The MD-90t also reproduced the sound space of the recording venue well, giving that voluminous spacious sound that many audiophiles love when present on the recording. Image specificity was very good, making it is easy to pinpoint the location of instruments within the soundstage. Image dimensionality was good, too, but perhaps not outstanding when compared to the palpability of the Audio Logic 2400 DAC. Also, image density (think laser hologram versus the real thing) was not quite as solid or robust as it could been, having a slight see-through quality to it, with more rounded-over edge definition than the more vivid Audio Logic.

While listening on NWPR 89.1 I discovered Gustav Mahler' gem of his Symphony # 5 in C-sharp as played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Sir Georg Solti [London 414321]. I marveled at the beautiful and appropriately rosiny texture of the strings, how well all the sections of the orchestra could be identified as clearly occupying their own unique space on the soundstage. When the horns entered, there was a brassiness and power that evoked awe. Ditto for the low frequencies which had compelling weight and convincing power. Resolution and immediacy were excellent, with appropriate textural string fabric ranging from silkily smooth and beautifully ravishing to biting and stringent as the music required. On another recording, the sounds of fingers moving over guitar strings, the movement of piano pedals, all those familiar little details that make recordings come to life, were clearly evident, showing the MD-90t possessed of the requisite transparency to allow one to hear deeply into a recording.

Tonally, the MD-90t was equally convincing: Instruments and vocals had the 'voice' they should; cymbals the appropriate scintillating shimmer when struck; bells the appropriate piercing purity one expects. Macro-dynamics were good if perhaps somewhat constrained. However, the moderate and micro-dynamics were very good, injecting life into the music such as to rivet my attention by imbuing notes with realistic accent, infusing rhythm with a believable and captivating beat.

When NWPR played Franz Schubert's "Notturno" from his Piano Trio in E-minor Op 148 D 897 with Oleg Maisenberg on piano, Gidon Kremer on violin and Clemens Hagen on cello [Philips 434033], I was entranced by the beautiful and ravishing piano tone, which built in intensity throughout the interplay between violin and piano. I was swept away in a musical moment. When I listened to FM programming through the MD-90 Triode, an engaging musical experience was repeated time and again.

The MD-90t also related the tempo of music in a very believable way, giving a visceral sense of the music's inherent speed and changes therein. When the music sped up, you clearly sensed acceleration; when it slowed down, you felt the appropriate sense of braking. Not all equipment does tempo this well. That sadly diminishes the artists' musical intent to evoke feelings of exhilaration or relaxation. Some equipment portrays homogenous tempi to never convey appropriate sense of speed or speed changes; but the MD-90T did it well.

With the Harbeth-Naim system in particular, the MD-90t gave keen insights into the way notes were accented, fused into grouped beats, beats into measures, how these beats impacted the feel of the music, its forward momentum. A piece of equipment that infuses music with energy and forward momentum to reveal inflective accents is said to have rhythm. Some gear turns rhythm mechanical or sterile like a drum machine. Other equipment diminishes the dynamic micro impact of beats, making music sound lifeless and boring. But in both the Harbeth-Naim and Duo-Fi-Vibe-Nirvana systems, the MD-90T showed itself to be a good rhythmic performer, helping me to be drawn into the musical message.

When NWPR played Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, with the New York Philharmonic under Bernstein [Deutsche Gramophone 429220], I couldn't help but feel drawn into the music's brooding intensity and mysteriousness. I hastily added to my notes "Buy this disc!" The MD-90t also made excellent sense of the melody and its interplay with rhythm. The Dynalab tuner differentiated extremely well between rhythm and melody, allowing the full measure of the melodic line to emerge from the rhythmic accompaniment. Some highly resolving equipment tends to sound edgy and mechanical as opposed to fluid and organic. The MD-90t was both resolving and continuous to give a fluid and natural audio experience with plenty of musically relevant natural detail. In my experience, tube equipment often excels with this aspect of reproduction better, but the brilliant operational amplifier-based Tom Evans Design equipment from England is but one notable exception to this 'rule'.

Summing Up

The MD-90t is an attractive, well built, fine sounding audio device that provides a lot of value for its $1595 asking price. It not only sounds good but also plays music in outstanding fashion. The MD-90t has instilled a new sense of adventure and discovery into my musical listening hobby. I have experienced new and uncharted musical revelations at every turn of the dial. When I find music I really like and want to listen to over and over again, I go out and buy the software knowing it'll be a winning addition to my collection.

The MD-90t is fun in a variety of ways: Weekday mornings, I've been getting up to the news while preparing for work. Weekday evenings while prepping dinner, I enjoy listening to classical music. Saturdays, I look forward to a good laugh while following Car Talk. On weekends, I fancy exploring folk, blues or anything else that catches my whimsey. On weekend evenings, I explore jazz. Having an FM tuner at my beck and call is a new experience for me. I've found that I derive a great deal of entertainment and satisfaction from listening to FM broadcasts through the MD-90t. I dare predict you would, too.

