Reviewer: John Potis
Two Channel System
Digital source: Pioneer DV-535 DVD player and Bel Canto DAC2
Analog Source: Sota Jewel, Sumiko Premier FT3, Micro Benz MC Silver
Preamp: Shindo Partager
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bryston 7B ST
Speakers: Silverline Sonata II, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 Mk 2 upgrade, Thiel PCS [for review]
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor interconnects and speaker wire, DH Labs D-75 digital interconnect, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature with Wattgate upgrades
Sundry accessories: Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, ZCable Ultra 1 ZSleeves
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling. Speakers set up on long wall in quasi Audio Physic orientation.
|If the Gods aren't crazy, then Magnepan surely must be…
I've spilled my share of positive cyber-ink over various Magnepan loudspeakers in the past. I've written about the 1.6QR, the CC2 and CC3 and the MC1. I've also enjoyed owning their 3.6R. But Magnepan must have lost its collective mind. No, not because they've conjured up a $299 pair of speakers but because they sent them to me for review and right on the heels of the fabulous Thiel PCS/SS2 SmartSub combination. Knowing full well that these $299 wall-hanging and bass-limited speakers were going to displace $7999 worth of over-achieving Thiels, did they send the MMG W loudspeakers expecting me to be able to wax poetic on their virtues? Well, I may be a nice guy but since I'm charged with the duty of keeping things real, I may have to take the opportunity to review such an inexpensive speaker just to demonstrate to our readership that I ain't no push-over nor am I deaf! At their price, these speakers have to be so compromised that I'd be a fool not to take aim and let 'em have it, right? Well, stay tuned because this review isn't going to be a freebie no matter how cheap these new Maggies are.
By the way, Magnepan's insanity isn't anything new. It's been building. It started a few years ago with their development of the MC1 loudspeaker. It's a little larger than the MMG W and it too is bass-limited. No bass below 80Hz. Nothing! And unlike all the real Magneplanar loudspeakers, these little speakers don't even sit on the ground. Magnepan expects people to mount them to the walls. Magneplanars on the walls? How do you expect any speaker to image when it's placed on the wall, let alone one with a dipolar radiation pattern? Can you see what I mean? Can you see their insanity? What is even stranger is that the MC1s worked fabulously. Not only was I forced to give them a rave review and Soundstage!'s "Reviewers Choice" award based on both price and performance, but at the end of the year, they also received that publication's Innovation in Design award. In the end, I couldn't let them out of my home, which is where they remain to this day. I adore the damn things.
What wasn't as crazy? Magnepan had a devil of a time getting their dealers to stock ‘em because they could and would steal sales away from far more expensive speakers. The MC1 was what you call a giant killer. Not only did they save the buyer a bunch of floor space but when mated with the same subwoofer that every multichannel home theater system was bound to have anyway, they worked with the room to sound as good or better than speakers costing multiple times the MC1's price. Not almost as good. Not really good for their meager price but better.
But eventually, the word got out on the MC1s and eventually some dealers even took the little planars to heart. One enterprising dealer in the San Francisco area even mounted a pair of these up on the wall behind the check-out counter, played music through them and actually sold a slew of them as an impulse item - you know, the same way that grocery stores sell batteries, magazines and candy while you wait in line. While the speaker was originally designed as an excellent-sounding and unobtrusive way to put Maggie magic all around the room, this dealer found that when mounted on the wall and in a stereo pair, something really neat happened.
|When mounted on the wall in front of you and angled from the wall at about a 45° angle (wall bracket to the inside, speakers swung open like a window shutter), the speaker not only sounds great but also throws a great soundstage. But what made them even more amazing was that as you moved out of the dead center between the speakers, you were actually moving yourself slightly into the dipolar speaker's null (the area of least direct-radiated energy - read on for a full explanation) and therefore you were receiving less of that speaker's output. In other words, you heard less and less of the closer speaker. At the same time, you were putting yourself more directly on-axis with the opposite and farther speaker. The more on axis with it, the more of that far speaker you heard. Combined, this dispersion behavior had the effect of an automatic balance control. Though images would shift somewhat, the soundstage remained completely intact as long as you didn't wander too far outside that near speaker. This implementation of the MC1 made it a unique if still rather niche product. But then something else happened. Or maybe it happened concurrently with the development of the MC1 - the flat plasma TV screen.
