Until Magico’s introduction of its five-driver, three-way M Project loudspeaker in 2014, I didn’t think there was a single-transducer answer to that question. But the M Pro came close to being The One—or at least closer than the other dynamic loudspeakers I was then familiar with. Though Magico claimed that the M Project didn’t measure substantially differently than its other speakers—and on a global level this was clearly true—on a local level the differences between it and other Magicos were plain to hear.
Once mounted on its MPod feet (a must, BTW), the M Pro simply didn’t sound like its Q or S brethren—or at least it didn’t sound like them when it came to tonality. Oh, the M Pro had the same standard-setting (for dynamic drivers) low-level resolution of timbres and textures and the same lightning reflexes with transients as the Q Series speakers—and even lower distortion—but overall it was substantially fuller, richer, darker, and more powerful than the Qs, making for a presentation that was far more likely to appeal to musicality-first listeners, without entailing sacrifices that would limit its appeal to Magico’s traditional audience—the transparency-to-source and absolute sound crowds. Indeed, the M-Pro’s appeal to both of the latter was only increased, thanks to its denser and more lifelike tone color.
What had changed? In two words, “the box.” The M Project was the first statement Magico (since the M5) that did not use an all-aluminum enclosure. It was also the first statement Magico with an aerodynamic shape.
How this was accomplished without sacrificing the resonance-canceling blend of mass, stiffness, and damping of all-aluminum boxes involved a neat (and costly) bit of engineering. The M Project enclosure had a newly designed curved shape that tapered gradually from front to back, eliminating the parallel walls and sharp, potentially diffractive edges of Magico’s traditionally “squared-off” alu-minum enclosures. Instead of employing thick aluminum plates for sidewalls, the M Project used sidepieces of carbon fiber (one of the stiffest, strongest materials around). According to Magico, these curved carbon-fiber sidewalls minimized internal resonances and greatly reduced the amount of internal damping required.
In addition to its curved side plates, the massive aluminum front and rear baffles were milled into curves, while the equally massive (two-inch-thick) aluminum top and bottom plates were also CNC-machined to have edgeless contours. In other words, the M Project enclosure was designed to have the lowest number of potentially diffractive surfaces of any statement Magico since the Mini and Mini II.
Judging from the sound, top to bottom, it was obvious that Magico M Pro’s new enclosure was a better idea. The phenomenal clarity in the bass and power range and the remarkable resolution in the midband and the treble owed more than a little to this cabinet, which was simply allowing the drivers to sound more “freestanding” and less like drivers in a box.
Like the M Project, the new M3 is a five-driver, three-way floorstanding loudspeaker with a sculpted carbon-fiber-and-aluminum box. While the driver complement is similar to that of the M Pro (one 28mm diamond-coated beryllium tweeter, one 6" graphene-Nano-Tec carbon midrange, and three 7" graphene Nano-Tec carbon woofers), the drivers themselves have been improved (for which, see below). More importantly, the enclosure has been considerably improved, making for what Magico claims is its quietest cabinet ever. Derived from the Pro (with an added fillip taken from the S Series and a new innovation in driver coupling), the M3’s box uses Magico’s traditional, massive, damped aluminum front, rear, and bottom panels and its elaborate, bolted-together, aluminum latticework/substructure inside the cabinet, but adds curved carbon-fiber side panels à la the M Pro and a brand-new aluminum top cap that has a machined-in curve to it (not found in the M Pro). The physical result is the most aerodynamic, diffraction-free enclosure Magico has come up with, and the sonic result is a disappearing act that really has to be heard to be believed.
The M3s (and the M6s) come closer to the boxless openness of a great planar loudspeaker (such as the TAS 2018 Product of the Year award-winning Maggie 30.7s) than any cone speaker I’ve auditioned. Indeed, we’re so used to hearing the boxes in boxed speakers adding their own generally darker, often veiled and aggressive signature to the sound of the drivers, and to diffraction compounding this signature, that it comes as a shock not to hear these things—to hear the drivers only (or primarily), rather than the drivers interpreted by the box. On a truly neutral, full-range recording, like the fine Pentatone SACD of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat with Paavo Järvi conducting the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen played back through the superb MSB Select DAC tricked out with a Femto 33 clock and other power-conditioning goodies (yes, Mr. Valin is now also listening to digital), it is as if someone has sucked all the darkness (a box/driver coloration that I’ve always felt has been falsely associated with “ambience retrieval”) out of the soundfield, leaving the deep quiet and colorless air of the venue in its place, while also preserving (indeed, clarifying) the bloom of instruments into that space and the reverberant pattern of the hall. You simply have to hear this neutralizing and clarifying effect to appreciate how close the M3 comes to the sound of a boxless planar—while still retaining the virtues of the highest-linearity, lowest-distortion cones. It’s like having the best of both transducer worlds.
There is an additional benefit to Magico’s best-ever, lowest-diffraction enclosure that can be heard in the seamless blend between the M3’s tweeter and midrange and the natural warmth of timbres (orchestral strings, such as those on the great RCA recording Rhapsodies with Stokowski and the RCA Symphony of the Air, are breathtakingly gorgeous), though this may also be due to refinements in the driver complement. Indeed, while similar to the M Pro, the M3 uses somewhat more sophisticated drivers than the Pro—its three 7" woofers, have later-gen graphene diaphragms (said to be 20% lighter and 300% stiffer than the nanotube-carbon cone material used in the Pro)—and a new and improved driver mounting system that employs a solid copper gasket to maximize coupling to the chassis and minimize the transference of resonances. Though the other drivers in the M3 are the same as those in the Pro—the larger (28mm) diamond-coated beryllium tweeter (also used in Q7 Mk II) and the 6" graphene-diaphragm midrange, Magico has incorporated a polymer sub-enclosure, derived from the S Series, for the midrange unit, which is said to enhance control and articulation (not that Magicos ever wanted for such things).
The fact that the M3 uses three 7-inch woofers, rather than the three 10-inchers found in the M Pro and the M6, makes for a reduction in power-range fullness and low-bass extension vis-à-vis the Pro or the 6, though the difference can be mitigated by adding a pair of QSub 15s to the package, crossed over around 45–60Hz. (For all sorts of reasons, I’m all in favor of using really good subwoofers, like the Magico Qs or the JL Audio Gotham IIs, with full-range loudspeakers.) With the QSubs in and the Soulution 711 or the Constellation Hercules II driving the entire shebang, I would be hard pressed to say that I hear a substantial difference in the low end between the M3s and the M Pros (also coupled with subs) on a powerful, deep-reaching pop cut like “I’m the Man to Be” from EL VY’s Return to the Moon or Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” from Brothers in Arms. No, you won’t get all the midbass slam from any Magico that you may be used to from ported loudspeakers, but you will still get goosebump-raising power, below-20Hz extension, lifelike tone color unobscured by port resonance, and the peerless transparency and resolution of a standard-settingly-neutral sealed box.