Magenapan Inc. based in the great state of Minnesota, make a unique audiophile speaker that is not shaped like a box, and incorporates a unique design that allows for a seamless presentation that many feel dynamic drivers cannot match. They must be on to something, as they have been in business for five decades. They have models starting under $700, and, with the introduction of the new flagship 30.7, top out at $30,000.
Magnepan speakers are very different than those with cone drivers mounted in an enclosure. They use planar-magnetic technology, which you can read all about on the company website. There are several benefits to this. First, a top-to-bottom, uniform presentation, as well as realistic, lifelike musical images. Magnepan customers also are loyal to the company, and they are rewarded with models that stay in the line up for years, with no churn. In fact, Wendell Diller, marketing manager for Magnepan says they only introduce or upgrade models if they find they can implement significant improvements.
I currently have both the 1.7i ($2,000) and the .7 ($1,400) in my home, in two separate systems and after three months with them it is time to frame my observations. This is not a “review”, in the traditional sense. I believe that format is dead in the water. What I hope to do is communicate what it is like to listen for, and enjoy music on these speakers without the usual audiophile micro dissections.
A few things to get out of the way. Magnepan speakers, especially from the .7 on up, require a few considerations for the prospective buyer. First, as they are dipoles, they require at a bit of space around them, four or five feet if you can manage it, but you can probably get away with a bit less. Secondly, they really need a high current amplifier, you will want at least 50 high quality watts per channel. No big deal for most motivated purchasers.
Setting ‘Em Up:
When setting up the Maggies, the manual provides some very common sense guidelines. First, the distance between the speakers should be about 2/3 of the listening distance. You have a choice of situating the tweeter on the inside or outside. Tweeters inside provide a bit sharper imaging, and tweeters on the outside provide a slightly more expansive presentation. It will be 100% room and listener dependent. Lastly, toe in is required, and again that will depend on the room and listener. So all in all, not brain surgery to set up Magnepans. Experimentation, and a some patience will bring you many rewards.
I installed the 1.7i in my living room, which has high ceilings, and allows for a listening distance of eight to ten feet. I spaced the speakers about six feet apart. Initially, for the first month or so, I had the tweeters on the outside, with about a fifteen degree toe in. By the second month I decided to try the tweeter in, with additional toe in, approximately twenty degrees, maybe slightly more, and this is how they stayed. I felt at this point they were nicely dialed in, and left well enough alone.
I managed to listen to a very wide variety of music, which allowed me to get a comprehensive overview of how Maggies present recordings. In a word, with virtually no undue interference. There is no coloration from a cabinet, no driver discontinuity, no miniaturization of the music, and no artificially large images either, which I have found can happen with big, multi driver floor standing speakers.
The words that come to mind are seamless, effortless, and most of all, immersive. The Magnepans did something that has rarely every happened in our systems, and that it took any thoughts of “I’m listening to speakers” from the equation. The music flowed like water from a tap. The ability to virtually remove itself from the setting is the ultimate goal of a speaker, many believe, and I agree. If your focus is on “listening to the speaker”, you are taking your eyes off the prize, and that is musical enjoyment. All the listeners who joined me agreed that Maggies effortlessly brought to your attention to nuances of the recordings, and you notice things that help you understand the performance better.
We used both a very highly regarded solid state power amp rated at 200 wpc, and a KT120 based tube amp, rated at 50 wpc. Both were driven by a tube preamp. With the solid state amp, images were sharper, bass a little more precise, and the sound was spacious. The tube amp sacrificed a bit of precision for a plusher, more holistic midrange. Both presentations were easy to enjoy. Cabling was U.K. sourced Black Rhodium all around.
One listener, who is a serious jazz lover, with an incredible LP collection, was utterly absorbed, lost in the groove as we played one classic Blue Note album after another. Having not heard Magnepans for quite some time, he noted that these were by far more impressive than he remembered. He was particularly taken by the depth of the sound field, and the drive.
