Many of my encounters with Magnepan loudspeakers predate my high-end audio writing by many years. Even now the instant I hear a Maggie system I’m transported back as if by time machine to the late seventies and to the home of a friend who owned a six-panel Magneplanar Tympani 1D system driven by the legendary Audio Research SP3a preamp (with Van Alstine modification naturally) and the sock-it-to-me D150 stereo amplifier. I’d bring over handfuls of EMI and Decca pressings and thumb through the latest issue of the then digest-sized TAS and spend countless hours immersed in the listening experience.
Compared with most of the cone transducers of the day the Tympani 1D had an astounding midrange, a crystalline transparency, and immediacy to burn. It was a sound pure and unfettered by cabinet coloration. What was perhaps its most gasp-worthy attribute, and the narcotic that had me returning week in and week out, was the huge wave-front that it launched from its massive radiating area. It scaled symphonic images and soundstage information with rare authority. In that aspect it recalled the Cinerama theaters of the 1960s, which would sometimes play a little game with audiences to gin up expectations. As show time arrived, the curtain would open but only to the “normal” screen size and then pause. An instant later the curtain would resume opening, widening ever closer to the wings of the proscenium, the audience howling in delight. This was the same super-scaled “wow” that I got whenever I listened to Maggies.
I have to admit that after just a few short minutes listening to Magnepan’s entry-level system, dubbed the Super MMG, the wow factor is still there. The Super MMG system, priced between $1199 and $1750 depending on configuration, is a slightly different take on the tried-and-true for Magnepan. This MMG is Magnepan’s smallest panel. It’s the familiar two-way planar-magnetic design with a quasi-ribbon tweeter. It operates unlike a dome/cone in that instead of a voice coil the audio signal drives a series of evenly spaced wires glued to a low-mass Mylar diaphragm. The diaphragm is suspended between magnets. Unlike electrostatics, planar-magnetic designs do not require large transformers or a connection to an AC outlet to polarize the membrane. The MMG quasi-ribbon is also Mylar film, a difference that distinguishes it from the aluminum foil “true ribbon” design found in Magnepan’s more expensive bearings, with a single DWM, and with double DWMs. Adding a DWM was easy. Simply connect the amplifier to the Amp In taps and then connect the speaker pair to the high-level Output taps. These are designed for banana plugs or bare-wire connection but Magnepan offers spade adapters if needed.
I have a habit (self-diagnosed) that when I sit down in front of a pair of Maggies I tend to gravitate away from heavy, beat-oriented rock and towards acoustic, classical, or otherwise minimally processed music. It’s not because a speaker like the Super MMG won’t do Metallica or Green Day—it mostly will. Rather it’s been the case that its sweetest charms are inextricably linked to the greater micro-dynamic and harmonic complexities that make up acoustic music and that are typically squeezed out of most pop mixes when they hit the digital plumbing of compressors and ProTools.
So, out came the discs that many speakers in this price segment tend to struggle with. Suddenly the delicate and plaintive harp motif in the corner of the orchestra during The Wasps [RCA] found its harmonic range or the soaring piccolo during Pulcinella [Argo] sweetened and soared without a hard brittle overlay. But most impressive was how the cavernous, dimensional space of large venues came alive, like the Troy Savings Bank Auditorium in New York on Laurel Massé’s Feather & Bone. Reverberant information was no longer condensed as if needing to fit within a small box.
The Super MMG’s low distortion and effortless transient attack reveal the tiniest intricacies—the depths of string section layering as well as the individuation of musicians. In at least these criteria they are indeed “faster than a speeding bullet.” The Super MMGs virtually caress the atmospherics of fragile percussion instruments and even the smallest cues can be startling in their offerings. [In a “true” ribbon, the diaphragm is also the conductor. In a quasi-ribbon, conductors are bonded to the diaphragm. —RH]