30 April, 2010

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (4): Magnepan MG 1.7

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (4): Magnepan MG 1.7

(revised May 6, 2010)
Part I

Ever since Magnepan came out with the all-(quasi) ribbon MG 1.7 I have been following it. The speaker has been sweeping all before it, garnering great praise and Magnepan cannot keep up with production. As my previous letter (a few posts down) mentioned, Jonathan Valin of TAS has spent a huge amount of time listening to it and writing about it on the TAS Blog (no printed review yet), claiming unparalled coherence that is superior to the 1.6, 3.6 and 20.1. Being a full-range driver fan and a Tannoy user, of course this aroused my interest. It's imperative you read JV's account in detail, for he went out on a limb, and this is sure to incite unrest among people in the Maggie clan.

To encapsulate what's so revolutionary about the MG 1.7: the bass panel of this model uses quasi-ribbon, said by the manufacturer to be "...a departure from Magnepan's 40-year history of using planar magnetic drivers for the bass or lower midrange. The use of quasi ribbon technology down into the lower midrange and bass will provide a new level of coherence..." (there's also a "supertweeter" in this model). This is a first for Magnepan; all their "higher" models' bass panels still use the old planar drivers. Although there's no official news from Maggie yet, I'm sure that is set to change.

Audition at Lyric HiFi
Lyric HiFi is the only dealer in NYC (unlike the MMG, you cannot buy direct from Magnepan). I have not visited them in years, but I remember the early days when I auditioned the 4-pole Infinity setup with Goldmund turntable, still one of the best sound I have ever heard in a shop. Well, the demo of the MG 1.7 looked almost like an afterthought. It is in one of the small rooms, more long than wide. The panels are about 6 ft apart and only 2 ft or so from the front wall, so not much of soundstaging. They were driven by old Lector digitals and a current McIntosh integrated (big), hooked up by the cheapest Nordost Flatline. Sound was not great, but not bad either. I was surprised by the smoothness. Certainly, there wasn't the "lean" quality mentioned by some users of older Maggies. I wondered how it would sound more in-room. So as usual you get little from the shop demo. Nevertheless, I eventually gave in to my impulse and decided to give it a try. My pair is with the usual aluminum trim, NOT quite as aesthetically pleasing as the traditional wood trims (now special order and I didn't want to wait).

First Impression
The night before delivery I packed up my MMG. When the 1.7 came I was astonished by how big they were, and the packing was even bigger, several times the volume of that for the MMG. Even given my familiarity with the 1.6, I was a bit unsettled by their actual size. Although I'd estimate only a 50% increase in radiating area compared to that of the MMG, the 1.7 looks a lot larger. I drove it with:

Digital: Meridian 596
Turntable 1: Thorens TD-125/SME 3009 S2 Imp/Denon 304 into PS Audio GCPH
Turntable 2: Linn LP12/Ittok/Koetsu Black into WE285L into BAT P5
Preamp: BAT 3i, later Artemis Lab LA-1
Amp: McIntosh 2200 4-ohm tap

Right off the box, you'd be surprised what I noticed immediately. It's not the speed of the bass, nor the difference in tonal balance. It's the ease. It just seems easier to drive than the smaller MMG. I was quite surprised.

Part II
First a little digression. I am quite familiar with the sound of the 1.6, and indeed Maggie in general. My first experience decades ago was the wonderful Tympani in a Long Island basement, still the best setup in my opinion. Rumor has it that Magnepan is developing a new version - now, THAT would be something to wait for.

Through the years I have heard quite a few Maggies. What got me personally into it in HK was acquiring a pair of SMGa (modified to bi-wire) from my friend jules. It was easy to drive and the sound was refreshing, enough to win praise even from discriminating listeners. Then I got to know quite a few of the HK Maggie clan, and frequently listened to models ranging from the MG 12 to the 20.1. Due to home constraints and personal preference, the setups varied widely, the resulting sound too. As an example, for the 1.6, sound from the homes of jules and Vash differ greatly, though both are enticing.

My own experience in NYC began with the MMG, and that has been amply chronicled in this Blog. Keep in mind my reference in my home here in NYC still remains the Martin Logan Source. The 1.7 though opens a new chapter.

