HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



April
2006

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada

 


Magnepan
MG12 / MC1
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: MG12 floorstanding speaker
Price: $1099 USD per pair
Dimensions: 51"H x 17"W x 1.5"D
Weight: 27 pounds each

Model: MC1 center-channel/surround speaker
Price: $375 USD each
Dimensions: 46"H x 10.5"W x 1"D
Weight: 12 pounds each

System Price: $2599 USD

Warranty: Three years parts and labor


Features
  • Thin-panel quasi-ribbon/planar-magnetic two-way speakers
  • Two center-channel speakers
  • Wall-mounted or floorstanding center and surround channels
  • Dipole radiation pattern
  • Choice of natural oak, black, or dark cherry hardwood trims
  • Choice of off-white, black, or gray grillecloths

Magnepan, one of the oldest makers of audiophile loudspeakers, is beloved by audio enthusiasts around the world. The company’s speakers represent tremendous value, although their philosophy of speaker design is unorthodox. Their line consists of varying sizes of flat panels: ribbon or quasi-ribbon tweeters mated to planar-magnetic woofers. The size of the panel generally dictates how deep its bass response will be -- but Magnepan’s family sound is unmistakable: fast and transparent.

Although its speakers have long been favorites of two-channel fans, Magnepan is now making strides into home theater. They now sell two dedicated horizontal center-channel models to complement their floorstanding main speakers, as well as wall-mountable surround designs. For a higher-end center-channel solution, however, Magnepan believes that two center-channels sound better than one. They thus sent me two MC1s ($375 each) to try out as centers, along with two MG12 floorstanders ($1099 per pair) to serve as mains, and a second pair of MC1s for surround duties. As configured, the system retails for $2599.

The Magnepan MC1

The Magnepan MC1 is versatile -- it’s usable as a main, surround, or center-channel speaker. At 46"H it isn’t small, but it’s only 10.5"W, a mere 1" thick, and weighs but 12 pounds. The MC1 consists of a wooden frame in which a planar-magnetic woofer is mounted. Unlike a conventional cone woofer, the planar driver is a thin sheet of Mylar to which wire has been bonded. The driver works via an electrical current run through the wire, which creates a magnetic field that moves toward or away from permanent magnets, moving air back and forth to create soundwaves. Running alongside the woofer panel is a narrow strip -- the quasi-ribbon tweeter. This creates sound in a similar fashion to the woofer, except that its wire density is higher. (A true ribbon tweeter, as is used in Magnepan’s higher-priced designs, differs from a quasi-ribbon in being made of a thin sheet of aluminum rather than a sheet of Mylar with wire bonded to it.)

I was amazed to see the crossover network squeezed into the MC1’s shallow 1" depth. You attach your positive and negative speaker cables to two wires from this network. I can see these wires being a boon to custom installers (a permanent wire-to-wire connection is easy to accomplish), but they’re a pain for a reviewer. To connect my speaker cables, which terminate in locking banana plugs, I had to connect the MC1s to a second set of banana plugs, which wasn’t as secure as proper binding posts would have been. The MC1 is covered in a sturdy grillecloth with wood trim on the sides. My samples had black grilles with cherry sides, but the buyer can select from a variety of color and trim options.

Magnepan also sells kits for their wall-mounted speakers that make for a clean and unobtrusive appearance. One kit frames the MC1 on your wall. No one would know that the cloth panels to either side of your screen were speakers until you pushed a button and a motor swung the MC1s out to their optimal listening angle. This feature makes the MC1s essentially disappear until needed. I can see it making a huge impact with spouses.

Magnepan claims for the MC1 a frequency response of 80Hz-24kHz, +/-3dB, a sensitivity of 86dB, and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. These figures would indicate a difficult load for an amplifier to drive. I used the MC1s with my Anthem MCA 30 multichannel amplifier and the internal amps of my Sony STR-DA5ES A/V receiver, and they performed fine with both. However, to get the best out of the Magnepans, I used the more powerful Anthem for critical listening.

Magnepan MG12

The Magnepan MG12 is a floorstanding speaker 51"H by 17"W by 1.5" thick. It sits on L-brackets, which give it excellent stability. The MG12 has the same type of quasi-ribbon tweeter and planar-magnetic woofer as the MC1, only wider and longer. This makes possible a frequency response that goes down to 45Hz, which is significant -- the MG12 can sound full without a partnering subwoofer, which MC1s used alone would require.

Unlike the MC1, the MG12 has provisions for connecting speaker cables, though unfortunately not conventional five-way binding posts; banana plugs and spade lugs won’t fit. I used bare 16-gauge wire, which I tightened with the included Allen key.

