Jacob Heilbrunn comments:
The secret is out. Magnepan has finally bowed to the inevitable and returned to its origins by reintroducing a multi-panel loudspeaker. And not a moment too soon.
The market for high-end speakers is proliferating. Magnepan needed to get in the game. The only thing that is not high about Magnepan’s latest effort is, as usual, the price. This is a company that minds its knitting.
Wendell Diller, the marketing manager of Magnepan, can be pretty tight-lipped about the company’s plans. I knew that the storied manufacturer of planar loudspeakers has been contemplating a more elaborate design, but it came as something of a welcome surprise when Diller announced that he planned to visit me in September, before continuing his journey to Cincinnati to see Jonathan Valin and Julie Mullins, with a spanking new four-panel loudspeaker called the 30.7. Welcome because, as diligent TAS readers may know, I cut my audiophile teeth on the 3.6 loudspeaker before graduating to the 20.1, which I used for over a decade in a bi-amped configuration. Surprised because Magnepan usually moves at a pace best described as glacial. Change does not come easily to the folks at Magnepan, who have carefully and cautiously improved their loudspeakers over the years. The 30.7 represents something more audacious—an attempt by Magnepan to build upon and surpass the legendary Tympani IVa, an elaborate six-panel design that continues to enchant a select group of audiophiles.
Naturally, I was all ears, as it were, when Diller pulled up in front of my house in a van containing his precious cargo. He announced that he had devised a strapping system to ease the load of transporting the two bass panels and the two midrange/tweeter panels into my basement listening room. Strap or no strap, it was a fairly heavy lift when it came to hoisting the bass panel. Diller, who is in his early seventies, was up to the job. All that outdoors activity—if you know Wendell, then you’re aware that he’s an avid woodsman—is really paying off for him. Then came the really tricky part—setting up the speakers. I can’t say we achieved perfection. The sad truth is that we really only had an afternoon to tackle the project, especially since two local TAS reviewers, Anthony Cordesman and Alan Taffel, were scheduled to drop by in the early evening to listen to the 30.7s. I admired Wendell’s cojones—most manufacturers would never audition their new statement product under those conditions. Diller was unfazed. I don’t think that either he or I thought we got all the way there in terms of positioning the speakers optimally, but Diller pronounced himself more than satisfied with the sonic results.
Even before we fired up the Ypsilon Hyperion amplifiers to drive Magnepan’s latest confection, it was obvious to me that there are multifarious advantages to the way the 30.7 is constructed. In the 20.1 or 20.7, for one thing, the proximity of the tweeter to the bass panel means that the former is subject to a goodly amount of shaking on loud passages. I expected a purer mid/tweeter sound as a matter of course from the 30.7. Another advantage to extricating the mid/tweeter panel is that you can get bigger and better bass from a larger, separate panel. What’s more, Magnepan has figured out how to extend its ribbon technology to the edge of the loudspeaker in order to produce a larger radiating area. Magnepan is also using a first-order crossover throughout the loudspeaker, which means that it doesn’t require an outboard crossover because the number of capacitors and coils is way down. With the third-order crossover in the 20.1, you pretty much had to bi-amp to obviate the need for the external crossover and avoid dragging down your amplifier. Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to note that the new loudspeaker looks pretty nifty as well.
How did it sound? After a few hours of listening, I can confidently say that it surpassed any of Magnepan’s previous efforts. On the bass drum whacks on the Reference Recordings CD of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, it produced a deep and fast bass. As you might expect, tonal coherence was superb. Plus a nice, deep soundstage. For those Maggie owners who have yearned for an all-out assault on planar technology, this is it.
Julie Mullins comments:
’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. 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 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 Ohio to JV and me. 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 its magic. So here in my circa-1880 Cincinnati abode, much to my delight (and JV’s chagrin) I became 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.
Since Jonathan and Jacob have already described Magnepan and the 30.7’s planar technologies, 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 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 Bernstein recording of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto. But by extension this also means he was equally impressed by this incredibly high resolution. 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 all hardcore audiophiles) were truly amazed by the 30.7’s capabilities, the ease with which they projected the complete picture of any given music track with astounding realism (recording permitting, 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.