Although the 1.7 sounded good right out of the box, within the confines of a few square feet I spent time dialling in the best placement. One advantage of this taller pair is that my left speaker now towers over the couch in front of it, hence an improvment in the left channel. Aside from a little booming at first, I found I could place these almost flush against the side walls (more advantageous for maintaining good proportion between speaker distance and listening distance). Unlike the MMG, the 1.7 certainly demanded placing the tweeter in the center (the manual more unequivocally mentions: "In most rooms the speakers will sound better with the tweeters inside".

One interesting thing. In the manual AND in a separate sheet, Magnepan says: "The 1.7 has exceptional phase characteristics that are accomplished without the use of compensation networks. To realize the optimum phasing, the 1.7 should be angled inward to be on-axis with the listener (Do not place parallel to the front wall)". No doubt this is not going to happen with HK users who cling to the superstition of "no toe-in". Well, some people want to show you they know better than the manufacturer. With electronics and modifcations I'd say maybe (but only occasionally), but with loudspeakers of good repute, and in the absence of measuring equipment (not just a microphone to measure room response) it would be foolhardy, not to say arrogant and ignorant, not to consider the manufacturer's suggestions. I experimented quite a bit and did find toeing-in to yield a more focused sound.

The easeful character pervades nearly all music I played. This can only be attributed to better integration. What is eminently clear next is a certain warmth that is missing in many Maggies, dispelling certain old Maggie users report on the net. Watch upcoming Part III for detailed listening report.

23 April, 2010

Talk Vinyl: The Neurosis of Alignment

Talk Vinyl: The Neurosis of Alignment
or: The Basics of Cartridge Alignment Protractors, a Rough Guide
or: Freeware versus Theoreticians, Neurotics and Swindlers
or: Simple 2-point vs Dennesen

(last revised April 24, 2010)
Although my system has remained largely unchanged, the arrival of Koetsu Black has resulted in major upheaval's for all my turntables, as I swapped around cartridges. Installing required protractors and stylus force gauge. I used some vintage devices loaned by a friend, AND checked out some Freewares to see how good they are.

Should cartridge alignment be a protracted affair?

Free tools
I'm not going to go into this topic of protractors too much. Suffice to say having one is helpful, but don't go anal over it. There are many variations, but if you're a starter, the BEST place to start would be Vinyl Engine:

(1) start here to acquaint yourself with various devices;
(2) then here to download some templates which you can print out free. Note that the various methods differ significantly in their "null-points". More on that later.

There are many other free protractors. To cite just 2 examples, the ones from tnt/enjoythemusic and styli.co.nz. For these 2, the ones I printed out seem to have "null-points" that are neither Baerwald nor Loefgren. Even just eyeing the pdf, you can see the 2 differ obviously in their points. These seem to deviate significantly from either Baerwald or Loefren. Does that matter? Read on.

(3) Important Reminder: As alluded to on the (always) confusing TNT website, when you print out ANY of the templates, you cannot just print. You MUST go to "Print Preview" and make sure the (default) "fit to page" is turned OFF. It depends on the browser, but you do NOT want anything that fits the image to the page. For my XP, I had to select "None". Only this way can actual size be printed. 2 of the Vinyl Engine templates have built-in rulers to let you check. Only this way is it fool-proof.

If you're not sure about printing one out yourself, you can buy any number of aftermarket tools with prices between $1.50 (Garage A'Record) and hundreds (I'd go for the $1.50 one).

If you really want to get serious, you can even design a even more accurate one for yourself, free. There are free software's out there (including one on the tnt website cited) that optimize everything for your arm/cartridge. Some "experts" out there, including some in HK, use these free software's and make custom protractors for a hefty fee. You pay, unreasonably, for your laziness.

Dennesen Protractor and Technics Stylus Force Gauge
I did not use any of the aforementioned free tools in the actual setup (but read on), instead I availed myself of a friend's Dennesen Protractor, as shown in pics. It's a 1-point Baerwald type. I found it easy to use and the result, as judged by listening, was very good. Suffice to say there are plenty of neurotics out there who talk and worry about a 0.5 mm difference. I would not be one of them. The device is quite old, long out of production, and undoubtedly the precursor of the Feickert (as well as others like the Clearaudio and even Project).

