TAS 196: Magico M5 Loudspeaker

Equipment report
Magico M5
TAS 196: Magico M5 Loudspeaker

First, a confession: I generally don’t like big dynamic loudspeakers. To me their chief raisons d’être are loudness and bass. And since I gravitate toward small-scale acoustic music where neither is a necessity, I don’t see the point of giving up all that you stand to lose with one of these behemoths for (to my way of thinking) the little that you stand to gain.

Yes, Virginia, you do give up a few items with a big multiway dynamic loudspeaker. First of all, where do you put it? If you live in a penthouse this may not be the issue that it is in my smallish listening room, although the corollary to “Where do you put it?”—to wit, “Where do you put it without exciting all sorts of room resonances?”—can remain a problem even in a penthouse. Second, how do you make that menagerie of drivers—all those paper or silk or metal or ribbon tweeters, upper-midrange cones, lower-midrange cones, mid/woofers, and woofers, with different on- and off-axis dispersion patterns, power-handling capabilities, and break-up modes—cohere? It’s hard enough to make a two-way sound like a single thing, but a four- or five-way? Third, those giant enclosures aren’t just hard to place; they’re hard to erase. To me, the first essential duty of any loudspeaker (of any piece of hi-fi gear) is to disappear as a sound source. A “disappearing act” is a lot harder to achieve when you have a cabinet with the surface area of a picnic blanket, every square inch a potential source of diffraction or reflection. Fourth, lots of drivers mean lots of crossovers—those heal-alls that are supposed to compensate for all the other problems I’ve mentioned (like different dispersion patterns, power-handling capabilities, and break-up modes). Crossovers may be necessary, but lots of them with lots of different parts, slopes, and hinge points aren’t necessarily good things. (Just consider how hard it is to get the simple high-pass crossover in a subwoofer to work right.)

So what happens to that Holy Grail “disappearing act” when you house half-a-dozen different drivers, with half-a-dozen different high-pass and low-pass filters, in a gigantic singing box? Don’t ask. Not only do you usually hear the box, you sometimes hear the individual drivers, the crossovers, everything. Now I’ll grant that materials, technology, and engineering have come a long way in the past decade—and that big speakers are considerably better than they used to be. (The Rockport Hyperion was a high point for me, as were the Kharma Grand Exquisite and the Wilson MAXX Series 3 I heard at CES.) Nonetheless, as a group they still evince many of the driver-coherency and enclosure problems I’ve mentioned, and in worst cases, can still carry you about as far from the “single-driver” ideal as any kind of loudspeaker can take you. Is it any wonder, then, that I prefer (bass-limited) ’stats, planars, and mini-monitors?

But…what about the fifth string of that five-string Fender Deluxe American Jazz bass guitar, I hear some of you asking? What about rock-concert power handling? How can you listen to the latest Slayer album at “lifelike” (or would that be “death-like,” because you’re surely killing your ears) levels on a Quad 2905, a MartinLogan CLX, a Maggie 1.6QR, or a Magico Mini II? Well…you can’t. There—I’ve said it. But let me also say something about so-called deep bass in many typical large ported dynamic loudspeakers.

First of all, more often than not the bass isn’t really that deep. There is more than one gigantic loudspeaker out there with a steep roll-off below 35–40Hz. What keeps you from noticing this is its greatly elevated midbass and upper bass—a plateau in the 40–125Hz region that can make standard four-string bass guitars or Hammond organs or jazz/rock drumkits sound astonishingly powerful and “authoritative,” giving the impression of a really deep-reaching low end although none of these instruments really goes that deep (the lowest E of a four-string bass is 41.2Hz). Many audiophiles tend to like speakers that accentuate the mid-to-upper bass in this way. They think the sound is more exciting and visceral—and it is. It can also be annoying.

