No speaker will ever be completely free of room interactions, but the S7 produced far less variation in the bass as it was moved to different positions from the rear and sidewalls than most of the speakers I get in for review, and was less sensitive to changes in listening position. It also has a radiating pattern that produced exceptional stability in the soundstage, and fewer compromises in apparent depth. I was surprised by the sheer width between the two S7 speakers when Peter McKay of Magico set them up, but experimenting with different placements showed that the S7 could throw a wide soundstage and still provide exceptionally focused imaging with musically natural acoustic recordings, a matching quality in center fill and imaging size, and not lose depth in the process. This aspect of performance will still be room and listening-position specific, but the end result is that a properly set-up pair of Magico S7s provided the kind of focus at every listening level—and from bass to treble—that makes it easier to live within a very wide range of room types.
One operating caveat, particularly for classical music and chamber music buffs: A speaker this clean does encourage raising the volume. Fine, but push the listening levels too high and the ear becomes sensitive to upper-octave energy. Most experienced audiophiles understand this, but listening levels should not be pushed too far beyond what is musically natural no matter how good the speaker is.
The Sound and the Music
Now, having carefully expressed my caveats about the value of words relative to actual listening, let me try to use them to explain the sound of excellence. I’ve already talked about imaging and soundstage. The S7 cannot turn a poor or mediocre recording into a great one, but it can reveal an immense amount of fine soundstage detail from the lowest to the highest levels without altering timbre, exaggerating any given area of response like the upper midrange, or emphasizing the mids and highs at the expense of the bass.
The Fry Street Quartet’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartets in D Minor, Op. 9, No. 4 and in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2 is a good case in point [Fry Street Quartet]. This is not particularly dynamic music, but it does have considerable complexity, and so the ability to provide a realistic soundstage with great detail is critical. You become involved in the music to the extent it comes alive, creates the impression that the musicians are somehow in the room, and allows you to hear each of the musicians interact in credible ways. Ray Kimber’s recording makes this possible, but then so does the Magico S7.
Bruce Dunlap’s About Home [Chesky] is another example of a recording where soundstage detail and proper timbre are critical, but it does provide an unusual and exceptionally complex mix of guitar, saxophone, and percussion—almost to the point where it seems designed to be a demonstration recording. It also has a lot of high-frequency detail in the percussion and deep bass from the bass guitar. A lot of speakers slightly blur some aspects of this detail, lose image specificity, or emphasize some aspect of sound quality over others. The S7 doesn’t, but it also is not “revealing” in the sense that you suddenly hear some aspect of the music emphasized in ways that are not natural.
Technological complexity and sophistication are key aspects of the Magico S7. Like any speaker that comes close to the S7 in price and quality, the S7’s exceptional performance has a solid technological base, one that puts the lie to any notion that dynamic speakers are less complex—or easier to design and make—than ribbons, electrostatics, or exotic designs.
Let me stress that any designer who is seeking to push the state of the art is going to be passionate about his own design choices, that I am not a speaker designer who can judge given approaches to design, and that decades of experience have taught me that remarkably different technologies and designs can all be outstanding. I do hope, however, that Alon Wolf of Magico’s passion and commitment help illustrate both the reasons this particular design is so good and why a speaker of this quality costs what it does.
I can also say based on my long experience in a very different field of technology and manufacturing that a visit to the Magico production line and listening room, and a detailed examination of the drivers, crossover, and enclosure parts and assembly, showed me how much effort, time, tooling, research and development, and total product cost are involved in the kind of production that takes place at the very top of the high end. You do end up paying more for diminishing returns, but that is the price of excellence in every field, and the key reason why you are reading magazine called The Absolute Sound.
You can find out a lot about both the S7 and its level of technology and manufacturing by going to the Magico website (magico.net), but I asked the S7’s chief designer, Alon Wolf, a number of questions that I felt the website didn’t fully cover, and he provided the following answers.
But the S7 is scarcely a speaker for “smaller music.” One of my friends pushed some Rolling Stones recordings to the limit and beyond, but to the extent they had detail and power, the S7s provided it at volumes I would not personally recommend, although I did not allow him to see if he could raise the volume to limits I find painful. More functionally, the S7s did allow me to get as much detail out of symphonic and opera recordings as I’ve ever heard in my listening room—even with truly complex music like the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 and the Mahler Eighth.
These works are both so sonically massive that they tend to saturate even the best speakers, and every recording made of both has limits when it comes to reproduction in the home (and is to also some extent a subject of controversy as to musical performance). However, if you compare the older Telarc performance of the Saint-Saëns with the much newer Reference Recordings version by Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony [RR-136] as reproduced by the S7 in comparison with other speakers, you’ll get a clear indication of just how good the S7’s resolving power is—even with massively complex and loud music.
I would normally go on to comment individually on the treble, midrange, and bass. The practical problem, however, is that I cannot find something to criticize in timbre, dynamics, or detail from the highest frequencies down to the deep bass. I would say that if you audition this speaker, it may initially appear to be a little soft in the upper octaves. It isn’t.
It not only measures very well in the upper octaves in a real-world listening room and consistently from the midrange to beyond hearing, but its flat, smooth response and consistently high level of detail can be a bit misleading. What it lacks are the kinds of peaks and anomalies in the mid and upper midrange that often emphasize the hardness and excessive upper-octave information in closely miked recordings—particularly of violin and of soprano voices that are allowed to push the microphone’s limits.