|Also designed to save a ton of floor space by hanging on the wall, the plasma TV has been embraced by as many women for its decorator friendliness as by video enthusiasts looking for the latest and greatest video image. Now, it probably didn't take a genius at Magnepan (or maybe it did!) to look at the wafer-thin plasma, the wafer-thin MC1s and back at the plasma to see that here was a marriage made in heaven just waiting to happen. Designed for wall mounting, the speakers and TVs shared instant kismet. The MC1s also solved another problem: where to place the bulky center channel? Magnepan already knew that two MC1s could be placed on the front wall and deliver excellent sonics as well as a solid image for a wide array of people. It just took someone to think of spacing these unique speakers closer together so that they would directly flank the plasma TV. When these two speakers were fed the same monaural center-channel signal, they did what any two speakers would do - they nail that image right in the center between them e.g. right across the face of that plasma|
|TV. In addition to their aesthetic benefit, the MC1s were making a sonic splash because while other center channel speakers sourced the sound from above or below the TV image, the MC1s would put the image exactly where it belonged.
|Enter the MMG W
Magnepan has since decided to make a slightly smaller and slightly less ambitious version of the MC1 to sell factory-direct. Rather than the MC1's $750 dealer retail price, the MMG W was to sell for the paltry sum of $299/pair. Just a little smaller than my MC1s, the MMG measures 38" high x 10.5" wide x 1" thick. They weigh in at only about 10 pounds each. Magnepan specs their frequency response as 100Hz - 16 kHz +/- 3dB; their impedance as 5 ohms and their sensitivity as 88dB. Like their more
|expensive siblings, they come complete with everything you need to mount them on the wall. For reasons that I'll get to, Magnepan also has a temporary mounting kit that sells for $18 and mounts a single pair of speakers. That kit turned out to be all but mandatory for best results.
For those who have never heard of them, like all Magnepan speakers the MMG Ws are box-less and without the usual cones and domes. Instead of the usual dynamic drivers, the Magneplanars are made from a wooden frame across which is stretched a .5mil Mylar diaphragm bonded to a current-carrying wire grid. As the current travels through the grid, it reacts to and is "driven" by permanent bar magnets located on an acoustically transparent perforated sheet metal screen located behind the diaphragm. It's what Magnepan calls a planar magnetic loudspeaker. Because the speakers are open on both sides, the membrane radiates equally yet out of phase from the front and the rear. This is what I earlier referred to as a dipolar radiation pattern. I also referred earlier to the speaker's "null". This is a common principle of all dipolar radiators. As you move to the side of the speaker, the output of the front curves around to meet the output from the back. Since these bi-directional outputs are exactly the same yet out of phase, they cancel each other out to result in zero output at the sides of the speakers - no off-axis radiation aka the null. It is that very null which makes the Magnepans so easy to place on-wall. Most speakers have plenty of off-axis dispersion that can and will reflect off any nearby wall. That muddies both imaging as well as instrumental timbres. Because the MMG Ws radiate little if anything toward the wall, there is little or nothing to reflect back. Equally as serendipitous is the fact that the -- by Magnepan standards small -- MMG W requires that wall for bass reinforcement. In the end, while walls are almost always to a speaker's detriment, the same walls and the wall-hanging Maggies form a truly symbiotic relationship.
Aside from their slightly smaller dimensions, what sets the MMG W apart from the MC1 is the MMG W's lack of the MC1's quasi ribbon tweeter. Where the MC1 is a two-way speaker, the MMG W is a one-way single-driver zero crossover design. This absence of the separate tweeter is why the MMG W only extends to 16 kHz. But I'll talk about that in a moment.
Anybody with experience in tweaking speaker positioning to maximize soundstaging, imaging and focus knows that fractions of an inch count. In the case of these Magneplanars, those fractions of an inch count just as much. I also found that the speakers like to be spaced widely. That's really no surprise given their large degree of toe-in. In the end, I got optimum performance when the speakers and listening chair about formed an equilateral triangle. But this was only after considerable experimentation afforded by the temporary mounting kit - which is why this kit is so important.