Magico M2 loudspeaker Jim Austin March 2021

Jim Austin wrote about the Magico M2 in March 2021 (Vol.44 No.3):

Currently, Stereophile's Recommended Components list includes 19 loudspeakers in Class A (Full Range). As a group, these 19 speakers are, according to the Editor's Note we use to introduce Class A, "sufficiently idiosyncratic and differ enough from one another that prospective customers should read Stereophile's original reviews in their entirety for descriptions of the sounds." True enough, and good advice—yet, in my opinion, the speakers in that class have a few things in common, maybe more than those in the other classes: They're all full-range; they're all capable of more or less realistic SPLs; and for each one, there's at least one reviewer who believes, "as a result of his or her experience," that it "approaches the current state of the art in loudspeaker design."

This last bit is the most important: They all approach this thing we call "the current state of the art," even if the avenues of approach are diverse. To put it differently, all are perfectionist designs, which means that they all aspire to the same, or at least quite similar, sound: the sound of real music in real space.

If ever you're wondering why your favorite (full-range) speaker isn't on the list, that may be why. Some excellent speakers simply have different ambitions.

Magico's M2 (footnote 1)—which I am reviewing here 13 months after John Atkinson's original review—fits the perfectionist mold. Compared to, say, the Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 or the mbl Radialstrahler 101 E Mk.II, both of which are also in Class A (Full-Range), the M2 is a fairly conventional design. True, it's a sealed-box, acoustic-suspension design, which these days is pretty rare. And yet it's a dynamic, passive loudspeaker with four drivers, all firing forward, mounted in a box.

What sets the Magico apart (other than its acoustic-suspension design) is its execution. Except for the front baffle and the top and bottom caps, that box is made from carbon fiber, which has a very high ratio of stiffness to weight (although, at 165lb each, the speaker's no lightweight). The top and bottom caps and the front baffle are made from aluminum, itself a fine material to make a loudspeaker from, with a high ratio of stiffness to weight. The M2's enclosure has an adjustable truss-rod system, not unlike an acoustic guitar's, if for a different reason: Over time, and especially when shipped over long distances, the internal bracing can loosen; with a supplied wrench, you can retighten it. The front baffle is shaped to optimize driver dispersion, with a touch of horn-loading applied to each driver.

Magico's constrained-layer–damped footers—the M-Pods—which optimize the coupling of the loudspeaker to the floor, are optional, and at $7600/set they cost as much as many high-quality loudspeakers do. And yet, I suspect that most M2 buyers, who already are paying $56,000/pair for the M2s, spring for the footers, too. They do make a substantial improvement (footnote 2).

"Perfectionist" is how speakers like the M2s should be judged. Speakers not in this category can provide intense, involving, satisfying listening experiences; some people may even prefer a different, nonperfectionist sound: Nothing wrong with that. It's when you focus on details that you notice the shortcomings of these other designs. In other speakers, low-frequency extension may be great, but definition isn't optimal. Or, the sound in the sweet spot is great, but move off-center a little and the soundstage collapses. (But, hey, if you usually listen alone, who really cares, right?) Or, in time, you start to notice that the timbre of certain instruments is a little unnatural: That well-recorded viola is recognizably a viola, but it has taken on some cello character, or it sounds too much like a violin.

In general, I prefer a holistic approach to reviewing—I want to give readers a clear impression of what it's like to hear a pair of speakers (or more broadly, the component under review, whatever it is). Yet, evaluating perfectionist speakers requires a certain amount of list-checking: Getting everything, or at least most things, right is what sets them apart. For discriminating listeners who live with a loudspeaker over time, details matter.

For a variety of reasons, having mostly to do with the pandemic, I have lived with the M2s for a long time. They were installed on December 3, 2019. Today is December 7, 2020, and Magico's Peter Mackay is due here in 45 minutes to help me pack up the M2s so that a shipper can haul them away.

It's rare for a reviewer to live with a component for a full year. As a result, I've gotten to know these speakers very well. I've checked those details. So, here's my checklist.

The Highs Are Present But Unobtrusive.
I've listed this first, because this is important to me. It wasn't long after I got seriously interested in hi-fi that I started to realize that in general there's a problem with highs. Not the low treble but higher up, in the region above the fundamental frequencies of voices and instruments, in the range of harmonics and "air"—plus a lot of annoying crap.

