Magico M Project, Part Four

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Magico M Project, Part Four

The M Project is, IMO, the most sonically and aesthetically satisfying loudspeaker that Magico has yet made—and that I’ve yet heard. Thanks to the lower distortion and wider bandwidth of its greatly improved diamond-coated beryllium tweeter, the superior stiffness, lower mass, and lower coloration of its graphene midrange driver, the greatly reduced diffractiveness and superior dispersion of its edgeless aerodynamic enclosure, and the sheer power and color of its larger complement of newly designed, bigger, better controlled, and easier-to-drive Nanotec-carbon woofers, the M Project has a warmer, fuller, more realistically concert-hall-like balance than any previous Magico. And yet these improvements in timbre and blend, which carry the speaker considerably closer to the absolute sound in tone color, haven’t been purchased at any cost in the phenomenal low-level resolution, lightning transient response, and breathtaking transparency to sources that Magicos have always been famous for. Indeed, the M Project is the most detailed and revealing dynamic loudspeaker I’ve heard in my home. As it stands, it is the first “reference” Magico that will exercise an appeal on every kind of listener: musicality, accuracy, and absolute sound. Obviously, I love it and consider it a major accomplishment.

But…will you love it? The only reasonable answer to this question is: “That depends.”

If you are coming from a line-source loudspeaker—magnetic or electrostatic—the answer is, “Probably not.” No direct-radiating, dynamic-driver speaker in a box—regardless of how “invisible” that box is (and the M Project’s enclosure vanishes as completely as that of a mini-monitor)—is going to have the near-single-driver uniformity, incomparable airiness, and unfettered spaciousness of a great planar. If you’re married to Maggies, Quads, MartinLogans (the CLX, par excellence), etc., you’re simply not going to like any “box speaker” (or “monkey coffin,” as one of my wittier correspondents put it) as well as you do a boxless line source. There is really no use in me pointing out what planars and ’stats can’t do as well as great dynamic loudspeakers, as those things simply don’t matter as much to the planar/’stat crowd, for whom realism on acoustic music recorded in a real space is paramount. (It is amazing—and amusing—how readily planar/’stat fans argue for the “realism” of their speakers on electronic music like rock ’n’ roll.) Although Magicos are and have always been one of the few cone speakers that remind me of Maggies (Estelons are another)—in the neutrality of their balance, their overall coherence, and their near-boxless spatiality—they are not like Maggies in certain key respects (they are more precisely “controlled” sounding than Magnepans or ’stats, which is another way of saying they stop and start with less blur and ringing, far more detailed, much deeper reaching in the bass, and simply in a different league when it comes to dynamics at low SPLs and high).

Speaking of dynamics, if you are coming from a great horn loudspeaker, the answer will also be, “Probably not,” but for a different set of reasons. Horn lovers typically don’t give much of a damn about a “disappearing act,” or “octave-to-octave coherence,” or overall “neutrality” and the absence of colorations. They view these things as silly “audiophile” preoccupations that have nothing to do with actual music, which, for them, is entirely a matter of lifelike SPLs, in-the-room-with-you presence, unmatched dynamic range, visceral impact on transients and tuttis, enormous detail, and super-rich tone color. Where horns and the M Project intersect—and they do intersect more than many dynamic loudspeakers—is that M Projects will play loud with pretty damn impressive dynamic impact and bring-you-out-of-your-seat transient response. They will also reproduce inner details with resolution that challenges (if it does not actually equal) the super-high-resolution of ultra-low-inertia compression drivers. While I would imagine that most real horn aficionados would find the sound of the M Project acceptable albeit somewhat “polite,” it simply won’t have the in-your-face presence or slam, nor (despite the gains in tone color) the Technicolor richness and weight that horn lovers crave. Nor, of course, will it match the sensitivity of a horn, which can be driven by flea-weight SETs. (Of course, it also won’t have a horn’s various nonlinearities and colorations, either. But that’s another story.)

We come now to the crux. What if you’re coming from another great dynamic loudspeaker—such as a Raidho, a Rockport, a Focal, a YG, a Wilson, a Gauder Akustik, a Stenheim, or, well, you name it?

Here the answer is, once again, “Probably not.”

