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Magnum Dynalab MD807T

Magnum Dynalab MD807T

The biggest problem with some products these days is placing them into the right category. The Magnum Dynalab MD807T is a perfect example of this. It’s a DAB/FM tuner that’s also a valve 24/192 upsampling DAC, an internet radio, and a UPnP media renderer. You can even pull tracks from a front mounted USB port. Life was so much simpler when you could just say ‘tuner’!

In fairness to all, this is the nature of the audio beast now. Increasingly, we are moving away from a time where the user needs or wants a separate CD player, tuner and DAC for their computer audio, but wants the functionality of all three on the same shelf. The MD807T does just that.

In a way, the core of the device is relatively straightforward. Take a good quality digital front end – in this case, Frontier Silicon – tailor it to your needs, mix in a good Burr Brown upsampling 24/192 DAC for both this and external sources, mix in an FM tuner (with DAB in the appropriate territories), and end with a triode-based output stage (sporting two 6922 double triodes) that has proven uniformly popular among users. All this, and you get the usual thick front panel seen on more up-scale Magnum Dynalab products. It’s not hard to see why this is a heady mix.

Installation is relatively easy, although if you are coming to this cold there’s a steep learning curve with any streaming device. Basically the best way to think of this is to divide the MD807T into three distinct chunks. The tuner stage is fairly easy to process; you screw an aerial into the F-type socket and then control the tuner from the front panel or the learning remote. The DAC stage is similarly obvious, where you would choose the optical, coaxial or even USB front input, and the front panel for navigation (useful with USB drives). The other section is slightly more complex, in that you need to connect the MD807T into your home computer network. You can use Frontier Silicon’s internet tuner service to pull in thousands of radio stations worldwide (the quality of these is variable, yet can be outstanding at times), but a better way is to use the MD807T as a media renderer in a UPnP/DLNA digital music network.

 

UPnP requires storing your music on a computer, either a traditional computer connected to this network, or a dedicated NAS drive with some kind of matching media server software driving the system. Magnum Dynalab recommends Windows Media Player as a default choice, but I’d recommend using almost anything else – AssetNAS, MinimServer, even Twonky – if you are configuring a network drive. I used the MD807T with the remarkably robust Naim Audio UnitiServe and the two spoke to one another in seconds. Aside from the WMA recommendation, I was impressed at the depth of the manual, although – as I suspect this might be many people’s first steps into networked audio – a more comprehensive ‘back office’ installation and more troubleshooting pages could be in order. While I am reluctant to use the good work of one brand to help a rival, Linn Products LinnDocs pages (www.docs.linn.co.uk) has excellent and relatively understandable – if a little Linn oriented – advice on creating and installing a music network that might prove invaluable at one point in the whole MD807T ownership experience.

Part of the reason for that infrastructure being in place at Linn Products is the British got hold of UPnP early and sort of made it their own. Linn and Naim capitalised on this early adoption, but many components from these brands have a distinctly beat-oriented performance that some swear by and others scratch their head to. If you are in the latter camp, you probably judge the performance of an audio system by the accuracy of its tonal balance, its detail and its ability to present a cogent and accurate soundstage. And, if you are in that latter camp, this is the UPnP media renderer you’ll likely want to own.

Looking back on my first round with a Magnum Dynalab internet-equipped device (the MD801), the MD807T is a fairly significant step forwards in several respects, although there is still no provision for popular next-gen music providers like Spotify, Deezer and Rhapsody. Perhaps most importantly, the Frontier Silicon backbone – although ostensibly unchanged – has gone through several small updates to make it more robust, faster and user friendly. The system boots up faster and is considerably more robust than before; I tried to make the device hang by mashing my fingers against the 3” touch screen on the front panel, but couldn’t even create a go-slow. Like all network streaming devices, reaction time is not immediate, but multiple button presses causing ‘where am I?’ changes to the interface aren’t a problem. This means that where before I considered the MD801 to be a does-everything radio that also does streaming, the MD807T is a legitimate digital hub in the fullest sense of the term.

