Magico Q5 loudspeaker
It's been almost 100 years since two General Electric researchers, Rice and Kellogg (no cereal jokes, please), patented the basic design from which sprang all subsequent direct-radiating moving-coil drive-unit designs. While the general electrical, acoustical, and mechanical principles have not changed since, their execution has, as the Magico Q5 clearly demonstrates.
Were Chester Rice and Edward Kellogg still around to have a look at the Q5, or any other cone-driver-in-a-box loudspeaker, they'd be familiar with the design, if not what it's made of. The Rohacell foam and carbon-nanotube material used in Magico's Nano-Tec are heavily relied on by the aerospace industry for their stiffness and lightness. Rohacell is a product of German research into acrylic materials and was first produced in laboratories in the 1960s. By 1972, it could be produced on an industrial scale. Its use today ranges from high-tech bicycle wheels to Airbus bulkheads. Rohacell has been used in loudspeakers since at least 1985, when the French speaker company Cabasse used membranes of Duocell, processed from Rohacell foam.
But while such materials have been used by some of the larger speaker makers, it's unusual for a small enterprise such as Magico to go to the considerable expense of having proprietary cones made from these materials built to their specifications.
No magic in the Magico approach
Talking to Magico's CEO and codesigner, Alon Wolf, I quickly realized he's not interested in selling hocus-pocus, or the notion that Magico has reinvented the loudspeaker, or that the company is using new, mysterious materialseven if, like many other speaker designers, he's inclined to assign catchy trademarked names like Nano-TecTM and BMRCTM to design innovations that are more evolutionary than revolutionary. In a Bose world, who can blame him?
Wolf was far happier explaining the computer modeling and real-time analysis he uses to simulate and measure his design ideas. He gladly divulged the names of the materials of which his drivers and baffles are made, and the construction techniques employed in those processes.
Examining any Magico speaker makes immediately clear that the designers' intent seems to have been to take what's well known and refine it to the outermost limits of current materials and design technology. In the case of the Q5, this begins with the aluminum box housing the high-tech drivers.
The Bay Area company began working with aluminum enclosures from its inception more than a decade ago, but the high costs of machining limited the metal's use in real-world products. For its less expensive products, like the V3 reviewed by John Atkinson in May 2008, Magico builds cabinets of laminated birch plywood fronted by thick baffles of aircraft-grade aluminum, to which, as in all Magico speakers, the drivers are affixed from the rear. Wolf doesn't like to see screws on baffles, or hear the artifacts that he claims are caused by diffraction around them. "Screws come loose and eventually can't be properly tightened, and they don't sound good around tweeters," he insisted to me in his inimitably certain manner.
Magico recently bought a CNC machine shop, which has made it possible for them to bring the costs of working in aluminum in line with the retail prices they want to charge. Wolf says that aluminum provides ideal stiffness and mass, and is relatively easy to effectively damp without storing mechanical energy, and is thus far superior to medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Reducing flex-induced resonances in MDF requires extensive internal bracingwhich can store mechanical energy of its own.
Each Q5 weighs 387 lbs. Machined of aluminum and brass, it must be seen from the inside to truly be appreciated. The cutaway version on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in January showed a complex internal structure of multiple, thick-walled chambers and 10 tubular truss rods that tightly secure the front baffle to the rear panel.
Some numbers: The frame system alone is assembled from more than 50 machined parts. One sidewall is perforated by nearly 100 threaded holes. More than 350 fasteners of various types are associated with the cabinet even before the front-baffle assembly is affixed to it. Assembling a pair of Q5s takes more than a week. Alon Wolf told me that, were it not for his acquisition of the CNC machine shop, the Q5 would cost closer to $120,000/pair. And without computer-controlled machining, bringing such a design to market would probably be nearly impossible. The outer, matte skin of anodized aluminum sports a pleasingly soft, muted finish available in a nearly infinite range of colors.