Magico M Project Loudspeaker, Part Two

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Magico M Project Loudspeaker, Part Two

By sharing the following FFT, measured at my listening seat, I can show you in rough outline both what is the same and what is different about the M-Project loudspeaker vis-à-vis previous Magico loudspeakers (Do understand that FFTs taken at a distance, as this one was, not only reflect the sound of the loudspeaker but also the effect of the room.)

What is the same here is the outstandingly flat frequency response from about 200Hz right through to 16kHz and above. I used only 1/24th octave smoothing on this graph, which is very close to no smoothing, and yet (as you can see) the speaker still appears to be extremely well behaved in the amplitude domain. The rise from about 200Hz down to 24.8Hz shows the effect of my room on the bottom octaves, but even here (and with, as noted, virtually no smoothing) the Magico M-Project is still very well behaved, though this plateau in the bass and the subtle decline in the upper midrange and the treble (the drop above 16kHz is an artifact of my measurements), starting at about 1.6kHz, gives the M-Project more of a “concert-hall” balance than the Magico Q-5, whose frequency response was slightly elevated from about 500Hz to 6kHz and less prodigious in the bottom octaves (in part because it has smaller and fewer woofers).

Though Magico claims that the M-Project doesn’t measure substantially differently than its other speakers—and on a global level this is clearly true—on a local level the differences I just noted are there to see. More importantly, they are there to hear, for (as I told you in Part One of this blog) the M-Pro simply doesn’t sound like its Q or its M or its S brethren—or at least it doesn’t sound like them when it comes to tonality. Oh, it has the same standard-setting low-level resolution of timbres and textures and the same lightning reflexes with transients as the Q Series speakers—and even lower distortion—but overall it is substantially fuller, richer, darker, and more powerful than the Qs, making for a presentation that is far more likely to appeal equally to musicality-first listeners, without entailing any sacrifices that would limit its appeal to Magico’s classic audience—the transparency-to-sources and absolute sound crowds. Indeed, the M-Pro’s appeal to both of the latter has only increased, thanks to its denser and more lifelike tone color.

How has Magico accomplished this? Not, as you might reasonably suppose, by changing its approach to designing or voicing speakers. Magicos are still engineered entirely by numbers. Parts are not chosen strictly because they “sound better” (although they are most certainly listened to at length), but because they test better, reflecting Magico CEO Alon Wolf and CTO Yair Tammam’s unshakeable conviction that measurably lower distortion literally equals audibly higher performance. However, while Magico’s design and engineering approach has not changed in the M Project, key parts and pieces have.

Let’s start with the tweeter. In so far as I’ve had issues with previous (post-M5) Magico loudspeakers it’s been with its 1" beryllium-dome tweeter first and foremost. This tweeter, which replaced what I thought was the exemplary implementation of the Scan-Speak ring-radiator in the late, lamented M-5, has bothered me since I first heard it. It is, in a word, bright (to be fair, all beryllium dome tweeters sound bright to my ears). Now this brightness can be greatly ameliorated by adjusting toe-in, as Magico recommends, so that the tweeters are aimed at your shoulders rather than at your nose or ears. Thus configured, the treble is highly livable, though not nearly as sweet and gemütlich, IMO, as something like Raidho’s wunderbar sealed ribbon (which is one of the big reasons why I switched over to Raidhos). Even with proper toe-in, the tweet still seems to me to be a weakish link in an otherwise superb (and superbly measuring) design. (There is another, related issue we will come to momentarily.)

In the M-Project the beryllium dome tweeter has been replaced. For the top end, Magico is using a diamond-coated beryllium tweeter that has “optimized geometry,” an improved motor system, an improved back chamber, and, at 28mm, a 2mm larger diameter than the 26mm beryllium tweeter previously used in the Q Series loudspeakers. While a mere 0.1" larger diameter might not sound significant, it is in fact a critical difference, because it allows the tweeter to play lower into the upper midrange without distortion (thus allowing Magico to lower the crossover point between it and the midrange driver—and simplify the crossover). According to Magico the larger diameter also allows the tweeter to play louder with lower distortion, improves treble dispersion, and eliminates the need for a Gundry dip to disguise the crossover point.

