My first real audiophile loudspeakers were the Magneplanar Tympani 1’s. (Before these I owned a pair of Rectilinear III’s which were quite nice for their day.) The Tympani 1’s were so good that I pursued recordings to reveal just how good they were. in doing so, the speakers revealed to me just how wonderful music could be. They helped to start my love affair with classical and Jazz recordings. I first fell in love with the music of Bach by listening to it through the Tympani 1’s.
The speakers were far from perfect, but they presented a certain allusion of live music being played in one’s home, provided that the recording was up to snuff. A wall of sound washed over the listener. One could close his or her eyes and imagine being at a live concert. Precise pinpoint stereo imaging was not their forte, but they never failed to bring across the idea that the music to which one was listening was indeed music. Their midrange was clear and transparent, while highs and lows were lacking. The bass was tight, but lacked weight, and the highs were rolled off and overly damped. Bells simply did not ring enough.
Fortunately, over the years Magnepan speakers grew smaller in size but far better in sound, The latest models of Magnepan are significantly improved at both the high and low end of the frequency spectrum. Today the speakers stand at the peak of their performance. Only very expensive speakers can revival them or exceed them, but the “Maggies” still excel at presenting the allusion of live music being played in the home.
You say that their bass does not play loud enough? They are not able to reproduce the impact of a rock concert? You are right! Just buy some other speakers. Get some top grade cabinet speakers. These will be very expensive if they are to compete with Magnepan. I like rock music – some of it anyway. But I am not willing to compromise certain qualities I hear in the Maggies for the sake of reproducing loud rock music. The Maggies just cannot do it. You will need other speakers for loud rock.
If you are ready to audition Magneplanar speakers you are surely going to run into some difficult choices. The speakers are not as big as they used to be but they are still dipoles. They must be kept away from the back and side walls. In other words, they need to be out in the room. They may simply dominate the room decor. The speakers are lovely to look at but they can be obtrusive. Better not to install them in too small a room.
Not every amplifier can drive the Maggies. The speakers are inefficient and they require an amplifiers that high current capabilities. Power alone is not enough. The amp must also be unconditionally stable. Some amplifiers may drive the speakers but they will not sound at their best. In truth, though this may be controversial, they really come alive when driven by excellent tube amplifiers which are very expensive.
AUDIOGRAM II is about buying sensible products. We love extravagant music reproduction but not extravagant prices. We are going to recommend a relatively inexpensive Magnepan system for your hone without loosing too much of the total Magnepan experience.
We will need to pass on the most expensive Magnepan. It is a magnificent loudspeaker but very expensive. Not only that, but its true ribbon tweeter, though very quick and extended, just does not integrate with the midrange and bass drivers as well as it should. Two lower priced models do a better job of driver integration: the Models 1.7i, and the Model .7. These speaker models use what is called quasi-ribbons for all of their drivers. The drivers blend together well and produce a very smooth and transparent wave front.
Which model should one chose? For a medium sized room chose the $1,995 Magnepan 1.7i.
For a slightly smaller room chose the $1395 Magnepan .7i. They give up some bass response but still have the overall Magnepan sound. A quality subwoofer could augment them and not muck up their sound if cut off very low.
For a small room, forget it. Stay with the AudioEngine 2A+’s. Magnepan’s smaller models are just too difficult to set up in a small room and are not that cost effective.
Which power amp should drive them? That is the question! Do amplifiers sound differently? Yes, and especially on the Magnepan’s. Partly it is a matter that Magnepan’s are difficult to drive. But largely it is a matter that the Maggies are just so revealing. There is no question that David Berning or Audio Research amps make the Maggies come alive, and I mean alive! But the prices of these amps are absurd for a “budget” audio system. So don’t listen to the Maggies on these amplifiers please. But what if you could come close to the capabilities of the Maggies without them?
We are talking quality used tubes? Quality used tubes can be expensive to bring up to speed and maintain, not to mention that they are not cheap at the starting line. (Paoli 60M’s may be an exception if you can find them.)
How about solid state? They will not sound like quality tubes driving Magnepan. Too much of the magic of the speakers might be lost. But I am thinking about a solid state amp that sounds like tubes and does not cost a bundle. There is only one candidate. The very first solid state amp that did not sound like solid state at all. Why it is the QUAD 303 power amp, Peter Walker’s masterpiece!
Yes, it is a rated at only 45 watts RMS per channel. That is a conservative rating. It is a high current amplifier that has rock solid stability. These amps are still being used in the field, but they are no longer produced. However, a used reconditioned one may be obtained for less than $500. That is the good news.
Here is the best news. This amp makes the Maggies sing such beautiful songs. It reproduces such a wonderful sound stage. Voices are crystal clear. Instruments are separated. There is air around them. And the amp has such a sweetness about it. Yes, the sweetness might be a coloration, but that does not seem to hurt the typical CD sound. Good vinyl comes through unscathed. Ultimately, I listen to music and not audio equipment. If you love music and live on a budget, pick up the 303 even if you don’t have Maggies. The amp gets along very well with many other speakers as well.
I must admit that we have bought some rather expensive beer here. But the sound is more like champaign. No need to give up your treasured 2A+’s if you would spend the money on vinyl.