So many companies traverse the audio scene like meteors; they blaze across the sky and rapidly fade from sight. Some few manufacturers have endured to join this generation of high-end audio. The Magnepan Company is certainly one of these. It began back in 1969 with a design conceived in the mind of engineer Jim Winey. Let me pause for a moment to clarify two words that could cause confusion. The speaker's functional design is called Magneplanar; the company that makes the speakers is Magnepan. These two words are frequently used interchangeably. Magnepan's Magneplanar 1.7 speaker is an extensive redesign of a predecessor, the near iconic Magneplanar 1.6. Notably, the very popular, Magneplanar 1.6 had a 12 year long production run. The marking manager Wendell Diller informed me that the 1.6 speaker series was essentially a two-way design that could be bi-wired and bi-amplified. To date designer Jim Winey and the Magnepan Company have taken a basic design concept and continued to advance and refine what is possible.
A friend of mine who owned Maggies told me that they could be quite difficult to set up. Let me personalize that statement. As it turned out it would not be easy for me to integrate these large panel speakers properly in my 11' 8" wide by 20' long room. I began by placing the speakers were I normally start. That is with the speakers forming a rough equilateral triangle fronting the room's 11' 8" wall. As it turns out the Maggie's are not optimized in the same set up I use for dynamic/cone driven speakers. Certainly in a much larger room the speaker positions could be very different. To make a long story shorter after some experimentation I settled on a placement that had to work in my room. Ultimately the Magneplanar panels were moved farther forward, now six feet away from the back wall. The speakers are approximately 8' in front of me and turned facing the sides of my chair. In this is set up the speakers are less affected by the room boundaries and the objects in the room. They are now toed inward about 10 degrees and still 8 feet in front of me. The imaging at the center stage is rock solid. Even standing directly in the center between the speakers, I could clearly hear the center portion of the stereo image. Most certainly, it takes a tall di-pole panel only two inches thick to pull off this trick. Ultimately my goal was to arrange the large panels to recreate a performance that defies the boundaries of my room; this is where I want to be.
The second track on Party is Phil Collins and the song "You Can't Hurry Love", the bass guitars deep cord changes sound so very penetratingly tribal. The result is exciting articulate and real, like a primitive heartbeat it effectively modulates your senses. The improvement inherent using the quasi ribbon midrange and bass drivers is there for you to hear. The bass guitar drives the music and underlines the emotional content of the lyrics. The sound is so very real that it seems like my Sanders ESL power amplifier is connected to the bass guitars pickups.
Not incidentally, the Magneplanar 1.7 loves lots of clean power and you will need to play these speakers fairly loud to hear what they are capable of. The Sanders ESL amplifier is a good match; it was designed to drive difficult electrostatic loads down to one Ohm. This amplifiers rated power into the Maggies 4 Ohm load is 600 watts.
My long-term test disc is, Basia (Trzetrzelewska) Time and Tide [Epic-EK 40767]. As far as I am concerned this complicated studio mix contains just about every aural clue I need. Let me tell you about the first track Promises, if your speakers have sufficient resolution the first line appears deep in the center between the speakers. Beginning within the line, "we forget about our promises" the microphone appears to zoom in on the stage. And yes, now Basia appears dead center within arms reach. The title word ends with a strong double sibilance, something that sounds like, "miss, sez". I use this and other sibilant consonants to gauge midrange articulation. Through the 1.7, it is very easy to hear the teeth and palate micro overtones that tell you it is human in origin. The instrumental accompaniment contains high frequency information that opens up a space in front of you. With the Magnepan 1.7, this is good; this is very good.
Moving our audition farther, let us test the voicing of the Magneplanar woofers. To accomplish this I must refer to my long-standing bass reference: It is Adagio d' Albinoni as performed by Gary Karr and Harmon Lewis. This was originally on a Japanese Firebird label but it still might be available via the Cisco Music catalog [GCD8003]. The real test is not to see how deep the bass panels can go but more important can they reproduce the overtones echoing from stone walls and the wooden body of Gary Karr's Amati bass. Recorded in a cavernous Japanese cathedral this is a duo of a large sonorous pipe organ and Karr's century's old Amati bass fiddle. The thunderous reverberations of the low register organ pipes hold the woofers for a time on a deep sustained rumble. The resinous bass bowing sighs and breathes a mournful moan that tugs at your heart. The Magneplanar sound is chillingly organic and for moment or two, it feels like it is flesh and blood crying out to you.
I found that none of these old paradigms proved to be true. Apparently, Magnepan and the Magneplanar 1.7 has evolved beyond any earlier criticisms. In fact, from my listening position the 1.7 is totally coherent. No driver panel, no frequency, no part of any performance speaks with a different voice. Only with your focused attention can the tweeter be detected, not directly but with a sense of expansive air and high frequency extension. There are a few areas of music performance bettered by different implementations. There are two speakers that I know well. The 70mm ribbon tweeters in my Aurum Cantus Leisure 2 SE speakers, are specified out to 40kHz. However, they are a very different treble experience, more of a point source like a Mini Maglite in a dark room. And then there is the greater delineation of depth from my Quad 63 speakers. This is marked by a layered separation of the performers on the stage from front to back. However if its dynamics, extended bass and a sense of excitement you value, the Quad ESL 63 won't get you there.
How many ways to tell you about the personality, not of a person, but the Magnepan 1.7? Its greatest strength is its lack of personality, excellent coherence and low coloration. Every thing about it tells you everything you hear is the truth. In my room the 1.7 can be intimate or they can be an exciting and formidable presence easily able to take control of the listener and the listening space. Finally, I can only echo what others have said before me, the Magnepan 1.7 speakers are unique, an amazing performance, at $1995 nothing near this price can compare. Semper hi-fi
Speakers, Aurum Cantus SES 2, Onyx Rocket Strata Mini 4 way speakers.
System connections: Three meter Kimber speaker Cable 12TC, RCA, 3 meter, Wire World Eclipse-2, RCA, 1 meter Chord Silver Siren, 1 meter Audio Sensibility Statement interconnects, Audio Sensibility Impact SE 5ft. power cable and Kaplan Cable 6ft. 10 gauge IEC Power Cord.
Power conditioning: Richard Gray 20 ampere Substation, Islatrol Industrial 20 ampere ac line conditioner, Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Audio Power PE-1 power enhancer, Triad 2-ampere isolation transformer
Accessories: VPI Magic bricks, Argent Room Lens system, Room Tunes Panels, a comfortable chair.
Voice: (651) 426-1645