When Magico, LLC announced the imminent introduction of the S3 Mk II loudspeaker late last year, it wasn’t exactly shocking news. After all, two other members of Magico’s S Series, the S1 and the S5 models, had been updated to Mk II status and the top-of-the-series S7 already incorporated the diamond-coated beryllium tweeter and nanographene midrange cone that represent Magico’s latest thinking on driver design. So, the important changes seen with the S3 Mk II—compared to the original S3, which first shipped in early 2014—parallel those found in the new S1 Mk II, reviewed in Issue 270. In addition to the 1″ MDD7 dome tweeter, 6″ M390G XG graphene midrange, and a pair of new 9″ M905G graphene bass drivers, the top and bottom pieces of the sealed box enclosure have been revised. Although the size and shape of the speakers hasn’t changed much—on end, the profile is still that of a rounded trapezoid, wider in front than behind—the cabinet is now more effectively braced, with bolts extending through the ½” aluminum shell to connect to stabilizing internal braces. As with the original S3, the main component of the Mk II’s monocoque enclosure is a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum, produced at a factory in Ohio that makes the largest such extrusions in the world. (The metal part for both original and Mk II S3 is 16″ in diameter; the Ohio plant can now manufacture an 18″ extrusion.) The midrange driver has its own internal compartment and a new German-sourced damping material, known at Magico as “angel hair,” is employed in the sub-enclosure. There is, as well, a foam/vinyl adhesive that coats the inner surface of the metal shell, plus some strategically deployed “stuffing,” also new. The crossover has been reconfigured to elevate the speaker’s impedance and make the S3 Mk II easier to drive than its predecessor.
As with other Magico speakers, the S3 M2 is available in two finishes, the finely textured anodized M-Cast option and the high-gloss M-Coat—both in a choice of six colors. The pewter M-Cast S3s I’m listening to now arrived in sturdy cardboard boxes; the M-Coat S3s are shipped standing up in wooden crates to assure that nothing can rub against the speaker and mar the high-gloss paint. Magico founder and CEO Alon Wolf allowed that the additional expense of fabricating wooden crates and the consequential increase in shipping weight are a significant part of the price differential between M-Cast and M-Coat versions, around $4000. Magico provides highly detailed instructions for safely unpacking the speakers with the owner’s guide emphasizing that two people are needed to get these 170-pound beasts out of their boxes. If you end up with a punctured woofer or a crushed finger, you have no one to blame but yourself. [I ended up with a crushed finger trying to move the Magico M Pros—and I had two people helping out.—JV ]
Magico also provides specific advice regarding positioning its loudspeakers. It’s suggested that the S3s be initially placed about 20 inches from the front wall and then moved out toward the listener in six- to eight-inch increments until the speakers’ bass performance is optimized. Equally detailed instructions follow for siting the S3s vis-à-vis the sidewalls, and for toe-in. In my 15′ x 15′ room (a hallway off one sidewall obviates serious standing wave issues) the S3s wound up 24″ from the wall behind them and about 8′ apart, center-to-center. The front of each speaker was approximately 9′ from my ears; toe-in was such that imaginary lines extended from the front baffles intersected a foot behind my head. Once positioned, the supplied spikes were attached to the four outrigger extensions of the enclosure’s bottom piece, and the loudspeakers were carefully leveled. In my case, the spikes pierced the carpet and underlying soundproofing material to make contact with the concrete slab beneath. Magico does provide metal discs to receive the points of the spikes if the S3 Mk IIs are situated on a hard surface that you don’t want to damage. There’s also the option of replacing the spikes with Magico’s pricey QPods that are machined from aluminum, steel, and copper into a structure said to have exceptional vibration-dissipating properties. The speaker’s metal grilles are held in place by an invisible magnet system—the User’s Guide describes them as “optional” so it’s safe to assume that Magico feels that you should do your serious listening without the grilles on.