Second, there is the huge problem of coherence. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked in these pages about the troubles I’ve seen trying to make cone subwoofers blend seamlessly with ’stats or ribbons or mini-monitors. I grant that some people are less sensitive to timbral, dynamic, and textural discontinuities among drivers than I am, but (outside of the MBL 101 X-Treme subs and a brief flirtation with the Wilson-Benesch Torus) I have never been able to come close to mating a cone sub to a “satellite” speaker of any kind without losing much of what I prized the satellite for in the first place. Not only do I always hear that sub playing faintly up into the midrange (no matter how low I cross it over), overlaying timbres, transients, and textures with its own greasy thumbprint; I also hear the enclosure of the sub singing up there, causing bass-range (and sometimes lower-midrange) instruments to sound more “localized” and “boxy.” Hearing drivers and enclosures as the source of the music—or any register of the music—is the exact opposite of a “disappearing act.”

Now, here’s the kicker. Though I haven’t made this point explicitly before, I generally feel that cone woofers present many of the same issues as cone subwoofers. Yes, they are housed in the same box as the midrange and the tweeter—and given proper time and phase alignment there are well-known advantages to projecting all the sound from the same point or plane (although there are also disadvantages). Nonetheless, to me cone-bass-in-a-ported-box-in-an-average-sized-listening-room almost always sounds like, uh, cone-bass-in-a-ported-box-in-an-average-sized-listening room. Putting aside the inevitable (and often incurable) room modes—those huge, maw-like 60–80Hz peaks that swallow up everything below (and sometimes above) them—cones-in-a-box bass more often than not sounds louder, darker, lumpier, noisier, and less articulate than cone midrange and cone treble. The consequent audible discontinuity in timbre, transient speed, distortion, and resolution between bass-range and midrange and treble-range instruments instantly makes me more aware that I’m listening to a loudspeaker—just as it does with a subwoofer.

Given all that I’ve just said, why then am I reviewing a multiway dynamic loudspeaker in a relatively large enclosure (though, to give the M5 its due, at a mere 18" wide, 53" tall, and 21" deep, it is demure in comparison to most of its competitors)? The answer is that in complaining about the things I think typically get traded away, wholly or in part, in large multiway dynamic loudspeakers I am also pointing to the challenges that faced Magico’s Alon Wolf and Yair Tammam in designing the M5.

Let’s talk about how they went about tackling them.

First, consider the enclosure problem. How do you keep a box from singing along with the drivers it houses? Well, what is the box doing when it “sings”? It is being excited by the energy of the front and backwaves of the driver, adding its own resonant note to each, and then radiating that resonance back into the room for all the world to hear as the opacity, coloration, dulling, and smearing we call “boxy sound.” How do you prevent this? According to Wolf (see my interview with him on p. 96), to create a relatively resonance-free enclosure you have to balance three different, somewhat conflicting elements: stiffness (to push the enclosure’s resonant frequency as high as possible), mass (to dampen this higher-frequency resonance and reduce its Q), and damping (to further reduce the amplitude of the resonance and kill the sound of the backwave). Finding the right combination of materials to perform this complex bit of resonance-control is a somewhat controversial topic. For Wolf, adding the high stiffness of a 6061-T aircraft-aluminum baffle to the high mass and high damping of an airtight Baltic Birch box is the right formula (although it isn’t the only right formula). I can’t speak to the physics of Wolf’s box, but I can say this: The M5 is the first and only large multiway loudspeaker I’ve heard whose enclosure disappears into the soundfield like that of a mini-monitor. Indeed, the similarity between it and the Magico Mini II in this regard is striking. For all sonic intents and purposes, the M5s’ boxes just aren’t there.

However, Wolf had to address a couple of other matters in order to make his heroic enclosure work the way it was intended to. To begin with, he had to ensure that the only moving parts in his speakers were the drivers’ cones. If those drivers weren’t securely fastened to his inert enclosures, their frames would rattle against the aluminum baffles, inciting resonances and destroying the “seal” of his sealed boxes (more on this in a moment or two). To achieve this resonance-free seal, Wolf uses an ingenious tension-coupling system that clamps the drivers at very high torque against their aluminum baffles and then “pulls” those baffles against the birch-ply boxes via thick stainless-steel tensioning rods that run between knobs at the back of the cabinet and the backs of the baffles (into which the rods are screwed by applying very high torque to the adjustable knobs).

