Magico's Q5: A Tale of Two Speakers

Magico Q5
Magico's Q5: A Tale of Two Speakers

So. After all the hype and hoopla, I guess you're wondering how Magico's new aluminum-bodied Q5 fared at this year's annual farrago in Vegas. Speaking strictly for myself, I'd have to say the answer to this question depended entirely on the day on which you heard it.

My first extended listen to the Q5 was on Thursday evening--the first night of the show--with sources ranging from 15 ips, two-track, first-generation dubs of major-label mastertapes from The Tape Project to several test CDs that Magico had kindly uploaded for me to its server-based digital playback system. (Listening to my own discs at a show is the only way I can get a fix on how things sound.

While Thursday's listen was scarcely a bust, it wasn't the knock-out punch that my first extended listen to the Magico M5s with Soulution gear was the year before--when I declared the 5s, to some folks' consternation and others' whole-hearted approval, the best speakers I'd ever heard at a trade show. The drawback this year, if that is the right word, wasn't the speakers themselves (as you will see) or the sensational Technical Brain electronics driving them, it was the room, which was far bigger than that of last year's M5 exhibit.

Although the Q5s weigh close to 400 pounds each, they have a relatively small footprint--smaller, in fact, than the M5s, which are themselves demure by super-speaker standards. Stick such relatively small speakers in a ballroom-sized chamber forty-for-fifty-feet wide, at least that deep, and twenty or so feet tall and you're giving them a challenge that would be tough for stacked Focal Grande Utopia EMs to handle. To compound matters, save for a wavy decorative cloth hung behind the Q5s (which you can see in the picture above), the room was relatively untreated. (There were a smattering of bass traps, but they didn't seem to work.) To make this tough situation even tougher, the top-of-the-line MIT cables and interconnects to which everything was hooked hadn't settled  in, and I am here to tell you from personal experience that MIT cables take some playing time to sound their best (and their networks also need to be properly dialed into the speakers and electronics by ear, which, in my opinion, was not the case on Day One).

Although the Q5s had no trouble filling this gigantic space with sound, they had to be situated better than twenty feet apart with what I thought was insufficient toe-in to do so. As a result, the sound was darkish (by which I mean weighted toward the lower-mids and bass) in overall balance. Now "dark" is not a balance that I've ever before heard from a Magico loudspeaker (save for the aluminum-bodied M6s), and is certainly not a characteristic of the Technical Brain electronics, which, if anything, are on the bright, airy, and lively side. This overall darkness wasn't being helped by a room resonance around 80-100Hz that was fudging the definition of certain notes of certain instruments. For instance, the synthesizer on the stupendously dynamic and dynamically complex cut No. 7 from "The International" that I had Wolf play sounds a steady note around 80-100Hz for several seconds after a very busy and violent tutti; that note should sound as "roundly" defined as a ball of India rubber in tone and image. Here it was a bit ill-defined in both parameters. In addition to this, Magico's new beryllium dome tweeter seemed, to me, to stick out just a bit, making instruments that played in the high frequencies seem to almost literally ride ahead of those in the midrange (as did those notes that were being aggravated by the room resonance in the upper bass.)

This said, the speaker was exceedingly beautiful sounding everywhere else, with exceptionally high resolution of fine detail in the midband and, below that little room-induced hump in the upper bass, very deep and tautly defined low end. (This superb grip and definition in the bass octaves is a characteristic of Technical Brain amps, which are leaner and tighter than, oh, a Soulution 700 on the very bottom.) Soundstaging was phenomenally wide and deep and imaging, in spite of the bass-bump and the huge distance between the speakers, was tight, with excellent centerfill and genuine three-dimensionality to voices and instruments.

Were I to have assigned a grade to the Q5s on this first day, it would have been a solid B. Having had some experience with Technical Brain and Magico speakers, I did suggest that it might be better to set the impedance setting of the MIT cables to its middle position--which I though might ameliorate some of the darkness and reduce the bass bump by tightening the bottom octaves. Outside of this I didn't know what to suggest, given the intractability of the huge room.

Late on Friday I ran into Robert Harley and asked him if he had listened to the Q5s. He said he had and that they were sounding fabulous. Clearly something had changed for the better. Still I waited...until late Saturday to return to the Magico room.

Well...indeed, things had changed for the better--dramatically. For one thing, Alon and Yair had moved the speakers much closer together and toed them in so that listeners in the middle seats were now virtually on the axis of the tweeters. They had also set the impedance of the MIT networks to the mid-position (which I prefer at home). Add to this, the MITs now had three days of "setttling-in time" on them (four if you count the set-up day of Wednesday). The net result was a huge improvement in the overall sound. The tweeter, which had stuck out a bit, was now as invisible at the MR-1 ring-radiator in the M5--and at least as finely detailed and more dynamic. The little room-induced hump in the upper bass had been considerably reduced (although not eliminated completely) making the upper bass cohere more completely. The midrange had a fineness of detail that was jaw-dropping. Suddenly, the speaker sounded--as Magicos famously do--like one thing rather than a collection of disparate things. Indeed, the Q5s sounded so much like a single-driver speaker that my very first thought was: "These are like gigantic Quad 2905s!" That's how low in distortion, high in coherence, and rich and delicately detailed in timbre and texture they had become. Of course, they also had much better bass, treble, staging, and large-scale dynamics than any 'stat I'd ever heard. True, they were still a little dark in overall balance, but I'm pretty sure this was the room and not the speaker.

How did the Q5s compare to the M5s? For this you will have to wait for my show report and, possibly, my review of the new Magicos. But let me say this: The M5s came the closest I've heard a dynamic speaker come to the sound of electrostats, because of their astonishingly low distortion, virtually sonically-invisible cabinet, and superb and superbly blended drivers (while retaining and, indeed, improving upon the virtues of cones). But as outstanding as they are, the 5s still, as I noted in my review of them, had a small bit of the texture that ALL cone speakers have--a slight overlay of driver/enclosure/crossover grain that you do not hear with the best 'stats and which tends to obscure the very lowest-level dynamic contrasts. At low SPLs, they couldn't quite equal a Quad or a CLX, par excellence, in resolution or dynamic scale from pppp-to-mf. It may be--repeat may be--that the Q5s can. But even if they do, the bigger question, for me at least, isn't the amount of detail they can generate (and it is clearly staggering) at extremely low levels of distortion, but whether this tremendous detail and depth of silence add up to a presentation that is as out-and-out-realistic as that of the M5s at average volumes. If the Q5 does--and I repeat, if (and I don't know yet on the basis of a short audition that it does, as you will see when I discuss the sound of the M5/Soulution room), Magico may well have trumped one of the greatest loudspeakers it's been my pleasure to hear and use--and provided well-heeled audiophiles with a superior option for $35k less. Time alone will tell.

Let me also note that the Q5 was not the only winner at this year’s show. I will have more on this subject tomorrow, when I begin to post my show report.