Magnepan Doubles Down

Magnepan Doubles Down

No sooner has Magnepan’s Wendell Diller finished with his nationwide demonstration tour of the company’s new 30.7s, when he and his wife Galina are planning yet another tour to show off an even-newer Magnepan loudspeaker innovation: the “Double Dipole.” Concerned about the amount of floor space and room size required for Maggie’s largest and best speakers, like the 20.7 and 30.7, Wendell has been on a crusade to create a speaker system that offers similar sound but will still fit and work well in a smaller environment. Hence, his self-styled “30.7 for Condos.”

I had the pleasure to hear these new speakers, in prototype form, a few weeks ago at the Magnepan factory in Minneapolis. They are a radical departure from business-as-usual for the company. For almost 50 years Magnepan has lauded the virtues of its planar bass system, and for good reason. With no box to color the sound and thin, ultra-light-weight planar panels to produce the bass (as well as the midrange and highs), Maggie is famous for offering very high definition and control in the low end without the boxy coloration of many enclosed bass systems. But there is a price to pay if you seek the ultimate in bass reproduction from a dipole panel. Because the panel itself is somewhat limited in linear excursion, it requires a lot of surface area to move enough air to do justice to tympani, bass drums, double basses, and electric bass guitars. The solution is the large bass panel found in the 20.7 and even larger separate bass panel found in Maggie’s 30.7, the company’s current take on its famed Tympani of old. The bass section of the 30.7 is large—about 6½-feet tall and 3-feet wide.

Magnepan’s dilemma has been how to obtain the same sound quality in a loudspeaker with a smaller footprint. The company is intent on keeping the dipole sound for which it is famous and does not believe in “hybrid” dipoles—i.e., a speaker where a dipole midrange/high panel is mated to one or more sealed-box cone woofers. So what has it done? It has created a loudspeaker system that comprises two separate dipole loudspeakers for each channel (like the 30.7, but considerably smaller). The main speaker is a chopped and channeled version of the midrange/high array from the 30.7. It is not exactly the same as the 30.7, as it is somewhat shorter (at 6 feet tall) and perhaps only slightly wider than the 30.7 panel because it also contains the “mid-bass coupler” found in the bass panel of the 30.7.

The second loudspeaker for each channel is a new dipole bass system developed by Magnepan. It is not new in the sense of never having been done before; other manufacturers through the years have brought to market dipole bass units utilizing cone drivers. The innovation for Magnepan is that through use of the latest in digital signal processing it has been able to create an unusually small array, using small (about 6½- to 7-inch diameter) drivers, to create a simply amazing amount of bass output with the tight control and definition for which Magnepan has always been known. In truth, my day spent listening to these speakers led me to conclude that this small dipole array not only gives nothing away to the sound quality of Maggie’s large dipole bass panels, but may actually improve upon those panels in that it offers a degree of “slam” never before heard in a large Maggie. It is also free of any coloration that might result from placing cone drivers in a sealed or ported box.

So how small is this new dipole bass speaker? I only saw an unfinished prototype. It is perhaps three feet high and a foot wide by a foot deep. Two vertical panels are mounted on a base in a “V” shape with four small cone drivers mounted vertically on each side of the “V.” Wendell states that these small(ish) devices are designed to be placed almost anywhere in the listening room, even behind furniture. He indicates that with the broad capabilities offered by the DSP software, the bass panels can be made phase coherent with the main panels even though they are separated by some distance. The end result is that the only “visible” loudspeakers in the room would be the midrange/high main panels, which themselves are smaller than the existing panels in the 30.7s. Thus the “30.7s for condos.”

The hard core among us, including myself, may question the use of DSP and equalization in a dipole system designed for ultra-high-end sound reproduction. The purist in me instinctively tries to avoid digital signal processing, even though I am aware that many new and excellent loudspeakers are trending in the DSP direction. (Subwoofers are a separate issue; most of them use signal processing and/or equalization to good advantage, but I have heard arguments about the advantages of subs with no processing at all.) I would need to have Maggie’s Double Dipole at home for a period of time before I could draw a final conclusion as to how the dipole bass system compares with Maggie’s large planar bass systems.

But I will admit that while I went into the demo somewhat dubious about the concept, I was pretty much blown away by what Magnepan has accomplished. Without drawing any final conclusions yet, it is possible that Maggie’s new cone-driven dipole bass system may actually be an improvement upon its planar bass panels. In my one day with this system, I did not hear any loss of definition or transparency. But I did hear a degree of midbass slam and low-bass extension that I have never heard through my 20.7s or even the 30.7s. And then again, Wendell informs me that the use of a computer with the DSP program will allow a dealer to fine-tune this dipole bass system to the very room in which it is placed.

It is my understanding that Wendell is starting this tour in December. If you are partial to the sound of planar loudspeakers, or even if you have never heard a full-range planar system, you might find this demo eye-opening. You should be able to find a list of cities and dates on the Magnepan website. But don’t expect to see a fully finished loudspeaker yet; Wendell is seeking dealer and customer input on how the new loudspeakers should be finished. So what you hear at his demonstration may emanate from behind a thin veil drawn across the room. After my time spent listening to the prototype, I thought Magnepan’s new design shows great potential not only for smaller rooms, but for larger rooms as well. Perhaps a new Magnepan flagship is not far behind.