The pair of .7’s were installed in the den, with the tweeters in, and ample toe in and spacing. A very nice tube preamp and a 200 wpc solid state amp were used, and again Black Rhodium cables connected it all up. We heard everything with the .7’s we heard with the 1.7i’s, but on a slightly smaller scale, with less overall bottom end. The same coherence, and sense of a complete musical fabric was intact.
Spinning some excellent, but obscure progressive fusion albums, like Walking In Space (1969, A&M), by Quincy Jones, and Firefly (1977, CTI), by Jeremy Steig, were like time traveling, all that was missing were bell bottoms, and incense!. Brand new albums, like u2’s epic Songs Of Experience, came off as far more cohesive one would imagine, with tremendous emotional impact and musical texture.
The long awaited remastering of Pentangle’s late 60’s/early 70’s discography, The Albums: 1968-1972 (2017, Cherry Red), arrived at the perfect time. These recordings are astonishingly good for the era, and the music contained in the box is of the highest artistic order if you are a fan of their fusion of British-folk, jazz, and blues. It was hard not to listen over and over to all seven CDs, which proves there is never too much of a good thing.
To Sub Or Not To Sub:
After about a month I did use high quality subwoofers with both speakers, and found it very satisfying. I was under the impression it would be very difficult to integrate and dial in subs, but it was not anywhere near as tricky as anticipated. Because the 1.7i and .7 are so “quick” and agile, the fear would be a sub would lag behind and there would be audible discontinuity. To my great delight, the sub only added positives, adding bit of weight and foundation.
But as noted, “cheap” home theater style subwoofers need not apply. There are more than a few high value subs from respected companies available. I would also suggest ported designs are not the best choice. Magnepan also makes an optional passive bass panel that can be used and would probably provide the most seamless solution. I can also imagine that visually, it would be desirable.
Speaking of bass, the only issue that I could possibly complain about concerning the performance of these speakers is that certain notes in the lower register, seems to activate a “rattle” in the panels. I understand this is known as panel slapback. This came up infrequently, and mostly with acoustic bass, interestingly enough. It seemed to happen with notes played on the lower strings, higher up on the fretboard. But again, it was infrequent, and random. No speaker is perfect, and this seems to be the one flaw in the design I heard in my set ups.
Summing up-Two Amazing Speakers:
The Magnepan 1.7i and .7 offer up what very few speakers designed as “drivers in a box” can. Namely, superb, top to bottom coherence, and a freedom from any enclosure colorations. Speakers should provide an immersive experience, and the Maggies do this superbly. In fact, I found myself listening to more music with the Maggies installed, than with any other speaker I have had.
I asked Magnepan’s marketing consultant, Eric Norgaarden, what he thinks sets Magnepan’s design apart from most other speakers on the market. He replied “It’s a little difficult to not get technical when attempting to describe the difference between listening to favorite music on multi-driver box/enclosure designed loudspeakers versus dipole magnetic planar speakers like those from Magnepan. When properly set up in a room, the dipole speakers tend to disappear, and get out of the way of the music. Some people would call this an increase in transparency or the experience of listening to a more musical speaker. When one gets up out of the listening position and walks around the room while the music is playing, the staging is much different with a box/enclosure than a dipole.
Closing your eyes and walking down the center between the two speakers, you can still envision the soundstage right in front of you, even after you pass the speakers on your left and right, ending up behind them. That is part of why dipoles need to be pulled out into the room a bit more than a box/enclosure. In the case of dipoles like Magnepan, I feel like I can hear more of what the artist, producer or engineer intended when they made the recording. I also feel like I am getting an idea of what the recording room environment was like, whether in a studio or live venue. To borrow a phrase, dipoles from Magnepan make me feel like I am there, as opposed to they being here.”
I, too, would sum up my experience with the Magnepan 1.7i and .7 as “being there”, as much as one can with a home playback system. I will boldly proclaim I don’t believe there are better speakers on the market at the $2000 and $1400 price points, all things considered. In fact, one experienced listener, who owns monitors costing five times more than the 1.7i, remarked that the tweeters are essentially “state of the art” within their price ranges and even beyond. If state of the art means tonally natural, transparent, and non fatiguing, I agree!