GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published March 1, 2005

 

Magnepan MG1.6/QR Loudspeakers

Why do you love music? Maybe you’re thinking, "Well, it depends on what music you’re talking about -- Eddie Van Halen, Miles Davis, and Vladimir Horowitz have little in common beyond making sound from instruments." Not true, I say. All great musicians make us feel something profound. That emotional evocation is the very essence of music.

Audiophiles talk about "right brain/left brain" distinctions in sound -- warm, soothing, and lush vs. cool, analytical, and informative. Well, real music contains a huge palette of tonal and timbral and spatial colors. Although a particular speaker might have a general sonic character, what’s most important is that it communicate the music with as much fidelity to the recording as possible.

What’s a Magneplanar MG1.6/QR anyway?

Standing 65" high by 19" wide by a scant 2" deep, the MG1.6/QR more resembles a large, rectangular picture frame than a loudspeaker. Its flat Mylar midrange/bass panel crosses over to a quasi-ribbon tweeter at 500Hz. Though tall and wide, the speaker is lightweight at 45 pounds -- two of them are easy to slide out from the wall for critical listening, then slide back against the wall when you’re done. The MG1.6/QR retails for $1725/pair USD.

The MG1.6/QR is a two-way planar-magnetic quasi-ribbon dipole design. Planars can deliver a wonderful sense of transparency, scale, and cohesiveness that makes the experience of listening to music considerably different from what’s delivered by conventional dynamic loudspeakers. Ultimately, it will come down to personal preference, but if you’re a music lover you should hear Maggies to understand what they can do with your favorite music. While other companies have used technology similar to Magnepan’s (e.g., Monsoon Audio), Maggies remain the most musically satisfying planars I’ve heard.

Setup

I drove the MG1.6/QRs with a B&K ST-2140 power amp rated at 140Wpc. Maggies need a good deal of quality power -- think at least 100Wpc and you’ll be fine. Although the speaker’s nominal impedance is a lowish 4 ohms, it is essentially a resistive load (i.e., it varies little from its nominal rating), so it’s not particularly difficult to drive. A B&K PT-3 preamp-tuner and a Sony SACD-222ES SACD player completed the system. Interconnects were all Kimber PBJ. Speaker cables were double runs of 12awg Monster Cable.

Placement was not difficult. I positioned the MG1.6/QRs 40" out from the short wall (which is 13’ wide), 28" from the sidewalls, and toed in about five degrees. My listening chair was 10’ from the speakers, which gave the drivers adequate room to blend.

The sound of music

I started out with a recent acquisition that’s quickly become a musical and sonic favorite: Jacques Loussier Plays Bach [CD, Telarc CD-83411]. The French pianist interprets several Bach works with a twist, playing this traditionally baroque music in the jazz idiom. Loussier is an absolutely superb interpreter, for his subtle intonation and fine sense of time. He makes Bach swing. His trio of piano, acoustic bass, and drums (yes, Bach and jazz drumming, implemented as tastefully as here, can be a great combination), brings a sense of freshness and modernity to Bach’s music.

The Magnepans fully revealed the intimate atmosphere of the studio and the warm grandeur of Loussier’s piano. In the Andante of the "Italian Concerto," the haunting left-hand chords and right-hand flurries were superbly delineated tonally and spatially through the Maggies. I felt as if I could get up and sit down at the piano, so real and tangible was its presence. This uncanny sensation was one that the Maggies produced more often than any not-stratospherically priced speaker I can think of.

Bass lines, from the lowest 42Hz fundamentals, were detailed and vibrant. There was warmth of tone, too, but only when it was in the recording. The only thing the MG1.6/QR’s bass lacked was that ultimate sense of weight. Not bass depth, mind you -- this speaker was good to 35Hz in my moderately sized room. Unless you listen to lots of pipe organ or Kodo drums, the MG1.6/QR is likely to give you all the depth you need. Most important, it had fine transient behavior that made its bass quick, tight, and very real sounding.

The Maggies were utterly natural in their spatial presentation. Listen to "Tin Pan Alley," from Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather [SACD, Epic ES 65871]. The guitar didn’t just hang in the space between the speakers, it almost appeared in the room, all its twangy reverb intact. It was as if Stevie Ray was plugged directly into the speakers and, hence, my ears. Images were not laser-etched, as with some minimonitors I’ve heard. The Magnepan MG1.6/QRs were a tad less specific than those speakers, their images ever so slightly diffuse. To my ears, this more closely approximated what I hear when I listen to live music. The solidity of instruments and the apparent air around them within the Maggies’ positively huge soundstage was a big part of why the MG1.6/QRs sounded so, well, real.

