The Magical Magicos
The unquestionable sonic high point of my second day at CES was the opportunity to hear two of the larger, floorstanding speakers in the line that has already brought us the much-touted $20,000/pair Magico Mini "bookshelf." The largest and most expensive of the pair is the $120,000/pair M6 (Model 6). First released one year ago, this four-way floorstander includes three 10" woofers, one 7" mid-bass driver, one 5" midrange unit, and an air motion-transformer tweeter. Weighing 650 lbs, with an enclosure of extruded aluminum, the speaker is said to extend from 28Hz to 50kHz, with a 90dB sensitivity and a 4 ohm impedance. The M6 recently won the Grand Prix Award from Japanese magazine Stereo Sound, and was featured on the cover of its December 2006 issue.
The smaller model, the $22,000/pair, three-way V-3, made its US debut at CES 2007 after being introduced in Japan and Hong Kong six months ago. One of the speaker's many distinguishing characteristics is that its drivers are coupled not to MDF, but to aluminum, thus eliminating loss of detial caused when bolts driven into MDF inevitably begin to loosen. As with the M6, all drivers are manufactured in-house. These 150 lb babies (pictured in John Atkinson's photo with Magico's Alon Wolf) include two 7" woofers, one 6" midrange unit, and the same premium ring-radiator tweeter as the Mini. The drive-unit cones, however, are formed from a foam/composite material used to make helicopter rotor blades, and are said to be 300% stiffer than the Mini's woofer cone. The speaker's frequency response is said to extend from 36Hz to 50kHz, with an 88dB claimed sensitivity and a 6 ohm impedance.
The larger system included the $70,000, 165 lb BAlabo BP-1 Mk.II power amplifier, making its first appearance at a US show, the $55,000 BAlabo BC-1 Mk.II control amplifier, an Esoteric X-01 SACD player, MIT Oracle V1.1 MA speaker cables (starting at $24,900), and MIT Oracle V.1.1 MA single-ended interconnects (starting at a mere $6,995/1m pair). Not a system to be taken lightly, that's for sure. The V-3s were paired with a small Spectral CD player and amp, VAC preamp, and the MIT cabling said to work best with Spectral electronics.
The sound? In my first minute of listening, I began to ask myself what was so special about the sound. Then I recalled that the M6's were the first speakers I had heard which sounded absolutely right in the compromising confines of a Venetian hotel suite. Listening deeper into the music, I discovered that, in addition to sounding very open and alive, with beautifully full midranges, both systems excelled in timbral accuracy. Very few speakers—or systems, for that matter—get the highs right. Cymbals, for example, tend to sound either brittle, overly glassy, or too polite. Rarely will you hear a horn blare the way that brass blasts out at you in a live acoustic space. Either it peels your skin away or it lightly ruffles your feathers. Harpsichords are another instrument that tend to sound either too tinkly, too damped, or too thin and diminutive in resonance.
Both pairs of Magicos were not the least bit afraid of their highs. Cymbals sounded as close to real cymbals as I have ever heard them from a sound system. In addition, every teeny little nuance or sound in the studio could be heard, not in analytical or clinical fashion, but with unforced, "you are there" veracity. (A case in point were the first and third tracks on jazz vocalist Susanne Abbuehl's Compass, which yielded a degree of detail never once heard from my own speakers).
These are both wonderful speakers, an opinion he tells me, that John Atkinson shares, having auditioned his There Lies the Home CD on both. If the Mini, which I have yet to hear in optimal conditions, approaches its bigger cousins in accuracy and musicality, I can begin to understand what all the fuss is about.