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John Darko
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: Audirvana+ 1.4.4, 2010 MacMini, MacPlatform,WireWorld Starlight, Metrum Acoustics Hex, Resonessence Labs Concero, Schiit Modi. Occasional use of Dual 505 turntable + Pro-ject Phono Box II USB
Amplifiers: Rega Brio-R, NAD 3020i, Sansui AU-719
Speakers: Magnepan MMG, 47 Labs Lens
Cables: WLM Lyros/Stratos
Review components retail: $599 for Magnepan MMG, $1.499 for Peachtree Nova125, $1.880 for Audiog-d Master 10, AU$1.850 for Redgum RGi60

It’s poisonal. Not, not poison. Personal. This review lacks the deliberately dispassionate undertow of much of my usual commentary. It's because it started not as a professional assignment but a personal diversion. Gear comes in, gear gets reviewed, gear leaves. That’s the oversimplistic take on a reviewer’s work flow. Most items come in strictly for review purposes. However I am prone to snapping up the odd item from broader curiosity. Or if I want said item to enjoy an extended stay. This happens mostly with loudspeakers. Cross pollination from personal listening to review commentary is inevitable despite my best efforts to maintain some separation between work and pleasure. Personal diversion affords me some music-focused downtime which aims to dominate, making it tougher to get back into the swing of writing about equipment again. On rare occasions such personal diversions bleed into reviews. Magnepan’s MMG is one such beast.

Life in smaller spaces. Down under, my home has nearly always been an apartment. The minimalist elegance of an integrated amplifier driving a pair of stand mounts possesses visual and sonic simplicity. It's a pairing less likely to trouble room nodes and/or the aesthetic sensibilities of one’s partner(s). Moreover an integrated + stand mount combination makes for a great jumping-off point for those looking to get into hifi. I began life in Oz with a Redgum RGi35 (Victoria) and a pair of Krix Equinox (South Australia). How very patriotic.

I prioritise imaging and speed over low(er) frequencies. Thus stand mounts have nearly always ruled this roost. I’m not much of a bass head. Headphones intercede when I assess bass basics for review purposes. I like to think that this domestic audio scenario reflects the living arrangements, preferences and budgets of those who more regularly read my hifi commentary. Not everyone enjoys the spoils of a large separate listening room adorned with an array of acoustic treatments. Not everyone can drop $10k without blinking. Many—the majority(?)—of us pursue this hobby amidst the competing restrictions of listening rooms, partners, kids, pets, mortgages, rent, savings plans and music purchases.

The monitor merry-go-round is a Moebius loop for the restless audiophile attempting to fashion an agreeable sound within the constraints of an apartment or terraced house. Over the past two years I've played host to offerings from Spendor (S3/5r, SA1), ProAC (Tablette Reference 8, 1SC), ATC (SCM7, SCM11, SCM19), PMC (DB1i, TB1i), Usher (S-520), Lenehan Audio (ML-1), 47Labs (Lens), Wharfedale (9.1, 10.1), Rega (RS-1) etc. Oversimplifying for emphasis, a stand mounts' tempered LF output generally (but not always – hello ProAc 1SC) is more inclined to play trouble-free in a smaller untreated room. Each of the aforementioned loudspeakers tip the strength/weakness pivot to varying degrees. My personal pick? Spendor's SA-1. And yet the revolving door keeps turning driven by curiosity. Perhaps I could get more bass and a bigger soundstage with a different speaker? The allure of the unknown is compelling. Had I not stumbled upon the Magnepans, I’m sure I’d be sitting in front of a pair of KEF LS50 right now. But I did so I’m not.

As every good dealer knows, the first taste is free. Well, almost. In the USA, the factory-direct price of $599 comes loaded with a 60-day money-back guarantee. A nice touch for skeptics and the curious. The retail price varies in other territories. In Australia (as of January 2013) the MMG lands in your lap for AU$1000.

OMG MMG. Magnepan’s entry-level model has been my daily ride for the past six months. No loudspeaker has hitherto survived this long. The internal desire for speaker switching has been muted. I have stepped off the merry-go-round. Rotation for personal curiosity has all but ground to a halt. Of course smaller boxes remain eminently enjoyable. 47 Labs’ Lens regularly kick tunes around the block with lower-powered tube amps, chip amps and the like. A pair of Usher S-520 (~AU$350) waits in the wings for when I need to reboot and recalibrate expectations. As every compulsive audiophile knows, a change is a good rest. The Maggies are comparatively more physically imposing and aesthetically not appropriate for every lounge room. And they need the right amplifier (more on that down the line).

Context is king. Against a backdrop of sub-$1k box designs, I’ve not heard anything that gets close to the MMG for midrange lucidity, bass weight, microdynamic inflection and above all else, soundstage magnitude. You get a W A L L of sound. If your average stand mount soundstages like a 46" flat panel TV, these entry-level Magnepans drop you into a CinemaScope theatre.