The joy of the MD807T is it adds some of the satisfyingly rich and inherently natural presentation of Magnum Dynalab’s valve tuners and applies it to the 21st Century. Digital audio sound – especially that of computer audio – is sometimes criticised for being unpleasantly etched, but not here. The music here is full of harmonic structure, regardless of how that music comes to the MD807T.

This makes for an exceptionally good soundstage, and that helps when perhaps dealing with less than perfect digital sources. Most of us will happily play music in lossless form, but you may find someone wanting to play a USB stick filled with mishandled files, or happen across an internet radio station that isn’t filling the room with wondrous sound; at that point the reason why Magnum Dynalab’s triode tuners proved so popular becomes clear – they always sound lively and lovely. Soundstaging is a big plus; this makes a wide but especially deep stage that draws you in no matter the music content.

 

What I particularly like about the MD807T’s overall sound is it is not bright and not fatiguing. These are characteristics that seem to have sprung up with the transition to networked audio, that are similar to – but not as harsh as – the early days of CD audio. I think it’s more to do with producing a sound with some ‘pizzazz’ to it, to help speed the migration, but it’s not the most natural sound you’ll hear from audio. The MD807T doesn’t do that harsh, strongly lit and etched sound, but neither is it dull or boring. It just sounds like music and how music should be played.

I received the 50 disc box set of Bob Dylan for my birthday last year (that works out at a disc a year, but I guess I must be being punished for some years, especially the ones that relates to Self Portrait and Down In the Groove). These are generally good remasters, but the MD807T brings out the best in the best. Among the first division of Dylan’s discography, New Morning remains one of my favourite albums of his (after Desire). I especially appreciated the way the MD807T separates his voice from the band on ‘Went to See the Gypsy’, yet doesn’t mask the interplay between guitar and organ, and keeps that up-tempo drum beat thumping along in the background. Nice!

OK, so if you want the ultimate in analogue FM tuner replay, you’ll probably go for something else, and very probably something else in the Magnum Dynalab range. But the MD807T is no tuner slouch this gets physically and sonically close to the 107T FM tuner in terms of output stage (as discussed), if not sporting the same custom tuner head that so sets M-D apart from the FM pack.

If you are into ‘radio’ rather than just into ‘FM radio’, the 807T’s DAB and especially internet radio services make this an excellent tuner in the most modern sense of the term. The radio service (linked to a Frontier home page for tuner choices) is swift to change stations, seamless and precise. It’s a more selective service than some purely computer-based options, but this is in many respects a good thing as of the thousands of stations listed on some services, you could probably cut away 95% without tears. There’s always some obscure college channel that you’ll miss, and some stations will drop in and out of the list randomly (they all do this) but all the international majors are constant and covered, and often sound very good indeed.

There’s an old saying – Jack of all trades, master of none. The accent should be on the ‘old’. Products like the MD807T ably show that it’s time to put this bon mot out to pasture. This is because it manages to combine several different audio disciplines, without letting the side down on any of them. Recommended.

Technical Specifications

  • Internet-connected DAB/FM tuner
  • Radio formats supported: FM, DAB, DAB+, Internet radio, Internet streaming
  • Formats supported: Real Audio, AAC+, MP3, WMA and FLAC
  • Tube Specifications: 2x 6922 Cryo-trested MagnumDynalab reference tubes
  • Frequency response (±1dB): 15Hz-17kHz
  • Balanced audio output: 2.2V
  • Line audio output: 1.0V
  • Power conception typical/max: 50W/100W
  • Dimensions (HxWxD): 20.4×79.5x50cm
  • Weight: 6.2kg
  • Price: £3,995

Manufactured by: Magnum Dynalab

www.magnumdynalab.com

Distributed in the UK by: Audiofreaks

www.audiofreaks.co.uk

Tel: +44(0) 8948 4153

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