I'm convinced that this is at least part of the reason some people prefer vintage speakers: They tend to roll off the high treble, so there's less up there to annoy. That makes it easier to focus your attention on all the stuff happening further down, in the actual music. PRaT, I think, is often the avoidance of high-frequency distractions (although, inversely, it can also result from the accentuation, by whatever means, of parts of music that provide "pace, rhythm, and timing"). High-frequency noise can give even pure acoustic music an electronic-sounding overlay. High-frequency noise can be repellent. It can make it harder to hear deep into—indeed, to listen into—the soundstage.

But, rolling off the highs is a serious compromise; depending on where (in frequency) it starts, it can alter the timbre of instruments. And rolling off the highs inhibits the experience of music in space.

It's true that no highs are better than bad highs, but there are undesirable consequences to giving them up. You're giving up information, if not about the main part of the music then at least about the musical experience as a whole. It's best to keep the highs but in an unobtrusive way.

With the M2 and other accomplished, perfectionist speakers, the highs are all there—the measurements show it and when you listen you can hear it—but they don't draw attention to themselves, and—most importantly—they don't repel or annoy. (The M2's tweeter is a metal dome, by the way—beryllium, with a diamond coating—and some people say that metal tweeters sound hard, or harsh. Not these.)

What's the explanation, the formula for successful highs? I don't know. Details of the frequency response matter—you need the right amount of energy up there—as does proper dispersion: You don't want high frequencies beaming at you. I've also come to believe that high-frequency distortion is important.

The Lows Are Well-Resolved.
I mentioned above that some old-style loudspeakers roll off the highs. Well, the majority of loudspeakers roll off the lows—all but full-range speakers, and even some of them may reduce the amplitude of the lowest audible tones. It's the same thing, but different: No bass is better than bad bass, but good bass is better still.

The room, of course, is important in the bass, but even in a good room, some full-range loudspeakers, even good ones, do a poor job of resolving, or defining, sounds at the lowest frequencies. Higher up in the bass, they're comfortable and pleasing, but at certain lower frequencies—so low it's not easy to hear—the music can become a smeary mess. What should be distinct instruments and notes are more or less, well, noise. You may not even notice the problem unless you make a direct comparison, but once you hear it, you can't unhear it, and you start to appreciate what better speakers can do.

Definition can be tested—with test tones: Try the warble tones and half-step tonebursts from the Stereophile Editor's Choice CD. (Step back from the speakers first, then move up close, to distinguish between room effects and what's actually coming out of the loudspeaker.)

That kind of muddiness is, of course, far more important with music. John Atkinson addressed this in his original review of the M2, listening to a moment in the third movement of Sibelius's Symphony No.5 with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (16/44.1 Tidal FLAC stream). "At 4:30 in the third and final movement, to echo the ambiguous tonality of the symphony, Sibelius has the double basses, normally used by composers to provide a solid foundation to the harmony taking place above, playing divisi two notes that 'fight,' G-flat and F natural." I listened to this several times; the M2s resolve the notes. They're even better resolved on two more recent recordings of this work conducted by Osmo Vanska, with the Lahti Symphony (16/44.1) and Minnesota (24/96) orchestras, both on Quobuz. Vanska draws out and emphasizes this moment.

Right up to the end of my time with the M2s, even after a year of listening, something in the music would force me to look up from whatever I was doing and take note. Usually it was of some detail in the bass so well-resolved that it seemed real and corporeal beyond my unconscious expectations. It startled.

They're Not Hyperarticulate.
You've read reviews that emphasize the amount of detail a loudspeaker uncovers: the rustling of sheet music or programs, squeaky piano pedals, a musician's intake of breath. Such detail can add a sense of realism to music, but sometimes it's fake detail, a result of a deviation from neutrality in the frequency response, maybe a rise in the upper midrange and treble. At first, it can be amusing, like looking at the world through a magnifying glass, but over time it can literally start to hurt—as though the energy focused by that sonic magnifying glass is slowly setting your ears on fire.

The M2s are appropriately resolved. I feel like I'm hearing what's on the recording—a good proxy for what I'd hear in a live performance from (depending on the recording) good seats. But music from the M2s sounds natural. There's nothing hyper about the M2's articulation.

The Soundstage Is Robust.
As mentioned above, even some very good speakers have a soundstage that's wide and deep only when you listen from within a few inches (left–right) of the prime listening position. Move to the next chair over, and you find yourself leaning toward the center to get the full sonic picture.

There is always some loss of soundstage in a two-channel system when you move off-center, but the amount varies greatly from one pair of speakers to another. Even some very good speakers are poor at this. (There's probably more than one reason, but optimal dispersion—off-axis frequency response that matches the on-axis frequency response—is partly responsible, or so I've read, and so it seems to me.)

