It’s been several years since I’ve had a Magico loudspeaker in my listening room. In the nonce other speakers have come my way—chiefly from the wonderful Danish company Raidho—that have pleased me as much as, or more than, the high-precision, aluminum-bodied, carbon-fiber-driver transducers from the Hayward, CA, company. But with the advent of the $129,000 Magico M Project that’s about to change.
Unfortunately, what I have to say about this truly remarkable speaker will only be immediately relevant to 50 very wealthy, very discerning, and very lucky people around the globe. You see, fifty is the number of M Pros that Magico committed to build when this tenth-year-anniversary project was announced last year—and as of this writing each and every one of them has already been sold. In fact, all fifty of these very limited-edition items—intended to showcase Magico’s latest, most advanced thinking rather in the same way that automakers showcase their latest, most advanced thinking with concept cars—were sold before the first M Pro was fabricated, a testament to the faith discerning listeners have placed in Alon Wolf and Yair Tammam, the brains behind a company that has gone from zero to one hundred in reputation, sales, and charisma in a decade.
While owning one of the M Projects is swell if you’re one of The Fifty, it does rather leave the rest of us in the lurch. And leaves a reviewer like me in a tough spot: Why bother to discuss a speaker that no one can buy?
I asked Alon Wolf this very thing. Why limit access to a product this excellent and groundbreaking? Why not keep building M Pros on a custom-order basis?
Wolf’s first (less satisfying) answer was that exclusivity and pride of ownership were what he’d guaranteed the M Pro’s fifty purchasers, and he would not go back on his word to the men and women who’d forked out $129,000 purely on his promise that this was the best thing Magico could devise.
Wolf’s second (more satisfying) answer—and one of the two reasons I’m writing this rolling review—was that many of the technologies showcased in the M Project have already found their way into other Magico speakers, the new Q7 Mk II that Robert will soon review and the S7, and will shortly find their way into future models.
So…from a certain angle you should consider this blog a preview of Magico’s coming attractions.
But from another angle it is also undoubtedly a vanity project—for the second reason I’m reviewing the M Project is entirely selfish. To be frank I would’ve reviewed any speaker that Alon Wolf (or Andy Payor, David Wilson, Jacques Mahul, Wendell Diller, Yoav Geva, Charles Von Oosterum, Michael Borresen, Alfred Vassilkov, Holger Fromme, and Juergen Reis, among others) said was his best effort, even if it were a one-off with no chance of progeny. We all of us have hobbyhorses, and it’s no secret that ultra-high-end loudspeakers are one of mine.
As you know, I’ve been following the progress of this skyrocket of a company from the moment I first heard the original Mini in 2006. Since then, Magico has gone from titanium-sandwich drivers, ring-radiator tweeters, and stacked-birch enclosures to nanotech carbon-fiber drivers, beryllium dome tweeters, and massive aluminum enclosures to, as you will see, graphene carbon drivers, diamond-coated beryllium dome tweeters, and carbon-fiber-and-aluminum enclosures. What has stayed the same, however, is Wolf and Co.’s ongoing, single-minded pursuit of perfection.
Of course, the first of many thorny issues with such a quest—which is certainly what Magico is on—is what is meant by “perfection.” For Magico the answer to this question is, and has always been, the lowering of distortions of every measurable kind. Every advance that the company has made has been accompanied by an audible reduction in noise (from drivers, crossovers, and cabinets) and a concomitant increase in resolution and transparency. For Magico, the perfect speaker would be no speaker (or no sense of one)—a pure, uncolored conduit from source to listening room.
This said, not everyone has loved Magico’s ultra-transparent, ultra-neutral, ultra-low-distortion sound (or bought into its pursuit of measurements-based perfection). Just recently our very own Alan Taffel voiced a complaint about the Magico Q Series speakers (while praising the more gemütlich S Series) that echoed a criticism others have made. Let’s face it: One man’s neutral, low in distortion, and transparent is another’s cool, lean, and analytical. And cool, lean, and analytical is precisely the way some listeners have heard Magico Qs.
To be fair to their critics, Magicos in general are not warm, cuddly, somewhat forgiving speakers, like Raidhos or Wilsons. They appeal, as I said in my review of the Q5, to listeners who value transparency to sources—or what others call “accuracy”—above all else. If a source is well recorded, Magico Q Series loudspeakers come as close to the real thing as any speakers on the market, now or in the past. If it is not, well, they tell you so—not in an overly insistent way, but nonetheless in a straightforward one.