I proceeded to set up my LP12/Ittok and Technics SL-1200 with the help of the Technics balance, also pictured. Both set up thus showed very little groove distortion (if any) and low surface noise. After almost a hundred LP plays, I consider my job done.

How different are they?
Just for fun, I checked both using the various free templates and found out both the LP12/Ittok and Technics SL-1200 MkII showed near-perfect alignment with all the templates. The LP 12/Ittok appears dead-on, the Technics not far behind (due to its intrinsic property, some of the cartridges had to be pushed all the way to the front of the headshell, and even then it misses by ~ 1mm).

Is that surprising? Well, IF alignment is proper, the cartridge should not be too much off at any point in theory, and given the inevitable parallax error of our feeble eyes even harder to detect. My view is that ANY of these free protractors get about the same results compared to each other and are comparable to the much more costly Dennesen (or their modern counterparts).

And now we come to the TD-125/SME. The use of Dennesen on the unique SME arm has a unique built-in problem. The protractors assume a fixed pivot-point of correct length, but the SME by necessity has a movable pivot (it aligns the cartridge by moving the pivot). My old alignment (Benz Silver) used a self-made 2-point protractor. The Denon DL-304 obviously had different properties. Using the old pivot point and "aligned" with the Dennesen, the body of the cartridge was obviously not parallel when assessed by the various 2-point protractors. I re-aligned the whole thing using the Vinyl Engine Baerwald protractor, and the result was also in excellent alignment with the Loefgren. I noted that I had to push the arm all the way forward in its slot. I think the 2-point protractors are good for SME.

Tell you something, in the past, when I did not have one on hand, or when helping a friend who did not have one, I would just draw one myself and approximate the 2-points, and the results have been quite good so far. Any 2-points may not get you the ultimate precision, but it would not be too far off either. If some of this sounds like heresy, so be it. I have been listening to LPs for almost 40 years, and there have not been too many LPs that jumped out of the groove during heavy modulation, and I don't hear too much distortion on well-worn LPs, and I don't even wash my LPs usually.

Tell you something else. I have also listened to too many really high-end setups that were probably aligned using expensive tools or by dubious self-proclaimed experts, and few of them tracked well in reality, and most were noisy. It is amazing how bad some of them were/are! Why should that be? Who knows! My advice, do it yourself.

Theoreticians, Neurotics and Swindlers
The world of turntable setup discussion is populated MAINLY by these 3 types. While some genuinely try to coax better performances, much of the discussion is rather cerebral. The Theoretician believes in the infallibility of "science" and dismisses the ears. The Neurotic fusses over everything and probably never plays anything else other than his Test LP. The Swindler tells you turntable setup is HARD, that sound would be terrible even with minimal deviation (from HIS ideal), that HIS ears are the only dependable ones and charges dearly for his service. I hope you don't have these people as your friends.

Take your fate in YOUR hands
In the end, what matters is listening. Do your TTs play reasonably well with a range of records, all the way to the end groove? All of mine do, and I am no expert. In 40 years of listening, the simple 2-point method (or 1-point in the case of the protractor supplied with the Rega turntable) has worked very well for a host of combinations, and it shall continue to do so. Print out (properly) some of these templates and check yourself. You may be the next expert!

22 April, 2010

Earphone: Audio Technica ATH-AD700

Earphone: Audio Technica ATH-AD700

I haven't listened to earphones in a long time. But recently in NYC, where I don't have a subscription to the internet and use the library WiFi, since I found out in a particular spot in my bedroom/study I have good free access to the internet at night I have been perusing this advantage, despite the attendant perils. At night I need to use a headphone.

I dug out my 30 year-old Senneheiser HD-424. The foam pad has long gone south, so I did without. The sound is very pleasant, though bass-shy. And it has never been entirely comfortable.

Browsing the internet, I finally gave in and bought from Amazon a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-AD700, for $79. As with Amazon, it came quickly, in 1 day! I was shocked by the flimsy packaging, and the hideous purple color of the perforated outer metal grill, though on the web it seems black. Maybe I didn't read some fine-print.

