Why do you love music? Maybe
youre thinking, "Well, it depends on what music youre 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, whats most important is
that it communicate the music with as much fidelity to the recording as possible.
Whats 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
youre 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
whats delivered by conventional dynamic loudspeakers. Ultimately, it will come down
to personal preference, but if youre 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 Magnepans (e.g., Monsoon Audio), Maggies remain the most
musically satisfying planars Ive heard.
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
youll be fine. Although the speakers nominal impedance is a lowish 4 ohms, it
is essentially a resistive load (i.e., it varies little from its nominal rating), so
its 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 thats 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 Bachs music.
The Magnepans fully revealed the intimate atmosphere of the
studio and the warm grandeur of Loussiers 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/QRs 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 Vaughns Couldnt
Stand the Weather [SACD, Epic ES 65871]. The guitar didnt 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 Ive 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 Ive
heard a thousand times. On VHs cover of Linda Ronstadts "Youre No
Good," Eddie Van Halens 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. Ive 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
Youll 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.
Theres 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. Im a drummer, and I can
tell you that the Maggies got close to sounding like real drums -- witness Joe
Morellos 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 Polk Audio LSi15 ($1740/pair) and the
Magnepan MG1.6/QR are priced within $15 of each other, so theyre natural
competitors. But while each is excellent in its own right, theyre two very different
The Polk has a tight, deep bass that is weightier than the
Magnepans, 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 Focals 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.
Magnepan speakers do have a sonic signature; tonally, the
MG1.6/QR wasnt 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