O.K. We’ve got a box that doesn’t sing, a system of attaching drivers to that box that ensures that their cones are the only moving parts in the speaker, now what about the drivers themselves?

Those of you who remember my Magico Mini II review (in Issue 179) will recall how astonished I was at the magnitude of the improvement that a single pair of Magico’s proprietary “Nano-Tec” mid/woofers made to a sound that I didn’t think could be further improved. Designed by Wolf’s partner Yair Tammam, these Nano-Tec cones combine front-and-back multi-walled carbon skins embedded with carbon-Nano-tubes and an inner core of Rohacell foam to make exceedingly strong, light, stiff drivers. The Nano-Tec cones are then attached to 75mm titanium voice coils and a special neodymium magnetic system that is said to reduce distortion to new lows. (This is not an idle claim, BTW. I have seen independent laboratory measurements of the Nano-Tec drivers that show THD is 60+dB down even at very loud levels—results that would’ve been respectable in a phonostage not too many years ago.)

With the Mini II only one pair of drivers was changed to a Magico in-house design and the improvement was astounding. In the M5, every driver (including the MR-1 ring-radiator tweeter) is Magico-designed and all of the midranges and woofers are Nano-Tec cones. Indeed, the M5s are the first speakers Wolf and Tammam have engineered with all-Magico drivers. The results…well, we’ll get to that in another moment. First, let’s consider one more piece of the multiway-speaker puzzle—the crossover.

In my Mini II review, I attributed the improvement in the sound in large part to the Nano-Tec driver (with its much higher-in-frequency breakup modes and much lower distortion) and in part to Magico’s superb CAD-designed crossovers. Wolf is a bit secretive about the slopes and hinge points he uses in all of his speakers, but he’s proud as punch of the quality of the parts he uses—gold and gold/silver caps, precision coils, and low-inductance resistors from Raimund Mundorf of Cologne, Germany. Once again, this divine excess isn’t just window dressing. To make a crossover work precisely the way it is intended to work, you have to use precisely the right-value parts, and those values can’t change with time or use. That the break-up modes (the frequencies at which any driver stops behaving in a linear fashion and starts to distort) of Magico’s 6" Nano-Tec midrange cones have been moved out to nearly two octaves above its passband is a remarkable accomplishment, but it would go for naught if Magico’s in-house-designed crossovers didn’t ensure that the output of that midrange driver was completely removed from the passband well before those breakup modes start to matter. With the Mini II, I can remember being shocked not just by how much better the new Nano-Tec mid/woof sounded in its own right but also by how much better it made the tweeter—no longer roughed up by the residual break-up-mode distortions of the midrange driver—sound. Once again, this is a testament to both driver and crossover.

Finally, before turning to the sound itself, let’s consider the M5’s bass—as its, I dare say, unique quality will be the very first thing you notice when you listen to M5s, although you will also notice the newfound buttery smoothness of the speaker’s treble. How come the low end of the M5 sounds so flat, so seamless, so completely integrated with the other drivers, so non-big-speaker-like? True, the bass is still coming from a cone-in-a-box—two 9" cones, in fact—but these are highly linear, very-low-distortion Nano-Tec cones in a superbly engineered box with the highest-precision crossover that the mind of man (or, at least, of a man named Alon Wolf) can design. In addition to this, Wolf’s box is sealed—not ported.

Sealed-box (or acoustic-suspension) bass has, and has always had, certain distinct advantages over ported bass (and vice versa). Although a sealed box is much harder to make because of the enormous pressures generated inside it by the backwaves of the woofers, it is also inherently more linear, as the air trapped inside the enclosure acts as a spring that returns the woofers’ cones to their zero point above and below resonance, allowing the cones to remain flatter in response and lower in distortion longer (which is to say, to play deeper into the bass without breaking up or petering off) than the woofer of a ported design. The trade-off in an acoustic-suspension design (other than the greater difficulty of building the sealed enclosure) is sensitivity. It takes more power to drive the woofers in a sealed box than those in a ported box. You also lose that often-gemütlich resonant peak in the low-to-mid bass, which can add energy and excitement to the sound.