But the sound IS well-balanced, natural, as the reviews attest. Most notably, bass is a lot stronger than my Sennheiser. It is however very big, and odd looking, though it compensates by its comfort. I have less than 10 hrs on this now. Sound is slightly veiled but I expect improvement as it runs in. As it is, it already is better than my old Sennheiser.

A good buy, IF you can take its bulk.

Incidentally, why do people buy a dedicated headphone amp (for these easy to drive earphones)? My NAD 325BEE does respectfully. Also, my M-Audio Firewire Solo does too, at less cost!

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (3): More thoughts on Magnepan

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (3): More thoughts on Magnepan

(revised May 6, 2010)
Do you want your sound big? Your image big? What does it mean by big? I think there are several facets to the perceived "bigness".

It is amazing how the majority of audiophiles have been brainwashed by "pinpoint" imaging, which of course exists not in the real world. Even considered on its own term in sound reproduction, imaging is only desirable if it is accompanied by good texture, what some would term "fleshiness". Real music is made of flesh and blood, so its reproduction should too convey the good presence of the musicians.

How often even expensive systems fail in that regard! Many people have "images" that can be "located", but they are pitiably small, low in height and bland. Can that be good reproduction?

This the Maggie owner usually does not need to worry about. Due to the height of the panels, the sound is usually big, even in systems of certain leanness (unfortunately too common). I'd not say Maggies have presence that is as truthful as horns or electrostatics (like my Martin Logan Source), but it offers a good semblance. So what we get is imaging that does relate to the music.

An acid test for coherence is reproduction of MONO music. A good CD transfer, or better yet a proper mono LP playback (e.g. my Denon 102 cartridge) should yield full and solid sound with even better instrumental timber than stereo - and THAT the Maggie does very well. You'll be amazed how badly many of today's speakers cannot do this most simple of things, a sure sign of their incoherence.

Speed and Coherence
When you have a speaker with drivers of different nature, people tend to dismiss it for incoherence. In reality, even if 2 drivers look alike, they can be incoherent in marriage. An example of this would be quite a few Dynaudio speakers for me (especially the 2-ways).

And Maggies? I think the incoherence is there, just a little more subtle. Jonathan Valin of TAS hinted that the "true" ribbon Maggies are possibly MORE incoherent that their "lesser" quasi-ribbon brothers, and regards the 1.6 as possibly the most coherent of the bunch. On the TAS Blog, he now stresses this even more in his raves about the superior coherence of the new 1.7. Now, would that make you start to doubt all the other reviewers (and users) whose praise for Maggies were absolute in the past? It should, if the coherence of the 1.7 is truly in another class.

But I think he has a point. I have ALWAYS thought the treble of many big Maggies "somewhat" unnatural, and not superior to their domed counterparts. Funny this treble is precisely what some Maggies die-hard's crave, those who regard a Maggie as not worth listening to if it doesn't have a "true" ribbon.

I think the reason why the treble sometimes bother me is not because of itself per se, rather because it sticks out for its speed, which is faster than the bass panel, fast though that is. Just a little, and it matters little whether your amplification is fast or slow, the difference stays. One can hear this sometimes even in the agile MMG. Occasionally, on a big SOLO piano recording the treble and bass notes of the same chord seem disjointed and coming from different spaces. Interestingly, with big orchestral pieces one almost never notices, except sometimes the spotlighted solo's (like the oboes and solo violin in Ein heldenleben on the Kempe/EMI recording) stick out a bit too much by unduly highlighting the leading edge.

Speed and Dynamics
How dynamic is Maggie? Hm...in my book the answer is not very, at least not in the top eschelon. Let us look at micro-dynamics first. Due to its speed, micro-dynamics seem superb at first, but careful listening makes one doubt a little. The speed and the slight "whiteness" impose themselves and rob the instruments of some natural harmonics, hence the perceived "air" is somewhat artificial. Ones hears many details, but somehow the small inflections and rhythmic subtleties are not the best conveyed. Repetitive notes sometimes have a mechanical "ringing" quality to them.

