Magico V3 loudspeaker Page 2

I have been playing a lot of late a CD-R that recording engineer Tony Faulkner had pressed into my hands at the 2004 Heathrow Show. It was a live recording he had just done of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes, performing Gustav Holst's The Planets (subsequently released on CD as Warner Classics 61991). The disc had gotten lost among the many piles in my listening room, and I uncovered it while tidying up in mid-December to get the room presentable for Alon Wolf, who was visiting to help set up the V3s. The Planets has long been a favorite of mine, but what was especially compelling about this release was that it includes an eighth movement, Pluto (The Renewer), composed by Colin Matthews, a commission from the UK's venerable Hallé orchestra. I remain unsure of its musical merit, but Pluto is definitely a hi-fi spectacular, with a monstrous organ pedal, a massive gong, a powerful bass drum, and blaring, appropriately blatty brass, all of which were reproduced to perfection by the V3s.

I have mentioned in previous reviews Trentemøller's 2006 CD of chill-out music, The Last Resort (Pokerflat PFRCD18). While the tracks on this album vary in mood and tone color, a common factor is the use of a synthesized bass line that remains resolutely in the lowest regions. Track 3, for example, "Evil Dub," at one point has a bass riff that repeats B (62Hz, footnote 1), C (66.5Hz), and two Gs (47.6Hz), with almost no higher harmonic content. Differentiating the exact pitch being played with short-lived pure tones below 60Hz (footnote 2) is not as easy as you might think, as it demands that the loudspeaker add nothing of its own. Unfortunately, this is also the frequency region where reflex speakers have their port resonances and room acoustics are least well behaved—and Trentemøller compounds the difficulty by adding a synthesized kick drum that fills in the spectral holes two or four times every measure. Yet the sealed-box Magicos managed to maximally differentiate pitch in this difficult region with this difficult recording—to my surprise, they did better in this respect than the Sennheiser HD580 headphones that are connected to my test-lab computer. And, of course, full-range loudspeakers do a far superior job than headphones of communicating the music's low-frequency power.

But the ability to convey such power at low frequencies didn't result in fine detail becoming obscured. Toward the end of Saturn, from The Planets, a rising theme creeps in on the double basses under delicately descending broken chords in the harps and woodwinds. The third time it is softly doubled above by the cellos, and below by the organ pedals, the latter then reappearing in the final cadence to add majesty. Yet despite the V3s' 7" woofers working hard on this passage, I could still easily distinguish the organ from the double basses from the cellos—and without any disturbance or obscuring of the overall orchestral picture.

When Alon Wolf helped me fine-tune the placement of the V3s in my room—something that the Magico dealer should do at this price level—and make small adjustments to the positions I had settled on to bring the mid- and upper-bass regions into better balance, he also experimented with toe-in and rake-back angles. Adjusting the rake-back by increasing the height of the front spikes so that my ears were closer to the midrange axis than to that of the tweeter brought the soundstage into optimal focus. Firing the speakers straight at me gave a balance that was a little tilted-up, tending to brightness. The best treble balance was obtained with the speaker slightly toed-in so that I could see about 5° worth of the inside side panels. The high frequencies were . . . well, I'll quote Jason Victor Serinus in his blog entry from the 2007 CES, referenced earlier: the Magico V3 was "not the least bit afraid" of its 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."

After eight weeks of using the Magicos, I have little to add to Jason's words. The V3's top two octaves were beyond reproach, and the speaker really did love cymbals. The tweeters of inexpensive speakers dilute the metallic nature of the sound of cymbals, accentuating the swish. In the worst case, with inappropriate miking and cheap tweeters, what should be perceived as the sounds of real percussion instruments descend into nothing more than shaped and textured white noise. When I record a drum kit, I use as overhead mikes an ORTF pair of DPA 4011 cardioids, which, I have found, also are true to the sounds of cymbals. In "Fruit Forward," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), after the opening solo on fretless bass by Chris Jones, drummer Mark Flynn gently taps one of his ride cymbals with brushes. Yes, the swish is well-defined, but so is the fact that the cymbal is made of bronze. And when, at the end of the phrase, he plays around the cymbals, the Magico's Revelator tweeters made their different sizes readily apparent.

This ability to decode subtle treble details was apparent on Rendezvous, my 1998 recording of the Jerome Harris Quintet (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2). I used the DPA cardioids for these sessions as well, during which drummer Billy Drummond made good use of his collection of antique Zildjian cymbals. Over the years since those sessions, I have come to love "Only Then," a ballad that opens with first vibraphonist Steve Nelson, then trombonist Art Baron playing the melodic line over a simple accompaniment from bassist Harris, while Drummond plays a countermelody on his cymbals and snare. The Magicos maximized the sonic differences between the various cymbals, and the quietness between the notes was quieter than I have been used to.

