Magnepan MG2.5/R loudspeaker
Like all the other single-panel Magneplanars, these are attractive enough in appearance to be surprisingly unobtrusive in the room, despite their imposing 6' height. Apart from the wooden endcheeks, they are covered with fabric grille all the way around, which could be a cosmetic liability as well as an asset: Domestic cats love to climb up fabric stretched tightly over wood (as at the bases of these) and, given the opportunity, will have these speakers in shreds in no time. Magnepan recommends spray-on cat repellent; I have to tell them that some cats don't seem to mind its odor as much as most people do (footnote 1).
The manual supplied with the MG2.5/R is generally useful and informative, but is quite vague on the subject of room placement, neglecting even to mention that the speakers are a mirror-image pair. (A pink insert sheet in my manual explained how to tell which edge of each speaker its tweeter is on, but didn't tell what to do with that knowledge. And I don't understand the point of that advice, anyway; you can see the tweeters from in back of each speaker.) The suggestion that you try interchanging the speakers, left for right, and to choose the arrangement that gives the best imaging, probably makes more sense than a firm recommendation, but it would have been more helpful to more people if the instructions had gone on to explain what constitutes good imaging.
I found the '2.5s, like most other dipole speakers, devilishly hard to optimize. In fact, after several days of experimentation, I still had not succeeded in getting these to sound as good as I had heard them on some previous occasions. I should confess that I have never been impressed by the sound of any of the other Magneplanars in my listening room, despite the very good sound I have heard from them at shows. I had a hunch that the 2.5s might be different, though, because before they came over to my house, I heard them making very musical sounds in LA's living room. But then it happened again: I put them into my listening room, which is dandy for just about every other loudspeaker, and the 2.5s didn't sound very good at all.
From my very first listen, I had to give the MG2.5/Rs very high marks for their imaging and soundstaging, both of which they do superbly. Their high end, too, is beautifulsilky and velvety smooth, if perhaps a little closed-in at the extreme top. But it was in more fundamental areas where there seemed to be serious problems. There was a very noticeable and annoying "woofy" quality to the lower midrange, sounding like the result of a large, broad response hump through that region. There was also a marked lack of brightness and presence, the sound being so laidback that the word "effete" kept coming to mind. The system was neither realistic nor emotionally involving, and no matter how I tried, with different room placements and different electronics, I could not get these to sound even acceptable in my listening room.
Without much hope, I tried a different amplifier: the latest version of the Mirror Image unit reviewed in Vol.10 No.6. It only made matters worse. The brightness range was even more depressed, and the lower-midrange problem was unchanged. I went back to the Threshold SA-1s.
The MG2.5/Rs were not in danger of getting a totally negative review, because I had heard them sound much better than this in other locales and had an idea of their capabilities. But I was prepared to report that, based on my experience, it will be difficult, perhaps not even possible, to get good sound from them in some listening rooms. Indeed, I still believe this to be the case. After all, as I said, my listening room, as is, worked fine with most other loudspeakers I have tested.
But then Larry Archibald got into the act. Dismissing my observation that the room acoustics seemed to suit other loudspeakers better, he spent the better part of an evening (alone) shoving the speakers around and, finally, removing most of the Tube Traps from behind the speakers. Grudgingly, I had to admit that the sound was very much improved. Although the 2.5's positive attributesthe superb imaging, the silky highs, and the remarkable soundstagingremained, the woofiness and the severe brightness-range suckout were dramatically reduced, and the system really started to come to life.
Here, then, is an assessment of the best sound I was able to get from the Magneplanar 2.5/R. First off, the system has a glorious quality of ease and smoothness; it's a very suave-sounding loudspeaker. But paradoxically, it is both a little cool and rather laid-back, generally more polite than aggressive. By far its strongest points are its imaging, soundstage presentation, and reproduction of ambience. These speakers can throw a truly awesome soundstage, floating the orchestra between the speakers and framing it with an impressive aura of hall ambience. In factpossibly because of the slight remaining "woofiness,"these speakers almost seem to exaggerate hall ambience and spaciousness. (I doubt that many listeners will mind!)
Imaging, too, is exceptional in terms of specificity, stability, and size. So phase-coherent are these, in fact, that they are capable of pronounced imaging beyond the loudspeakers. SQ-encoded symphonic recordings, for instance, cause a definite wraparound effect which achieves the seemingly impossible: It places much of the hall ambience at the sides of the listener. The effect of this ability on noisy vinyl pressings is less pleasant: the antiphase components of the noise cause a pronounced feeling of pressure in the ears. This is not to be construed as a criticism of the loudspeakers, though; they are simply reproducing, better than usual, the information on some recordings.
