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Positive Feedback ISSUE 1
june/july 2002


magnum dynalab

MD-308 integrated amplifier

as reviewed by Larry Cox, Victor Chavira, and Carlo Flores


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Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier. E.A.R. 802 preamplifier.

Pioneer DV 525 dvd player.

Quattro Fil interconnects and speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire.

API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.


one.jpg (6551 bytes)The MD-308 integrated amplifier is Magnum Dynalab’s first foray into amplification. I believe that it is based on Simaudio’s I-5, an amp that was reviewed positively by aM and has garnered praise elsewhere. The MD-308 is lighter than the I-5, primarily because the casework isn’t as thick, but it is well built nonetheless. It isn’t beautiful, or ugly, just utilitarian, with a large LED that toggles to indicate source selected or volume level. The substantial aluminum remote fit neatly into my hand and the controls were intuitive. It was unequivocally the best remote I’ve ever used; within a day I was using it "blind," able to naturally find the proper controls, helped by the LED display.

The MD-308 has a clean, clear presentation, with an appropriately damped bottom end and reasonably extended highs. I had no complaints about the workman-like top end. It was neither open nor closed-in, just reasonably good. No frequencies stood out. The MD-308 is a polite amplifier, doing little to offend, matching my experience with its cousins in the Sim/Moon line, which have always sounded a little more clean and polished than reality to me. My aural memory (perhaps not to be trusted) says that the MD-308 is less slick and polished-sounding than the Sim products, allowing more texture to shine through, but it still errs slightly in melding the finest details into a sound that implies more than it delivers. I missed the unexaggerated, textured midrange and bottom end I get with my amplification, along with another level of fine detail.

On the 20-bit Metro Jazz remaster of Sonny Rollins & Big Brass, the opening track, "Grand Street," opens with an in-your-face blare of reedy saxophone. The MD-308 made the sax a less finely-filigreed instrument, giving it a slightly simplified sound. It didn’t make the instrument sound fuzzy, but did gild the sound a bit. Given the price point of speakers the Magnum Dynalab will be likely to be matched with, this may be a desirable characteristic, and it will only show up on occasion. I had to search out specific recordings in order to determine that the amp was doing it. Once heard, it is heard from top to bottom, but most apparently from the midrange and up, although not so broadly that no detail came through. On the first track of Bjork’s Verpertine there is a bizarre, scratchy, electronic sound. My reference amp reproduced it in a way that was almost indistinguishable from the MD-308’s, but provided an ever-so-slightly more detailed AND relaxed sound.

I am no longer using Nordost Quattro Fil interconnects between my CD player, preamp, and amplifier. They are good cables, but add a little more polish to the sound than I want. (This coloration, by the way, strikes me as very similar to that of the MD-308.) Since my current preamp and amplifier are both balanced, I have been using a one-meter section of Calrad balanced wire (which sounds great at $20 total!). With Ensemble Dynaflux ($850/meter) between the CD player and preamp, the sound of my reference system is richer and more timbrally textured than the $1600/meter pair Nordost. I made the switch in the middle of this review, happily, since the Nordost/MD-308 combination made things sound too much like an ice skating rink.

Another good match for the MD-308 is DH Labs’ Air Matrix Interconnects. Textured, detailed, and with very few sonic anomalies, they also keep you from digging ever deeper into your wallet. I tried the MD-308/DH Labs setup with both my ATCs and the Ruark Prologue II speakers here on review, and was impressed. The combination of the Ruarks and the MD-308 was one of those magic price-point systems that deliver most of what much more expensive systems do. The Ruarks with the MD-308 was an enjoyable experience, with an "alive" presentation that could easily seduce listeners. Imaging was good, although not as fleshed out as tubes would allow. Bass was full, fast and fun. I got a good sense of having performers in the room. What was missing won’t be noticed by audiophile neophytes who love music. Even seasoned audio types on a limited budget will be happy. You don’t get the very best for $2000, but you do get a good sampling of it with the MD-308 and the Ruarks. Bass was flat to about 45 Hz, fast, and reasonably well-textured. The midrange was full, with an ever-so-slight bump of warmth. The system is slightly polite and sweet, but this is a reasonable sin at this price.

With my ATC speakers, the DH cables, and the MD-308, the top end was better, although the ATCs’ resolving ability exceeded the MD-308’s. There was a little more sparkle and magic with the ATCs and my reference electronics (at almost four times the cost). It was easier to discern details, and to connect emotionally with male and female vocals. The ATCs wanted more bottom end than the Magnum Dynalab’s 100 watts could provide, though this is hardly the fault of the amplifier, since the ATCs require the more juice and higher volume levels of, say, ATC’s 200 watt amplifier.