So. Does Magico’s big multiway speaker cure the traditional woes that have turned me off to many big multiway speakers? If you read my CES report (in Issue 192), you already know that the answer is pretty close to an unqualified “Yes!” The M5 is, quite simply, the finest big multiway cone loudspeaker I’ve heard in my home (or, for that matter, in someone else’s home or at a show), largely because it is the most neutral and coherent and delicately detailed, lowest-in-enclosure-and-driver-coloration, fullest-range multiway cone loudspeaker I’ve heard in my home or someone else’s home or at a show. Indeed, as I said in my CES report, I have never auditioned a multiway dynamic speaker that comes this close to the “single-driver” ideal or disappears this completely as a sound source.

You can get a sense of why the M5 sounds so octave-to-octave seamless—so much like a single-driver transducer—by looking at the following RTA, taken from the listening position in my room.

This is standard-settingly flat on-axis response, testifying to the superb integration and linearity of all five of the M5’s drivers, from woofers through midranges to tweet. But it isn’t just flat frequency response that makes the M5 so special; after all, I’ve tested other very-flat-measuring speakers (the MBL 101 X-Tremes, for instance) that didn’t sound like the M5s. There is something else going on here—a marked overall reduction in driver/enclosure/crossover distortion and coloration—that makes the M5 the first (and thus far only) big cone multiway loudspeaker I’ve heard that has much of the coherence, resolution, and lack of distortion of an electrostat.

This comparison to electrostats has, I’m afraid, been worked to death in the audio press (sometimes by me). But the clarity, freedom from distortion, and octave-to-octave coherence of ’stats remain a benchmark, and each time a speaker comes closer to this ideal we trot out the analogy. Here it applies more appropriately and completely than ever before in my experience. If you can imagine a MartinLogan CLX—the most neutral and transparent electrostat I’ve tested—with greatly increased extension and linearity in the low-to-mid bass, a sweeter, more effortless, more extended treble, slightly less low-level resolution and (hence) transparency-to-sources, slightly less sterling dynamic range and scale on pppp-to-mp passages or at very low listening levels (where the CLXes remain champeens), but considerably fuller and more lifelike reproduction of tone color and instrumental “body” at any volume and considerably better dynamic range and scale on mf-to-ffff passages and at medium-to-loud listening levels, equally great transient response top to bottom, and much wider, deeper, taller soundstaging, then you have an accurate idea of how the M5s sound.

No, cones aren’t quite as high in resolution and low in grain as ’stats; even the Nano-Tec drivers add just the slightest overlay of texture to foregrounds and backgrounds, making the difference between listening to M5s and CLXes rather like the difference between viewing a slide enlarged and projected on a screen by a Leitz projector and viewing the same slide on a light table with a loupe. The CLXes will tell you a bit more about how a record or CD has been recorded and engineered. But its peerless transparency-to-sources comes at a price that you don’t pay with the M5s, which, unlike CLXes, never make lousy recordings sound barely listenable and do anything but roll off the bass.

Let’s talk about the M5’s bass. A friend of mine—Andre Jennings, a first-class listener with a superb ear (and a gifted audio engineer, to boot)—said rightly about the M5s that it is the first big box loudspeaker he’s ever heard in which the enclosure didn’t seem to be playing along with the music. I myself have never heard anything quite like it from a cone speaker. The bass octaves here are so much flatter, better integrated with the midrange, and lower in distortion and coloration than they usually are with cones-in-a-box that it is rather like listening to the planar bass of a Maggie I-U (which remains, after all these years, my ideal). Bass-range instruments from the deep-reaching plucked doublebasses (faintly doubled by the glistening timbre of plucked harps) in the Passacaglia of Lutoslawski’s great Concerto for Orchestra [EMI]—where the notes of the bass line (which, after all, are what a passacaglia is based on) are clearer and more lifelike than I’ve heard them sound before—to the thrilling entrance of the electric bass on Alison Krauss’ “Forget About It” [MoFi]—which seems to rise straight up from the floor as if lifted on pneumatic tubes, an almost literally solid foundation perfectly in tune, time, and tempo with the rest of the band (rather than a flooded basement of ill-defined pitches, timbres, and rhythms)—are so “freed-up” from the drivers and the enclosure, so quick and finely detailed and naturally imaged (rather than artificially spotlighted), so close to the absolute in pitch, color, texture, and dynamic that it is kind of mind-boggling. Cone bass just hasn’t sounded like this in my past experience—ever. Yeah, the M5s will shake the floors with the best of them (just put on the third track of The Thin Red Line soundtrack and strap on your seatbelt), but rattling floors, windows, and walls is (thank God) in many ways the least of what these speakers do. (I’ve just never heard a better blend of low, mid, and high from a dynamic multiway. I’ve never heard a smoother presentation of low-, mid-, and upper-bass, either—from anything.)