The 6" midrange driver of the M Pro is also substantially different. For one thing it uses an entirely different kind of carbon—called graphene—that is 30% lighter and 300% stiffer than the nano-tube carbon used in the Q Series midrange. (Magico claims this is the first commercial use of this new material.) In addition to its substantially lighter, stiffer diaphragm, the new midrange has a vented titanium voice coil and an underhung, neodymium motor system capable of what Magico claims is a “perfectly stabilized” 1.7 Tesla magnetic field. With +/-6mm of excursion, the new midrange is said to be capable of 120dB distortion-free SPLs. With its higher sensitivity and lower distortion—and the lower crossover point (and less complex crossover) permitted by the new tweeter—the new midrange doesn’t have to work as hard into the treble, thus improving resolution, enriching timbre, and eliminating any dispersion mismatches near crossover.

A few paragraphs ago I mentioned another issue some have had with Q Series speakers, which exacerbated the treble issue. That issue was the way the Q-5 handled the bass and power range.

On paper, the Q-5 was absolutely exemplary in these oh-so-critical areas—almost ruler-flat in the measurements I took. But in practice those exemplary measurements didn’t translate into consistently satisfying performance for some listeners on some kinds of music.

I’m going to make an argument here that Magico isn’t going to like, but that I believe needs to be stated to justify the reservations that some listeners have had about Magicos. The problem with great-on-paper measurements is that they don’t always translate into great sound with all music, and here is why: The ear/brain doesn’t hear the way a measurement microphone attached to a computer does. When it comes to amplitude (and everything else) a microphone/computer hears everything equally well—its “hearing” is near-perfectly flat. The response of our ear/brain, however, is not perfectly flat. (Nor is music a “steady-state” phenomenon like a test signal.) As listeners we are less sensitive to sounds in certain frequency bands and more sensitive to those in others. (This is one reason why concert halls—the best of them—have the acoustic balances they have.)

The problem with flat-measuring bass, at least in part, is that (at less than thunderous volumes) we aren’t as sensitive to bass frequencies as we are, to say, presence range ones. As a result, a speaker that measures flat in the bass and elsewhere can sound somewhat “bass-shy” at normal listening levels (depending, of course, on the engineering of the source).

When you combine this flatter-measuring bass (often associated with sealed-box enclosures, such as the ones that Magico has always used) with lower sensitivity (also a characteristic of sealed-box bass), you can end up with a situation where, on certain kinds of music (particularly rock ’n’ roll) and certain kinds of recordings (particularly less-than-great ones), the bass not only sounds less full, powerful, and impactful than it does in life at normal listening levels, but also where it takes tremendous amounts of current simply to get that bass “out of the speaker” and into the room. (One reason that Magico speakers have always fared so well with Soulution amplifiers is that Soulutions are capable of delivering astounding amounts of current. They are also inherently fuller sounding in the bass and power range, which is another big plus.)

To put this concisely, part of the reason that past Magicos have sounded a bit brightish (or sterile or analytical or cold—choose your own slur) to some listeners is because their leaner, harder-to-generate, more “correct-on-paper” bass left their presence, brilliance, and treble range more “exposed”—at least on some kinds of music.

Now, save occasionally, I haven’t had issues with Magicos’ bass. But then I listen to a lot of classical music and acoustic pop. Most listeners do not. Most of you listen to a lot of rock, and on rock the problem gets crystalized almost immediately as a touch of leanness and a lack of “slam.” (Lest I’m leaving the impression that the Q Series loudspeakers are one big mass of problems, let me very quickly remind you that I lived happily with Q5s and, before them, M5s, and, before then, Minis and Mini IIs as my references for many, many years. For a listener like me—who prizes fidelity and realism—Magicos came and come closer to ideal transparency than any other loudspeakers. Having said this, I want to make it clear that I do understand why for listeners who aren’t like me—who want the super-dense color and big bass impact of rock on all music, no matter how absurdly unrealistic a “slamming” cello may sound—Magicos haven’t always been the ticket.)

Happily, Magico has also addressed the bass “issue” in the M-Project; indeed, it started to address this issue in its original Q7 loudspeaker.

In the next installment of this ongoing blog, I will talk about what Magico has done to “improve” the bass in the M-Project by means of more, bigger, better, higher sensitivity woofers and improved enclosures. Stay tuned.

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