Let’s take the Raidho D-5 for example, as it is a loudspeaker with which I have long experience. In some ways the Raidho D-5 (like many of the big Wilsons) is the “anti-Magico” of loudspeakers. Though it uses extremely high-tech drivers (diamond-coated ceramic cones and a sealed ribbon that, M Project or no, I still consider to be the word’s best tweeter), it is not voiced primarily via the measuring bench but rather by ear. What this means in practice is that it has a deliberately contoured frequency balance: an (excessively) elevated mid-to-upper bass and power range (where the ear is least sensitive), a smooth midband, a recessed brilliance and presence range (where the ear is most sensitive), and a slight rise in the top treble. As a result, though scarcely disreputable, the D-5 will not come close to matching the linearity and low distortion of the M Project in standard measurements; nor is its enclosure, as gorgeous and aerodynamic as it is, anywhere near as inert as that of the M Project. Though not the sing-along music boxes than some Nola enclosures are, the D-5’s box is playing along with the music, particularly in the bass. (Just put a hand to its cabinet and you will feel the vibration.) In addition, the D-5 (like Wilsons) is a ported loudspeaker, with a considerable rise at port resonance and a steep roll-off below it. Though it gives the impression of having really low bass, it doesn’t really, anymore than Wilsons do.

As an aside, I don’t think I will ever forget (or forgive) a rival magazine for rating the Q-5 as “bass-shy” and some Wilson or other as “full-range,” when the Q-5, by the very measurements that this magazine touts and depends on, went linearly down into the 30Hz or lower range, and the Wilsons dropped like a stone below port resonance. (There is a reason why even the most expensive Wilsons have to be augmented with gigantic subwoofers to generate really low end.) The reason for this injustice was simple: For most bass lovers, low bass doesn’t matter. Let me say that again: For most bass lovers, low bass doesn’t matter. Fender guitars and kickdrums live in the mid-to-upper bass and power range, and having FR peaks here does give such instruments the slam they have in life. As I said at the start of this endless blog, it is one of the peculiarities of measurement-based designs that flat frequency response and low distortion don’t necessarily translate into greater “realism” (or realistic excitement) on certain types of music, particularly rock.

To return to the D-5, while its ported bass and contoured frequency response are laughably “inaccurate” by Magico’s linear, low-distortion standards, the D-5 is anything but laughable in the listening. The added mid-to-upper bass sock that this speaker generates, the dark rich beautiful tone color from top to bottom, the Magico-equaling transient speed, and the superb treble are, in the words of my friend and colleague Andre Jennings, “simply addictive.” Another way of putting this is that the D-5 and the Wilsons are gorgeous, powerful, and finely detailed on every kind of music. Whether they also sound plausibly like the real thing on every kind of music is a different question. But let me say something else here that’ll rock the boat. For most listeners, the absolute sound doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that again: For most listeners, the absolute sound doesn’t matter. For most listeners, it is the effect of the absolute sound (or of the canned one, for that matter)—the horripilating visceral excitement of music and not a fool-ya simulacrum of, oh, a violin or a piano—that matters most.

The D-5 and many Wilsons deliver the excitement of hearing live or canned music quite realistically.

Which brings me back to the question at hand. The M Project is the most exciting Magico I’ve heard. It can do what the D-5 and Wilsons do almost as well as the D-5 and the Wilsons. No, it will not give you that 15dB peak in the midbass that so many of you crave, which is why I said that I didn’t think the M Project would automatically cause you to abandon a D-5 (or any of the other speakers I mentioned). Let’s be honest: You picked your (very expensive) speaker precisely because of its mix of sonic virtues on the music you listen to, and if you are in love with that mix, a different mix (even if it has similarities and superiorities) probably won’t cause you to abandon ship.

However, if you are like me, which is to say, if your listening biases are split among musicality, accuracy, and the absolute sound, so that you can love the sound of a D-5 for its beauty and excitement, the sound of a CLX for its incredible detail and transparency to sources, and an Avantgarde Trio or Magico Ultimate 3 for its lifelike dynamic range and scope, then, then, my friends, the answer to the big question is, “Yes.”

To put this is musical terms, for those of you who love rock, the M Project will come closer to delivering the midbass slam and excitement of the Raidho D-5 or the Avantgarde Trio than any previous Magico, with the added benefit of also supplying genuinely linear, much more highly resolved low end (down to at least 24Hz). For those of you who crave accuracy, the M Project will come within a hair’s breadth of delivering the transparency to source of a CLX, with far more realistic power range and bass range color and better high-frequency extension than a ’stat. For those of you devoted to the absolute sound, the M Project will come as close to sounding “real” on well-recorded instruments as any speaker I’ve heard, regardless of provenance.

With my taste for different kinds of music, and my split-biases when it comes to what I like (mostly an accuracy/absolute sound listener, but with more than a toe—in fact a foot and a leg—in the musicality camp), the Magico M Project is, as I said near the start, the nearest to a completely satisfying transducer that I’ve yet heard. It is my new reference, until of course Magico pulls the rug out from under me and I have to go looking for something else that fits the bill.

Well, at long last, that’s it, folks. Start pelting me, again, with those snowballs with rocks inside. I’m done.

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