Setup

The screen of my front-projection home-theater system is about 64" wide. To set up two of the MC1s in Magnepan’s recommended center-channel configuration, I used their temporary mounting kit, which allowed me to vertically mount the two center MC1s 68" apart, on freestanding 1" x 4" wood studs on each side of my screen, without damaging my walls. The bottoms of the center MC1s were mounted at Magnepan’s recommended 20" above the floor. So mounted, the center MC1s looked like window shutters hinged on their inside edges. In my room, the ideal angle from the wall was about 30 degrees.

Because of the wide spacing of the two center MC1s, I had to keep the floorstanding MG12s far apart as well. The distance between them was 88", which was not ideal for my room. To compensate for this and get a stable stereo image, I had to drastically toe-in the MG12s, which ended up 24" from the sidewalls and 33" from the front wall.

I placed the MC1s I used as surrounds on their optional floor mounts. These sturdy metal stands bolt through the bottom of the speakers to lift them 24" above the floor. The surrounds ended up 5’ from my listening seat, slightly back from the sides, and toed-in toward my listening seat.

Home-theater and music performance

I was anxious to hear how the center channel would sound sent through two MC1s. My first impression was that the speakers "disappeared" from my room. Despite the fact that two separate speakers were re-creating the single center-channel signal, I was amazed at how difficult it was to pinpoint where sounds were actually coming from. As I walked around my room, I could detect no shift of tone or sonic image. Amazing.

Dialogue intelligibility was first-rate as well. Its lack of a cabinet meant that the MC1 sounded very open and extended with deep male voices such as actor Jean Reno’s, in Leon: The Professional. Female voices as well, such as Cate Blanchett’s in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, never sounded better than through the dual MC1s: airy and detailed.

In terms of the timbral match of the four front speakers, there was a difference in sound: While watching The Matrix, I noticed that the two center MC1s sounded brighter and more reverberant than the MG12s. Throughout this film are scenes that transition from large and reverberant to dead quiet. Dialogue through the center MC1s tended to sound lively even when the scene didn’t call for it. This might have been due to the fact that the MC1 is a dipole speaker -- that is, it reflects sound off the wall behind it. In contrast, the MG12 was well away from the walls, which minimized reflected sound. I was able to tame this somewhat by placing foam behind both wall-mounted center MC1s, which improved the sound.

As with all Magnepan speakers, the light mass of the planar-magnetic drivers resulted in excellent transient response. This, too, was evident when I watched The Matrix; high-frequency sounds such as a ringing telephone and shell casings hitting the floor sounding more realistic than through most other speakers I’ve heard. This will be a plus with most any soundtrack you could name.

The Magnepan MC1s and MG12s produced excellent surround envelopment. Because all of the speakers are dipoles, the soundstaging was remarkably coherent. Scenes such as chapter 5 of The Road to Perdition, with rain seeming to fall all around me, were more immersive to watch with the Magnepans. In scenes set in large spaces, such as Morpheus addressing a crowd in a huge cave in The Matrix Reloaded, the MG12s and MC1s provided a convincing illusion of being there.

An interesting comparison to the MG12/MC1 system is Magnepan’s own combination of MMG W and MMG C, which retails for a scant $897. What does three times the money get you? For one thing, much larger speaker panels. The difference in size gives the MG12/MC1 greater bass response and power handling. This was especially noticeable when listening to the two MG12s alone. A good example was "Superman’s Song," from The Crash Test Dummies’ The Ghosts That Haunt Me [CD, Arista ARCD 8677]. Brad Roberts’ voice is deep, and the MG12s alone, without subwoofer, reproduced it properly. But the Magnepan MMG W rolls off sharply below 100Hz; it was difficult to get Roberts’ voice blended just right with a subwoofer.

Another area where the two systems differed was in the high frequencies. In my review of the MMG W and MMG C, I noted that the MMG W sounded rolled-off on top. This is perhaps due to its lack of a separate tweeter -- the MMG W is a one-way speaker. The MG12’s quasi-ribbon tweeter, however, gives it extended, airy highs, as revealed by the piano notes on Joe Jackson’s Live in New York [CD, Sony SK 89237]. The MG12’s quick transient response and smooth highs resulted in a more realistic piano sound than the MMG W is capable of.

But if you don’t have room for the floorstanding MG12s, the entirely wall-mounted MMG W/MMG C system will give you most of Magnepan’s signature sound for a third the cost.

Conclusion

The Magnepan MG12/MC1 speaker system is not for everyone. The lateral space required to accommodate my home-theater screen and the two center MC1s resulted in less-than-ideal placement of the MG12 main speakers. An ideal room would be one with a smaller flat-panel TV, or a front projector throwing its images on a screen along the longer wall. If you have such a room and system, however, Magnepan’s MG12/MC1 speaker array should reward you with a quality of sound ranking with the best surround sound I’ve ever heard.

Review System
Receivers - Outlaw Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
Amplifier - Anthem MCA 30
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs, Nordost
Monitor - Sony KV-34HS420 direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Magnepan Inc.
1645 Ninth Street
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Phone: (651) 426-1645
Fax: (651) 426-0441

Website: www.magnepan.com


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