GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published December 1, 2002


Magnepan MMG Loudspeakers

Performance, value, and personal preferences. These are the most important factors to consider whenever buying audio equipment, perhaps never more important than when purchasing speakers. Performance can be summed up simply: How accurately do the loudspeakers reproduce music? Value is also determined easily: Do the speakers perform well and fit your budget at the same time? We all know that most $5000 loudspeakers sound great, but how many of us can afford 'em? Conversely, most of us can swing $69 speakers, but they usually don't perform as well as we'd like. Personal preference is pretty self-explanatory: Some folks -- especially those who listen to Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, and Pearl Jam -- are going to want speakers capable of delivering a fleshy bottom end, and they're often willing to sacrifice a bit of high-end detail to get that fat bass. Those who grew up on James Taylor or chamber music aren't necessarily going to want or need bottomless bass -- they're more interested in precisely detailed, transparent sound in the midrange and upper end. And folks who listen to classical music might well find that they want speakers capable of delivering natural-sounding, high-resolution strings as well as making those tubas, tympanis, and double-bassoons sound and feel as if they're in their listening rooms.

The Magnepan MMG speakers, at $550 a pair, are an extraordinary value and their superb performance is matched by very few loudspeakers anywhere near this price -- taking care of two of the three ingredients in finding a good speaker in one swoop. That leaves personal preference, of course. The good news here is that these Magneplanar speakers (more on Magneplanar technology in a moment) will give almost everyone what they want from loudspeakers. If you've read other reviews of the MMGs, you've probably noted that the one criticism consistently leveled at them is they're a bit thin at the low end of the musical spectrum; bass doesn't boom from a pair of these speakers. But that can be remedied easily and fairly cheaply (more on this later too).

Thinking outside of the box

Magnepan's MMG speakers are available in natural or black oak trim with off-white, gray, or black fabric. They're 48" high, 14.5" wide, and 1.25" thick. That's right. Less than two inches thick. These aren't your daddy's speakers -- these are quasi-ribbon planar-magnetic loudspeakers. Let's break that mouthful of syllables down, beginning with the second part: planar-magnetic speakers use an extraordinarily thin sheet of Mylar (.0005") in place of a speaker cone in order to reproduce sound. In a traditional speaker, electrical signals cause a magnet within a mechanism attached to the cone to move back and forth, making the cone vibrate. Those vibrations move air; your ears perceive those movements of air as sound. Magnets are employed in the Maggies (as they're affectionately known) too. The Mylar, which has a metal conductor etched over its surface (the conductor is known as a quasi-ribbon), is suspended between two fixed magnets. The audio signal (electricity) passes through the conductor, which causes the membrane to move back and forth between the magnets. This is the movement that reproduces sound.

That 696" of speaker surface area is the equivalent of what you'd get with seventy-two 1" dome tweeters and nine 8" woofers! If you get a chance to hear these Maggies, you just might be convinced that they deliver all of the extraordinary detail that one would expect from a collection of tweeters and woofers like that.


Setting up the MMGs is simple and straightforward. The rear panels of the speakers accept bare wire or banana plugs, which run from your receiver or amp, and are locked down with an Allen wrench (included). The MMGs are dipolar, which means that sound radiates from the back of the speaker just as it does from its front; remember there's no traditional speaker cabinet to dampen those sounds. So you're going to have to pay close attention to where you place these speakers -- see our article on speaker placement, "The Best Things in Life are Free: Speaker Placement" for some hints on how to go about this. I'm lucky to have a rectangular listening room that allows me to space the speakers 6' apart (about 3' from the back wall), with me sitting 12' away at the apex of an invisible triangle. If your living room or listening space is more constricted, you might consider hanging these attractive, flat speakers on a wall. Did you feel a shudder just go through the cosmic ether? That was caused by audiophiles the world over shivering in disgust at the thought of speakers being placed on a wall. Ignore 'em.

The speakers come with little "feet" attached, which allow you to tilt the speakers forward an inch or so. This will aim the sound more directly at you, but it'll also diminish your sweet spot a bit. (The "sweet spot" is the optimum place in your room for listening.) You can increase the size of that desired spot by placing the tweeters on the outside edges of the speakers. You can determine where the tweeters are by peering inside the cloth covering the speakers. Inside you'll notice lots of strands of silver running from the top to the bottom of the Mylar, concentrated on either the left or ride side. That's the tweeter side. So, simply set the tweeter sides to the outside (when you're facing the speakers) and the sweet spot will broaden.

Great sound, plane and simple

Once I had the speakers set up, I did as I always do when trying new equipment: I fired up some of my favorite music. This first listening session isn't about testing the limits of the new gear, but rather about getting a feel for the new with old music I know and love. First up: The Nashville Sound. . . Owen Bradley [Decca DRND-11330] -- a greatest-hits compilation of music from the legendary country producer. The opening strings on Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams" cascaded from the Maggies as a huge soundstage was uncovered; so sharp and full was the sound that I could hear the resin-coated bows hit the strings. Her voice was as warm and distinctly defined as I've ever heard it. When the bass line starting up Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never," on the same CD, began its infectious chug, the MMGs displayed incredible front-to-back layering. The bass was resonant and round and distinctly separate from the high vocal harmonies behind Pierce's plaintive twang.

So far, so good. But the MMGs, like most speakers, need a bit of breaking in, otherwise they'll sound slightly bright. I let music play through them for the next 24 hours before sitting down for another listen. I admit to being impatient -- Magnepan suggests a one-week break-in period.

This time, the bass extended a bit further and the highs had lost that very slight hint of metallic ping. Magnepan speakers, from the top to the bottom of their line, perform especially well on acoustic music, so I decided to let Ted Hawkins' The Next Hundred Years [Geffen 24627] have a spin on the NAD C521i CD player I was using. His expressive, worn voice leapt out of the speakers on "Strange Conversation" with a stunning degree of precision. There was also clear aural space between his vocals and the backing acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and spare drumming.

Unfortunately, my own Carver CT-17 preamp/tuner and Carver TFM-15 amp weren't really up to the job of pushing Ted through the Maggies. These speakers eat power like Louie Anderson at a Krispy Kreme store, so I hooked up the more powerful Vasant GA-120S Final Edition 0.1 amp. (If you get the MMGs, be sure to have at least 50Wpc available -- even better would be 100-200W.) Ah, the Vasant gave Ted, and everything else I played through the speakers, plenty of punch.

It was time to push the speakers a bit harder. Next up: Maria Callas's "Quand je vous Aimerai? L'amour" aria from Carmen (A Passion for Opera [EMI 5 65163 23]). Even in crescendos, the level of fine detail was outstanding; instruments, including heavy strings and percussion, were clearly resolved with consistency across the aural spectrum. When Callas's soprano seized center stage, it was with a clarity one doesn't find on many speakers costing two to three times as much as the MMGs. Coloration (adding of bass or treble) is almost nonexistent here.

Testing the "weakness"

The Magnepan weakness is supposed to be their inability to reproduce deep bass; if they do have a weakness, here's where it lies. However, when I cranked up John Fogerty's "Southern Streamline" from his Blue Moon Swamp [Warner Bros. 9 45426-2] I got all the sharp, tight bottom end I needed and wanted.

Magnepan MMG Loudspeakers

But when I dug into the deep, dark recesses of my music collection, I found an ugly test: Mötorhead's 1982 metal opus, Iron Fist [Dojo 3034-2]. The relentless bombast and guitar-hammering of Eddie Clark on every single song on the album proved to be a bit much too much for the Maggies. So I hooked up my Hsu Research VTF-2 powered sub, which filled in the bottom of the archetypal speed metal quite ably. (The Hsu subwoofer goes for $499.)

If you're one of those folks who enjoy a little bombast, or maybe just bass-heavy rock'n'roll, you'll likely need a sub to accompany the MMGs. The same might hold true for those who enjoy Wagner or Beethoven -- the lows of their music might go beneath the capabilities of these speakers.


Aside from the Mötorhead-Beethoven caveat, the Magnepan MMGs performed beautifully. They're so good that they'll make you look like an audio wunderkind and make your system sing as never before. They do need to be driven by a good, strong receiver or amp -- no 25W weaklings need apply -- and they'll expose weaknesses upstream from them (if you have a cheap, tinny-sounding CD player, for instance). They'll also expose the intricate layers of beauty that might be hidden by your current speakers, so if you're tempted to give 'em a try, you can have these Maggies in your home for a 60-day, money-back trial. If you don't care for 'em, send 'em back to Minnesota's Magnepan and try something else. Here's betting that you'll be singing their praises along with the sounds of your suddenly improved music collection.

Price of equipment reviewed

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