Let’s face it: Most audiophiles are into cone loudspeakers. And why not? They’re plentiful, good-sounding, and (at least in many cases) quite affordable. Though force of habit is a powerful thing, what if there were an alternative that was every bit as good-sounding (maybe even better-sounding) and just as affordable, only it didn’t have cones and didn’t come in a box? Although I imagine most of you have already made their acquaintance in previous versions, let me introduce you to Magnepan’s latest “mini” planar dipole, the two-way, floorstanding, all-quasi-ribbon-driver MG .7—a speaker that is capable of a more natural and full-range sound than any previous “mini” Maggie, and a more natural and full-range sound than anyone might reasonably expect for the money.
The .7s Versus Your Room
Let me say right off the bat that these are very impressive speakers offering a practically unbeatable quality-to-cost ratio. Of course, they do have certain peculiarities. For one thing, with Magnepans proper setup in your room is arguably more critical than it is with most other types of speakers. It certainly took some experimentation with positioning to get the .7s to sound their best (though the result was worth every minute of effort). Happily, these guys aren’t too heavy, only 27 pounds each, so they can easily be shifted around to suit your room’s needs—even by a gal!
Though small by Maggie standards, the .7s are still four-and-a-half-foot-tall, one-foot-four-inch-wide rectangular panels about the height of a largish dynamic floorstander, a little wider than same, and, at under an inch in depth, about twenty times thinner. Their figure-8 dipolar dispersion (see below) makes sidewall reflections less of an issue with the .7s than it is with wide-dispersion cones; however, if the .7s (or any Maggies) are toed-in toward the listener rather than made parallel to the backwall, then part of their rear wave will bounce off sidewalls, potentially adding (as it does with any loudspeaker) brightness from early-arrival reflections. What this means is that with Maggies you should take some of the same care in placement vis-à-vis sidewalls as you would with any loudspeaker, especially if you toe the speakers in.
The Maggies should also be placed a reasonable distance from back walls, in order to avoid doubling and/or cancellation in the bass from the dipolar .7s’ out-of-phase rearwave. (In the end I set them up about three-and-a-half feet from the rear walls.)
Unlike most dynamic loudspeakers, the Maggies can be positioned with their tweeters in different locations—to the inside of the speaker, firing more or less directly at you, or on the outside of the speaker, firing less directly at you. All you need to do to change the tweeter orientation is swap the left speaker for the right one. Obviously the location of the tweeter makes a difference in tonal balance, imaging, and soundstaging. Though JV and I preferred the sound of the .7s with their tweeter to the outside in the room in which we were listening, the inside position did have more presence, image focus, and treble energy. Obviously any decision about tweeter orientation will depend on the size of your room and how far you’re seated from the panels.
Once again like all Maggies, the quasi-ribbon panels of the .7s need some break-in before they sound their best. Though quite listenable out of the box, they will sound better (less bright in the upper mids, more filled-out, freed-up, and energetic in the bass) with several weeks of play.
The .7 Versus The MMG
At 15-1/4 inches wide and 54-1/4 inches tall, the .7s are about an inch wider and better than six inches taller than Maggie’s other much-less-expensive two-way “mini,” the MMG. However, unlike the MMG, both the tweeter and the midrange/bass panels of the .7s are quasi-ribbons (as opposed to quasi-ribbon and planar-magnetic, for which see JV’s sidebar), giving the new Maggie an audible leg up in speed, resolution, bandwidth, and overall coherence over their little brothers. Not only are the .7s more extended in the treble than the MMGs; thanks to their considerably larger mid/bass panels they are also more extended in the low end, which Jon and I judged to go down more or less linearly into the low 50s. Perhaps the best news is that they will only set you back mere pocket-change (for high-end gear): $1395 the pair.
The .7s Versus Cones
As you probably already know, planar speakers use a different kind of technology than cone or horn loudspeakers. The most obvious visible difference is that there’s no box to “house” the drivers or to damp their backwave—and thus no “box coloration.” Planars produce equal amounts of sound front and back, and, at least in theory, use the room (or the distance between their panels and the walls) to “damp” or attenuate their rear wave.
What you can’t see in a planar speaker is the drivers themselves, which are also very different than cones. The .7s use ultra-low-mass strips of aluminum bonded to very thin sheets of Mylar as drivers. Suspended between permanent bar magnets, these featherweight “quasi-ribbons” are faster and lower in distortion than much-more-massive cones. (Once again, see Jon’s sidebar for an explanation of how quasi-ribbons work.)
It may be obvious, but a driver’s mass and a speaker’s box inevitably and profoundly affect what you hear. Magneplanars offer the advantages of an extremely low-mass/low-inertia/large-surface-area driver suspended in a more open, unrestricted, less resonant and resonance-prone framework than that of a dynamic loudspeaker’s massive enclosure. All of this results in a boxless “airiness” to the sound and a naturalness of timbre that allow acoustic instruments to shine.
The .7s Versus Music
In my listening tests, I spun a wide range of LPs and some digital tracks, too. At the risk of sounding cliché, my musical tastes really run the gamut. (If you saw my record collection, you might even wonder whether I had multiple personalities!) Anyway, I’d like to share some listening examples and how the Maggie .7s fared with each.
I knew going in that no speaker is going to be perfect on every kind of music, and that perhaps the most important consideration for a potential buyer is how well his listening preferences match up with a speaker’s characteristics: with what the speaker does well, and what it doesn’t do as well. Magneplanars are famous for their accurate reproduction of the midrange, so I expected them to deliver impressively realistic sound with almost all acoustic instruments (save perhaps for big bands and very large orchestras). And deliver they did!
On digital tracks from Temptation, Holly Cole’s well-known covers of Tom Waits tunes, the “airiness” of the sound of the Maggies was a match made in heaven with Cole’s breathy vocals. “(Looking for) The Heart of a Saturday Night” was a real standout in its faithful sonic reproduction of the entire Holly Cole Trio’s stellar performance. Translation: The recording sounded beautiful and true-to-life. Also, I could swear that the presentation, while open and graced with a striking measure of air and light, felt like it existed within some precisely (almost mathematically) defined soundfield. Quite a large field, but still a space with a specific form and shape that was different than the form and shape of the listening room. I suppose what I’m talking about is a “soundstage,” the .7s’ recreation of which was kind of stunning. When you add this remarkable reproduction of ambient space to the .7s’ natural timbre, they are clearly an excellent choice for acoustic music recorded live or in an actual hall.