With the Magico M2s, I can sit aligned with the inside edge of either speaker with only a little loss of 'stage.

I just tested this. I am sitting just as described above, aligned with the inside edge of the right speaker. I used my Bosch GLM 30 laser measure to determine my distance from the speakers. I am 8' 2" from the right speaker, 11' 6" from the left. I'm listening to Peter McGrath's recording of Vadim Repin playing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 with James Judd and the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra (unreleased, 24/44.1 MQA, unfolding to 44.1kHz). When I sit in the sweet spot, the soloist is slightly left of center. Now, from my far-right position, Repin and his violin have lost a little bit of focus—just a little—and the soundstage has lost a little depth, but he and the orchestra are still far to my left; indeed, the sound of Repin's violin is coming from a point that's almost exactly halfway between the speakers. Also, there is no noticeable change in the instrument's timbre.

Images Are Fleshy.
I'm very fond of MacArthur Award winner Cécile McLorin Salvant's recordings on Mack Avenue, engineered by Todd Whitelock and mastered by Mark Wilder. (I also like seeing her live and have done so several times.) Choose any track on any album, LP, CD, streaming, or high-rez download, and Salvant's voice is profoundly present, spookily real. In my experience, the best examples of this—the sense of an actual, flesh-and-blood human floating in space—come off best on certain old-school systems, often midrangy high-sensitivity speakers with tubes. Maybe it's the high-frequency rolloff thing: less distracting noise.

Right now, I'm listening to a live recording of Salvant singing Bernstein and Sondheim's "Somewhere" from West Side Story. (This is on The Window; the CD is Mack Avenue 1132, the LP 1132LP, but I'm listening to the 24/96 download, and downloads don't have catalog numbers.) This song was recorded at the Village Vanguard—regrettably I missed it, but my son was at one of the sets—with the brilliant Sullivan Fortner on piano. The microphone alters the timbre of Salvant's voice a little—and yet there she is, microphone in hand. (Actually, what is tangible is that point of contact between Salvant's voice and the mike, floating there in space. Magic.)

The Scale Varies With The Recording.
I listen to musicians and ensembles in a wide range of scales: orchestras, big bands, solo piano, grand opera, chamber music, small jazz ensembles. Some of it is recorded in a big space with lots of room sound. Some of it is recorded in a smaller space and closely miked. Every recording has its own, appropriate scale.

Some big speakers turn pianos into battleships. I admit that this can be a pleasant experience, but it's not realistic; plus, it's unnerving to encounter a 15' soprano. Matthias Goerne is appropriately sized when he sings Schubert's "Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen," D.343 (MQA unfolded to 24/96), standing near a realistically sized piano. (This is an MQA test track; the only place I know to find it in any commercial form—it's not MQA—is in the 12-CD set, Schubert Lieder, Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908750.61.)

The perceived scale of the performance depends very much on the recording of course—specifically on mike placement—so scary-big sopranos are not always the speakers' fault. It also depends on how your speakers are set up. Over time, though, listening to lots of music, you get a sense for how a speaker scales music. Some big speakers—I'd call these medium-sized—make all music sound big, and many smaller speakers are incapable of significant scale.

The M2s' scale appropriately miked music well. Well-recorded string quartets (and other chamber groups) are string-quartet sized. A well-recorded orchestra isn't quite full-size—not in my space, with the speakers placed about 9' apart—but it's big enough to be satisfying, and I suspect the 'stage would be bigger in a bigger, acoustically competent room. At an appropriate volume, recordings played back by the M2s make small, intimate spaces sound small and intimate, big spaces seem big.

Timbre Is Consistent Across Frequencies.
As on a piano, a loudspeaker can sound different in different frequency ranges. You can detect this by listening to a particular instrument that covers a wide range and has a rich tonal palette. A simply recorded cello works well, perhaps in the Bach solo cello suites, or those by Britten. If the speaker is altering the sound of the cello from one octave to another, and you're used to listening to cellos, you can tell.

I'm listening to Edgar Meyer's recording of the Bach Suites performed on double bass, a FLAC rip of Sony Classical SK 89183, a CD. The double bass doesn't get high in frequency—it's a double bass after all—but it covers the lower half of music's tonal range, and over that range it is all of a piece—recognizably the same instrument from note to note.

