Esoteric MG-10 Loudspeaker (TAS 203)

Equipment report
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Stand-mount
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Esoteric MG-10 Loudspeaker
Esoteric MG-10 Loudspeaker (TAS 203)

The audiophile vernacular can be frustratingly limited. Although it’s useful and even necessary—especially from this side of the keyboard—as a means to describe the sound of components as we hear them, as it is with wine tasting notes our lexicon remains cliché-prone and lacking when it comes to describing what something as complex as our senses actually experience.

This inescapable reality hit me hard as I was jotting down note after note about Esoteric’s outstanding loudspeaker, the two-way, stand-mounted, superbly crafted, all magnesium driver MG-10 ($2800, plus $1800 for dedicated stands.)

Rather curiously, the challenge is not because the MG-10 is difficult to “get” and describe—in fact it is one of the most immediately excellent speakers I’ve encountered—but because to describe the MG-10 while doing it justice requires more than the usual litany of terms. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

My colleague Dick Olsher did a fine job nailing what Esoteric accomplished with the MG-10’s larger sibling, the $8200 MG-20, when he wrote in Issue 177, “I have to respect a speaker that does not impose its personality on the music.”

My few happy months with the MG-10 have confirmed that Olsher was right about these Esoteric designs, which are the first loudspeakers from Teac’s high-end division, and also said to be the first loudspeakers to employ all magnesium drivers. This speaker does impart little of itself on the music played through it. It is, I believe, as neutral as anything I’ve heard, a speaker that really does channel all that comes before it. That said, no speaker is entirely neutral. So what exactly does the MG-10 sound like?

In some ways, like no other speaker system I’ve heard. It’s very pure but in no way sterile. It’s fast, but not obviously so, as in, “Wow, that’s one fast speaker,” but rather in a way that equals high-resolution and transparency to the source while offering insights into both a recording’s quality and the musical performance. Searching for an analogy my mind leapt to thoughts of white Burgundy, wines, which, at their best combine the almost spiritual with the hedonistic, wines of intense purity and precision, yet also wines of generosity.

The MG-10’s attributes no doubt begin with those magnesium drive units. And while they possess the qualities noted above, these super-low-mass drivers also manage not to possess the unnatural-sounding metallic overtones that have left many of us wary of other metal-driver designs. In the MG-10 the driver complement comprises a 6.5** low-frequency unit that, at 1.9kHz, crosses over to a mere half-inch-diameter dome tweeter (the floorstanding MG-20 also uses a pair of LF drivers).

Driver development and manufacturing is the result of a three-way partnership between Esoteric, which might be called the visionary behind the project, Britain’s Tannoy, which plays a large part in both the design and manufacturing processes at its Scottish facility, and Japan’s Nippon Kinzoku, the metal-manufacturing firm that helped create the drivers, and which developed the thin proprietary coatings, one of which is ceramic, that aid in damping resonance (the woofer also uses a corrugated cone to aid in resonance control).

I’ve gone on record before as a major fan of two-way designs, and while the MG-10 has the sort of top-to-bottom coherence one expects from a fine two-way, there seems little doubt that it’s truly exceptional seamless, in large part because its drivers are cut, if you will, from the same cloth (see what I mean about hard-to-avoid clichés?).

Reference Recordings’ latest, Britten Orchestra (reviewed in Issue 201), is an excellent disc for a speaker review due to its very extended frequency range. From the shimmering opening strains of “Dawn,” from Four Sea Interludes, to the earthquake-like rumbles of the percussion, and the throaty brass of the “Storm” passage, the MG-10 delivered the music with a rare tonal as well as dynamic uniformity. Indeed, this degree of coherence is something more akin to what I’m used to hearing from planar speakers such as Quads, the quasi-ribbon models from Magnepan, or my recently departed long-term reference, the premium-priced Kharma Mini Exquisite, than from most other dynamic-driver box design. Reaching back to that wine analogy, think of the MG-10 as delivering purity, precision, and generosity.

It must be said that achieving such a neutral yet expressive voice also requires a fine crossover network. Without divulging much, Esoteric’s information sheet boasts of “ultra-high-grade components,” such as “ICW ‘ClarityCAP’ film capacitors”—whatever they are—for HF network and “large and low-loss laminated silicone and steel core inductors.” I suppose it goes without saying that a company that put so much effort into developing such outstanding drivers has wired them to excellent crossover components. But perhaps the most telling bit of information Esoteric reveals is that the crossover is hard-wired by hand (no printed circuit boards) with silver-coated van den Hul connecting cables. Rear-panel connections allow for bi-wiring, and also feature an unusual fifth binding post for grounding the speaker, which is said to an effective aid against RF (I confess that I never used, or needed to use it).

On the subject of expressive voices, check out Nina Simone’s version of “I Loves You Porgy,” from Four Women: The Nina Simone Philips Recordings [Verve], and what you’ll hear is one of the most direct sounding, practically reach-out-and-touch immediate reproductions of a human voice there is—one the MG-10 places in your room with a remarkable lack of box or driver coloration, one that simply seems to be “there” seemingly by way of the conjuring tricks that make this hobby so damn alluring on an aural level and so endlessly satisfying on musical and emotional ones. Simone’s voice, a seductive marriage of smoke and roses, will at times have you leaning forward with its whisper-soft intimacy, and at others breathless with its touching—yet never schmaltzy—combination of heartache and defiance.