The S3 Mk IIs were assessed using much of the same associated equipment I used to put the S1 Mk IIs through their paces last year. Mostly, either a pair of David Berning Quadrature Z amplifiers (200Wpc) or two Pass XA 60.8 monoblocks provided amplification. Continuing upstream, the control center was my usual Anthem D2v. Only digital sources were used, including an Oppo 93 disc player (functioning as a transport) and the Baetis Reference 2 music computer, which played files stored on a Synology NAS. Both sent PCM output to the DACs in the Anthem; non-converted DSD files were also played through a T+A DAC 8 DSD. I also had on hand an Aurender A10 (review in progress) that’s equipped to handle MQA-encoded files, as streamed from Tidal. The bulk of the interconnects and speaker cables were Transparent, save for a high-performing yet quite reasonably-priced Revelation AES/EBU wire employed between Baetis and Anthem. As usual, I ran DSP room correction with the Anthem’s ARC software and, after inspecting the room response curves, used equalization up to 2kHz.
Considering the usual sonic metrics, the Magico S3 Mk IIs performed exceptionally well. (See sidebar for Alon Wolf’s perspective on how S Series loudspeakers contrast with the company’s more complex Q Series models.) High-frequency musical information was open, airy, and non-fatiguing in the fashion of a good electrostatic, but with better dispersion. Upper register divisi violins at the beginning of the Act 1 Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin had the kind of texture one appreciates in life—there was a clear sense of many unique instruments being played, rather than a synthesizer-like homogeneity. With a recording of a Balinese gamelan ensemble of flutes, gongs, and a range of metallophones, the Magicos reproduced the singular overtone structure of these instruments very characteristically. Tonal neutrality and accuracy were apparent in the critical midband. It wasn’t difficult to distinguish a Stradivarius from a Guarneri del Gesù violin, Renée Fleming in 1996 from Renée Fleming in 2016, or a bass clarinet played at the very top of its tessitura from a regular B-flat clarinet operating in the middle of its range. Top-to-bottom tonal balance was preserved through the Magicos—darker recordings vs. more brightly lit ones maintained their yin vs. yang qualities.
Bass was immensely satisfying in its impact, speed, and pitch definition. With organ recordings possessing prodigious low-frequency energy—Jean Guillou’s two-CD Franck set for Dorian, for instance—the S3 Mk IIs remained articulate when the deepest pedal stops were called into service, an especially impressive feat given that the recording has a great deal of room sound, having been recorded in a large Parisian cathedral. Lesser speakers, even those that claim low-end extension into the mid-20s (Hz), can render this challenging material as an undifferentiated rumble. Electric bass had plenty of punch and percussive slam, but only when it was present on the original tape—these loudspeakers do not editorialize. Certainly, you won’t regret what a high-powered amplifier will do for bass heft and mass but the 60Wpc Passes didn’t find the S3s to be an especially difficult load, in terms of generating orchestral weight or rock ‘n’ roll gutsiness. Even in my smallish room, by the way, the S3 Mk IIs did very well with a subwoofer (Magico’s S Sub, in this case). Alon Wolf feels strongly that subwoofers are meant to be used with full-range main speakers—he maintains that attempts to integrate one with a smaller loudspeaker will inevitably “pollute” that speaker’s output. Though I did experiment with rolling off the S3s in the 50–60Hz range and letting the S Sub operate up to 60Hz or so, the best results, by far, were achieved when the S3s ran full-range and a high-pass filter for the sub was applied at 40Hz. Authoritative power was added to the bottom octave and spatial cues about the recording space were better demonstrated.
When it comes to spatiality, I won’t trot out the old saw that these speakers “disappear” in the way small, stand-mounted mini-monitors can—although in a larger room than mine, they might. Still, the soundstage was broad and continuous, and depth was more than satisfactory. In the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, the off-stage “post horn” (actually a flugelhorn) really sounded like it was coming from a distant place, on Michael Tilson Thomas’s 2002 live recording. The sound of the instrument was soft, not because the soloist was playing softly but because he was far away. The S3 Mk IIs maintain their coherence when the music gets complex and loud, whether it’s the Finale to the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony or one of Gordon Goodwin’s exuberant big band arrangements.
