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Magnum Audio MP 160 Stereo Preamplifier Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 June 1997
ImageMagnum, a small British audio component manufacturer, was started several years ago by the one of the founding fathers of the REGA Planar turntable. Today, Magnum is making their line of mosfet integrated, pre and power amplifiers, CD players and loudspeakers available to audiophiles and music lovers throughout the U.S. I was fortunate enough to procure the MP 160 ($750 USD) preamplifier and the MF 160 ($750 USD) power amplifier and have had the two pieces in and out of my audio system over the last few months.

The MP 160 preamplifier is a slim-line unit featuring all single ended inputs and outputs and boasts an internal power supply. The front panel features an on/off switch, three buttons each (tape monitor, mute and mono functions), an input selector along side balance and volume controls. Also, to add even more value, the MP 160 comes not only with a phono section but a user selectable switch for moving magnet and moving coil, surely keeping the roots of the company intact. My review sample was finished sporting a very posh looking chromed face plate and knobs, with black also being available for an additional $50. As most things go when it comes to aesthetics, you either like or dislike the way something looks. I thought the look was absolutely brilliant (no pun intended) and received numerous positive comments from my friends that saw the units.

The MF 160 power amplifier is of similar slim-line height and has only a front panel mounted on/off switch and single ended inputs at the rear. This smallish 70 watt per channel amplifier was finished in the same polished chrome finish as the preamp. The pair was wired with Transparent cable and reviewed using loudspeakers from Hales, Eggleston and Sonus Faber.
The Sound
Once warmed up, I was surprised at the incredible music this little set of electronics was producing. Honestly, here I am listening to two products I have never heard, from a company I have never heard of, and all the while I'm thinking, 'How come I have never heard this stuff before and why doesn't everyone know about this company?' Needless to say, I was quite impressed. I have owned all sorts of electronics, both solid state and tube, in all kinds of price ranges so I believe I have a pretty good idea of what your typical high end electronic system should sound like. I have also, as the years have passed, become jaded and spoiled with unusually high standards, so it's always nice to be surprised when you get turned on by a product; it serves as a reminder of why you do what you do.

The Music
As I listened to the cut "I'm thinking about your body" from the US 3 CD 'Broadway & 52nd' (Blue Note), I noticed an immediacy to the triangle that backs up the lead vocalist and was impressed with the way in which the organ and saxophone were placed perfectly as if they were on stage right in front of me. This amplifier really does bass correctly, with no overhang and a punch that belies its power rating, especially when pushed.

On "Why Go?" from the CD 'Sunday 8 PM' from Faithless (Arista), I felt so immediately involved with the music straight away. I attribute this to the heartbeat sound that serves as the backbone of the song. It sounded so realistic, it captivated me until Boy George started singing. This CD is mixed really well and the electronics were able to bring this to light. Once again, instrument placement, even electronic instruments, seemed to have a great degree of correctness and the bass response and dynamic capabilities of the amplifier shone through.

Listening to Vanessa Daou's 'Plutonium Glow' (Daou Music) I fell in love with her melodic and sensual voice on the track "Mouth to Mouth." Warm, seductive and clean were the three adjectives that most came to mind when listening to this. It's shocking how much the Magnum equipment sounds like tube gear while still maintaining all the attributes of solid state in the same breath. I found this very impressive, especially with the Sonus Faber's which were easier to drive than the other speakers. It was a sound I could live with all day.

The Downside
The preamplifier has no remote control. Of course, if it did, it wouldn't be $750, so you should take this comment for what its worth. It's sort of like saying the amplifier doesn't have enough power (Magnum also makes a 100wpc dual mono amp). In fact, there wasn't really anything I could consider a negative, especially considering the price of each unit and the glorious sounds they make together.

If these components were $2000 each, I would consider them as something to own if I were looking for medium priced electronics. At $1500 for the pair I consider them under priced, an absolute bargain, and a truly elegant alternative to some of the budget amps and preamps made in the U.S. In my opinion, Magnum has succeeded in bringing to the market a group of truly high end products worthy of serious consideration by music lovers interested in low priced, sexy looking and glorious sounding components. A single telephone call to Magnum at (630) 462-9414 may just be the start of something wonderful for your ears.

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