Magico S3 Mk II Loudspeaker

In the Sweet Spot

Equipment report
Magico S3 Mk II
Magico S3 Mk II Loudspeaker

When it comes to spatiality, I won’t trot out the old saw that these speakers “disappear” in the way small, stand-mounted mini-monitors can—although in a larger room than mine, they might. Still, the soundstage was broad and continuous, and depth was more than satisfactory. In the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, the off-stage “post horn” (actually a flugelhorn) really sounded like it was coming from a distant place, on Michael Tilson Thomas’s 2002 live recording. The sound of the instrument was soft, not because the soloist was playing softly but because he was far away. The S3 Mk IIs maintain their coherence when the music gets complex and loud, whether it’s the Finale to the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony or one of Gordon Goodwin’s exuberant big band arrangements.

So there you have my assessment of the S3 Mk II’s sonic attributes, parameter by parameter. But can that truly tell you what you need to know about a loudspeaker’s character? Is its overall performance more or less than the sum of its parts? If you’re not careful, you may end up characterizing the Magico S3 Mk II’s sound as analytical. That would be a mistake, as this is a word that carries a negative connotation in an audio context—analytical, as in cold, clinical, hyper-detailed, or even etched. That’s not what I hear with the new S3, and with other current Magicos. Rather, I hear them as revealing, in the sense of displaying fully the endless range of musical expression.

Well into the review period, I listened to an album I’ve enjoyed for 40 years, Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything—that musical polymath’s best-selling release over a long and artistically expansive career. Three of the four sides of the original LPs were all Todd: He played every instrument and sang every vocal track, a tour de force that displayed the workings of an exceptionally creative, yet disciplined, musical mind. The songs are good (“I Saw the Light” was Rundgren’s biggest hit), but there’s something a little stiff and mechanical about those three sides of the album, as much as one admires the artist for putting it all together. Side 4, however, has Todd performing live in an NYC studio with a group of instrumentalists and singers who were clearly enjoying themselves. The effect is profoundly different: The songs here seem much richer and more emotionally meaningful. The Magicos, manifesting a degree of truthfulness that’s unusual with audio gear, communicated the joyfulness of collaborative music making in contrast to the solitary, if über-competent efforts that comprise the bulk of Something/Anything.

I’d seen somewhere that Alon Wolf has described the S3s as occupying the “sweet spot” of the entire Magico loudspeaker line—a product range that begins with the $16,500 S1 and ascends to the $229,000 Q7 MkII, a product that’s obviously out of reach to all but a tiny number of individuals. I asked Wolf to elaborate. “I’m fully aware of the price categories that our products are in,” he said. “Although I know that we give incredible value for the price, knowing how much it costs to actually build these things, it does become a different market above a certain number, which is around $30,000. The S3 Mk II sits right below that with performance that can easily be compared to speakers that cost three times as much. There is a lot of value in that. People really respond and we can see it in sales. It’s the question of performance vs. value that creates the ‘sweet spot’ for it.”

Sounds like a promising business plan to me. The Magico S3 Mk II is now my loudspeaker reference.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way, sealed-box enclosure
Driver complement: One 1" diamond-coated beryllium dome tweeter, one 6" nanographene midrange cone, two 9" nanographene bass cones
Frequency response: 24Hz–50kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Dimensions: 12" x 48" x 12"
Weight: 170 lbs.
Price: $28,000 (M-Cast finish), $32,000 (M-Coat finish)

3170 Corporate Place
Hayward, CA
(510) 649-9700

Alon Wolf on the Magico S Series vs. the Q Series: “I like to spread the love.”

The platform for the Magico Q series loudspeakers—that is, the enclosure—is significantly more difficult to manufacture than the S Series monocoque cabinet and this, of course, is a big part of the higher cost of these models. How much of an advantage does the “heroic” design of the Q series speakers provide?
It is a stiffer enclosure because we are able to create a much better coupling to the braces in these loudspeakers. They’re much stiffer which means the resonant frequency goes much higher which is easier to damp. The end result is a quieter cabinet—the noise floor is lower. You do get an advantage there. However, what you don’t get (which you do get with the S Series monocoque) is reduced diffraction. You have a lot of edges. To build one [a Q Series speaker] that has no edges at all is extremely costly. This is what we’re doing with the new M6, though most of that cabinet is made out of carbon fiber. You want to try to do that with aluminum? Good luck! So there is an advantage to the S Series in that arena. There are advantages to both designs.

So the S Series isn’t just “Q-lite”?
To me, the idea of just “reducing” is not good enough. I always try to give something to whatever model it is, no matter how much “less expensive” (I don’t want to say “cheap,” because none of them are), so that they can stand up for themselves. I think about Porsche. The Cayman—the mid-engine—is not a 911. But it handles better, even though it is cheaper. It’s not a 911, which is what a Porsche is supposed to be, but you always kind of feel: “Hey, you know what? My car handles better than yours!” I like to spread the love as much as possible.

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