Perhaps more impressive than the quality of the V3's treble playing these two jazz recordings was that the speakers seemed to entirely disappear, leaving the images of the instruments hanging in space in the acoustics of Manhattan's Merkin Hall and Salina, Kansas's Blue Heaven Studios, like the disembodied smiles of so many Cheshire Cats. This ability to acoustically remove themselves from the listening room is why I am a fan of good minimonitors, such as the AAD Reference Silver-1, which I reviewed in July 2007, and the Harbeth HL-P3ES2, which I wrote about in April 2007. The Magico V3 slipped easily into the company of those soundstaging highfliers—and of course can play very much louder and has pretty much full-range bass performance.

But oh, how I appreciated the ability of this speaker to retrieve low-level details: the subtle texture of Jerome Harris's acoustic bass guitar, the subtle but unambiguous hints of the church acoustic surrounding his solos on Rendezvous that arose from the leakage of his amplifier's sound into the drum and vibes mikes, the slightly different character of the Lexicon-sourced reverb I used on his direct-injected intro to the final track, "Hand by Hand."

I could say that listening to my own multimiked recordings through the Magico V3s flattered my abilities as a recording engineer. But comparing Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall with the recordings I've made of the band in various Manhattan jazz clubs using just two mikes, the essential honesty of those "purist" recordings was also very evident through the Magicos, despite the less-than-perfect instrumental balances and the often wayward club acoustics.

I haven't mentioned issues of obvious coloration, and indeed, the V3 didn't suffer from such problems. Richard Lehnert's speaking voice on the channel-identification tracks on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) sounded as natural as I have heard. But the V3's balance was somewhat on the polite side. If the PSB Synchrony One, which I reviewed last month, had a balance that was occasionally too forward in the mid-treble, the Magico V3 was the opposite, being a bit too laid-back in absolute terms. This was less of an issue with well-engineered classical recordings, such as the Academy of Ancient Music's recent performance of Handel's Op.3 Concerti Grossi (CD, Harmonia Mundi USA 907415)—the V3's stable, spacious imaging enhanced the richness of the musical event. On the other hand, some rock recordings, such as the 96kHz-sampled version of Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II (DVD/CD, Reprise 340220-2), needed to be played back at a higher level than usual to generate the expected visceral excitement.

That aside, I found the Magico's presentation addictive. Toward the end of the review period I received finished pressings of Stereophile's latest CD release, a reissue of Robert Silverman performing the two Rachmaninoff piano sonatas (STPH019-2). Although during the remastering I had auditioned this recording more times than I cared to count, when I put the CD in the Ayre C-5xe universal player's tray and pressed Play, hearing Bob's glorious performances through the Levinson-driven Magico V3s was like hearing them anew.

Summing up
My recent series of reviews of floorstanding speakers has uncovered three outstanding performers, two of them from Europe—the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa ($20,800/pair, December 2007), and the KEF Reference 207/2 ($20,000/pair, February 2008)—and one from Canada: the PSB Synchrony One ($4500/pair, April 2008). I could happily live with any of the three.

I can say the same about this home-grown contender. Yes, the Magico V3's sealed-box woofer loading will need careful matching to both amplifier and room, and its somewhat laid-back mid-treble might not be to the taste of some listeners. But its combination of low-frequency majesty and definition, its clean, grain-free high frequencies, and the superbly transparent window it opens on the recorded soundstage, all make it a shoe-in for Class A in this magazine's "Recommended Components" listing.

Three more pairs of floorstanding loudspeakers and one pair of minimonitors are waiting in the on-deck circle outside my listening-room door; mere days after submitting this review for publication, I will have to wrangle the V3s back into their crates to be shipped back to Magico. I have high expectations of the next speakers to take up residence in my listening room, but I will certainly miss the V3s. Magico may be a relatively new loudspeaker manufacturer, but the V3 demonstrates that it is one that is here to stay.

Footnote 1: The track is not at concert pitch; I calculated the actual frequencies using Fourier analysis.

Footnote 2: The Audio Uncertainty Principle: The shorter a tone lasts, the less accurately its frequency can be determined. When I write about a tone having a frequency of 60Hz, for example, it is assumed that that tone began just after the Big Bang and will persist to the eventual heat death of the Universe. In practice, from the moment I switch my system on when I get home from work to when I switch it off to go to bed is a sufficiently infinite time for frequencies to be sufficiently well defined for me to enjoy the music.

Magico, Inc.
932 Parker Street #2
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 653-8802
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