For decades now, Magnepan has been trying to find stylish ways to fit its large planar-magnetic loudspeakers into smaller listening rooms without overly compromising the quick, neutral, highly coherent, boxless presentation for which Maggie dipoles are justly famous. Generally speaking, the result has been a downsizing of Magnepan’s big panels (and of the thin-but-sturdy wooden frames in which they are ensconced). It hasn’t seemed to occur to anyone that making cloth-covered rectangles smaller does not make them any more attractive. No matter how many lovely little girls with bouquets of roses in their hands are photographed standing or sitting contentedly beside them, smaller Magnepans still look like office room dividers (which were, in fact, the inspirations for the original Maggie Tympanis)—just room dividers for smaller offices.
Happily, most dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles could care less about how their speakers look—or about the other little things that come with congenial surroundings, like friends and spouses. They’re on a single-minded quest for the absolute sound. So sitting alone hour after hour, smack dab between a pair of skinny, sack-cloth-covered oblongs, in a room littered with empty LP sleeves, CD jewel cases that crunch like frost underfoot, and man-trap snares of cables and power cords, is just the price of bliss.
If you are one of these poor benighted souls—and what else could you be if you’re reading this magazine (or writing for it)?—then Magnepan’s latest stab at becoming more condo-friendly and au courant is certainly worth a listen. Indeed, within strict limits, the new LRS will wow you with its slice of sonic realism, which in the midband comes close to equaling that of any speaker, no matter the price.
What Is An LRS?
The initialism “LRS” stands for “Little Ribbon Speaker.” And it is the “ribbon” part—not its demure size (and certainly not its looks)—that makes the latest little Maggie different and special. A nondescript floorstanding panel 48 inches high, 14½ inches wide, and a mere 1¼ inches thick, the LRS appears to be a virtual dead ringer for the speaker it improves upon and replaces, the venerable MMG. But looks can be deceiving. Under its cloth dust cover the LRS has a different and more advanced complement of drivers than its elder brother. Where the MMG used a “quasi-ribbon” tweeter and a planar-magnetic mid/woofer, the LRS’s drivers are all ribbon (or quasi-). This makes for important and easily audible sonic differences.
Magnepan’s quasi-ribbon is an extremely lightweight transducer—essentially a series of long, 0.001"-thick strips of aluminum foil mounted on a 0.0005"-thick substrate of tightly stretched Mylar, with the foil strips acting like voice coils that transmit the signal to the large single-piece film diaphragm. Compared to the heavier, more widely spaced signal-bearing wires and thicker Mylar diaphragms of the original MMG’s planar-magnetic mid/bass panel, the LRS’s quasi-ribbon mid/bass offers more uniform distribution of the signal and substantially lower moving mass. The result is markedly faster transient response, higher resolution of inner detail, greater coherence with the quasi-ribbon tweeter, and more neutral voicing overall. Moreover, where the $599 MMG was designed (twenty-four years ago) to be mated with the low-current “mid-fi” amplification of its day (typically integrated amps or what used to be called “receivers”), the LRS’s technical advant- ages allowed it to be designed for use with true high-end, high-current electronics. According to Magnepan’s guru Wendell Diller, the latest mini-Maggie aims to give listeners “a pretty good idea of what to expect from [Maggie’s flagship] 20.7s or 30.7s.”
Like the MMG, the LRS is a two-way loudspeaker with a first-order crossover between tweeter and mid/bass. As is the case with all Maggies, it can be set up with its tweeter on the outside for wider dispersion and a consequently larger soundstage or on the inside for tighter imaging. (To determine which side of each speaker is facing out or in, you locate the tweeter panel—a series of twelve, shiny, closely spaced vertical strips—by shining a flashlight through the LRS’s dust cover.) Getting the blend of the mid/woofer and tweeter just the way you want it in your room will require considerable experimentation with placement (Maggie recommends that the LRS be angled so that its mid/bass driver is very slightly closer to you than the tweeter), though no matter how much they are “toed-in” (or “-out”) the panels should sit a fair distance from the back and sidewalls (about three feet at a minimum).
Magnepan rates the sensitivity of the LRS at 86dB/500Hz/1m/2.83V, but independent measurements have put its sensitivity at closer to 80dB—which is down in Apogee/MBL territory. Though, like all Maggies (and unlike Apogees), the LRS is a benign 4-ohm load, it will still require a stiff shot of power to get it up on its feet and dancing. Even then it won’t extend all that deeply into the bass or do midbass slam the way cones do. (Maggie specs the LRS’s frequency response as ±3dB from 50Hz–20kHz, but like the sensitivity-rating that’s hopeful.)
On the indubitably plus side, the LRSes cost a mere $650 per pair and, shortcomings notwithstanding, rather redefine what you can get in the way of midband sonic realism for that kind of money. (I think that qualifies as an indubitable plus.)