Magico A5 loudspeaker Page 2

The A5 may not exactly be cheap, but at circa $65/lb, it costs less than certain cheeses and aged hams, at least at NYC prices, while offering much better sonics than either, and with a lifetime much longer than any cheese lasts in my refrigerator.

Setup ...
... was easy: I sat in a chair and watched Magico's Peter Mackay—who, despite being employed by Hayward, California–based Magico, lives just across town from me here in New York City—as he performed his sonic Magic(o). I sat, watched, listened, and learned. The A5s ended up a little farther back—closer to the front wall—than the M2s had been and 8' 4" apart, center to center. I tend to move my lightweight listening chair around a lot as I listen and evaluate, especially front to back—different recordings sound better at different distances—but also side to side, to assess the soundstage width and stability. My chair was always between 8' and 11' from the baffles of the two loudspeakers, measured with a laser mounted on my forehead as I sat in my chair. Toe-in was modest, perhaps 12°.

When Peter was finished with the setup, the center was well-filled, and recordings with the right information performed impressive soundstage pyrotechnics. Playing Roger Waters's Amused to Death, recorded in QSound, the A5's produced sounds that seemed to come from above my head and 90° out to the side. Tones were rich and full, and the bass, though abundant, was never boomy. In several jazz acoustic bass solos I played, the notes were even and prominent.

Amplification duties were performed mainly by the Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblock power amplifiers. Though putatively 60W, Pass amps are underspecified to an almost absurd extent. (That's not a complaint.) JA's measurements found that the XA60.8 can deliver 380W into a 2 ohm load; I judge this sufficient to drive the A5, which has a specified nominal impedance of 4 ohms and sensitivity of 88dB/2.83V/1m. JA's measurements will show how low the impedance goes.

For a week or two, I also used the darTZeel NHB-108 Model Two stereo amp for an alternative perspective. The NHB-108 Model Two is specified to deliver 225W into 4 ohms. The two amplifiers sounded different, but they both sounded good. This is not an amplifier review, so this will be my only amplifier-related observation.


Following John Atkinson's rigorous example, I started with test tones. First up: warble tones from Stereophile Test CD, the first one (footnote 2).

At the listening position, warble tones were full-throated and even (with modest volume fluctuations, perhaps 5dB, due to room effects) down to 25Hz. Magico specifies a lower frequency-range limit of 24Hz, but the 20Hz warble tone was easily heard, although down a few dB from the 25Hz tone. This is a fullrange speaker.

Listening to pink noise—actually hearing what's going on with pink noise—I've found is a skill you learn with repeated, concentrated listening. At first listen, it's a wash of undifferentiated sound, but you can learn to parse it into its constituent parts. There's a lot going on in 10 octaves of random sound.

What I heard was an even distribution of sound, rolled off a little at the highest frequencies (above 10kHz or so is my estimate; in-room, HF rolloff is expected, for reasons JA explains in every loudspeaker review, including this one). Toward the bottom end, I heard an excess of bass between—again judging by ear—150Hz and 50Hz or so. That surfeit of bass could go lower, and it could go as high as 200Hz or so. From 200Hz up to 10kHz or so, the sound to me seemed remarkably even.

Bass tends to bounce around a room; this is why loudspeakers need to be sized appropriately for the rooms they occupy, appropriate for both the size of the room and the amount of absorption it contains. Apparently, the A5's three 9" woofers put out a little bit too much bass, strictly speaking, even for my large, irregularly shaped room (32' long, as wide as 24' but 16' at its narrowest with 9' 9" ceilings, footnote 3).

Moving on to listening to music. If you listen to a lot of small-group jazz or—especially—chamber music, timbre is of great importance, but then so is another thing: While I have on occasion heard chamber music in very large chambers (such as David Geffen Hall), chamber music is most often heard in smaller spaces. Chamber music in small spaces sounds layered, with certain instruments positioned in front of other instruments (although the audibility of that depends on the hall and your seats). Realistic-sounding recordings of chamber music capture that; and good speakers (served well by good components) can reproduce it. The A5 did so consistently, including on Libby Larsen's "Blue Piece for Violin and Piano," performed by violinist Moonkyung Lee and pianist Martha Locker (oddly uncredited on the record cover or in the sparse metadata provided by Qobuz, Tidal, and Roon), which is from the album Parts to Play (CD, Navona Records NV 6165). The two musicians are close together, but each is in her own front-to-back plane. This music is a random example; you'll hear this on most well-made chamber music recordings.

