Magico S1 Mk II Loudspeaker

Strong Family Resemblance

Equipment report
Magico S1 Mk II
Magico S1 Mk II Loudspeaker

Magico loudspeakers have impressed a good number of TAS equipment reviewers. No fewer than seven Magico models are endorsed in the 2017 Buyer’s Guide and the most ambitious designs have served as references for Robert Harley (the Q7 Mk II) and Jonathan Valin (the M Project). Alan Taffel and Anthony Cordesman were not stinting in their praise for two models in the less elaborately, but no less uniquely engineered S Series, the S5 and S7. At $38,000 per pair, the S5 is the lowest price of the products just mentioned. All these speakers represent a substantial investment, a reflection of the materials and technology that go into their manufacture.

At $16,500 (in its M-Cast finish) the new Magico S1 Mk II is the least costly product that the California company makes, other than one subwoofer. The term entry-level definitely catches in my throat, as this is significantly more money that the “flagship” offerings from several manufacturers I’ve positively reviewed recently—the PSB Imagine T3 or the Ryan Tempus III, for examples. Surely, this smallest Magico floorstander must blend into the throng of high-performance full-range loudspeakers that sell for under $20k. Well, sorry, that’s not the narrative here. The Magico S1 Mk II is very much a Magico and, as such, at this price point represents a smoking value.

There’s been plenty of ire expressed toward Magico on our website regarding the application of the “Mk II” suffix, specifically to the speaker at the very top of the regular production line, the Q7. Alon Wolf argues cogently for why this anger and cynicism is misplaced. In Wolf’s view, there are two aspects to the design of his loudspeakers, the “platform” and, well, everything else. The “platform” is the enclosure, the extruded aluminum monocoque design of the S Series, or the more complex and labor-intensive construction of the Q and M Series. “I don’t really care for the Mk II designation,” Wolf told me. “I encourage people to talk about it as ‘the new S1’ or ‘the new S5.’ The platform for the S Series is a fundamental achievement in terms of construction, and we are not going to change it anytime soon. It’s too good to mess with. There is no better way to build a loudspeaker in my mind for this kind of cost.” The extruded metal pieces are made for Magico at the only factory in the United States with the capacity to produce pieces this large. The process is “mind-boggling,” says Wolf. “You take a 21" billet of aluminum—one solid piece—and push it through a cookie-cutter profile. It’s an incredible thing to watch.” There actually is one difference in the fabrication of the S1 enclosure in its Mk II iteration. The original S1 used “pressure bracing”—a piece of machined aluminum was pushed tightly against the inside skin of the speaker. Now, Magico bolts the four internal braces from the outside: “The tension points are much more powerful,” says Wolf. This, of course, results in holes in the enclosure that must be welded and sanded to restore a smooth exterior surface and, one assumes, ensure mechanical integrity.

What gets the speaker its “Mk II” appellation are the new drivers it uses and the necessarily reengineered crossover that unites them. The two new drivers are designs that have trickled down from pricier models in the Magico line, a 1" diamond-coated beryllium tweeter and a 7" graphene Nano-Tec mid/bass cone. (Magico’s use of graphene—a material that is so exceptionally stiff and light it has engineers and scientists in many fields pretty pumped—is still among the few commercial applications of the stuff.) The crossover is a fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley configuration that employs Magico’s “elliptical” topology. As with other speakers in the S and Q lines, the S1 Mk II is available in both an M-Cast finish or, for about $4000 more, a glossy M-Coat version—both in various colors. I actually prefer the M-Cast option, as the speakers are less visually obtrusive and easier to keep looking pristine. (Wolf doesn’t hear or measure any difference between the two finish choices.) A metal grille that covers both drivers, held in place magnetically, is easily removed for critical listening.

The review pair of S1 Mk II’s, sporting a black M-Cast finish, came carefully packed in two sturdy cardboard boxes. (The M-Coat version is shipped with the two speakers sharing a single wooden crate.) The user’s guide is quite thorough regarding unpacking, which is a two-person job. Clear guidelines for placing the loudspeakers are provided as well. I set up the S1 Mk IIs in a position that had worked previously for speakers of similar size. Peter Mackay, Magico’s VP for Global Sales and Marketing, visited for a morning and—using two tape measures, a laser distance measurer, a bubble level, a calibrated microphone plugged into his laptop, and pieces of blue painter’s tape on the floor—ended up moving the speakers forward about 4 inches. I don’t mean to sound snarky, as the S1s sounded much better when Peter was finished. Some of that was, undoubtedly, Peter’s careful leveling of the speakers and spiking them through the carpet and underlying acoustic treatment to the concrete slab beneath. The point is that you shouldn’t hesitate to enlist the aid of your Magico dealer to set the S1 Mk IIs up: He’s likely done it before and may have been trained by Mackay himself. In my 15' x 15' room (a hallway off one of the sidewalls obviates any standing-wave problems; the ceiling height varies from 10' to 12') the S1s ended up 25" to 29" from the front wall—they were canted in toward the listening position—and 8' apart, center-to-center. The distance from each speaker to the sweet spot was 9' 6". Mostly, the Magicos were driven by Pass XA 60.8 monoblocks, with some service from a 200Wpc Parasound HCA-2200II stereo amplifier. The preamp/processor was my trusty Anthem D2v. Digital sources included an Oppo BDP-93 (used as a transport) and a Baetis Reference music computer feeding the Anthem’s DACs; for analog, a VPI Scoutmaster fitted with a JMW Memorial tonearm and Sumiko Bluepoint Special EVO III cartridge. Cabling was mostly Transparent, the notable exception being a Shunyata Anaconda AES/EBU wire from Baetis to Anthem.

My first impression of the Magico S1 Mk IIs was that the sound was lean in comparison to my beloved Wilsons (Duette 2s with and without WATCH Dog subwoofer)—in the sense that any extraneous sonic detritus was gone and only the meaningful electroacoustic representation of the original musical event remained. With orchestral scores, colorful music was colorful, not colored. Devotees of Romantic and early twentieth century repertoire know that certain composers have a difficult-to-describe yet characteristic density, a center-of-gravity to their symphonic sonority that makes the identification of the author of even an unfamiliar work possible. Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky—the tonal palette of each of these masters was utterly idiomatic through the Magicos.

To examine this sonic parameter more closely, I pulled out a recording I’ve used before to evaluate tonal accuracy, one I plan to refer to in future reviews as “The Old Italian Violin Test.” To recapitulate: In 1998, the esteemed Chicago violin dealer Bein & Fushi published a handsome coffee table book, The Miracle Makers, that explored the history, craftsmanship, and, of course, the aural magic of the violins built by the two most famous makers of string instruments, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù [see TAS Issue 125]. A few years earlier, 30 such instruments—the estimated total value at the time was around $100 million, which would be considerably higher now—were brought to a recital hall in Purchase, New York, to be photographed and then played by one violinist, the American virtuoso Elmar Oliveira. Oliveira was recorded by Mark Levinson, using Cello gear, in three CDs worth of music ranging from Bach to Ysaÿe. The third disc is a singular undertaking—Oliveira plays the first 30 bars of the Sibelius Violin Concerto on all the violins in succession, alternating between a Stradivarius and a del Gesù. Through good equipment, even a listener lacking any experience with 300-year-old Cremonese violins can quickly distinguish the more focused and brilliant sound of a Stradivarius from the darker, warmer, earthier tone of a Guarneri instrument. The S1 Mk IIs did this more effectively than any other loudspeaker I’ve had in my listening room. In fact, I could readily distinguish among different Strads and different Guarneris with the Magicos, such was their degree of tonal and textural resolution.