Magnum Dynalab MD 208 receiver

Musical arguments in favor of separate components are compelling and well-documented. But there's also something musical to be said about reducing the number of power sources, keeping signal paths short and direct, and hard-wiring connections between components rather than employing multiple sets of interconnects. So while a designer must inevitably confront certain tradeoffs, the explosive growth and popularity of single-box products in the past few years contradicts the received wisdom passed down by some of the more sniffy audiophiles: that such unduly proletarian products are terminally compromised in terms of absolute levels of music reproduction.

However, the practical design constraints of integrated units don't inevitably result in draconian musical compromises. Second, in a theme that high-end manufacturers risk ignoring at their peril, many consumers aren't as anxious about cost as they are about compromising a basic lifestyle precept: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). "I'm willing to pay for concert-hall-quality sound," they say, "but I don't want racks of gear or snake pits full of cables and interconnects. I don't want to have to futz around with all this nonsense and still not end up with real system synergy."

Thus a strategic alliance took place between two of the leading lights of the Canadian audio industry. Magnum Dynalab brought onboard the engineers of Simaudio to collaborate on a preamp/power-amp/tuner combo worthy of their FM tuner technology. In the process they created a post-modern classic worthy of the "high-end" appellation: the Magnum Dynalab MD 208 Discrete Audio Receiver. The MD 208 is as musical, sexy, and uncomplicated a performer as I've ever entertained in my listening room.

The sleek, modern, and streamlined appearance of the ebony MD 208 is accentuated by its top, featuring the letter "M," and its concave, hardwood trim, which echoes the wavelike configuration of the metal side panels—dual heatsinks like sets of gills on either side toward the back. There's a lovely symmetry to the front panel: an illuminated digital volume readout above a set of seven steel-gray buttons with red LEDs, which, from left to right, activate what is essentially a power idle switch and the various inputs. These share the panel with several tuner functions: Mute and Stereo, BW1 and BW2 switches (which offer users a choice of normal, wide-open bandwidth or narrow, highly selective bandwidth to exclude interference from adjacent stations), and a signal switch that lets you configure the left VU meter to display signal strength or multipath.

To the left of the panel is a large manual volume control, on the right a large analog FM flywheel (above which are the Mute and Stereo LEDs). The digital volume display doubles as an input source indicator and a left-right balance control. When the tuner is activated, the two VU meters on the front panel and the display area just below the volume indicator are illuminated to indicate a digital display of the tuning frequency.

Volume up/down, Balance left/right, and Power on/off are also accessible via a beefy cast-alloy remote control—a welcome change from those ultra-cheesy plastic remotes, with their esoteric lithium batteries, The remote exerted smooth, quiet control over the digital volume potentiometer, although, oddly enough, there was a slight switching noise when switching from input A1 to A2, from A3 to A4, and from A5 to the tuner...though not from A2 to A3 or from A4 to A5, or from tuner to CD. Curious.

The front-panel power switch is not the main power control. There's a primary rocker switch on the back panel next to the IEC AC inlet. Magnum Dynalab suggests that, once the MD 208 is set up, it never be fully powered down, instead using the front-panel button to put the unit in standby.

Proceeding from right to left on the back are the left speaker terminals (above which is a 75 ohm antenna input) and a full array of high-quality, gold-plated RCA inputs and outputs, beginning with both a pre-out and a tape out (many manufacturers neglect such accoutrements), along with five line-level inputs (A1-A5), and concluding with the CD inputs and the right speaker terminals.

I was nonplused to discover, on removing the metal nut on the speaker terminals, that there was no hole in their shafts through which to thread bare speaker wires, nor a hollowed-out section in the front to fully accept a banana plug. One could employ spades, or, as I did, insert the WBT expanding banana plugs on my JPS Labs Superconductor 2 speaker cables as far as they'd go: about halfway in. I didn't notice any particular sonic anomalies from this arrangement, but I'm sure most people would favor a connection that maximized the area and gave you several setup options.

Internally, the MD 208 evinced no significant compromises in its overall layout and construction. Magnum Dynalab's president, Larry Zurowski, went so far as to assert that the new tuner section designed for the MD 208 exceeds the performance of both their entry-level FT-101A tuner (with its MOSFET front-end) and MD's popular $1500 Etude.