Indeed, the imaging is the first thing I noticed about the A5. These speakers don't only disappear under optimal conditions; they disappear always, including when the volume of the music is extremely low. Turn it down as far as you like. The image shrinks at very low volumes, but it shrinks toward a point halfway between the two speakers and not toward the speakers themselves: a phantom radio on a phantom shelf, a ghostly sensation.

Off-axis imaging was exceptional, too. I could move my chair to any point between the two speakers and still hear a stable stereo soundstage; when my chair was directly in front of the right speaker, the soundstage stretched all the way to the left speaker (this, for example, on "Smiling Phases" from Blood, Sweat, and Tears' first album, Qobuz 24/176.4 FLAC, a new version of which is due out in a few days as a MoFi One Step LP). This off-axis imaging performance is great for social listening, with actual friends, something the CDC has now endorsed as long as everyone's been vaccinated. I've heard otherwise excellent speakers that can't do this off-axis imaging trick, some of them quite expensive.


I'm not a huge coffee drinker—usually just one cup, first thing—but I am always on the lookout for good, fresh-roasted coffee. Recently, a new coffee place went in a few blocks south of me on Broadway—Blue Bottle Coffee, where a standard pour-over costs $4.25. One day, after a traumatic morning, I stopped by for a cup and left with a bag of beans, a blend, or roast, or whatever it is, called Giant Steps (footnote 4). This morning I had a cup. It was very good, and it put me in mind of the album it was surely named after, so of course I put it on. I don't have any interesting vinyl issues of this recording, so I stayed in my chair and called up a FLAC rip of the original CD as mastered for digital (in stereo) by Stephen Innocenzi in 1987 (Atlantic 1311-2).

I've long thought of this recording as somewhat harsh-sounding, but I found myself enjoying it with the Magico A5s. The soundstage was realistically sized, with realistic width and depth, as in a jazz club. I heard inflections in John Coltrane's tone that I'm not sure I'd noticed before. (I hadn't listened to this particular recording—this version—in a while, so consider this a fresh impression and not a before/after thing: I had the impression of hearing unfamiliar nuance, not heard before. That's notable by itself.)

Despite its fairly early provenance, this turns out to be a pretty good recording. The bass is rounded and full—not a lot of string-popping transient, but that's how it was recorded and probably how it was played. The image of the bass was palpable and stable, perhaps 8' behind the plane of the loudspeakers. There was, in any case, little harshness here.

I reviewed the Pass Labs XA60.8 amplifiers, which I'm using now, in the December 2017 issue of Stereophile. During that review, I repeated a test JA had done when reviewing the amplifier's predecessor, the XA60.5. John listened to Benjamin Zander's rendition of Mahler's Symphony No.2—to a moment not quite 10 minutes into the third movement. John heard some muddiness—a loss of resolution—in the rumbling bass drum and concluded that the XA60.5 couldn't quite provide the current those speakers needed to resolve that detail. I tried it again with the XA60.8 and heard the same thing—but when I tried it again with the much more powerful PS Audio BHK 300 monoblocks, that bass drum still wasn't fully resolved. I concluded that it was recorded that way.

There was, though, another possibility: Maybe it was the speakers. John and I were using different speakers, but both pairs were bass-reflex. Could a very good acoustic-suspension speaker resolve that passage when several bass-reflex speakers couldn't? I put on Zander's Mahler 2.

The opening timpani notes of the third movement were promising; I don't recall hearing them so crisply rendered. The pizzicato strings and woodwinds were light and airy; the timbres of the various instruments accurate and distinct. The soundstage extended beyond the edge of the speakers, big and round with convincing depth. Also: tall. I decided long ago that the sound of a hall is rendered in part by bass below 40Hz—that is, below where there are any actual notes, except on a pipe organ. When the bass drum played in the minutes leading up to the passage in question—again, it sounded promising. I could hear the skin, the ring, the boom—the whole drum hit. Boom without boominess.

Then the moment came—and there was still muddiness, but now I was sure that it was on the recording. Now I could definitively hear that it was. It's a hard thing to explain, but you know what I mean: The A5 had done better than to resolve the bass drum strike; it had resolved the recording well enough that I could sort it out.

As the bass drum rumbled on, growing quieter, the moment passed and I heard more skin and less boom. The A5 was resolving more of the bass. Maybe it's only because the level of the bass was a bit elevated—because the bass is louder; still, it counts. Plus, in the buildup to that climactic moment just before the 10-minute mark, I experienced some serious drama and excitement and some lovely delicacy. Great music, beautifully played, and beautifully rendered.

