In the May 2009 issue, I gushed over the performance of Linn Products' remarkable little bookshelf speaker, the Majik 109 ($1590/pair). In particular, I was struck by how I'd never heard any speaker at any price whose high frequencies sounded more natural, detailed, or pure than the 109's. Then, wondering what a pricier Linn speaker might sound like in my system, I asked Linn which was their most expensive model that also incorporates the 2K tweeter-supertweeter array used in the Majik 109. The answer: the floorstanding Majik 140 ($2995/pair). Once I'd worked through my reviewing backlog, two 140s were on their way to my listening den.
There was once an Englishman named H.A. Hartley, who was a contemporary of H.G. Baerwald, P.G. Voigt, P.K. Turner, and other men whose first two names are lost to us. Hartley was a capable designer and audio theorist, not to mention a gifted lecturer and writer—his literary achievements include a book on astrology (footnote 1), of all things—and he's often credited with coining the expression high fidelity. Most important of all, in 1928 H.A. Hartley teamed up with the aforementioned P.K. Turner to create an audio manufacturing company known as Hartley Products, Ltd. The Hartley company made electronics and loudspeakers, the latter of which included full-range coaxial drivers using energized field coils and, later on, quite powerful permanent magnets—just like their countrymen at Lowther Loudspeakers, Ltd.
The Hartleys I wrote about last month may be the loudspeaker drivers that time forgot, but the venerable Lowthers of Sidcup, England, reign supreme as the horseshoe crabs of the loudspeaker world: strange, ungainly things that have scarcely changed since the days when Franz Schmidt and Robert Johnson walked the earth. Literally.
Today, as every Saturday, I brought my daughter to the stables where she has her riding lessons. But this time was different. As we pulled up the long gravel driveway, we found ourselves dodging a riderless horse, moving at a trot across our path. It turned out that the very cold weather had caused a latch to malfunction—"gate won't close, railing's froze"—and five horses had gotten loose.
On two occasions I've caught myself wondering how to afford a pair of Wilson Audio loudspeakers. Interestingly, both happened within the past year. The first was in April 2009, at the Son et Image show in Montreal, during a demonstration of the MAXX Series 3. The experience was notable for its blend of genuinely great sound with genuine musicality: Each performance unfolded of its own natural accord, with human randomness and nuance, and without the fussy, mechanical, shallow artifice that attracts some audiophiles in the way a carnivorous plant attracts fliesand, if they're lucky, kills them (the audiophiles, that is).
Rarely has the debut of a new loudspeaker company and its inaugural model created as big a buzz as did Lumen White and their Whitelight speaker at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. Driven by Vaic tube amplifiers in one of the larger corner rooms at the Alexis Park Hotel, the big Whitelights had a look and a sound that attracted continuous crowds. Of the questions among audio cognoscenti that I overheard at the end of each day, two of the most common were "Hey, did you hear those Lumen Whites?" and "What? Can you speak louder?"
"So what kind of music do you listen to?" I heard myself asking Leif Mårten Olofsson, designer of the Coltrane, Coltrane Alto, Duke, Miles II, Mingus III, and Monk loudspeakers, before I could take it back. The small company, headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden, where Volvos are made, has been building and marketing loudspeakers for the past six years, though Olofsson confesses he's been building them for 30 years, ever since he was 12.
MACH 1 Acoustics? Cute name. Mach 1 is, of course, the speed of sound—the speed at which a loudspeaker's acoustic output is forever constrained to travel. Quite a fitting choice for Marc McCalmont, Marine and jet pilot turned speaker designer. Marc retired to Wilton, NH together with Melissa. (Oops, that should be MLSSA, the well-known acoustic analysis system—not Marc's girlfriend.)
Show a time traveler from the 1920s an iPad and most likely he'd neither know what he was looking at nor what it might do. Show him a loudspeaker, even one as advanced as Magico's new Q5 ($59,950/pair), and he'd probably know exactly what it was and what it did, even if what it's made of might seem to have come from another planet.
The conventional wisdom in publishing is that magazines are dependent on scoops—that getting the news out to the readers first is of primary importance. Yes, being timely with what it has to say is important for any publication. But soon after I joined Stereophile in 1986, a series of negative experiences with review samples that were little better than prototypes led me to rethink the need for scoops. As a result, I decided to impose restrictions on what we chose to review; this would allow us to focus the magazine's review resources on products that were out of beta testing and were ready for prime time, and, most important, would be representative of what our readers could audition for themselves at specialty retailers, confident in the knowledge that what they heard would be what we had reviewed.
On the occasion of a recent major birthday, my significant other, Bonnie, gave herself a "mid-life crisis" present—a beautifully restored, bright yellow Porsche 911. She'd spent the previous several weeks wading through reference books to figure out exactly which year and model she wanted, and each night we'd discuss the pros and cons of various models, options, and points in the 911's +30-year evolution. Bonnie explained to me that, throughout its production run, the 911 maintained the same basic design and a consistent set of engineering goals, but was continually updated and refined. In her mind, the 1973 Targa was the one to have, the last and fastest of the lightweight 2.4-liter models.
Bonnie and I decided to avoid the crowds last weekend, and instead settled in at home to watch the recent remake of Great Expectations, with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. It seemed like a pretty good movie, but before long I found my thoughts drifting to the review I had in progress: my audition and analysis of the Magnepan Magneplanar MG3.6/R. True, Great Expectations is a little slow, and a few explosions or car chases might have better held my attention, but if ever there was an audio product to which the phrase "great expectations" applied, it's the Magnepan 3.6/R.
I must confess to a certain sentimental affection for Magnepan products. An early version of the Tympani did more to rekindle my interest in audio than any other speaker I can think of. In a world which seemed doomed to finding out just how small and dull it could make acoustic suspension boxes, the Magnepans reminded me that speakers could produce a large open soundstage, real dynamics, and musical life.
The Magnep1anar Tympani I that is the subject of this report is already an obsolete model, having been superseded by the Tympanis IA, II, and III that were unveiled at the CE Show in Chicago this past June. Since many of our readers already own Tympani Is, and dealer stocks of them are being sold at a substantial price reduction, the report should still be of interest. We will publish follow-up reports on the newer models as soon as they become available for testing.