So there you have my assessment of the S3 Mk II’s sonic attributes, parameter by parameter. But can that truly tell you what you need to know about a loudspeaker’s character? Is its overall performance more or less than the sum of its parts? If you’re not careful, you may end up characterizing the Magico S3 Mk II’s sound as analytical. That would be a mistake, as this is a word that carries a negative connotation in an audio context—analytical, as in cold, clinical, hyper-detailed, or even etched. That’s not what I hear with the new S3, and with other current Magicos. Rather, I hear them as revealing, in the sense of displaying fully the endless range of musical expression.
Well into the review period, I listened to an album I’ve enjoyed for 40 years, Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything—that musical polymath’s best-selling release over a long and artistically expansive career. Three of the four sides of the original LPs were all Todd: He played every instrument and sang every vocal track, a tour de force that displayed the workings of an exceptionally creative, yet disciplined, musical mind. The songs are good (“I Saw the Light” was Rundgren’s biggest hit), but there’s something a little stiff and mechanical about those three sides of the album, as much as one admires the artist for putting it all together. Side 4, however, has Todd performing live in an NYC studio with a group of instrumentalists and singers who were clearly enjoying themselves. The effect is profoundly different: The songs here seem much richer and more emotionally meaningful. The Magicos, manifesting a degree of truthfulness that’s unusual with audio gear, communicated the joyfulness of collaborative music making in contrast to the solitary, if über-competent efforts that comprise the bulk of Something/Anything.
I’d seen somewhere that Alon Wolf has described the S3s as occupying the “sweet spot” of the entire Magico loudspeaker line—a product range that begins with the $16,500 S1 and ascends to the $229,000 Q7 MkII, a product that’s obviously out of reach to all but a tiny number of individuals. I asked Wolf to elaborate. “I’m fully aware of the price categories that our products are in,” he said. “Although I know that we give incredible value for the price, knowing how much it costs to actually build these things, it does become a different market above a certain number, which is around $30,000. The S3 Mk II sits right below that with performance that can easily be compared to speakers that cost three times as much. There is a lot of value in that. People really respond and we can see it in sales. It’s the question of performance vs. value that creates the ‘sweet spot’ for it.”
Sounds like a promising business plan to me. The Magico S3 Mk II is now my loudspeaker reference.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Three-way, sealed-box enclosure
Driver complement: One 1″ diamond-coated beryllium dome tweeter, one 6″ nanographene midrange cone, two 9″ nanographene bass cones
Frequency response: 24Hz–50kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Dimensions: 12″ x 48″ x 12″
Weight: 170 lbs.
Price: $28,000 (M-Cast finish), $32,000 (M-Coat finish)
3170 Corporate Place
Alon Wolf on the Magico S Series vs. the Q Series: “I like to spread the love.”
The platform for the Magico Q series loudspeakers—that is, the enclosure—is significantly more difficult to manufacture than the S Series monocoque cabinet and this, of course, is a big part of the higher cost of these models. How much of an advantage does the “heroic” design of the Q series speakers provide?
It is a stiffer enclosure because we are able to create a much better coupling to the braces in these loudspeakers. They’re much stiffer which means the resonant frequency goes much higher which is easier to damp. The end result is a quieter cabinet—the noise floor is lower. You do get an advantage there. However, what you don’t get (which you do get with the S Series monocoque) is reduced diffraction. You have a lot of edges. To build one [a Q Series speaker] that has no edges at all is extremely costly. This is what we’re doing with the new M6, though most of that cabinet is made out of carbon fiber. You want to try to do that with aluminum? Good luck! So there is an advantage to the S Series in that arena. There are advantages to both designs.
So the S Series isn’t just “Q-lite”?
To me, the idea of just “reducing” is not good enough. I always try to give something to whatever model it is, no matter how much “less expensive” (I don’t want to say “cheap,” because none of them are), so that they can stand up for themselves. I think about Porsche. The Cayman—the mid-engine—is not a 911. But it handles better, even though it is cheaper. It’s not a 911, which is what a Porsche is supposed to be, but you always kind of feel: “Hey, you know what? My car handles better than yours!” I like to spread the love as much as possible.