Speaking of highs, if you’re familiar with the ScanSpeak Revelator that Magico uses in its Mini and Mini II, you’re going to be in for a surprise. I don’t know exactly what Wolf and Co. have done with that in-house ring-radiator tweeter (although I do know Wolf is using a powerful neodymium magnet of Magico’s own design), but whatever it is it makes the treble octaves blend as seamlessly with the midrange as the bass octaves do. There just isn’t a note that you can point to and say, “Oh, yeah, now I hear the tweeter!” Frankly, this is not something I could have said about the original Mini or even the Mini II, as improved as it was in this regard. The tweet in both iterations of this great mini-monitor did have an audible rising response and a bit of residual roughness. Not here, with Magico’s own MR-1 tweeter. Indeed, if you are used to the sound of the Mini, you may at first feel cheated of top end—the treble is that smooth, flat, and low in customary distortions. But put on any record with considerable midrange and treble energy, like the youthful Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg’s fiery rendition of the Prokofiev First Violin Sonata [MusicMasters], and marvel at the lifelike timbre and dynamics of the fleet, eerie, muted runs of scales (which cover almost the entire range of the instrument and which Prokofiev himself said should sound like “wind in a graveyard”) at the finish of the first movement Andante assai, or at the in-the-room-with-you realism of the whistling harmonics that close the second movement Allegro brusco, or at the rhythmic clarity of the tricky cycle of eighth notes (which alternate 5/8, 7/8, 7/8, 8/8) that starts the final movement Allegrisssimo. (Those folks who claim that there is no way to tell how a piece of music should sound on a recording ought to look at a score every now and then.)

As for the midrange…Magico has long had a lock on that. The Mini II was the most lifelike dynamic speaker I’d heard on voice, guitar, sax, trumpet, viola, piano (above the bottommost octaves), you name it. I don’t know that the M5 is better (save that its mids blend with the bass and treble more seamlessly), but it sure is every bit as good. Just listen to Miloslav Klaus’ phenomenal rendition of Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland (on a great-sounding Panton LP)—eight variations for classical guitar so famously difficult that Julian Bream, who was Britten’s dedicatee, declared them unplayable. Eventually, Bream mastered the piece, and so, God knows, has Klaus. The Czech virtuoso wrings colors and textures from these toss-and-turn restless, drowsy, dreamlike variations (the Dowland theme was written to accompany a song on sleep and death) that will astound you, especially through the M5s. I’ve simply never heard a more realistic facsimile of a classical guitar or of a classical guitarist on a hi-fi system. When you hear piece, performer, and performance reproduced this fully—when a speaker lets you understand not just how beautiful music sounds but also how much craft and skill and intelligence it took to compose and to play it—it is an almost irresistible invitation to keep listening. That’s what a great loudspeaker and a great stereo system really buy you.

