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Magneplanar Super MMG System

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]

 

The Super MMG system is actually a package that includes a single Diplanar Woofer Module or DWM (dual DWMs are an option). To attain “Super” status the original MMG has been lightly hot-rodded throughout but optimized particularly in the crossover section for this pairing. The discretely proportioned DWM is designed to reinforce the bass and midbass region by adding diaphragm area. Rolloff of the shallow-slope crossover extends into the upper bass/lower mids. Power? Although Maggies have no need for transformers like their electrostatic cousins, they do require amps capable of driving 4-ohm loads. And they do like power—to that end it’s instructive to remember that most of the surface area of the Maggie is dedicated to power-hungry low frequencies.

Knowing how difficult it is to earn acceptance of a third or potentially fourth speaker in the room, Magnepan has designed the DWM so that it can be easily disguised as furniture or even hidden within an existing cabinet, if there is at least 30% open area within the cabinet for bass frequencies to escape. Examples of these options can be viewed on the Magnepan Web site. Finally for interested parties without a dealer in the neighborhood, the Super MMG system is available as part of Magnepan’s very accommodating 60-day unconditional home trial.

I listened to the system three ways—MMG solo to get my immediacy. From the rattles of a snare drum to the jangles of a tambourine, I kept thinking “nano-dynamics” as I listened to Holly Cole’s track “Train” with its soft shakers, distant vocal callouts, and assorted twangs and tinkles by a menagerie of percussion.

These Maggies throw open windows onto ambient and reverberant cues so that even the most garish slap echoes are remarkable to hear, as in the prime example that occurs during Jennifer Warnes’ “Song For Bernadette” from Famous Blue Raincoat [Impex]. Each time Warnes sings a phrase ending in a consonant (like the “t” at the end of “Bernadette”) you’ll hear the sustained decay of the hard consonant drifting like a feather on the air and disappearing over an acoustic horizon. As I listened to Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s “Stones in the Road,” the focus of a finger-picked figure, the snap of a flat-pick off the steel string, or the soft touch on a piano keyboard were all there.

The MMG Super’s tonal balance is generally good but there are a couple bumps. I found a bit of a presence rise in the roughly 2kHz region and again in the sibilance range that lent the system a more forward, detailed sound, but neither of these was a glaring issue. Female vocals evidence a little more head tone and a little less chestiness, further confirming the systems leans toward the more delicate recorded information and away from heavier dynamic histrionics.

My biggest issue with the system is its relationship between soundstage/image scale and the dynamic range that supports them. An example would be the acoustic-guitar playing of Nils Lofgren during his epic “Keith Don’t Go” track. Staging and scale are brilliantly rendered. The cut features all kinds of timbral detail and dynamic bravado as well as the sheer physicality of his playing technique. However when Lofgren thumb taps the bridge of the instrument for additional percussion embellishment you should feel the wavelaunch from the soundboard almost like the impact of a drumhead. This is the region where the Maggies tend to be a little light—the same region where cone transducers tend to excel. So while the MMG unquestionably rules the roost over micro-dynamics gradations from the lower middle range on down, the delivery of full-tilt macro-level energy is softened, lacking the explosive immediacy of the live experience.

 

What does the DWM bring to the party? Since it’s a midbass woofer, not a true sub, don’t expect bottom-octave excursions. It’s more like a good vitamin supplement that benefits the entire system. The DWM refines pitch response and kicks it up a gear dynamically. The entire system gains a stronger sense of grounding. Response well into the upper bass region becomes clearer and more focused than with the MMG on its own. And yes, it’s a little more kick-ass, too. Listen to the bass vamp during the intro to Holly Cole’s “I Can See Clearly” from Temptation. It doesn’t wilt or intensify depending on the note struck. It supports but doesn’t stomp on the speaker’s transient gifts or otherwise cloud the sonic landscape.

Integration is historically the bugaboo of subwoofers and bass speakers. But the DWM is pure dipole bass, freed of cabinet or port coloration. The quality of its bass response is in perfect character and perspective with the rest of the system. In place of bottom-octave extension it adds weight and secures the soundstage and breathes gobs of ambience. More than anything it magnifies the existing resolution.

One DWM or two? There are two answers. Room size is one—a single for smaller, a double for larger. Either way the DWM can grow on you. But there is also the low-bass-quality factor. Dual bass panels can provide a more even in-room response—each bass panel effectively filling in the frequency response dips of the other, smoothing out the room-mode nulls and peaks that occur in most acoustic settings.

The Super MMG system is such a winning effort that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s competing in the under-$2k price segment. In fact I kept comparing it unconsciously to all sorts of pricier speakers I’ve written about in the past few months. This is a loudspeaker of such extreme value that failing to put it on your shortlist only means short-changing yourself. Leap tall buildings in a single bound? Well, maybe not quite. But in most every other way, super indeed.

SPECS & PRICING

Super MMG

Type: Two-way, quasi-ribbon planar-magnetic
Frequency response: 50Hz–24kHz
Sensitivity: 86dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 14.5″ x 48″ x 1.25″

DWM

Type: Planar-magnetic dipole bass panel
Frequency response: 40Hz–200Hz
Sensitivity: 86dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 19.25″ x 22.5″ x 1.25″

Magnepan
1645 Ninth Street
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
(651) 426-1645
Price: $1199 ($1750 with twin DWM panels)

Associated Equipment: Sota Cosmos Series IV turntable; SME V tonearm; Sumiko Palo Santos, Air Tight PC-3; Parasound JC 3 phono; Synergistic Element Tungsten/ CTS , Wireworld Platinum interconnect & speaker cables; AudioQuest Coffee USB & Firewire, Synergistic Tesla & Audience Au24 SE phono & powerChord, Wireworld Platinum power cords

By Neil Gader

Writer

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