I am a radio fan, and happily, here in Britain, we're still blessed with a first class radio service, especially for those into classical music or speech, on the BBC's 'flagship' Radios 3 and 4. For my money, both these services well deserve the services of top quality FM tuner, provided you're into their content and have access to a decent FM signal.
To my knowledge, Magnum Dynalab is the only tuner specialist on the planet. It's a well-established company based in Ontario, Canada, has no connection whatsoever with a UK amplifier brand of similar name, and probably deserves wider recognition here in Britain.
The tuner we received was the MD100, which comes in a hands-on-only version at $1,500, or with an additional (retrofittable) remote control option at $1,800. These are high prices for any tuner, but the MD100 is actually one of Magnum Dynalab's less expensive models, sitting second up a four-rung hierarchy.
Since there's an MD102 for several hundred pounds more, and an MD108 complete with valves for more than $5,000, this MD100 can't really be expected to approach the state of Magnum Dynalab's are, though the $1,500/1800 price tag demands serious performance.
The company makes great play of the fact that its tuners are equipped with its own analogue front-ends, as distinct from the digital synthesis approach which is much more common these days. It doesn't entirely eschew digital techniques however-there's a microprocessor inside, presumably for the remote control, and the tuner frequency is
indicated on a central orange illuminated numeric display. What you don't get are any fancy RDS data read-outs, not that you'd expect to find them on a tuner like this.
What is decidedly unusual is finding an analogue tuner equipped with remote control, over tuning and a handful of pre-sets.
This may or may not matter to the reader, but it's something this reviewer has been looking to find for years. Physical appearance is classic transatlantic traditional, combining a chunky thick alloy fascia with sheet steel casework. Ours came in matt black throughout, though fascias in silver or gold are listed options.
Either side of the frequency readout, two good size swing-needle meters dominate the fascia, indicating signal strength/multipath and centre-tune. They're brightly enough illuminated to cope with daylight, if perhaps a shade too bright when the lights are down low. A row to toggle switches perform a number of functions, though you may need a torch to figure out what does what. The rear panel has an IEC mains input, and aerial input, and audio outputs. The aerial downlead needs an F-plug with screw thread (widely used for satellite receivers) rather than the traditional Belling Lee, while the audio out I on unbalanced phonos or balanced XLRs. There's also a small jack socket and toggle switch associated with the remote control.
Ergonomically this is a truly weird one, on first acquaintance at lease, though it proved easy enough to get used to its idiosyncrasies. Most remote control tuners will also respond to their front panel controls, but that's
not the case here. With the MD100 you have an 'either/or-button-not-both' situation, depending on whether you switch the unit on from the handset (activated by a thoroughly confusing and ambiguous rear panel switch), or by the front panel toggle labelled 'Power'. Yes, under remote operation, power is switched 'off'! Fascia controls are dominated by a large tuning knob with a good analogue 'feel'. Besides the curious Power switch, there are toggles for mute on/off, mono/stereo, selectivity (disingenuously labelled BW1/BW2, since 'wide/narrow' is what's meant), and to switch the left hand meter between signal strength and multipath detection. To enhance perceived value, specialist hi-fi makers tend to supply remote handsets which are either exceedingly complex, or unnecessarily heavy. Magnum Dynalab's example is a simple, compact but very hefty affair. It has seven buttons to perform nine tasks (so keep the manual handy), and while it performs as advertised, the reception angle for handset response seemed rather small.
There are five presets-ample in my book-though their volatile little memories get forgetful if power is interrupted. And switching from one to another is a 'pop'n'squelch' affair, as the tuner jumps in and out of its normal muting without any additional disguise. An irritating coincidence for me was that the Naim pre-amp 'mute' remote command caused the MD100 to select presser 4-remote control can have its snags!