Magnepan – Thinking Outside the Box

June 3, 2012

Other than Kimber, Magnepan was the only manufacturer at T.H.E. Show offering music demonstrations with more than two speakers. Kimber was streaming native four-channel DSD ISO-Mike recordings from a Sonoma workstation, through an EMM Labs converter and multi-channel preamp, and monstrous Pass Labs amplifiers, to a quad of Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers in a huge conference room. System cost: well into six figures. On the other hand, Magnepan’s system, described below, fit into a small hotel room and runs around $4700.

The press Magnepan has received over the past two years with its Model 1.7, 3.7, and 20.7 planar-magnetic loudspeakers has been overwhelmingly positive. I have been living with their entry-level MMGs now for two months (review forthcoming) and can tell you that they are extraordinary in the absolute sense, and nothing can touch them at the ridiculously low price of $599.

Magnepan wanted to do something different for T.H.E. Show. What they demonstrated was a pair of MMC-2 motorized on-wall speakers, a CC5 planar-magnetic center channel speaker, and a DW1 planar-magnetic woofer cleverly disguised as a Scandinavian-design end table. The DW1 is not a subwoofer, but a section of the bass panel from the 20.7. Thus, unlike traditional dynamic subwoofers, which plumb the depths but are too slow to integrate well with Magnepans, the DW1 supplements the MMC-2s and CC5 down to about about 40Hz. As usual, Magnepan chose to use a Bryston SP2 surround sound processor and a 6B SST2 three channel amplifier for the demo. Bryston and Magnepan work extremely well together.

This type of setup is aimed squarely at the audiophile who loves the sound of planar-magnetics, but either does not have room for a pair of floor standing loudspeakers, or for whom floorstanding loudspeakers would not meet interior design requirements. The CC5 can be placed above or below a flat-panel television, the MMC-2s can be mounted flat on either the front wall or the front side-walls, and the DW1 bass panel can be discretely placed almost anywhere in the room. Although there was no space for them in the small hotel room, for a home theater you would mount another pair of MMC-2s on the rear side-walls. When ready to play, the MMC-2s silently swing away from the wall and angle toward the listening position, providing the open area in the front and rear required for their di-pole design. The system is much more visually elegant than my description.

Of course, the bottom line is how it sounds. Wendell Diller played a selection of different genres of music during the 20 minute demo, and while the Magnepan system cannot play at the same dynamic levels or the with the same bone-rattling low frequency of the Kimber setup, it made up for it with not only the delicate, airy presentation you expect from Maggies, but more bass than you would ever imagine, all seamlessly delivered. It was one of those “Is it live or is it Memorex?” moments. The system easily bested many of the traditional – and significantly more expensive – two-channel setups in other rooms. Perfect for the audiophile with either listening room or significant other restraints, and a huge step up from the more traditional in-wall speaker approach. Now if custom installers would wake up and smell the roses, their customers could have a much more musical experience.

- Frank Berryman