lot of Teflon used on the internal wiring in the preamp stage, those 4oz copper tracings on the PC board take forever to burn in, and you hear it all because there's no filter caps acting as sonic Band-Aids, and no corrective feedback save at the output stage. So it's much more revealing of nuances in the burn-in process as things charge up; eg, transformers, the power-supply section. And it doesn't harmonically sound right—it sounds sort of outside the music. The soundstage starts off very small and it doesn't permit a lot of microdynamic detail. It's almost like it's one step behind the speaker. If you turn the volume up, you won't be able to play as loud because it sounds out of sync from the music. And then, after about a month or a month and a half, as it warms up, it starts to jive and everything becomes more cohesive."

When the integrated amp section of the MD 208 was finally broken in to my satisfaction, I was quite taken by its sonic presentation. On my old standby test disc, Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock's A Closer View (ECM 1602), I noticed a remarkable degree of refinement and harmonic detail in the rendering of timbres and ambient information that drew me as deep into the music as I have ever been. The MD 208 revealed an aura about Towner's nylon-string pluckings, and a timbral complexity to Peacock's majestic bass on "Opalesque," that made me sit up and take notice—there was an inviting sense of presence and acoustic realism to the presentation that was eminently vivid, without getting in my face.

While I experienced more speed and forward presence from the Linn Classik, and more rib-wrenching slam, dynamic range, and top-end extension from the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista combo, the MD 208 certainly didn't suffer from rolled-off highs or a paucity of bass information. No, I'm talking about a style of presentation, as I discovered to my delight when exploring the immense bass pulses and stereo panning effects synthesist Malcolm Cecil (aka Tonto's Expanding Head Band) employs on "Jetsex," from Tonto Rides Again (Viceroy Vintage VIN 6036-2). There was plenty of bass information, good pacing and drive, lots of weight, and a proper sense of scale. I doubt any rock listener would feel shortchanged.

But the cumulative sonic signature of the MD 208's preamp and power sections was more about tonal purity than sheer punch. I found the MD 208 had good speed and dynamic headroom, and put out plenty of real-world juice—and with a peak current output of 30 amps and a damping factor of more than 100, it should prove more than equal to any speaker load you toss its way.

After some experimentation, I ended up using a pair of the very-low-capacitance Synergistic Research Resolution Reference Mk.II transmission-line interconnects (with Discrete Shielding) between the receiver and the Sony SCD-777ES SACD player, and toward the end of my listening evaluations was rewarded for my patience by the degree of intimacy I experienced from advance CDs by guitarist John Scofield and Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis.

Scofield's Works for Me (Verve 314 549 281-2) features, among other players, the inspired pairing of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Christian McBride. "Heel to Toe" begins with strolling bass and drums; there's enormous air and separation between Higgins' different drums and cymbals, each individual component beautifully detailed, yet coherent as a family sound; the degree of acoustic detail in the timbral realism of McBride's bass was stunning, as was the sense of acoustic space delineating his image from the other instruments. Many systems would make his bass sound as if it was recorded direct; through the MD 208, I felt as if I was hearing the unprocessed interaction of an acoustic bass fiddle and a fine tube mike.

John Lewis's Evolution 2 (Atlantic 83313-2) takes over where the first chapter of his acclaimed audiophile trilogy left off—with as beautiful a depiction of the interactions between an acoustic piano and an acoustic space as I've ever heard on disc. It was beyond intimate—it was as if they were playing just for me. The MD 208's representation of acoustic cues and inner details was honest and effortless, and I was shocked at how far back into perfect blackness I could follow the closing chords, the tendrils of overtones and reverb trails of "December, Remember." Talk about open sesame.

The Magnum Dynalab MD 208 Discrete Audio Receiver is a no-compromise high-end design that I could easily live with over the long haul. Save for odd details such as the speaker terminal posts not fully accepting bananas, and once I'd broken it in to my satisfaction, I had few quibbles with it. It accommodated any number of musical styles, though it really shone on acoustic music. There was a sweetness and grace to the MD 208's laid-back style of music reproduction—smooth and refined, though not without guts and gusto.

Sometimes the midranges of solid-state amps can be a tad cool—plenty of refinement and resolution but not much character. Not the MD 208. The Magnum Dynalab's output stage mirrored its tuner's dulcet, maple-glazed character with a warm, open presentation that struck me as a happy balance between tube-like euphony and solid-state detail. I keep hearing the word "lush" when grasping for adjectives, but I don't want to suggest anything opaque about the sound: it was very clear and extended on top while adding no bite of its own.

The more I think about it, the more the MD 208 reminds me of the classic YBA Intégré integrated amplifier, which is saying a mouthful: warm and open, refined and extended, punchy and polite, the YBA gives you 50Wpc and a lovely phono stage for $2395. The MD 208 is also a high-current device, but offers double the power, remote volume, balance and input controls, and (instead of a phono stage) a world-class tuner so good it compels you to listen to FM—all for $2975. That's a lot of bang for the buck.