What about macro dynamics? I'd say even the large panels are somewhat limited. The lack of true bass substance means to a full-range listener lack of the ultimate macro dynamics. Can a Maggie faithfully reproduce a bass drum whack? The answer is NO, not in any of the Maggies I have heard. I'll relate to you a story. Once a well-known Maggie person came to my house and listened to Mahler's 5th on my Tannoy Canterbury (15") and liked it a lot; when we went to his place he made sure he played me that too on his "true ribbons". He said to me, proudly: "See, the Maggie can do it too!" but although it was well done I didn't have the heart to tell him there is no comparison in the fortissimo; on the Maggie you don't perceive physically the weight and power of the full orchestra in cry, which to me translates to lack of ultimate dynamics. Incidentally, have you noticed Maggie users are very careful about the volume? It's for a good reason; regardless of room and ratio there is a limit to how loud the Maggies would go before unraveling musically, or even mechanically. They are loudness restricted, and hence dynamically restricted.

It depends on what you listen to. Speed has something to do with perceived power. In jazz, fast transients may be overtly exciting, but in classical, even hard rock, too fast a perceived speed lends an unpleasant breathless quality. For balance, personally I think Maggies should not be paired with gears of super speed; too much of a good thing. Slowing things down a little brings paradoxically more perceived power. Experienced men should know that, no? To that end, I think a tube preamp is a good thing for Maggie.

Let's not exaggerate. Maggies are wonderful things, especially for the money. But they are NOT the perfect transducers as some claim, or the most truthful. Even the most experienced Maggie fans are more often than too intoxicated by their open airy sound to remain blind to their shortcomings.

I am most intrigued by the recent introduction of MG 1.7. the first Maggie to extend the (quasi)-ribbon technology to the bass panel. Preliminary words on the net, including those by JV, have been highly favorable, though dissent is starting to emerge by traditional Maggie users (claiming it is "cold"). Would that be my next upgrade? Or would it be one at all?

Linn Majik (and Linn Kolektor)

Review: Linn Majik (and Linn Kolektor)

I just couldn't resist a good integrated amp, which more often than not even trumps expensive separates in coherence. If you read my integrated amp overview you shall know how devoted I am to the best of these, and the best are mostly British.

Most recently I jumped on a Linn Majik, old version, with built in MM phono section.Given my reasonable familiarity with these older black Linn boxes I was still surprised by its performance. Since I am mainly a phono user, a comparison with the Kloektor is in order.

I had previously owned the Linn Kolektor twice, and once used it with the companion LK60. The Kolektor is a very good, under-rated full function preamp, with SMS power supply, remote capability and MM phono section (almost nothing inside the box, given the surface mount components). Its refined sound is a pleasure. Though it is bested by many tube preamps, it is very good for a ss preamp and I prefer it to many expensive ss products. One fault of it is that the overload margin of the line input is low (rated at 2mV), Still, it's a fine achievement and I regard the preamp to be quite a bit more outstanding than the amp. Some audiophiles have prejudice against SMS power supply and surface mount components. I am not sure why. As implemented by Linn, they are usually refined sounding compared to their earlier incarnations using traditional components.

This early Majik has a large Irish toroidal transformer and a circuit board populated by surface mount components. The board is very different from the later Kolektor. This is the setup used:

Analogue: Technics SL-1200 MkII with Benz Micro Silver or Denon DL-102 (mono)
Digital: Meridian 596
Speakers: Magnepan MMG

The volume marking of Linn is a little alarming, initializing at 30 and maxing out at 60. Driving the MMG, I used it around 50. But no fear, although rated at a humble 33 wpc into 8 ohms, it is actually subjectively more powerful. On most material it is unfazed, unraveling just a bit only in certain orchestral climaxes. Most impressive is its rhythmic flair and prodigious bass quality, which surpass my BAT/McIntosh setup. That's amazing for a 33 wpc amp! The phono section is very clean, its output slightly low using the tape out. Higher output MMs would fare better, though my 2 mV Benz Silver did reasonably.