Or flip to Side Two of Mobile Fidelity’s recent (and outstanding) mono edition of Sinatra’s Only The Lonely. First note how the MG-10’s coherence and easy naturalness are equally impressive with a male voice (not all speakers are, which is one reason so many hi-fi demos are done with recordings of female singers). And with a speaker that gets out of the way like this one does, the rewards are high when it comes to gaining insights into Sinatra’s unparalleled way with a phrase and the pure beauty of his tenor, as he purrs and practically moans his way through “Blues in the Night.”

The third major component of the design, the cabinet, is not only strikingly and elegantly understated from a visual point-of-view—indeed, the speaker’s construction is first-class in every way—but features non-parallel side panels to minimize internal standing waves, and an inch-thick, ported baffle and internal cross-bracing to ensure rigidity.

It perhaps should come as no surprise that a speaker capable of such clarity and precision is quite sensitive to room placement (also see my side bar on the “optional” stands.) They need about three feet from sidewalls and at least a foot from the rear as a starting place (I barely achieved the former in my small listening space). And moving these babies a fraction of an inch this way or that can dramatically alter the tonal balance from Laurel to Hardy—from lean to fat.

Toe-in is also critical. The manual asks you to be bold, and angle the speakers so that the cross-axis point lands one-to-three feet in front of the listening position. Although rooms and tastes will vary, given my small room dimensions and that I’m only about seven feet from the front baffles, this didn’t really work in my room, giving me laser precision but truncated width and depth. I opted for something a less dramatic angle that seemed to give me pretty much the best of both worlds—focus and spaciousness.

Of course, the purpose of Esoteric’s recommended toe-in is to maximize the soundstaging effect, which is another of the MG-10’s strengths.

Again, though, it’s not simply that the MG-10 sounds big (it does), or open (ditto), or deep or wide, or all of the things we hope for from a speaker. It’s that it can, as a speaker should, clearly differentiate, say, Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, NJ, studio from his later space in Englewood Cliffs. Or give you an aural snapshot of the excellent acoustics of the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, MO, where Keith Johnson recorded Britten Orchestra. Or, yes, even in mono, transport you to the Capitol studio where Sinatra and the Nelson Riddle gang laid down his most magnificent and melancholy tracks.

Dynamics are likewise very finely expressed both on the micro-and macro-levels, though, since the MG-10 is a two-way monitor, there will come a point, as with a full-on orchestral climax or grinding rock such as The Dead Weather’s “60 Feet Tall” from Horehound [Third Man], where the speaker seems to hit a wall that tells you enough is enough.

And, as with pretty much every ported design on this planet, there are moments when you simply know the darn vent is there. Be it a rare hint of hollowness to a male voice, a drum thwack, or even a hard-to-identify something in the sound of a hall. I’m certainly picking nits since 90% or more of the world’s speakers have ports, but, hey, a critic’s gotta do his job, right? Still, please do note the italicization of the word “hint” above. It is merely that, and something most listeners are likely not to even notice unless they’ve been exposed to something like a Magico Mini II or a box-free planar design.

I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in avoiding any audiophile verbal traps here, but what I hope I have accomplished is to at least to give you something of a sense of not only what Esoteric’s MG-10 sounds like, but how special I think this speaker is. In brief, it is among the most neutral, musically satisfying, and exciting speakers I’ve heard. It is a speaker that will stay with me long after it has been returned to its maker (and shortly before I am). It may also, in time, be looked at as a marker for a new era in metal-driver technology. And the fact that it delivers so much musical pleasure, at a price point accessible to many, makes it sweeter still.

________

Sidebar: The Stands

Perhaps you did a double take at the MG-10’s price as listed in the main article. As I stated, at $2800 I think this speaker represents an excellent value. But $1800 for a pair of stands? Or essentially two-thirds the price of the speakers? Seems a bit stiff, doesn’t it?

Well, first of all the STANDMG10 is “optional,” which means you could instead get away for a fraction of that amount by purchasing, say, one of Sound Anchor’s excellent monitor stands. But they won’t look as sexy, and, while I’m sure the speakers would sound just fine, I would guess, because I haven’t actually heard the difference, that the MG-10’s excellence will suffer a bit.

But before you make that decision I would like to suggest that you think of the MG-10 and STANDMG10 as a complete package designed to work together. Besides, this is no ordinary stand.

It was custom-designed specifically for this speaker, and features a steel column that’s been “heavily damped with Teflon-powdered polypropylene grain to reduce the mechanical resonance of the column.” The machined duralumin (a compound of copper, manganese, and magnesium alloy) top plate not only precisely mirrors the MG-10’s footprint, it also allows you to bolt the speakers to the stands via threaded inserts on the speakers’ undersides. Trust, me this makes an audible difference. Finally, the .6**-thick bottom plate is crafted from solid aluminum and features Esoteric’s proprietary self-leveling “3 pin-point feet” system, which is available alone in Japan for $300.

All in all, the STANDMG10 shows the same devotion to excellence that the Esoteric team lavished on the remarkable speaker it was designed to support. —WG

SPECS & PRICING

MG-10
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex loudspeaker
Driver complement: .5" magnesium dome tweeter; 6.5" magnesium cone woofer
Frequency response: 41Hz–44kHz
Sensitivity: 87.5dB
Impedance: 6 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 20–120Wpc
Dimensions: 8.5" x 17.33" x 11.75"
Weight: 16.5 lbs.
Price: $2800/pr.

STANDMG10
Dimensions: 10.2" x 24.5" x 12.12"
Weight: 28.2 lbs.
Price: $1800/pr.

TEAC AMERICA INC.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, California 90640
(323) 726-0303
teac.com

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT

TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridge; Teac PD-H600 CD Player and AG-H600NT Stereo Receiver; Artemis Labs PL-1 phonostage and LA-1 linestage; Khama MP-150 monoblock amplifiers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and AD-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks

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