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.

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