The gear that will be matched with the MD-308 will probably benefit from a "nicer" interpretation than a ruthlessly revealing one. I liked Magnum Dynalab’s job here, and feel very comfortable recommending it. If you are moving up the food chain to a $2000-plus amplifier, the MD-308 is a very good choice, and one that could settle you into a stable system, with a sound that is musical, neutral, and enjoyable. Larry Cox





Magneplanar 1.6 and B&W DM 302.

Kora Explorer integrated. SCE Harmonic Recovery System.

Audio Electronics CD1 player.

Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Blue Heaven speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords.

Monster Cables HTS 1000 AC center. Vibrapods, Lovan Trisolator, and Echo Busters.


two.jpg (6646 bytes)If anyone had asked me a year ago if I would consider listening to an integrated amplifier from a company that makes radios, I would have politely responded, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In doing so, I would have missed the opportunity to hear one of the most versatile and musical products in its price range. Essentially, the Magnum Dynalab 308 is the very successful 208 receiver without the tuner section. Both products produce 100 watts into 8 ohms, 160 into 4. The 308’s list of features includes a shielded toroidal transformer, oxygen-free wiring, and ultralinear matched components in a low-negative-feedback class AB design. The weighty remote is logically laid out and ergonomically designed. The faceplate is accented by sapphire-blue LEDs and two bright VU meters, one for each channel. Unlike many integrated amplifiers on the market, the 308 features a true preamp rather than a passive attenuator, which makes it possible to drive a second amplifier if necessary. Sadly, the 308 does not have headphone or phono capabilities.

I plugged the 308 directly into the wall with its stock power cord, and placed it upon a Lovan Trisolator shelf on the carpet. The unit was already broken in, but I left it on for more than an hour before listening, and left it on for the remainder of the review period. Getting good bass from my Magnepan panels is always a challenge. Any amp mated to a Maggie must have a well-designed power supply and large reserves of juice. What do I use to evaluate a component’s bass performance? Why, bass players, of course: Cachao, Al McKibbon, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden. I can only speculate as to what a dinosaur stomp might have sounded like, but I do know the sound of a string bass. The 308 convincingly portrayed each of the aforementioned bass players’ signature tones with clarity, pitch, and definition.

But the 308 isn’t only about bass. From the midrange up, the 308 possesses a sonic signature that is neither tightly transistor nor voluptuously vacuum. The Magnum was quiet and transparent, allowing the rhythmic and emotional content of musical performances to flow freely. Nora Jones’ debut CD on Blue Note is an interesting example. I first made the mistake of listening to this disc through my Kora Explorer, and it sounded so bland that I questioned the buzz about Ms. Jones. Then I listened again with the 308, and experienced insight into the beauty and complexity of this young performer’s voice and talent. I also listened to that creature of Canadian comfort, Diana Krall. The Magnum revealed previously unheard subtleties and nuances of her piano playing and her interaction with her band mates. Whereas Nora Jones possesses a unique voice and original phrasing, Ms. Krall knows how to swing.

Another example of the 308’s consummate musical performance occurred when I connected my budget DVD player to the 308 for an evening of 2.0 home theater. Moulin Rouge is a film that develops at an astonishing pace, with fleeting moments of dialogue followed by pulsing musical productions. The 308 sounded like it had two different amps inside. One sounded as smooth as Satine (Nicole Kidman) during passages of dialogue, both spoken and sung. The other packed an incredible wallop. During the “Lady Marmalade” scene, the 308 reached down into the lowest regions, and rumbled my Maggies in a way I hadn’t heard since the 350-watt McIntosh 352.

By now it should be obvious that I loved this amplifier. Don’t be misled by the fact that it can be purchased through Audio Advisor. The Magnum Dynalab 308 integrated is a serious, first-rate product that outclasses anything else that can be found in the pages of that ubiquitous catalog. After consulting my wife and considering the family budget, we ordered, not the MD308, but the MD208 receiver, because we wanted FM. The MD208 has become my new reference. Magnum Dynalab has changed my life. It will change yours, too, if you give it a chance. Victor Chavira





PSB Stratus Bronze,
Sennheiser HD580, Grado SR225 and SR60 headphones.

Conrad-Johnson Sonographe SA-250 amplifier, DIY headphone amplifier, and an
Anthem Pre1L (w/Mullard tubes).

H! Njoe Tjoeb CD player (w/Amprex tubes), Arcam Apha 9 CD player, Rega Planar 3/Origin Live RB250/Grado Gold. Vintage Phillips receiver (phono and tuner)

TEK-Line power cords, Tara Labs and Kimber interconnects, and diy speaker cable.

Vibrapods, BDR cones, and diy rollerblocks


three.jpg (8484 bytes)Simplicity is a beautiful thing, but unfortunately, most high end audio manufacturers don't feel that way. Components have lately turned into statement pieces, with garish gold trim, shiny silver faceplates, wooden knobs, and non-parallel lines. Audio jewelry. There seem to be two camps in hi-fi, those who enjoy the extravagance of excess and those who see the appeal of subtlety. I set my tent in the latter.