Obviously, the M5 is every bit as marvelous with the human voice as it is with guitar (or anything else). Alison Krauss’ soprano, Holly Cole’s contralto, Frank Sinatra’s baritone, Tom Waits’ bass pop up in your room with breathtaking realism. Better still, as with Miloslav Klaus’ guitar, you not only hear the timbre and texture of each of these voices with astonishingly high fidelity; you hear precisely the way these vocalists are using their voices—the way they’re thinking and feeling about the words they sing. As I pointed out in the last issue in my Odyssey Khartago review, great singers are inevitably also great actors, and the M5 gives you their entire performance as if it were reading from their scripts. It sends a literal chill up my spine to hear Frank Sinatra sing and act the lyrics of “What’s New” from Only the Lonely [MoFi] and, minus a bit of whiskey-colored wear-and-tear on the vocal cords, bring virtually the same sophisticated mix of lyricism and weltschmerz, the same life experience to the song played back through the M5s that he did when I heard him sing it live many years ago.

As for soundstaging…that depends on the LP or CD, for the M5 goes as wide or as narrow, as shallow or as deep, as tall or as short as the engineering and mastering allow. Though I wouldn’t say its stage is quite as encompassing or uncannily three-dimensional as that of the MBL 101 X-treme (which, because of their omni design, simply own that aspect of high fidelity), it is at least as good as any other kind of speaker I’ve heard, including the Mini IIs. Better still, like the great MBLs, it utterly disappears into the stage, leaving behind nothing but the panorama of instrumentalists and the music they are making.


SIDEBAR: Setting Up and Driving the Magico M5s

The M5s are a handful. Although I’ve had other speakers that weigh a good deal more than these Magicos do, they’ve broken down into semi-manageable parts. The M5s do not. You are going to be dealing with two four-and-a-half-foot tall, nearly two-foot deep, 360-pound objects, so…get some help.

Happily the speakers arrive with wheels on them, allowing you to roll them out of their crates and freely maneuver them around your listening room. Once you’ve settled on a spot for the speakers, the wheels must be removed—a process that involves tipping the enclosures fore and aft (Magico supplies an illustrated instruction booklet that shows you how to uncrate the speakers and remove the wheels safely). After the wheels are off, gliders on the bottoms of the baseplates allow you to move the speakers for fine adjustments without marring floors. (You will need a strong friend to help you do this and be sure to avoid touching the drivers as you push the speakers about.) Like most big speakers the M5s thrive on room, so keep them as far from sidewalls and backwalls as is feasible and at least as far apart as the distance between your listening seat and their front baffles.

Unlike the Mini IIs, which liked to be listened to slightly off-axis, the M5s fare best when the centers of their drivers are pointed directly at your ears. (Use the nipple of the ring-radiator tweeter as a guide.) In a smaller room, this makes for a “narrower” sweet spot. It’s not as if the M5s don’t sound great well off-axis; they just don’t sound as great as they do when you’re sitting directly in their tractor beams.

Be aware that the M5s are very full-range loudspeakers that will put an enormous amount of energy into your room. In a less-than-palatial estate this can be problematical, and you may have to consider adding corner traps and diffusors to reduce room resonances in the midbass. As with any kind of room treatment, be careful not to overdamp.

Although they are rated at 89dB sensitivity, the M5s are actually closer to 86dB sensitive. On top of this they are acoustic-suspension speakers. All of which means you’re going to need some power to drive them. I have tried them with both great solid-state amps (Soulution 700s) and great tube amps (ARC 610Ts), and they sound fabulous with each, though fabulous in different ways. For the most “accurate” sound (particularly in the bottom octaves), I would lean toward transistors—and especially toward the Soulution amps, which are a match made in audio heaven with the M5s. For a more bloomy, three-dimensional sound and higher ultimate SPLs, I would tend toward the 610Ts (also a match made in audio heaven). In any event, if you’re going to spend $89k on a pair of the world’s best loudspeakers, you would be foolish not to drive them with the best electronics you can afford and harness them up with the best cables and interconnects.

Speaking of cables, the M5s are designed to be bi-wired or bi-amped. Each speaker has two sets of binding posts and both sets must be used. Although Magico supplies two pairs of (very good) MIT jumpers if you choose to single-wire, the speakers sound better bi-wired with two identical sets of cables and best bi-amped (which is something you can do with the Soulution 700 but not the ARC 610T). JV


The words “the best” have been bandied about quite a bit in this magazine and on our Web site (avguide.com)—and there is legitimate concern that they are being overused. Unfortunately, no other words will do to describe how I feel about the Magico M5. Not only has it redefined an entire genre of speakers for me, it has carried me substantially closer to the absolute sound. So close, in fact, that, for the first time, I can imagine the possibility of someday achieving a genuine facsimile of the real thing—not merely parts of it, not merely midrange or treble, voices and violins, but the whole thing from the lowest notes to the highest, from the least dynamic utterance to the most. That is how natural—how complete—the M5 sounds to my ears. It is, in fact, the most complete loudspeaker I’ve ever heard.

