With a couple of hours in front of me prior to flying home after CAS, I took advantage of an invitation to check out Magico’s new digs in nearby Hayward. And why not? I’d been promising myself a visit ever since hearing about the new factory and its bespoke listening room. But as luck would have it, the timing was never right each time I’d found myself in the Bay Area. This time the stars aligned. The ride from my hotel was courtesy of Jon Baker Magico’s Director of Marketing and Sales (and a man who knows the audio industry–and many others it seems–like few others and has the dry sense of humor to prove it). About twenty minutes later we were greeted in the lobby of Magico HQ by founder Alon Wolf. Hellos all around but with a few loose bits of business to tie up Mr. Wolf prevailed upon Mr. Baker to give me a brief tour of the factory (“brief” in that I had a plane to catch after all). I was led past the six massive CNC machines, assembly and inventory sections. What impressed my most was the clean-room spotlessness of the facility, the general orderliness and Zen-like quiet of the assembly area.
But for me the purpose of this journey would be my first listen to the Ultimate loudspeaker in Magico’s custom-designed listening room where I was joined once again by Mr. Wolf. He briefed me on the room’s construction and thorough isolation–essentially a room enclosed within a room. Looking heavenward for a moment, he grew slightly wistful about the cost overruns (contractors!) but pronounced himself satisfied with the finished product. The room is indeed exceptionally isolated. As the door swung closed I could feel the space pressurize slightly in the manner of a recording studio. The room is very well damped but not overdamped corrected Mr. Wolf as if reading my mind.
I'm not sure what my expectations were when I finally stood in front of the looming Magic Ultimate loudspeakers. So much has been made of them already, including in the pages of this magazine. Visually they are marvels. The silhouette of this speaker is immense, it’s drivers unconventionally positioned. But it is it's expanding width as it rises mightily to its full height that creates a sense of vertiginous unease–an impression that cannot be fully experienced except in person. Videophiles will know what I’m talking about when I mention that the optical effect is as if it’s seeking vertical keystone correction.
The first thing you need to know about listening to the Magico ultimate is that you’ll have to check your listening bias’ at the door. Any prejudices one might hold against horn-loaded loudspeakers simply melt away. Plus, and perhaps even more importantly you’ll need to close you're eyes. Otherwise it’s hard to believe what you’re actually hearing-which is to say you won’t be hearing much of anything but music. Virtually artifact free, there is no vestigial horn shoutiness, no enclosure overhang, zero tweeter etch. The Ultimate is an unlikely alliance of the sensational and sedate, never exhibiting the least impression of effort, and making the heaviest orchestral lifts with the same ease that a breeze lofts a feather. The Ultimate also plays against type. Visually spectacular they thrive on capturing music at its most intimate. Choral works have an otherworldliness as the hall acoustics rise and fall with each added voice. Depth, and staging, if indeed your eyes remain shut, are staggering in their specificity. During Reference Recordings Fanfare for the Common Man, bass is deep, the bass drum and tympani beautifully defined in terms of pitch and tonal color, sustain and decay, and crucially it doesn't overhang and smear subsequent images–an occurrence more common with ported designs than the acoustic suspension design that all Magico loudspeakers employ. I still sense that some ultra top-notch bass reflex speakers or subwoofer augmented models might indeed extend a few cycles deeper into the bottom octave but likely not without sacrificing a little pitch precision of their own. So, is the Ultimate the ultimate? With few other contenders on the market it does stand at the pinnacle of what’s possible in extreme loudspeaker design. And I will say without fear of contradiction, there is nothing like them in the world today. And if my house wouldn't collapse under their net weight and my 401k didn't flatline....sigh. And they will gladly build you a pair for $600,000. Actually I was prepared to forgo lunch completely and listen until it was time for my airport check-in but then Mr. Wolf invited me out for one of my favorites, falafel. As they say, I shall return. Soon.