Magnepan 30.7 Panel Loudspeakers For Condos
On Wednesday, December 18 (2019), I joined Herb Reichert of Stereophile and Steve Guttenberg of Audiophiliac Daily, at John Rutan's retail store Audio Connections in Verona, New Jersey to listen to Magnepan's prototype/concept speaker, currently dubbed '30.7 for Condos' (hereafter, FC). Audio Connections was the latest stop in Magnepan's road show orchestrated by Wendell Diller and his spouse, Galina. Whereas pre-production listening sessions are ubiquitous, pre-production road shows are not! This begs the question: Why an elaborate road show in the case of 'for Condos'?
I asked Wendell, who I had not previously met, exactly that. He emphasized his desire to 'democratize' the process by which decisions about which products to put into production are made. I am not sure that 'democratizing' the process is quite the right way to characterize the road show. In the first place, while it may be unavoidable, if not always, desirable to maximize the number of eligible voters actually voting (on the theory that doing so provides political legitimacy), there is no analogous reason for a private company to extend 'voting' privileges regarding their product development decisions.
Wendell Diller of Magnepan
It may be more helpful to understand the value of the road show in the following way: (1) while relying on a trusted group of educated ears (as a de facto 'focus group') has served manufacturers well, doing so is not without drawbacks. The 'trusted' group of old hands is trusted in part because of their familiarity with the house sound, which makes them vulnerable to confirmation bias and less likely to welcome significant departures from it. Nor are they likely to be representative of the full range of potential end users. If anything, reliance on a small set of influencers may have the foreseeable if unintended consequence of restricting the set of potential end users to those most likely to be impacted by the endorsement or criticism of a particular group of influencers.
Reasons (1) to (3) would apply to any and all products Magnepan contemplates putting into production. The question is not why this hasn't been done before; the answer to that question is simply that while desirable, it is too costly and time consuming and the advantages of doing so are not worth the costs. The question is why now, and the answer must be that there is something special and different about the FC speaker that justifies the investment. There is: (4) the FC represents a radical departure in speaker design for Magnepan.
In a nutshell, after insisting for 50 years that only a planar design can accurately and otherwise satisfactorily reproduce real bass and mid-bass, Magnepan is contemplating introducing a speaker that mates their familiar midrange panel and ribbon tweeter approach with dynamic drivers to cover the lower frequencies. To be sure, the dynamic drivers are configured as dipoles fixed to an open baffle, but concessions to the dipole presentation and the absence of a closed box aside, this design is nothing short of heretical — especially for a company that has preached and practiced a particular approach for as long as Magnepan has.
(1) Does the dipole dynamic driver array reproduce Magnepan quality mid-bass and bass?
(2) Does it integrate sonically and seamlessly with the planar elements?
Herb Reichert, Dr. Jules Coleman, and Steven Guttenberg
These are appropriate questions, but neither Herb, Steve, nor I found ourselves focusing on answering them. And that is because the FC concept speaker is in many ways altogether different than any Magnepan speaker we have ever heard — and better, much better.
Why A Road Show?
I think we probably all agree about its limitations or drawbacks as well. While every Magnepan speaker I have ever heard is musically natural and convincing and the paradigm (at each price point) of a high-end audio value, to varying degrees, all Magnepan speakers are challenged in bass extension, dynamics and transient response which is expressed by notes being presented with rounded leading edges. Size aside, they are without question among the easiest loudspeakers with which to live.
They also have the advantage that if you feed them enough power, they will basically do what they do. They are not fussy. For a reviewer, this is sometimes a disadvantage because Magnepans are not as revealing of upstream differences as are other speakers, for example, horns. Speaking only for myself, I attribute this in part to the rounded leading edges and to a harmonic fullness that is not matched by equivalent harmonic inner detail. I find as well that as the panels get larger, the sound takes on a Phil Spector wall of sound quality. For me, the 3 range represent the sweetspot in terms of size and natural musicality, image specificity, density and clarity. The bigger speakers are better in some ways, but not in every way. It depends on what features of playback are musically most significant for a particular listener.
Our time with the FC speakers was relatively limited and I don't want to draw a conclusion that I may have to walk back once the speakers are put into production (if they are), and the inevitable compromises required by mass production put in place. With that caveat in hand, I would say that the FC speaker sounds like no other Magnepan and in ways that may well render it far and away the best Magnepan speaker I have ever heard, and not by a little bit either.
Different In What Ways?
Steve played several Chesky recordings at which he was present, one of which – Jazz in the New Harmonic – he and I have heard many times live. During the listening session Steve turned to me and said that on the FC system the (7) experience sounded more like a live performance than a recorded one. (8) Quality listening was possible off axis; there was certainly no restrictive sweet spot. Finally, (9) the speakers energized a reasonably large room in ways that one associates only with large box speakers and almost never with either planars or electrostatics.
Returning to the two questions Wendell apparently wanted feedback on: Does the dipole dynamic open baffle array provide planar quality mid-bass? The answer is No. It provides much more convincing mid-bass dynamics than I have heard on any Magnepan speaker — even the Tympani. Does the dipole dynamic open baffle array integrate with the Magnepan planar units well? Absolutely.
The Larger Picture
My impression, admittedly on first listen, is that the FC is discontinuous with previous iterations. The FC maintains the Magnepan musicality and naturalness, but in a presentation that is not merely a marginal increment, but a flipping of the script. I have no idea what the final product will look like or what it will sound like. After all, the folks at Magnepan may decide that what Steve, Herb and I found revelatory in the design is not what they are looking for. What I can say with some confidence, however, is that if Magnepan doesn't manufacture the speaker as we heard it in New Jersey, someone should; and if there remains a modicum of fairness left in the world, they will be rewarded accordingly.
 The FC speakers were driven by a modestly priced and powered amplifier called the Maggie 300 which was designed and produced by a company in Minneapolis. Magnepan does not have a formal partnership with them, so it would be a mistake to think of the relationship as analogous to the one between Magnepan and Audio Research. We listened entirely to digital (CD), but I gave no notice to the CD player. To get a list of the CDs we listened to visit Steve Guttenberg's channel on You Tube where he breaks down his experience of the same event and provides some additional color.
 The FC employs DSP in the dipole/bass units only.
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