Magnepan Magneplanar MG1.6/QR loudspeaker Page 3
The dominant characteristic of Magnepan speakers over the years has been their uncanny coherence. The Maggie I've lived with most recently, the MG3.5/R, was incredible in this regard. With the '3.5s, individual images were distinct and detailed, yet continuous. They were cut from a single cloth, so to speak, with no sense that the signal was being fragmented and routed through separate drivers and crossovers. Images struck just the right balance between edge definition and coherence with the surrounding space, all wrapped up in a seamless, rich portrayal of the original ambient environment. The result was a performance that seemed holographic in a way that other speakers couldn't match.
Once the MG1.6/QRs were dialed in, I settled in with the Mannheim Trio's three-LP Vox Box of Mozart's Piano Trios (Vox SVBX 568) to see how well the little Maggies could pull off this vanishing act. First up was side 4, the "Kegelstatt" Trio (K.498 in E-flat Major), and the '1.6/QRs did quite well, thank you very much. My listening room seemed to melt away, morphing into a seamless sonic portrait of the original performance and space. With the lights out, I felt as if I could have gotten up and walked in between the players, or walked over and touched the back and side walls of the recording venue. The viola was at the left front, the clarinet at the right front, and the piano slightly behind—and they were right there.
Dave Bailey's One Foot in the Gutter (Epic/Classic BA 17008) was another great example. The instruments seemed dimensional and solid enough to touch, but the real kick was how well the ambient environment was reproduced. The space between instruments, the walls—even the people laughing and talking in the background—seemed live and, well, right there.
The '1.6/QRs were equally proficient at portraying spaces and performances of all sizes. Solo instruments and small ensembles had the proper size and weight, and the balance of distance and space—listener to performer to surrounding space—seemed appropriate for the scale of the instrument or group. Large orchestras were handled unusually well too, much better than I've heard out of box speakers at anywhere near the Maggies' $1475/pair price. The '1.6/QRs' soundstage was quite large, particularly in the width and height directions, and there was never the sense you get with a lot of speakers: of a miniature orchestra on a toy stage . A round of thrift-store shopping one weekend led to my having a Scheherazade Festival, comparing London, RCA, Columbia, and Everest versions. The '1.6/QRs did a great job of portraying the different views of the orchestra and space, and always seemed consistent in how they balanced perspective, scale, and distance.
The MG1.6/QR's ability to disappear was outstanding, but didn't quite match up to that of the MG3.5/R. The '1.6 simply didn't sound as neutral or as transparent as the '3.5/R. The '1.6/QR's top-end response didn't match the transparency of the '3.5/R's ribbon tweeter, for one thing. The '1.6 sounded sweet and extended, but slightly thick in comparison to the '3.5. Second, although the '1.6/QR was unfailingly musical and engaging, it didn't sound particularly flat in my room. I'll leave the measurements to JA, but they sounded a bit boosted in the upper bass and the low treble. The latter affected the perspective, as I'll discuss in a minute, and seemed to emphasize both record-surface noise and the hashy digititis that's woven into some CDs and inexpensive CD players.
I did measure the '1.6's bottom-end response in my room, and found it to roll off pretty sharply below about 50Hz. Wendell Diller, who presided over setup, noted that the '1.6/QRs didn't have the bottom-end extension and power in my room that they had in some other installations. In most rooms, he said, the '1.6/QR should be good to at least 35-40Hz.
The biggest component of the '1.6/QRs' sonic thumbprint, however, was a slight but consistent forward perspective. Instruments seemed a little bunched up toward the front of the soundstage, which was projected slightly in front of the speakers. The '3.5/Rs, in contrast, had a slightly recessed perspective—no more correct, perhaps, but one that made the images seem more integral with the surrounding space.
Where the '1.6/QR's performance was an improvement over the '3.5's—and a big surprise—was in its reproduction of detail and dynamics. Each generation of Winey designs has improved on these traditional Magnepan bugaboos, but the MG1.6 actually moved them from the "Weaknesses" column solidly over into "Strengths." Its reproduction of dynamic transients, both macro and micro, was outstanding. I never thought I'd say this about a Magnepan, but the MG1.6/QR had me digging out rock and jazz favorites just to revel in their dynamic transients. AC/DC, Dire Straits, John Hiatt, Jonny Lang, Tommy Castro—all sensational. Ray Brown's "Mistreated But Undefeated Blues," from Soular Energy (Concord Jazz/Bellaphon LELP 111), was a particularly great cut. Brown's bass snapped and bounced, digging woodily into the low notes. The shimmering cymbals and brushed snares had an electric presence that permeated and supercharged the air around them. Gene Harris' piano, Emily Remler's guitar chops, Red Holloway's sax solos—all jumped, popped, and rang with a speed and snap I never expected from Magnepans.
Another LP that blew me away was a Japanese pressing of Steely Dan's Gaucho (MCA VIM-6234). It was super-clean and super-fast, with huge, stunning dynamic transients that exploded out of a rich, black silence. The leading edges of transients were laser-sharp, their dynamic swings, huge and precise, had not the faintest hint of softening or overshoot. The transient speed and accuracy seemed to make the images even more three-dimensional, clearly outlining their sides and back edges. I'd heard "Babylon Sisters" used as a demonstration of huge dynamic transients many times over the years, but had always accepted that my Magnepans would never have that kind of impact and punch. Let me tell you, the '1.6/QR most definitely did! Wow!