The extreme top, although a little closed-in, is really beautiful: very smooth and silky-sweet, yet with an ability to reproduce hard transients (triangle, wood blocks) that rivals that of full-range electrostatics. HF balance, however, is very much affected by listening height; if your ears are lower or higher than the middle half of the tweeter (which occupies about the upper two-thirds of the height of the speaker), there is a marked loss of treble output. You need a high sofa or a long torso for the best treble performance.
And there is another liability with the 2.5's tweeter: the very thing that makes it perform so wellits thinnessalso makes it quite fragile. We blew out one of them (with a CD of someone breaking glasses against a brick wall) while using the 200Wpc Mark Levinson No.23 amplifier, which is within Magnepan's recommended power range. The tweeter fuse did not protect it. The ribbon is also, apparently, subject to fatigue from normal use. Magnepan's literature estimates one year of tweeter life under "hard" usage or two years if listening levels are held to within moderate bounds. Replacement is simple and relatively inexpensive, but the possibility of tweeter failure is still something that the owner of any Magnepan system must consider when choosing playback levels.
In fact, the MG2.5 won't put out scads of volume anyway. On most program material it will easily produce clean levels of up to around 100dB, but material with heavy bass, particularly in the 45Hz range, causes audible diaphragm bottoming (a fluttering noise) at measured (average) levels of around 90dB, which is loud but not very. Below the bottoming point, bass quality is exemplary, with immense detail and pitch discrimination, but its quantity and extension leave something to be desired. The 2.5 produces little feeling of impact or punch from percussive bass, such as timpani and kick drum. In my listening room, the measured low end took a nosedive below 50Hz, which is disappointing for a system this large.
Magnepan claims the low end will improve as the speakers break in, but why can't manufacturers break in their own products before they sell them? We are constantly advising our readers to audition componentsparticularly loudspeakersbefore buying, regardless of what our reviews say, but a potential 2.5 buyer who auditions first will hear a speaker with no deep low end. Does he have any reason to believe the missing bass will blossom if he buys the speakers and uses them for a month? This sort of ripen-it-yourself attitude does a disservice to the manufacturer, whose product is heard in an unfavorable light, and to the consumer, who may well pass up a potentially excellent product because it sounds so poor before it's broken in.
The $1500 range for loudspeakers seems to be some kind of break point between the truly mediocre and the truly outstanding. The one thing loudspeakers at this price point usually have in common is notably better LF extension and quality than the cheaper systems, but it somehow seems that as soon as the low end is fleshed out, the midrange suddenly goes out of control. The most common failings of such speakers are midrange colorations, and although the 2.5 ended up with less than most, midrange neutrality is still one of its lacks.
I could not recommend the MG2.5/R for any listener who wants ballsy impact and lots of dynamic range; it isn't that kind of loudspeaker, and I don't believe it was intended to be. The 2.5 is more for the introspective kind of listener who craves suaveness and subtlety and the utmost in soundstage reproduction, and there are few systems at any price that can surpass it in those areas. Good $1550/pair loudspeakers are hard enough to find that these Magneplanars are well worth serious consideration.
That implies a relatively unpressured audition in your own listening room, and while I am aware of the difficulty that might sometimes be involved in arranging this, a local dealer who knows you're seriously considering buying these should be willing to loan you a pair over the weekend at least. If you can't work out something along these lines, my own experience would suggest that you should either avoid the 2.5s out of uncertainty, or approach their purchase with caution. Any un-auditioned purchases should be made only with a clearly spelled-out stipulation that, if you can't get the 2.5s to work decently in your own listening room, you can get a full refund on your purchase price. (A credit will not do, as the dealer you buy from may not carry any other loudspeakers you'll like better.) It is more than likely that the 2.5s can be made to work very well in any given room, but not every room has the option of removable Tube Traps; the fact is that the 2.5s can sound really mediocre if the room and/or their placement in it is unsatisfactory.J. Gordon Holt
Footnote 1: A good solution is to push carpet tacks (not thumb tacks, they aren't sharp enough) through a large sheet of cardboard at 1" intervals, covering the cardboard's entire surface. Place the sheet directly in front of the cat's favored scratching place and leave it there for a week. Then you can remove it. If there are more than one such place, use as many sheets as needed. Don't think of this as cruelty to the animal; it's a learning experience, like a kitten's first encounter with a wasp. And it's a lot kinder (and cheaper) than declawing. Don't throw the training mat(s) away when you've made your point, though. Some cats have poor memories, and may need an occasional reinforcement.J. Gordon Holt