The sound of this integrated, as an amp and as a phonoamp I'd rate better than the next-up separates, Kolektor/LK60, It's more lively and rhythmic. This might be one aspect in which a SMS supply yields to traditional supply. The compromise is a little less smoothness when pressed. Here I remember old time Linnies frequently prefer their older products for their better PRAT. That's certainly true for the LP12, and it may be true of their other products as well. Horses for courses.

With its remote facility, this is now a favorite.

20 April, 2010

AES SE-1: Schematic and Info

Click on pics to enlarge

AES SE-1: Schematic and Info

After I published my articles on the AES SE-1 300B amp, over time I have received a surprising number of inquiries on it. Most ask for the manual. I have finally dug it out. Since I don't have a scanner, it is cumbersome to take photos and load them. Most of it is assembly instruction, so I just took pics of the schematic and pertinent operating info. I hope you shall be satisfied.

05 April, 2010

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (2): Magnepan MMG growing-up pains

HiFi Letter from New York 2010 (2): Magnepan MMG growing-up pains

This time I recovered from jetlag surprisingly quickly, and had little use of the second system after a few days. I concentrated on my main system, The first thing I did was to improve its performance. Current main system:

Digital: Linn Karik/Numerik (Linn RCA cable to preamp); Meridian 500/563 (Gotham GAC-3 XLR to preamp)
Turntables: Linn LP12/Ittok/Denon 304, Lingo power supply; AT PL1200/Grado Gold
Phono preamps: PS Audio GCPH; WE 285L (step-up trans) into BAT P5 (Gotham GAC-3 XLR to preamp)
Preamp: BAT VK3i (Filotex RG58 coaxial thru adaptor to amp) Amp: McIntosh 2200 (4-ohm tap)zzd

The day after I set up my main system, after not such heavy use, the system was already surprisingly in reasonable form. There was not that much I could do in positioning, but within a 2 sq ft area I experimented and obtained a small improvement. My room is ~12.5 ft in width and 20 ft in length (to the kitchen partition; 26 ft counting the corridor on the right). The speakers are placed ~10-11 ft from my listening seats, and are 6 ft apart (inner edge to inner edge). With those measurements, the manual was correct in saying having the panels upright resulted in better sound (but the opposite would be true for shorter listening distances). Here, I must add that I feel the larger Maggies with non-adjustable upright stands are NOT meant to be used in rooms too small, which would result in an over-bright sound. Take in only what you can swallow, that applies to hifi too. Unfortunately, audiophiles in HK most often ignore this, a result of the pitiable general situation of having money but not space. Blame the real estate tycoons, and the government.

Left or right, game of the mirror image
Some say the Maggies MUST have the tweeters inside. This is too dogmatic, and presumptive by not taking individual environments into account. While the Maggie MMG manual advices at one point to place the tweeters inside, somewhere else it encourages the user to switch the 2 panels and experiment, a good attitude that's there for a reason. In my space placing the tweeters on the outside reaped big rewards: a larger and deeper soundstage, more easeful climaxes and better gradation of dynamics, all at little cost. Okay, with solo instruments there is a slight shift in the position of the images, which also softens just perceptively, but I'd regard the gains far outweigh the slight imaging compromise (haven't you ever noticed even the best Maggies tighten up when the going gets rough?). Most importantly, on big pieces there was just more atmosphere. I surmise the improvements are due to 2 reasons: (1) the increase in distance between the tweeters by more than 1 ft yielded a better ratio, although mine is within the rough Maggie ballpark of 60%; and (2) moving the bass panels a little less close to the sidewalls cleans up the bass a little.

Here I must ponder what people mean by "holographic". Most people link it with imaging, and that's not true at all. Sometimes over-emphasis on imaging reduces the sense of holography, snifling out the real hall sound by creating an artificial soundfield (I'd refrain from using the term "soundstage" as it has no bearing to the real "stage" on which the musicians perform). By having the tweeters on the outside, presumably reducing imaging exactitude (though I hardly noticed), my sound definitely became more holographic and provided more ambient information and sptial clues on the performance venue. By the way, that was not the first time I felt like this; it had happened often (but not always) before with mirror image pairs, from vintage JBLs (4312A and Century Gold) to Proac (original Response 2). All I can say is, experiment.