Sounds Of Instruments And Recordings Are Well-Differentiated.
There are pleasures to be had with home listening that are not available in live performance, such as the ability to listen to a variety of recordings and performances, one after the other. Right now, Roon Radio is playing piano music, chosen by their algorithm, based on my tastes. I'm hearing one solo-piano piece after another, often short movements, performed on different pianos, recorded with different microphones, different mike placement, and different engineering. Every piano recording I'm hearing sounds dramatically different from every other piano recording.

Hearing these differences—the many varieties of piano sound, pleasing and otherwise—provides me with a surprising amount of pleasure: I must be an audiophile. Who would have known?

This ability to differentiate also extends to components under review. Differences in amplifiers and sources are easily heard.

A component that can reveal differences among components and recordings can also reveal differences within a recording: Such a component (including loudspeakers) does a better job expressing what the musician endeavored to express, and that the engineer worked to capture: It delivers more of the music. I am also able to hear, very clearly, how certain pianists alter the piano's sound with pedaling and touch within a particular work. You can hear it too, I'm sure, on your speakers. It's a matter of degree. The M2s differentiate tone and touch very well.

Do I have anything negative to say about the M2? The binding posts are just above a shelf that sticks out half an inch or so on the back of the cabinet, so large spade connectors don't fit when connected from below. Solution: Use banana plugs, or feed the cables in from above. No problem.

My listening chair, a Poäng from Ikea, with the matching ottoman, is too low for a proper listening chair; I really should replace it. With the M-Pods installed, the M2s—though not overly tall—won't tilt forward far enough to put my ears on the optimal axis while I'm sitting in my Poäng with normal posture. I find myself sitting up straight, craning a little, unconsciously seeking out the optimal sound—this at 9'–11' from the speakers. I'd buy a height-adjustable office chair to replace the Poäng if I could find one with a matching, height-adjustable ottoman.

There are many very good loudspeakers out there, all capable of communicating music effectively and delivering profound pleasure. Only a few aspire to get all the details right and even fewer succeed. Magico's M2 is on that short list.—Jim Austin


Footnote 1: Magico, LLC, 3170 Corporate Pl., Hayward, CA 94545. Tel: (510) 649-9700. Web: magico.net.

Footnote 2: At the time of writing, the M2 cost $56,000/pair and the MPod three-point stands cost $7600/pair. In January 2021, the M2 cost $63,600/pair with non-optional MPod stands.

COMPANY INFO
Magico, LLC
3170 Corporate Place
Hayward, CA 94545
(510) 649-9700
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JA1 could also review the new Revel Performa F328Be, $15,000/pair :-) .........

JHL's picture

...for either?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be for F328Be ....... Also, curious :-) ......

Indydan's picture

Maybe you could stop continually asking Stereophile to review product "X".
Just a thought :-( ..............................
Shad upa you face, Joe Dolce................

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If it is a worthwhile product designed by a company with a great reputation like Revel, whose many other speakers were favorably reviewed by Stereophile, what is wrong with asking for a review of another top of the line product designed by the same company? :-) .........

JHL's picture

...is that it's bad form.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you work for Magico? ....... or, are you gonna buy Magico M2? :-) .......

JHL's picture

...herring, Bogolu.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I'm not criticizing Magico M2 sound quality or build quality ........ To me, they seem to be too expensive, especially when there are other speakers made by well respected companies, which can offer almost similar performance for lot lesser price ...... Like I mentioned below, Magico also makes reasonably priced (for hi-end) A3 speakers ($12,300/pair) :-) ........

supamark's picture

Spoiler: the only difference is the extra woofer (same drivers, same x-over points), so I think I can sum it up for you so you'll quit spamming about it... it sounds like the 228Be but with more bass. Now go back and read Kal's review... and stop spamming about reviewing a nearly identical product to one they've recently reviewed.

Oh, and if you're in the market... just go and f'ing listen to a pair.

If you don't know the difference in the bass sound of a sealed vs ported enclosure? Again... just go listen and you'll probably figure it out.....

a.wayne's picture

Yes one has bass , speed and drive and the other pretends to ..

:)

mtrot's picture

Yes, agree on the F328!

Ortofan's picture

... in regard to the Reference 5 model, the "KEFs gave me all I need for musical and sonic satisfaction", then what do the Magico M2 have to offer beyond that and are they worth three times the price of the KEF?

Or, to phrase it another way, is there a sufficiently "palpable" difference between those two speakers to warrant paying the higher price for the Magico?

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
If, as was previously stated by JA1 in regard to the Reference 5 model, the "KEFs gave me all I need for musical and sonic satisfaction", then what do the Magico M2 have to offer beyond that and are they worth three times the price of the KEF?