A brief interview with Magnum Dynalab's president Larry Zurowski

Larry, as president, what is your role at Magnum Dynalab?

As president, it is my job to insure that product quality and customer service stay #1. I am always looking ahead to new products and ideas too, while keeping in mind what our strengths are, with the focus of staying in the two-channel arena.

What was your inspiration for the Magnum Dynalab Triode series of tuners?

The inspiration or driving force was one person, Zdenko Zivkovic. Zdenko was a former designer of Sonic Frontiers equipment. He came to us and said that given the great RF section we already had in our tuners, he could add a new sonic dimension by using triodes; and that he could do it in such a way as to appeal to all music lovers.

The sonic attributes of the MD-90t are considerable. What sorts of design elements did you incorporate to give the MD-90 Triode such outstanding sound quality? The MD-90t is also particularly adept at communicating the emotive aspects of the musical experience. How did you achieve this?

There are three design elements we paid close attention to, that make a big difference in sound quality. First we paid special attention to the ground plane to insure that the main signal is not affected by any stray ground path signals. This is very important because it ensures that the micro information of the music signal isn't lost. Secondly, the design has zero feedback. Zero feedback maintains the integrity of the original waveform, which is crucial. Thirdly, the power supply is designed to eliminate the ripple effect, which allows the full harmonics of the music to come through. When you design a product with the above criteria, you allow the emotional aspect of the music to come out - and you also get excellent sound.

Larry, who is the customer that is most likely to appreciate the Triode Series?

That's easy! Anyone who enjoys a variety of great music will appreciate our tuners!

Okay, I had that coming! How would you say that the sound differs in the Triode Series from their solid-state brethren?

Tough question. We have customers who like the solid state versions for the accuracy of their top end, but as you are experiencing, the Triode design is pretty complete. I think the decision to buy the solid state variants lies in economics -- they are less expensive - and some people are concerned about replacing tubes and the costs to re-tube. [Note: Replacement cost for a set of tubes is approximately $40 - Jeff.]

How do the tuners change in design and performance as you move up the Triode Series?

There are two aspects to our tuners. First and most important -- and the thing that differentiates us from all other manufacturers -- is that we design and manufacture our own varactor-tuned front ends, which is where it all starts. If you do not have a good front end, you cannot achieve the musical fidelity that customers should expect. As you move up our line of tuners, we increase the number of RF stages from three in the MD-90 to five in the MD-108. We also tighten the allowable tolerances in the selection process of the critical components. The other half of the tuner is the audio section. Here again differentiation is done through component selection and matching of critical components, both solid state and tubes. We also add more user features as you move up the line. This allows customers to choose a tuner that will satisfy all their desires and be tailored to the application they have in mind.

In my ignorance, I assumed that FM signals would have significantly lower fidelity than you get with either a digital or analog source feeding a system directly. However, this does not seem to be the case. FM signals have remarkable fidelity through the MD-90t. Could it be that with FM -- like with RedBook digital -- there is a lot more music present in the medium than anyone would have guessed?

Yes, this is a very accurate statement. As a parallel, with a turntable, the better the cartridge, the better the sound - because you are able to retrieve more information. I have drawn this parallel with many people: The front end of a tuner is like the cartridge on a tone arm, or the laser on a CD player. The better the quality of the information collected and purified by the tuner's front end, the better the signal that you can pass to the audio section. I think the technical term is that you are able to capture more of the harmonic structure, and that is what creates the emotion from the music you are experiencing with the MD-90t.

I have been totally captivated by the tuner experience. It's a little hard to articulate in writing how much adventure and fun there is associated with the FM medium through a great tuner like the MD-90 Triode. It's amazing how much good programming is out there both with music, news & entertainment. What do you enjoy most about tuners and the FM medium?

The part of FM that we find exciting is that you can experience all different types of music, some of which is not readily available on CD or LP. Plus, you can sample certain songs before you decide to go ahead and buy the CD or LP. A lot of people who buy our products comment that they did not know FM could sound so musical.

Our readership is a truly international in scope. Are there any factors our international audience should take into account when choosing a tuner and antenna?

The criteria for a tuner around the world are the same - a good tuner front end, a good audio section, and of course, a good antenna.

As a final question, what wisdom would you impart to those who are new to the world of FM tuners?

Once you get your tuner, make sure you have a good antenna. Then go up and down the dial to find those hidden gems you could never enjoy before, and have fun with the music!

Thanks Larry, it's been great chatting with you.

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