Remember that when I say “the best,” I mean “the sound, overall, that comes closest to the real thing to my ears”—with the kind of music I listen to most often, at the levels I typically choose, and in the room where I listen. What I don’t mean, which may be as important as what I do mean, is “the best in every way” or “the best for every listener.” As good as it is, the M5 has sonic competition in several areas: The $250k MBL 101 X-Treme omni is more immersive, dimensional, and outright exciting; the $23k MartinLogan CLX electrostat is more transparent-to-sources, more finely detailed, and better scaled dynamically on pianisssimos and at lower levels; the $115k Symposium Acoustics Panorama hybrid ribbon/planar is every bit as realistic in timbre and texture in the midrange and lower treble and better at softer volumes; the $68k Wilson Audio MAXX 3 has more lifelike wallop in the mid-to-upper bass and much the same beauty of timbre; the $32k Magico Mini II mini-monitor has just as remarkable a “disappearing act” and a similar midband; even the $1.7k Magnepan 1.6QR quasi-ribbon planar is as top-to-bottom seamless and “of a piece,” where it plays. On top of this, the M5 is very expensive, sounds its very best played loud (or louder), and may not suit some musical tastes or some rooms or some ancillaries as well as it does mine (although, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with it).

There may be other speakers on the market or on the horizon that outperform the M5s overall—the absolute sound is, after all, a rapidly moving target. If there are such speakers, I simply haven’t heard them yet. If you have, I have no argument with you. For all the observations and evidence I’ve presented in support of my opinion, there is, finally, no arguing taste. I freely concede that there is room out there for more than one nominee as “the best loudspeaker.” You’ve just read about mine.


Magico M5 Loudspeaker

Type: Five-driver, four-way, floorstanding dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: One MR-1 ring-radiator tweeter, two 6" Nano-Tec midrange, two 9" Nano-Tec woofers
Bandwidth: 22Hz–40kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 89dB
Recommended power: 50–1000 watts
Dimensions: 18" x 53" x 21"
Weight: 360 lbs. each
Price: $89,000

Berkeley, CA
(510) 649-9700

JV’s Reference System

Loudspeakers: Magico M5, MartinLogan CLX
Linestage preamps: Soulution 720, Audio Research Reference 3, Audio Space Reference 2
Phonostage preamps: Audio Research Reference 2, Audio Tekne TEA-2000, Lamm Industries LP-2 Deluxe
Power amplifiers: Audio Research Reference 610T, Soulution 700, Lamm ML-2
Analog sources: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond record player, AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci turntable with DaVinci Grandeeza and Nobile tonearms
Phono cartridges: DaVinci Grandezza, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, Clearaudio Goldfinger v2
Digital sources: Soulution 740, dCS Scarlatti with U-Clock, ARC Reference CD8
Cables and interconnects: Tara Labs “Zero” Gold interconnect, Tara Labs “Omega” Gold speaker cable, Tara Labs “The One” Cobalt power cords, MIT Oracle MA-X interconnect, MIT Oracle MA speaker cable, Synergistic Research Absolute Reference speakers cables and interconnects, Audio Tekne Litz cable and interconnect
Accessories: Shakti Hallographs (6), A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and corner traps, ASC Tube Traps, Symposium Isis equipment stand, Symposium Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks, Symposium Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment stand, Walker Prologue amp stands, Shunyata Research Hydra V-Ray power distributor and Anaconda Helix Alpha/VX power cables, Tara Labs PM 2 AC Power Screens, Shunyata Research Dark Field Cable Elevators, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Winds Arm Load meter, Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses