Magnepan MMG W and MMG C Loudspeakers
getting Maggies! Cool!" That was my wifes reaction when she learned we were
getting a full five-channel review system from Magnepan. The first time shed heard
Magnepans, on a trip to Chicago a year or so before, had made her an instant convert.
Never mind that the MG20.1, at nearly 6.5 tall by 2.5 wide, needs lots of room
to breathe and would require a complete rethinking of her decorating scheme.
"Well make room," she said. Unfortunately, the MG20.1s used-Accord
price was an instant deterrent.
I felt duty-bound to tell her that, at $897 USD, the
five-channel MMG W/C system we were getting was at the opposite end of the
price/performance spectrum from the MG20.1. Then there was the fact that we might have to
drill holes in her freshly painted walls to mount them. It didnt make a bit of
For those of you unfamiliar with Magnepan, theyre a
great example of a company that thinks outside the box -- literally: They have eliminated
the speaker enclosure. The basic Magnepan Magneplanar speaker is a large panel consisting
of a Mylar diaphragm stretched over a frame. The voice "coil" is an aluminum
wire glued to the Mylar, arranged in a grid of long rows from the top to the bottom of the
panel. Precisely aligned strips of magnets on one side of the panel complete the required
elements of the speaker. The main physical difference between Magnepan models is the size
of the panel, and the models MG3.6/R and above include a true ribbon driver to reproduce
the high frequencies. The MMG W consists of a single panel 38" high by 10.375"
wide and 0.75" thick. This is quite small by Magnepan standards; once mounted, the
speakers are very unobtrusive. The MMG C center-channel is only slightly smaller, and is
bowed to improve dispersion from side to side.
Magnepan speakers are so different from the cone-and-dome
speakers most people are used to that 95% of the general population will have no idea what
theyre looking at. Be prepared to answer questions: What is that? Where
does the sound come from? How does it work? As you answer, youll find such words
as dipole and planar creeping into your vocabulary. And you need to know the
following: Magnepan is the name of the company, Magneplanar is the name of
the technology, and Maggies is what everyone who owns them affectionately calls the
The hard part
You might be tempted to install the MMG Ws right away, in
whatever locations look convenient. Dont do it. While youll probably get
acceptable results, a little work put into placing Maggies can pay huge dividends in the
overall sound quality. Besides, the MMG W is designed to be mounted on a wall; once
thats done, it isnt easy to move. Magnepan realized this early on and
developed a temporary mounting kit ($18/pair) that allows the purchaser to move the
speakers from one location to another without having to drill holes in the wall. I had to
make a minor modification in the kit to account for the crown molding in my listening
room, but once Id done that, moving the MMGs around to find the best positions was a
fairly simple task.
Where those optimal positions will be will depend a lot on
your room, but it probably wont be where you first place the MMGs. My experience
suggests that you should think wide placement -- 50% farther apart than your
conventional speakers isnt unreasonable. Thats where the MMGs ended up in my
two-channel listening room, to form an almost perfectly equilateral triangle with my
listening position. Given a little more space, I might have set them even farther apart.
In a narrow room, you might even consider placing the speakers on the side walls.
When the Maggies arrived, my home-theater system, where I
would do my multichannel listening, was already occupied by another system. Not to be
denied, my wife asked if I could hook them up in the family room. This was when I broke
the first rule of planar speakers: I hooked them up to the 4-ohm taps of the relatively
low-powered Cayin TA-30 integrated amplifier ($799), which
pushes all of 30Wpc to the speakers. The conventional wisdom is that planar speakers
require lots of power and dont get along well with tube amps. But I bowed to
conjugal pressure and my own curiosity and went ahead. If you try this at home, be aware
that you might risk melting a little Mylar if you dont exercise caution with the
When I moved the system into my theater room, a door on the
left side of the front wall prevented me from placing the MMG Ws in the optimum positions.
For a variety of reasons, a side-wall installation wouldnt work, so I ended up with
the MMGs about 3 closer together than I would have liked. To compensate, I listened
to the system from about 2 farther from the rear wall than normal. After some
experimentation, the surrounds ended up on the rear wall, 6 from the listening
position and angled out into the room at about 60 degrees.
The MMGs require a subwoofer. Throughout my listening
sessions, a Rocket UFW-10 provided the low-frequency reinforcement for the system. Other
equipment used in the review included the Adcom GCD-600 and Rotel RCD-1072 CD players,
Anthem AVM 20 preamp-processor, and Rotel RB-976 power amp.
Tubes n planars?
Wow! Thats what my wife and I said when we first
heard two MMG Ws hooked up to the Cayin TA-30 tube amp. It also describes the response of
each of my friends who heard them. It was one of those things you have to hear to believe.