I happen to like this kind of “just the facts, ma’am” honesty, but I’m in the minority. Most listeners, I think, prefer drama to documentary. They want a transducer that thrills them the way music—live or canned—thrills them, and could care less about how much coloration it takes to consistently deliver those goosebumps or how close the result comes to the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space. I call this (majority) group “as you like it” listeners, but it’s just as fair, and less faintly pejorative, to call them “musicality-first” ones.
In between the transparency and musicality listeners is the absolute sound contingent, whose search for those recordings and components that best preserve the sound of real acoustic instruments in a real space was the ideal upon which this magazine was founded. To an extent, both of the other streams, as it were, feed into this central pool, albeit on a kind of a contingency basis. Transparency-first listeners are searching for the recordings and equipment that deliver the most convincing semblance of the real thing, too, provided that they don’t also turn sow’s ears into silk purses by grossly coloring the sound. Though they may not have an overriding interest in acoustic instruments played in a real venue (i.e., in classical music), musicality-first listeners are also delighted when something sounds “real,” because when something sounds “real” (while at the same time sounding beautiful and exciting) it just adds to the thrill quotient.
It has been my contention that no listener is purely one of these three types: that a delight in accuracy, musicality, and realism are common to all listeners, although one of these three “biases” tends to predominate (or at least it does most of the time).
The trouble is that it is next to impossible to find a single transducer that will please all three palates in equal measure. Accuracy generally comes at a price in gemütlich (and lifelike) power range/lower midrange warmth and fullness, tending to leave the upper-midrange and treble, where so much transient detail lives, more “exposed” (and audible); musicality generally comes at the price of an overly full midbass, power range, and lower midrange, increasing slam, density of tone color, and goosebumps, while also, typically, pleasantly reducing upper-midrange presence and brilliance and darkening the overall sound; the absolute sound is a standard that serves acoustic music recorded in an actual concert hall perfectly well, but is less applicable to electronic music recorded in a studio, meaning that fans of rock ’n’ roll (and they are legion) find its finely nuanced, venue-dependent, midrange-centric aesthetic considerably less than satisfactory.
So where does a lover of Béla Bartók, Ray Brown, and The Beatles go to get the essential piece-performance-venue-and recording detail, the lifelike tone color, weight, and transient response, and the thrilling dynamic range, particularly in the bass, and sheer SPLs that each of these composers and musicians requires in significantly different proportions?
Alas, up until a few weeks ago I didn’t think there was a single-transducer answer to that question, though the Raidho D-5s would’ve come closest to getting my vote (with serious provisos). As I said at the start of this blog, my opinion has now changed.
In the next few weeks, I’m going to tell you how and why I believe the Magico M Pro comes closer to meeting the acoustic challenges of different musics (and to satisfying the tastes of different listeners) than other speakers I’ve heard in my home, and the similarities and differences between it, previous Magicos, and other outstanding loudspeakers.
In advance of that let me close this opening section of the blog with a bit of a teaser (and a conundrum): Though the Magico M Project carries Magico’s high-transparency/low-distortion aesthetic to fresh new heights, in certain fundamental ways it doesn’t sound like any other Magico I’ve ever heard.
I’ll let you chew on that (and doubtlessly let some of you chew me over anonymously, vigorously, and vengefully on this site) until I publish the next installment of this rolling review, which will be soon after the upcoming AXPONA show.
In the meantime, those of you who still think of me as Mr. Magico, bear in mind that I have not loved the Magico sound at recent trade shows and have said so (and caught flak for it), that I have repeatedly criticized the Magico beryllium tweeter (ditto), that I have not had a Magico loudspeaker in my listening room in better than three years, that I have praised any number of other transducers that aren’t made in Hayward, CA, and that my current references come from Aarhus, Denmark. Also bear in mind (a lot of good this is going to do) that I understand that these are very expensive transducers, which, for all intents and purposes, don’t exist in the real world. Venting about their price or their unavailability or my commentary, now and in detail in the future, may satisfy certain Internet Cowboys (and you know who you are), but I’ll ask the rest of you to give me the chance to explain myself before firing both barrels (after which, feel free).
Let me also say that there are other speakers out there of great promise that I haven’t listened to at length or in my home. I can’t comment on them, because I don’t voice opinions about products I haven’t heard. But because I very much like the M Pro does not mean that I’ve stopped very much liking the Raidho D-5 or the Raidho D-1 or the MartinLogan CLX or the Quad 2905 or the Magnepan .7/1.7/3.7/20.7 or the Estelon X Diamond or the MBL 101 E or the MBL 101 XTreme or the Avantgarde Zero-1 Pro or the Avantgarde Trio/Basshorn or the Magico Q5 or Q7 or Ultimate III, or a dozen others.
As the late great HP used to say, stay tuned.