Over the years, Magnepan has endeavored to improve its speaker line with each
successive generation. In addition to its popular MMG entry-level loudspeaker, the company
has produced the MG1.6/QR, a loudspeaker that has garnered almost universal praise -- and
has enabled Magnepan to move into home theater with an affordable and attractive system.
The $3676 home-theater speaker system under review here is anchored by the MG1.6/QR,
which serves as the front speakers. This 64.5" tower seems, at first glance, more
imposing than most speakers out there, certainly the ones in its price class. Tall? Yes.
Wide? Fairly. But at only 2" deep, it's remarkably unobtrusive.
Still, why so large? Because, when it comes to creating sound, exciting air is key --
and nothing excites like displacement. Planar drivers dont have high
excursion, so the more surface they have, the louder they can play. The MG1.6/QR's 442
square inches of radiating surface -- and its 2"-by-48" quasi-ribbon tweeter --
enables it to produce a fairly sizable wave-launch.
Dialogue duties fall to a completely new speaker. Reckoning the dialogue channel to be
essential to the success of a home-theater system, Magnepan went back to the drawing board
and came up with a curved, two-way design, the MGCC2, which incorporates variations on the
quasi-ribbon driver and ribbon tweeter used in the MG1.6/QR. Oriented horizontally, its
curved shape provides broad dispersion.
However, the relatively small size of the MGCC2 necessitates a significant compromise.
With a scant 198 square inches of radiating surface, the speaker does not match the larger
Maggies in size, and therefore cannot produce the same bass output as its larger siblings.
It can't even reach the 80Hz shutoff imposed by most home-theater processors. (Though some
processors, such as the B&K Reference 30, do allow for an appropriate crossover.)
To overcome the MGCC2s 160Hz lower-frequency limit, Magnepan went to
Internet-based Outlaw Audio, which designed a Magneplanar-specific version of their
Integrated Controlled Bass Manager (ICBM). Purchased separately for $325, the
Magneplanar-specific ICBM offers a high-pass-filtered center-channel output appropriate
for use with the MGCC2. Once set up, this version of the ICBM will high-pass filter the
signal going to the MGCC2 at frequencies up to 240Hz and, as you choose, it will redirect
bass frequencies to your front right and left speakers, to your subwoofer(s), or to all
three. Outlaws ICBM is a full-featured bass-management system that is far more
flexible than any Ive encountered in surround processors. As Jeff Fritz found in his
SoundStage! review of the
ICBM, it is a transparent and easy-to-use addition to any multichannel system.
Surround duties are performed by the MGMC1, a two-way design that also incorporates
Magnepans quasi-ribbon tweeter. The MGMC1 can be stand- or wall-mounted and has a
hinged bracket system that allows it to be positioned flush against the wall when not in
The Maggie system does have a few limitations, which, at first glance, might rule it
out for some buyers. First, the size of the speakers may put off consumers concerned over
spousal acceptance. But before you make up your mind on the acceptability of these
speakers, I highly recommend that you get a look at them in person. They are just not as
imposing as you might think. They also have the added benefits of being light and movable.
When not in use, they can be easily slid out of the way. My wife prefers their appearance
to that of any box speaker Ive had through here.
The next caveat is that they do like power. Their 4-ohm rating is not
ultra-punishing, but they crave wattage, and there's no getting around it.
Also, this system includes no subwoofer, so you'll have to add one or choose to use the
system as I did, without a subwoofer.
Finally, the speakers will not play as loudly as most dynamic-driver-based
loudspeakers. They have a dynamic threshold beyond which they should not be taken.
However, this dynamic ceiling never bothered me because I never bumped against it in
day-to-day use. These Magneplanar speakers played plenty loud enough for me, and given
their propensity for lightning-fast transient response and for illustrating microdynamic
contrasts, I never felt the need for higher output.
When you want to get someones attention
I think the reason so many home-theater owners are inclined to drive their systems to
deafening levels is because they are trying to overcome a lack of quality with
quantity. When a system lacks finesse and nuance, an emotional connection can be next to
impossible to make. Frustrated, the listener strives to make that emotional connection
through higher SPLs.
On the other hand, those with musically detailed systems know that when it comes to
SPLs, sometimes just a little dab will do ya. All you need to do is rise above the
rooms noise floor and everything becomes crystal clear. This is how I felt about the
Magneplanar system. It is so utterly detailed and uncolored, so sprightly and so
Anyone who has experienced a football game on HDTV knows that while players are a
little more three-dimensional and focused, the real difference is in the new level of
ambient detail. Where before the game was played on a featureless sea of green, you now
see individual blades of grass. Rather than a blurred background of undistinguished
humanity, you now see real human faces. The Magneplanar system is HDTV's sonic equivalent.
What it does is highlight previously unnoticed ambient details that draw you into the
experience to a whole new level.