About two minutes into "Dont Fence Me In," from The Frank and Joe
Shows 33 1/3 [Hyena 9320], theres a guitar flourish that extends
well outside the speakers and ended up almost to my immediate left. Now that was
depth of soundstage. If I hadnt known better, Id have thought I had surround
speakers hidden somewhere in the room. As with everything else I threw at them, the
Maggies were the very model of clarity. Witness Dr. Johns voice, on "Sheik of
Araby" from the same disc: slightly nasal and a little edgy, but very immediate,
almost as if he were standing right there. The most expensive speakers I have in the
house, at more than ten times the price, couldnt match the Maggies soundstage
or sense of presence.
Soundstaging and imaging were again the big story on
"Time After Time," from David "Fathead" Newmans Song for the
New Man [Highnote 7120]. The cymbal at the left was just inside the left speaker, but
the decay reverberated out into the room. This seemed very natural to me, and is something
that no conventional speaker has quite gotten right in this space. Newmans sax was
nailed in place just to the left of center and a bit out in front. Clarity was again
stellar, with a slight edge to the horns on "Shakabu" thats missing with
all too many speakers. Besides their trademark soundstaging, its this remarkably
clear and coherent midrange that sets Magneplanars apart from nearly every conventional
speaker on the market.
Weve got you surrounded
Once Id freed up space, I moved the MMGs into my
home-theater system for a little multichannel listening. During "On the Run,"
from the SACD release of Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon [Capitol CDP 82136
2], the Maggies completely "disappeared" and let the music flow, leaving me
immersed in a seamless soundstage. The footsteps early in this track began well to the
left of the front left speaker, traveled across the front, then turned the corner to the
right rear and finally crossed behind me, to exit stage right. Never was there a break in
the progress of the footsteps or in the Maggies ability to put them in exactly the
right spot. Nor did the sound ever seem to be coming from any given speaker.
No examination of DSOM is complete without checking
out "Time." Normally, Im no big fan of the "sound everywhere"
form of musical surround; I feel it gets in the way of the performance. However, DSOM
is no ordinary album, and on "Time," the feeling of being enclosed in a room
full of clocks is nothing short of a revelation. With the Maggies properly set up and
balanced, the clocks were here, there, everywhere -- yet I felt I could reach out and
touch one, had it been just a few feet closer.
The clarity of Alison Krausss voice in "We Hide
and Seek," from the SACD of Alison Krauss + Union Stations Live [Rounder
11661-0515-6], gives me goose bumps. Theres something about it that just sounded
real through the MMG system. This album is a prime example of how to record a multichannel
audio disc: The surrounds are used mostly for ambience and, on this live recording, the
sounds of the audience. It was very effective and believable through the MMGs on such
tracks as "New Favorite," where the stroking of the guitar reverberates slightly
through the listening space but doesnt stand out as a distinct sound. I almost had
to listen for it to hear the reverberation, but it was there.
At the opposite end of the surround spectrum is the SACD of
The Polices Every Breath You Take [A&M 069 493 607-2]: The guitars in
"Cant Stand Losing You" come from all over the place. The MMGs made the
best of a bad situation, suspending the instruments properly in space, albeit in utterly
unnatural places. On the other hand, the way the rim shots in "Walking on the
Moon" decayed out into space worked nicely, even if the occasional obvious
reverberation behind me and to the right was distracting.
If youre looking for the particular sound of a planar
speaker, then the MMG W/C system has no competition at the price. The closest conventional
competitor Ive heard recently is the Ascend
Acoustics CBM-170 ($328 per pair) with matching CMT-340 center ($298 each), which is
very nearly the same price as the Magnepan system at $858. Both systems are impressive for
the money, but each represents a totally different approach to sound reproduction. The
Ascend system has flat frequency response with good high-frequency extension, while the
Maggies tend to roll off a bit at the top end. Also, the Ascend system is more efficient,
will play louder without strain, and is easier to drive with a lower-powered amp. On the
other hand, nothing else Ive heard anywhere near this price can approach the
Magnepan system in terms of soundstaging and midrange coherence.
My single caveat is that the MMG W/C system is not as
forgiving of placement as are conventional speakers. If conditions force you to place them
closer together than is optimal, youll lose much of their expansiveness and depth of
soundstage. But if youve got room to tinker, the MMGs should reward you with an
audio experience unlike any other.
To sum up
As I complete this review, a debate is going on in my
house: Should we buy the MMG W/C review samples? They could be just the ticket for the
basement theater Im planning. Or should we jump in with both feet and build a system
based on Magnepans more expensive 1.6/QR? One thing is certain: Well soon
count ourselves among those fortunate souls who own Maggies and listen to them daily.
It isnt often that I sit down in front of a new
speaker system and say "Wow!" But during the course of this review I did just
that, over and over. When Magnepan set out to build the MMG W/C, they didnt end up
with only a budget entry for the planar loudspeaker market; they rewrote the rules of what
budget speakers can sound like. To understand how brilliantly theyve succeeded,
youll have to hear the MMG W and C for yourself.
...Jeff Van Dyne
Prices of equipment reviewed