The Magnum Dynalab MD-308 is, to borrow a cliche, a breath of fresh air. It doesn't remind me of vintage equipment. Rather, it looks more thoroughly modern, and simply hip, than the competition. Lifting the MD-308 onto my amp stand gave a hint of what was to come—the thing weighs a solid thirty pounds and exudes build quality. An immediate complaint is the lack of a phono stage or headphone output, but that’s to be expected nowadays. Its simple remote control contains a whooping seven buttons (input, power, and +/- for volume), all I will ever need. I couldn't help but pull a cold beer from the fridge, grab a stack of CDs, dim the lights, and slink into my listening chair.

My strongest impression of this component's character is its balance across the frequency spectrum. On Jimmy Smith's Root Down (Verve 314 559 805-2), each musician's individuality and his part in the musical performance blends together beautifully. Yes, their genius would catch my ear through a clock radio, but through the Magnum-Dynalab it turns into candy for my ears. The top end lacks the strident nature I normally associate with solid state amplifiers. The amp exhibits total control of the speakers, producing taut, deep, and fast bass response. Listening through the disc was a pleasure.

"Musical" is an overused term in this hobby. To this day I don't know what value to place on the word. Is it the smearing of detail to make material more listenable? Or is it a rolled-off treble to lessen the harshness of inferior masters? None of this applies to the MD-308. The Magnum handled all that I threw at it, from questionably-recorded punk such as Iggy Pop's remastering of The Stooges' Raw Power (Columbia/Legacy CK 6629) to The Modern Lovers' Live (Beserkley SOB CD 0054 a). Mos Def's Black On Both Sides (Rawkus 50141), an addictive mix of social commentary under the guise of hip-hop, doesn't lose its aggressiveness. The MD-308 doesn’t mask the flaws of what’s on the disc—it lets out what’s there. Paul Simon’s 1964-93 Boxed Set (Warner Bros 9 45394-2) is filled with analog hiss. The Magnum doesn’t touch it, nor, more importantly, does it mar the artistry that makes Simon not only one of the premier writers of the past century, but one of the great musicians as well. This amplifier does exactly what it's supposed to do—get out of the way of the music. It is the type of component one doesn't listen for, but forgets about.

However, my job as a reviewer is to dig into the details. My frame of reference includes my Anthem tubed preamp, so what’s to come can be filed under Tubes v. Solid State. I really don’t care that some tests show that transistors measure better than tubes. The Pre1L feeding the CJ SA-250 simply sounds more realistic than the Magnum Dynalab. I am by no means claiming that Wes Montgomery sounds as if he’s in my listening room when I play Talkin Verve: The Roots of Acid Jazz. Still, the decay of his guitar ringing in space sounds much too brief with the Magnum. The attack of the kick drum, while offering plenty of depth, lacks the slight reverb I hear through my reference preamp/amp. The emotional connection I find with my components is sadly lacking with the Magnum Dynalab. Is the MD-308 a cold-sounding component? No. Its sonic character, or lack of character, will probably be a plus for many listeners. Not me.

I understand that for many listeners, soundstage is an artifact of the recording process and is seldom accurately reproduced in the home environment. Whatever. In my system, soundstage is a regular occurrence. The Magnum Dynalab localized placement from left to right well, on par with my similarly-priced but modded separates. What it lacks is depth. Individual performers sound as if they're on the same plane, a foot behind or in front of each other. Focusing on drum work from DCC's remaster of Joni Mitchell's Blue (DCC GZS-1132) usually gives me the surreal feel of a three-dimensional experience. With the Magnum in the system, I lacked that. Switching to Ani DiFranco’s post-90s folk genre, her reveling/reckoning is a well-recorded disc if there ever was one. Hard, dark, straight lines form each musician’s image. Focus on any one instrument–her simple guitar, the bongo accompanying, the rhythmic bass guitar, or the percussion–and it’s breathtaking, but try to place the rest of the musicians and they sound as if they’re crammed into a walk-in closet.

But even these criticisms aren’t overwhelming. The Magnum Dynalab gives up very little to the Anthem and Conrad Johnson. When taken within the context of what it does provide: its lack of nonsense and its non-apology for being solid state (in my opinion, far too many companies try to sweeten the sound to mimic tubes). The MD-308 does all it’s supposed to. Compared to my reference setup, I only heard what it didn’t do—bloom on vocals, a soundstage that doesn’t hover in space, the fine texture of hands slapping skin on a bongo. This price point is all about tradeoffs, and the Magnum Dynalab MD-308 simply doesn’t compromise much. Carlo Flores




Magnum Dynalab MD-308 integrated
Retail $2350

Magnum Dynalab
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