What’s not to love about the Magnum Dynalab MD-90? Any red blooded radiohead looking at its delicious fascia – peppered with analogue meters, LED digits, switches, knobs and the inscription ‘analog FM tuner’ – will be beguiled. If ever there was a product that grandstands the glory of its medium, this is surely it. The MD-90 instantly reminds me of my childhood gazing at high end FM tuners in magazines, in awe of their gadgetry. The golden rule was, the more meters a tuner had, the more expensive it was. By that criterion alone the MD-90T is the analogue tuner equivalent of a Cadillac…
You’ve got to hand it to this brand; when your first product was called the ‘Signal Sleuth’ (designed to boost FM signals) and the follow up was an analogue FM tuner (the FT 101) which is very similar to today’s range, twenty five years later, you’re a true specialist. The company is proud to use its own bespoke circuitry and does not, as a matter of philosophy, produce FM tuners using digital synthesiser tuning.
The MD-90 sports Magnum Dynalab’s well used MOSFET front end, said to provide three stages of “very careful and precise amplification”, with group delay filtering. A bespoke three-stage RF front end is used, along with a custom Auto Blend RF Circuit which constantly monitors and varies the stereo separation insuring optimal stereo quieting. The latest design of Magnum Dynalab circuit board is fitted, along with a redesigned power supply circuit. The MD-90T can now also house the company’s ‘analog remote system’ inside the chassis allowing for precise analog tuning through the optional infra-red remote control. It sports automatic gain control. Finally, as the ‘T’ designation stipulates, there’s a matched Philips military grade JJ 6922 tube in the final amplification stage.
The front panel frequency display is courtesy of attractive soft amber 0.5″ LED digits, plus three backlit meters for signal level, multipath interference level and centre-tune condition. The large right hand tuning knob feels nice to the touch, although there’s no flywheel effect. To the left are toggle switches for bandwidth, interstation muting and stereo/mono mode. The fascia’s very nicely done, although the steel case behind doesn’t feel quite as substantial as perhaps one might expect at the price.
I was rather impressed by the sensitivity and selectivity of this device. Although this test was done with Magnum Dynalab’s ST-2 fifty four inch single element dipole antenna, I first connected aT-shaped piece of ‘wet string’. My house is deep in a vale, and has appalling FM (and for that matter TV) reception, whereas DAB as a concept barely exists. All the more incredible then that the MD-90T pulled in a Welsh language radio station from a hundred or so miles away with the aforementioned travesty of an antenna! It also pulled in a selection of other stations, including BBC Radio 4 on 94.3 which I never realised was possible from my location. Anyone with signal strength or antenna issues will be amazed.
Even with the wet string, this tuner sounded very nice indeed, giving me an FM experience I just hadn’t realised possible these days. Moving to the better dipole, the thought suddenly occurred to me that the sound quality of DAB and Internet radio is such that it is actively discouraging me from listening to broadcasts. An interview between Stephen Merchant and Harry Shearer on BBC Radio 4 was so smooth, creamy and natural sounding I came away from the experience quite shocked. So much Internet radio I hear (and I hear a lot) is brittle and edgy, thin and two-dimensional, whereas via the Magnum Dynalab it was like having those two people in the room in front of me. The harmonics of the voices was remarkable, inasmuch as you barely hear them these days via digital. It gave them such an organic sound that was pure, unalloyed pleasure to hear.
Moving to BBC Radio 2 and some Andrew Lloyd Weber show tunes; the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Love Changes Everything was delightful. Violins had a natural ‘wire’ to them but didn’t sound edgy, trumpets had a rich rasp and snare drums sounded like snare drums rather than sandpaper. There was also curious phenomenon for radio where the instruments seemed to be located in different places, both left to right and front to back; there was even the sense of them being in a concert hall with its own acoustic. I looked at the Magnum Dynalab, and its blue stereo pilot LED looked back at me!
Radio 3 was, just as predicted, the jewel in the crown of this tuner’s capabilities. The Proms were magnificent, this tuner reaching right into the broadcast and grabbing everything to be hear, then relaying it out to me through my loudspeakers with delicacy, tenderness and love. Again, I found myself transfixed by the sound of acoustic instruments via radio; I have simply grown used to them as digital facsimiles of themselves, with only the ‘low hanging fruit’ of the audio signal conveyed; all the rest of the waveform, the bits we’re allegedly unable to hear, simply thrown away on our behalf! But the MD-90T wasn’t just better than MPEG, it proved better than an excellent synthesiser tuner too.
The fascinating thing for me about the Magnum Dynalab MD-90T is that it reconnects you to a wonderful analogue source, which is so often overlooked. It shows, in no uncertain terms, that FM is by far and away the best music/speech transmission medium available to us, effortlessly spearing DAB and Internet radio through its very heart at the same time. And it isn’t just the ‘accuracy’ of FM or the lack of any digital nasties that seduces, it’s the amazingly creamy sound it can display. Like coming back to vinyl after years with Compact Disc, you get a huge shock when you realise what you’ve been missing. But the MD-90T doesn’t just sound great because it’s analogue, it’s so successful sonically because it is analogue done properly, and to modern standards. The RF section is brilliantly sensitive and selective, yet never intrudes; the audio section is clean and smooth.
Whether or not all this is ‘worth it’ is of course up to you; suffice to say that, now it seems analogue is to live to fight (and win) another day, any considerations of value should be made on how much you think you’ll use this product. If radio is a large part of your life, then I’d say you might find it actually represents really rather good value for money. The wonderfully tactile experience of tuning the MD-90T is a joy in itself, but the real fun starts when the stereo beacon lights up and the listening begins.