I put on Cécile McLorin Salvant's The Window (24/96 FLAC, Mack Avenue 1132), specifically the Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz song "By Myself." And there she was, corporeal, warm-voiced, ever so slightly breathy, enrobed and ennobled by Sullivan Fortner's piano. Then, courtesy of Roon Radio, came her "Growlin' Dan," which just loved the extra bass the A5's provided—in the upright bass (played by Paul Sikivie), in the bass drum (kicked by the late, lamented Lawrence Leathers, who was senselessly murdered in 2019 the day before I saw Cécile play a brave and fascinating standards concert, with pianist Fred Hersch, in Princeton, New Jersey), and in the piano's (Aaron Diehl's) left hand.

I queued up (virtually; it's on Qobuz, 16/44.1 FLAC, 37d03d) the first track, "Alarms," of Bryce Dessner's new release, Impermanence/Disintegration, with the Australian String Quartet. The cello growled.

The wrap
So far, this rather descriptive, seemingly dispassionate review has failed to communicate one crucial thing: just how much I enjoyed listening to these speakers. They were consistently a joy. The Magico A5s could be my musical companions for a long, happy life.

The most notable characteristic of the Magico A5's in my room was a pleasant abundance of high-quality, nonboomy bass. Like their predecessors in my system, these Magico speakers conveyed timbre accurately and subtly, revealing crucial differences in the sounds of distinct instruments, players, and recordings. Spooky, corporeal images and a robust, imperturbable soundstage rounded out the experience

Big orchestral recordings, like the Zander Mahler 2, were produced at nearly full scale and with, I would say, the full dynamic impact of a live performance, or very close. I could play these speakers as loud as I dared, and they never lost their cool. The A5 would work as a studio monitor, in a big room, or for a party, with dancers. Just be sure to keep the speakers out of harm's way; you wouldn't want some hapless dancer smashing into them and getting hurt.

Footnote 2: Test CD 1 is out of print but these useful signals are still available on Stereophile's Editor's Choice CD.—John Atkinson

Footnote 3: If the bass was 3–5dB higher, it would be too much. But the amount of extra bass on offer here was thoroughly enjoyable.

Footnote 4: It occurs to me that in the wider world, few people actually listen to jazz, even here in NYC. And yet jazz is so cool that they name expensive coffee after it.

Magico, LLC
3170 Corporate Pl.
Hayward, CA 94545
(510) 649-9700

remlab's picture

Something that competes with the Revel Salon 2, Price and performance wise

partain's picture

I believe Smiling Phases is from their eponymous album. Which is their second , not first .

Ortofan's picture

... the $25000 Magico A5 versus that of the $1200 Wharfedale Linton Heritage whose frequency response was described by JA1 as being "superbly flat"?

daveyf's picture

Looking at the specs, and as JA points out, these speakers require an amp that doesn’t have a problem driving a 2ohm load! How many amps have no problem driving a 2ohm load??

Strat56's picture

Tested with any kind of load down to 1ohm. It confirms the committed performances. Transparent as a short 0ohm piece of wire, on ML Ethos, MA PL200II, Allison One.

Ortofan's picture

... rated output of 400W/ch into a 2 ohm load.

Price is a mere $999.

Glotz's picture

The Parasound amps in their more expensive lines (above your example) would be also work in those 4-2 ohm loads, and be a much better match sonically and power-wise.

At this speaker's price point, there are a ton of amp choices that would work fine... more so in that point of the market than on the mid-level or entry-level end. It's part and parcel to moving up in many areas of performance, and should be a no-brainer here.

a.wayne's picture

Parasound amps don't like running below 4 ohm ( JC-1’s no problem ) much , it would not be my choice for this Magico model Speakers ...!


Ortofan's picture

... capable of 900W into a 2 ohm load.
Need more?
According to a Hi-Fi News test, the JC5 is capable of 1680W into a 2 ohm load.

daveyf's picture

Safe to say that most every tube amp out there would be excluded. Why these speakers have such a brutal low impedance drop is really the question?

Ortofan's picture

... have 2 ohm taps on the output transformer.
The MC1502 can output 240W/ch into a 2 ohm load at 1% distortion.

JRT's picture

I had noticed the mention of titanium voice-coils in the magazine article, so I checked Magico's marketing web page and confirmed that also mentions titanium voice-coils. I suspect that might be an error, and was waiting for the article to appear here to comment on that.