But I dont want to give the impression that this Magneplanar system is wimpy. Far
from it. On a tip from Magnepans Wendell Diller, I unplugged the front right- and
left-channel inputs at the ICBM. Then I cued up the defense-of-the-bridge scene
from Saving Private Ryan. With the ICBM redirecting the MGCC2's bass frequencies to
the MG1.6/QRs, I listened to the center-channel speaker, the center channel's bass through
the MG1.6/QRs and the two surrounds.
Wimpy? Heck no! What I heard was amazing in its brawn, not to mention its finesse. The
MG1.6/QRs delivered a level of bass that would shock those who criticize planar-bass
reproduction, and the level of detail I gleaned from the center-channel speaker was
startling and revelatory.
With all five speakers in action, try the bedroom scene from The Haunting.
Listen to the delicate sound of the burning candles; you can hear the gentle crackling
of the burning wax. Then there's the surprisingly authentic sound of windows frosting over
as the temperature of the room plummets. And when all hell breaks loose (literally), the
Magneplanar system is fully capable of reproducing the raucous mayhem.
You have probably observed the ongoing debate between music and movie aficionados
concerning the requirements for music versus movie-soundstrack reproduction. I find that,
while a mediocre system is more tolerable with movies, a really good system
takes the home-cinema experience to a new level. The Maggie system proves my point. It
brings a sense of realism to the forefront, as I have never experienced it before. Take,
for instance, the opening battle scene from Gladiator. The Magneplanars showed me
detail like no system has before. The thunder of hooves, for instance, took on newfound
realism as the Magneplanar system differentiated the strikes from one another. The ensuing
battle scene seemed remarkably non-chaotic as the action all around me was portrayed in a
manner that made sense, rather than sounding like a mass of sonic debris.
Reproduction of concert videos was nothing short of artful. This system raises the bar
for cohesiveness with a completely seamless quality of surround sound. Magneplanar owners
know how easily the speakers completely disappear, leaving behind only the soundstage, and
now home-theater owners will find that the surround speakers do so too. In fact, even
turning my head toward the speaker and looking at it usually provided no sonic clue as to
its existence. All I heard (sensed!) was enveloping sound. And, oh, what sound it was.
James Taylors Live At Beacon Theater was absolutely stunning over this
system. The opening acoustic-guitar riff on "Daddys All Gone" was
reproduced so precisely, and with such microdynamic detail, that I could easily hear the
instruments reverberation spread like rings in a pond until, reaching the auditorium
walls, it clearly revealed the halls size and signature. Later in the song, when the
electric guitar entered, its reverb was a delicately nuanced shimmer that I doubt most
people in the audience fully appreciated. "Shower the People," a wonderful song
performed here in elegant simplicity, was elevated to goose-bump territory by Arnold
McCullers accompanying vocals. This system conveys emotion as well as it does space.
Comparison with other systems Ive reviewed for HT&S is a little
difficult, but perhaps the system that came as close to the Magnepan both in terms of
quality and price would be the Tannoy
Saturn system that I reviewed last April. A Reviewers Choice-designated system, the Tannoy system had
similar bass extension (without its subwoofer) as the Magnepan and came in at $3300, so
less than the system from Magnepan sans ICBM (which would be a great addition to both
systems). Aesthetically, you can make up your own mind about which system you would rather
look at, but for me, the Maggie system just exudes class. Others will prefer the smaller,
traditional boxes of the Tannoy system. Where sound is concerned, theres just no
contest -- the Maggie system is more musically refined and offers greater detail and
transparency. On the other hand, the Tannoy system will probably play louder and will
ultimately require fewer watts no matter what your listening level.
As a reviewer, I try to describe what I hear and describe what sets one system apart
from the rest. Some systems are more difficult to write about than others, but this
Magneplanar review almost wrote itself. Those who have not read enough here should keep an
eye out at SoundStage! for a comprehensive multichannel-music-oriented review on a
similar Magneplanar system.
No doubt some will find it unorthodox that Magnepan has turned to Outlaw Audio, an
Internet-based company, for their ICBM, which may or may not be required for use depending
on the adjustability of the bass-management system of your processor. Personally, I
applaud Magnepan for doing what it takes to bring to market a home-theater system that is
purely Magneplanar in spirit. However, the ICBM is an extra $325, and you'll have
to buy it over the Internet unless Magnepan can work something out with Outlaw Audio and
its own dealer network. As a customer myself, and in the face of rising Internet sales
that bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar shops, I would encourage support of any
dealer who stocked the Magneplanar-specific ICBM so that customers could buy this complete
system in one place. If you find such a dealer, treasure him -- he's clearly one of the
In the meantime, I can only try to sum up this Magneplanar system as the most
revealing, the most emotionally evocative, and the most reasonably priced system that
Ive ever reviewed for Home Theater & Sound. Adding to this systems
wonder is that you dont have to break the bank on electronics to experience this
level of reproduction either. This system is so utterly clean, detailed and transparent
that those forced to use ultra-polite levels (such as apartment dwellers) will not miss a
trick. And while bass performance was very good on its own, it will require a good
subwoofer to plumb the depths of deep bass, just as do most systems comprised of
even more expensive speakers.