Magnepan 30.7 Loudspeaker, Part Two

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Magnepan 30.7
Magnepan 30.7 Loudspeaker, Part Two

’Scuse me while I wax sentimental, but I’ve come to realize Magneplanar speakers have a special place in my music-obsessed heart. (Though they’re certainly not the only speakers I dig.) First, Maggies happen to be my audiophile father’s current loudspeaker of choice. (Yes, I was indoctrinated from an early age—call it early audiophilia by osmosis. He’s even visited my place a couple of times to listen to the amazing 30.7s, and was of course extremely impressed—not to mention envious.) Then when I first started this crazy job nearly three years ago, my first review for TAS (in conjunction with JV) was of the Magnepan .7 planar-magnetic speakers. Pound for pound (though they aren’t heavy) and panel for panel, they were, and still are, a great audio deal for not a lot of coin.

But now the brilliant (and you could say bargain-minded) minds at Magnepan have designed a no-holds-barred Maggie that tops them all. They’ve also taken their sweet time about it—the 30.7 marks the Minneapolis-based company’s first new flagship in many years. (It’s also a move counter to many a manufacturer that might update and extend lineups as frequently as a salesman changes suits.)

Magnepan’s Marketing Manager Wendell Diller has been taking the new 30.7s on a tour—a road trip to visit dealers all over the U.S. with initial stops to the D.C. area, where Jacob Heilbrunn, Anthony Cordesman, and Alan Taffel heard them, and then on to Cincinnati. As you might have guessed, this quartet of sizable panels—two per channel comprising a four-way system—requires a rather large room to work their magic. So here in my circa-1880 Cincinnati abode, much to my delight (and JV’s chagrin) I became for a time the lucky host of these big, blue-framed, beautiful-sounding speakers.

We experimented with placement in my room, which is approximately 35' deep by 17' wide with 12' ceilings, moving furniture around and the whole nine yards. The good and bad news is the 30.7s are extremely sensitive to placement. This is good and handy because, unlike other heavy-duty high-end floorstanders with dynamic drivers, you have greater flexibility; you can shift the panels around, tall though they are, or even reconfigure their setup without too much trouble. The downside is, says Wendell half-jokingly, “There are so many ways to screw them up.” So spending a fair amount of time tweaking and adjusting placement is typical.

Because my commentary here appears alongside reviews from Jonathan Valin and Jacob Heilbrunn, who have covered the 30.7’s new and improved technologies, I won’t rehash all of that. But let’s get to the heart of the matter—how they sound!

Overall, the 30.7s offer up close and personal listening—as in, the speakers lay bare recordings in all their glory (and/or their flaws, shortcomings, or other idiosyncrasies)—while also projecting an expansive and entirely holistic soundstage that fills the room (and yes, as mentioned, a fairly big room is needed—for reasons of physics, says Wendell).

A funny example of this more “intimate” listening experience revealing a recording’s more intricate and finely filigreed details in full: It meant that my father seemed on the verge of being perturbed by the amount of background noise unveiled during the second movement on the classic Bernstein Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, a Columbia Masterworks LP reissue [Impex]. But by extension this also means he was equally impressed by this incredibly high resolution. He also noticed that the bass response was quite pronounced; he found it more than satisfying for his ears and personal tastes.

And a listen to Tori Amos’ remastered In the Pink LP unmasked some unusual and unexpected elements in the mix and production I hadn’t heard before (and didn’t exactly love). Good recordings are where it’s at here; it seems you hear everything—the big picture/image fleshed out in detail.

Even friends who are music lovers but not necessarily hardcore audiophiles were amazed at the 30.7’s capabilities—the ease with which they projected the complete picture of any given musical selection with astounding realism (recording permitting) and without boundaries or the central image or instruments seeming “boxed in” that you get with so many other speakers.

It’s as if the 30.7s unfurl an enormous patchwork quilt with each recording’s playback—the patterns are clear and present yet the entire whole also expands into the space with all its detail displayed in high resolution. Human touches and crafted handiwork and individual styles, including idiosyncrasies and imperfections, are revealed. Breath buzzes through a clarinet reed. Textures are intact, tactile. Timbral color is as spot-on as what the recording captured. Blues feel blue. You can practically see the shine on brass instruments, sense the pluck or bowing of strings as if you could touch them. The quilt metaphor’s limitation is that (particularly on good recordings) you don’t sense sharply defined borders or edges to the sonic material at hand. The music simply fills the room in an immersive and thoroughly engaging soundscape.

It might sound strange but I’ve never really heard my room sound like that before—and I’ve had plenty of speakers of all sizes, types, and price-points in there but few if any seemed to showcase the space’s dimensions in quite the same way.

For all their highly resolved and revealingly honest reproduction of source material, the 30.7s also promise remarkably non-aggressive and non-fatiguing listening—even comforting, when called for—but that’s not to say they’re lacking in impact, speed, or energy. I’ll say more about this in listening examples below.

Some weeks into listening, JV suggested we try moving the treble/midrange panels on each side backward, aligning them within the same line/plane as the bass/woof ones—to approximate how they might be positioned if they had been within a single oversized panel. As you might imagine, the speakers sounded more “of a piece”—I noticed greater coherence, along with seemingly less midrange and treble emphasis. On some musical selections, the soundstage seemed deeper and perhaps more focused. However, one tradeoff in gaining focus might have been a touch less of that hugely expansive dispersion and sense of power range immediacy.

Historically and by reputation a Maggies-associated sore spot for some listeners has been the speakers’ shortcomings in the frequency extremes of treble and bass reproduction. So those who favor hard-hitting rock ’n’ roll served up with slam might well have wanted to look elsewhere. However, in the 30.7’s development these were areas of focus where Magnepan has made outstanding improvements. I’m an omnivore of a music lover so I felt compelled to try out a little of everything, but had some initial reservations about spinning LPs that fell into either the rock or even heavier pop categories. I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t ever disappointed (though a couple friends mentioned they missed some slam of, say, Magicos). OK, so I didn’t spin Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” at concert levels or even certain bass-laden tracks from my beloved EL VY. But a listen to cuts from the Police’s Synchronicity highlighted Stewart Copeland’s incredible percussion snap on “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and the make-you-jump drum-kit attack after the intro piano chords on “King of Pain” resonated in their sweet, simple progression. Sting’s upright bass on “Every Breath You Take” throbbed along with palpable definition and dimensionality, equally compelling melodically as it was rhythmically. Combined with the speakers’ open soundstaging, full-scale imaging, and room-filling bloom, this all presented a highly immersive listening experience!

Early on in my time with the 30.7s, what actually wowed me—even awed me—was a listen to JV’s Masterpieces by Ellington LP, a superb reissue from Analogue Productions. Although all the instruments blew me away, what really hit me was when the baritone sax came in: that unbelievable and uncanny sense that the musicians were there, in their correct places, in my room. I know it sounds like an audiophile cliché but this the only way I can describe it. And the thrill of experiencing it with this splendid recording from 1949–50 was almost like traveling back in time.

Even though I haven’t been immersed in this hobby as long as some other TAS staffers, I can say that the 30.7s are among a rare breed of loudspeakers that possess the power potential to reignite the sonic passions of even the most cynical audiophile. And with a price of $29k, while not cheap, they offer an amazing cost-to-performance ratio for the high-end market. Is the 30.7 destined to give the competition—in its price category and well beyond—a run for its money? All signs point to yes.

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