The voice-coil and voice-coil former/bobbin are two different things serving two different purposes. The voice-coil is a wound coil of electrical wire. The voice-coil former/bobbin is the structural tube that the voice-coil is wound around and structurally connects to the diphragm and to the suspension spider. The structural voice-coil former/bobbin might be made of titanium, but the voice-coil very probably is not wound using titanium wire since titanium is a relatively poor electrical conductor relative to copper which is commonly (but not always) used in voice-coils.

aRui's picture

Punchy on bass region, but doesn't go deep on the sub bass region (~40hz is the best?), I have expected more for 3 x 9" woofers. The 2-ohm requirement and 86db sensitivity would make anyone want to buy these speakers spend more money to make the speaker 'sing' effortlessly. Revel Salon 2 is better in term of performance/measurement, but it has been discontinued.

remlab's picture

"I have not shown the in-room response below 45Hz, as this was affected by the presence of subsonic noise from his building's heating/ ventilation system. This could not be turned off on the morning that I was able to perform the measurements"

The Salon 2 is still available..

Glotz's picture

Many rush to judgment without even hearing them, let alone trusting the professional.

a.wayne's picture

Its 86db with 2 watts , so actually its only 83db with 1 watt , so think of using 300 watts/ch to get the best out of these ....!


music guy's picture

….and can heartily concur with this review. Had Q3’s in the past and these wonderful speakers easily exceed those worthy speakers. Extraordinary fidelity at low levels but can do “concert” levels if the house or neighbours allow.
Added the SPods as a measure of safety as we now live in a condo.

Awsmone0's picture

Why don’t they move to the more expensive Aluminium ;)

SNI's picture

I cannot think of excellent audio engineering of a speaker with an impedance as low as this one. Considered that the phase angels are pretty mean in the bass region, where enrgy in music often is high, doesn´t make things better.
And then the massive amount of delayed sound on the waterfall plot?
What makes this loudspeaker excellent engineering?
The waterfall plot should actually mirror the stiffness of the cabinet, but it doesn´t at all.
To me a reasonable impedance combined with a reasonably uncorrected linear progress, will make almost any amplifier perform better, and a clean waterfall plot is paramount for transparancy in speakers.
It seems like none of these qualities are found in this speaker.

Awsmone0's picture

I assume it’s mass must store the energy and release it slowly , has always been an issue with mass loading it stores energy, part of the reason some speaker manufacturers prefer light mass construction
Having heard these , they are very impressive for the money when I heard them, in fact I thought they must be more expensive than they are
Being a sealed design, they drop off slower than ported designs per octave, and will have generally less room interactions, the fact they got 20 hertz in room audible, a feat in itself given the relative loudness is much lower at this frequency, unless they were hearing the second harmonic ?
Pass amplifiers seem to work very well with Magico, but would have been interesting to have tried with the Gryphon essence which are a scale above the Pass in my experience

Jim Austin's picture

I wasn't hearing 40Hz. In fact, that's a pretty hard mistake to make listening to descending warble tones.

Jim Austin, Editor

HC63's picture

Indeed! Most modern amps will have no issue. We use Pass X150.8 to driver these beauties. These are not much different then most other speakers reviewed here lately (Focal, Wilson etc.)

dcolak's picture

Are you kidding? Where are the highs above 10Khz?!

remlab's picture

.. The less important the last octave becomes, and on top of that, The teenagers who can hear the last octave can't afford them, so...
But still, from an engineering standpoint, I agree.

Lorton's picture

"As with the Magico M2 that I reviewed in February 2020 and JCA reviewed in March 2021, the use of a pistonic tweeter with a high-Q ultrasonic dome response results in a lack of energy in the region below that resonance.

remlab's picture

..that are extremely linear well beyond 20khz, let alone 10khz, but I've never seen one this linear below 12khz.

daveyf's picture

I would suspect that this speaker would be a total no no for any tube amp out there. Pity that a lot of competent speakers these days are such a bear to drive, requiring a significant outlay to not only buy the speaker in question, but also the monster amps to drive them!

C_Hoefer's picture

…is what Jim Austin didn’t mention at at all: how the A5 compares to the M2 he just spent a year with, and which cost 2.5x as much. Given how much audio writers tend to emphasize that the more expensive sibling really is worth it, even when praising a low priced overachiever, JA2’s silence on this point says it all. The A5 either betters the M2, or equals it.
To me it’s still completely academic, I will never buy speakers this expensive, but if I did have 24K to put into speakers, this one would be on my list to audition.