FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 12
MD 108 tuner
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
If you are a typical audiophile, you change equipment fairly often. When it comes to FM tuners, I go through them like toothpicks. I have spent more money on "free" FM than I have on just about any other source component. Now that I live in Los Angeles, where great signals abound, I have decided that only the best will do. My quest has led to the most expensive FM tuner currently in production, Magnum Dynalabís hybrid MD 108, a cool $6000 with the gold faceplate option. Itís in the bullpen right now, playing away while I list the contenders of recent audition:
The list includes classic and modern, tube, solid state, and hybrid tuners, and each is a reasonable option for the FM fan, the goal being the best FM sound you can get. This means quiet, noise-free reception, a black background, perfect selectivity and sensitivity, wide separation and soundstaging, excellent depth, and big dynamic swings, with bold, musically correct bass, musical texture and tonality, accuracy, alive-sounding live performances, nary a birdie or whoosh, and the unmistakable sound of music. This is tough. And oh yes, you want it all on an indoor antenna! I tried the following:
Magnum Dynalab Silver Ribbon ($30)
Radio Shack Frequency Adjustable FM Amplified Antenna ($40)
AudioQuest 7500 Indoor Omni Antenna ($300)
Various Terk antennas
Some of these antennas worked very well with certain tuners, others not. The Terks, all amplified, were too noisy to take seriously. I made numerous CDRs of PBS live performances, so these were used when the tuner was not in the house. Hereís how they stack up (scoring is 1, the lowest, to 10, the highest):
I did not downgrade for lack of remote control. The scoring indicates some interesting values at various price points. The ST 6000 is an obvious bargain, and I own two of them. Updating older tuners is hit or miss. If you are patient and have deep pockets, you may get what you are looking for, but donít count on it. I tried three times, with one semi-successóthe Scott 350B. The MD 108 is about perfect. It is the desert island tuner you read about when it came out in 1997, and the newest edition is as advertisedómusical, musical, musical! It is somewhere between LP and SACD sonically, and best when played balanced.
Pluses? I have never seen a more flexible tuner. (Although the Pioneer 93 was similarly flexible, none of the functions actually worked.) There are three bandwidth settings, all of which work exquisitely. The mute and stereo blend worked well and are defeatable. The tuning is fantastically precise. The look and feel is Tiffany personified. And oh yes, the tuner makes music, to my ears and anyone elseís. I can listen for hours and be entertained by all that free music. No tuner I have ever heard prepared me for the sound of this one. I love it!
Quibbles? The 108 is supplied with a terrible 18-gauge power cord. I replaced it without even unwrapping it. Magnum Dynalab could do better. The elegant metal case supplied with the tuner gives you the impression that you could take your $6000 tuner to the beach to use with your Walkman, or maybe ship it across country to Grandmaís house at Christmas to have in the hotel. Forget it, Magnum, and how about supplying a nice antenna with the unit? You sell a great one for $100! Also, I experienced the MD remote control with the 102, and cannot recommend it. You might want to forget the remote and place the tuner near the listening position, with long interconnects.
I realize that this is not an overly technical review. I recommend that you go to Magnumís website if you want specs or to learn about the tubes they use. They also offer a lifetime repair service, which guarantees that service does not exceed $75 whenever you need it. I donít know if the original, 1997 MD 108s sounded this good, but these, which take a month to build, are just grand. I really donít know how many people will spend this much on a state-of-the-art tuner, but itís a much better risk than an antique such as a Marantz 10B or the like, even at half the cost. Hereís the key: All of the tuners Iíve owned or auditioned simply did not hold up when inserted into a system using Avalon Eidolons and maximized for Benz phono cartridges or the Sony SCD-1. All the warts, wrinkles, and colorations just got unbearable, and the tuner ended up in my bedroom system. The Magnum MD 108 is playing its heart out on those Eidolons, and the sound is exceptional. I only know itís a tuner because the announcer comes on between selections and tells me it is! Highest recommendation for FM fans. The MD 108 is now my reference and my nominee for THE best tuner in the world! Robert H. Levi
The 108 is power cord sensitive. No more than other top gear, but certainly as much. I liked the very neutral Kimber 10 Gold the best, a great $300 choice. The Tice Pro 1 was too cool sounding (the TPT's did not help). The Tara Decade was a bit too bright. The Soundstring was too rich. The Tara RSC Air One was just a bit too aggresive and vivid. The Eichman Express 6 was very good and my second choice. Overall, the 10 gage Kimber just did not seem to add or subtract any of the musical goodness and accuracy of the MD108.
Also, the AQ 7500 turned out to be the best indoor antenna for the 108. It has never been the best choice before as it is not directional in any way and tends to attract RF noise from electronic sources inside the house. In this case, the Magnum rejects 95% of the noise and benefits sonically from the half wave design and resulting audio improvement of the tall AQ7500 antenna.