(Click on pics to enlarge)

Cable Talk

Using the records shown I proceeded to determine which of the 3 pairs of speaker cables I had on hand was best suited to the task. I started with the Belden 9497 (twisted 2-conductor; TPC). The sound was, as usual, undeniably right, and transparent, showcasing all the concertante and solo moments. However, due to its relatively small gauge (for driving the current-hungry Maggies) its sound at big clmaxes was held in with a little restraint. This was particularly evident with the opening of Solti's CSO Mahler Sixth (London), which was less threatening than desired. A swtich to an old pair of Cable Talk Model 3 (thick stranded Cu-parallel conductors) immediately brought more gravitas, but then the sound was just slightly dark (not so bad for Maggies) and more importantly the inner details were audibly compromised. The violin and viola of Grumiaux and Pellicia in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (Philips) lacked sparkle and rosin and the highlighted viola sounded a little too close to the cello for comfort. I finally settled on Acrotec 6N-1010 Cu, a finely balanced cable that sounded more like the Belden, but with a little more weight due to its moderately heavier guage. This settled, my attention wandered to other perhaps equally important things.

Again, what a difference an inch makes
The MMG is spec'ed at 50-26k Hz +/- 3db. If you guess from the figure that the speakers, without port and enclosure, are prone to sound lean in the bass and with a certain prominence in the treble, you're largely right (otherwise tweeter-attenuation resistors would not have been supplied). In my well-damped living room, and with a tube preamp and the McIntosh, the treble, though a shade pale (like most Maggies), did not however sound over-bright. In an attempt to improve details in the inner spaces I substituted the original tweeter attenuation jumper (a solid block of metal) with a piece of wire (16 AWG vintage silver-plated Cu I have on hand) and I was gratified that opened the sound up a bit while exacting no compromise.

How low, and how much?
I have waited long enough to come to the million dollar question. What about a subwoofer to fill out the bottom? Note that almost all serious Western Maggie users use a subwoofer, and that includes HP of TAS, surely the person who had put Magnepan on the map. Despite this, I have yet to see a Maggie user in HK use a sub, ostensibly for fear of compromising the "purity" of the speakers. Is the fear rational?

Good as the sound of the MMG is, it DOES sound lean in the bass in my 250 sq ft+ room, which could actually accomodate a pair of MG1.7, but that's for later, if ever. As holographic and airy as they are, the MMGs just do not flesh out like the Martin Logan Source, and I don't expect them to. Robbed of the lowest fundamentals, maybe that bass is just not as rhythmic as you'd like, but with vocals and jazz it perhaps would not be so important. But big orchestral music simply demands reinforcement. Enter the subwoofer.

The experiment was conducted with a very modest AR powered subwoofer borrowed from a friend. It cannot have more than an 8" driver inside. From the start I did not expect it to plumb great depths, but to "fill in" a little. This old sub did not have high-level inputs, so I had to use the second pair of my preamp out. Using the same recordings I judged the adjustable crossover was best at or below 65 Hz; further up the band some compromise in mid-bass clarity was audible. The volume took a while to set, but it was just a notch or two above barely audible.

What's the difference? I say, not so subtle. While tonality remained much as it was, the bass fleshed out. It is important you feel it in the atmosphere, not in your pants. Solti's Mahler 6th became more subjectively threatening. The best way to tune the subwoofer I found is by using a well-recorded piano piece that has slow left-hand rumblings. This was more than amply provided by the Jorge Bolet's Liszt album, particularly on Reminiscenes of Don Juan. You want to hear the bass rumbling, but you also want not to lose the articulation, or for the faint bass notes to smear into one. You have to listen hard.

The "subwoofer" I don't think really extended the bass of the MMGs by much, maybe 10 Hz, but I feel it filled out the leaness in the bass without robbing the panel bass of its tunefulness. Unless your Maggies are big enough for your room you should investigate adding a subwoofer. Also, the type of music you listen to makes a difference too. Light vocal and jazz lovers are more likely not mindful of the bass leanness, but lovers of big orchestral works (me) would definitely feel otherwise.