Switching to my all-time favorite guitarist, I loaded a remastered version of Van Halen II [CD, Warner Bros. 47738-2], a disc I’ve heard a thousand times. On VH’s cover of Linda Ronstadt’s "You’re No Good," Eddie Van Halen’s highly customized Charvel Strat sounded real through his Marshall amps; I fell in love with his "brown sound" all over again. Depth was beautifully rendered, as was the sense of air and space around the guitar and drums. The timbre of the guitar was truthful, the voices convincing. I remembered fondly why I so loved this band in its original incarnation.

Another characteristic that made the MG1.6/QRs sound so convincing was their speed and their resolution of inner details, most especially through the all-important midrange. I’ve listened to a lot of Diana Krall lately, and have become very familiar with the tone and timbre of her voice. Listening to The Look of Love [SACD, Verve 314 589 597-2], it was as if I had intruded on the sessions and was there while Ms. Krall (Mrs. Costello?) treated each of these standards with her sultry, warm, slightly husky soprano. All of the nuances that comprise her voice were reproduced -- each inflection in the title track, the pensive sadness mixed with hope in "Maybe You’ll Be There."

The Maggies had a lightning sense of rhythm. I love the Neil Peart-produced Burning for Buddy [CD, Atlantic 82699-2], a tribute to the late, great Buddy Rich, arguably the greatest drummer, jazz or otherwise, who ever lived. There’s a lot of unbelievable stick work on this disc, and the Maggies got it right -- they not only set my foot a-tappin’, they got my arms a-flailin’! Drums had perfect timbre and pitch, with no overhang -- real skins and shells, save the ultimate weight and sheer volume available only from the real thing. I’m a drummer, and I can tell you that the Maggies got close to sounding like real drums -- witness Joe Morello’s tasty and technically superb, shuffle-inspired fills in "Drumorello." It was scary. The MG1.6/QRs seemed to snap and pop like real snares and tom-toms.

The competition

The Polk Audio LSi15 ($1740/pair) and the Magnepan MG1.6/QR are priced within $15 of each other, so they’re natural competitors. But while each is excellent in its own right, they’re two very different animals.

The Polk has a tight, deep bass that is weightier than the Magnepan’s, but not as quick or as palpable. The LSi15 is clean in the midrange but laid-back in the upper midrange and lower treble. This is particularly noticeable with vocals -- the Polk softens things a bit (sibilants, for example), while the MG1.6/QR brings voices front and center with superb clarity.

Both speakers have excellent tweeters -- the Maggie a quasi-ribbon, the Polk a silk-dome ring radiator. Both produced dimensional sound, doing very good to excellent jobs of developing instrumental and vocal harmonics, with satisfying spatial and timbral results. And both were slightly soft way up top. Neither will give the shimmering-out-to-infinity highs of Focal’s beryllium tweeter, for example, but both Maggie and Polk had treble that was clean and well integrated with the rest of the frequency range.

Which was better? Horses for courses, I guess. The Maggie favored immediacy, clarity, and truth of timbre. The Polk was lush, somewhat warm, and put more emphasis on the fundamentals of notes. The Maggie had the edge in dynamics, the Polk more weight in the bass. Hear them both and decide for yourself.

Conclusion

Magnepan speakers do have a sonic signature; tonally, the MG1.6/QR wasn’t an absolutely neutral transducer. It sounded as if there was a slight rise somewhere in the upper mids or lower treble that lent a certain refreshing immediacy to the music. In timbre (the ability to convey the distinct qualities of vocals and instruments aside from their pitch and intensity), however, the MG1.6/QR got damn close to true neutrality, if the virtual appearance of real instruments in my living room is any indicator. That is, the Maggies let me hear music as it really sounds, even if they put a little spotlight on a small part of the frequency spectrum.

When I listen to the Magnepan MG1.6/QRs, I get the eerie sensation of being there with all the musicians who make me love music. That ability to "disappear" and take you right to the heart of music is what makes them such a great joy to listen to, and such a superb value in the audio world.

...Chris J. Izzo

Price of equipment reviewed


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