It's been a long time since I had the big KEFs in my room, and value, of course, is in the ears of the listener. But the Magico's low-frequency transparency is almost in a class of its own, matched only by my memories of Wilsons, Rockports, and YGs.

JA2 now has the M2 review samples and I hope he is willing to write a follow-up review.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hope JA2 compares them to Revel Salon2s :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JA2 could also review the Revel Performa F328Be and compare them to Salon2s :-) .......

supamark's picture

is a big part of why the bass is so good. I really, REALLY wish someone would go back to making good sealed box speaker at realistic prices. Now it's either LS3/5A's or something in the $15k+ (really $25k+ for real bass) region from Magico, YG, and... anyone else?

I really miss Boston Acoustics (own several pair - too bad they went ported, then recently out of business/shuttered), a/d/s, Hales, etc

That's part of why I'm still running old BA speakers (A70 series II w/ Tandberg 3012 integrated restored by the guys at Soundsmith in Peekskill, loved the video Art did there).

Ortofan's picture

... at affordable price is what you seek, then consider the NHT C4:

https://www.nhthifi.com/products/16544-c-4-floor-standing-tower-speaker?category_id=1964844-tower-speakers

Bogolu Haranath's picture

NHT C4 are worth a review by Stereophile :-) ......

Glotz's picture

Please give actual reasons.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

NHT C4 are acoustic suspension design and are reasonably priced ........ See, below :-) ......

Glotz's picture

But how is this recommendation of any value to a buyer in the Magico M-2 price range? (It's not.)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many people in this particular forum, who are posting comments, do you think are gonna buy speakers in the Magico M2 price range? ........ Take a guess :-) .......

supamark's picture

Glad to see NHT is still around, and apparently still held by the same folks - and they still do acoustic suspension speakers! Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

I've also still got a pair of BA T1030 towers that I bought in ca. 1990 but they overpower my current living situation (need room to breathe). I think it was TJN who said in his review in Audio Magazine (RIP Audio), "90% of the performance of the B&W 801 Matrix II at 20% of the price."

Set up in an appropriate room (big) the T1030 has the best bass I've ever heard from a speaker - including my old studio rig (2x Genelec 1031A + 1x Velodyne 12" servo sub - still have the Genelecs but need to send them in for a full refurb).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Magico M2s are twice as expensive as the Vandersteen Quatro Wood CTs with matching amplifiers, reviewed by Stereophile :-) ........

dc_bruce's picture

I don't get this concept. Most American houses have suspended wood floors, supported by wooden joists. My experience with 2 very different designed subwoofers is that if they are allowed to "couple" with the floor by sitting on hard "feet," the floor becomes a sounding board to the detriment of bass clarity.

Mounting the sub on soft feet (like Vibrapods) eliminated or greatly reduced this effect, improving bass clarity and -- because of the elimination of the emphasis on certain bass frequencies -- perceived bass extension.

I agree that sealed enclosures -- either in main speakers or in a subwoofer -- almost always improve bass clarity and articulation.

As for this "prevent the enclosure from moving around in response to cone movement" is a trope that's been around seemingly forever in this business. If you think about the mass of a particularly large speaker like this one, the idea that cone movement is going to move the enclosure more than microscopically -- if that -- is just not credible.

Perhaps, if the floor the speaker is resting on is not subject to low frequency resonances (i.e. not a suspended wood floor in an American residential house), I would be more receptive to this argument. By contrast, I do accept the argument for a relatively low-mass "standmount" loudspeaker is assisted by being "coupled" to a high-mass (or mass-loaded) stand because raising the overall mass of the system (speaker + stand) will make it less likely that the excitation of spurious resonances will happen.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Good point. The relationship of the speaker to the support structure varies greatly and the factors include the mass of the speaker and the mass/resilience of the substrate. There is no single optimum solution.

Jim Austin's picture

in a sidebar to JA's recent review of the Q Acoustics Concept 300 loudspeaker.

The argument in favor of isolation is that it takes direct-coupling with the floor out of the sonic equation.

The best argument against is that most loudspeakers were designed on the assumption of hard coupling to a solid support--and yet the nature of such supports vary. Every loudspeaker designer I've spoken to--not counting those who have designed their own coupling system--argue against the use of isolation devices, on the premise that they allow cabinet motion in response to (the heavier) bass drivers.

The M-Pods, of course, are a solution engineered by Magico for Magico speakers, as a sort of low-pass vibration filter--so it's rigid against the vibrations of the heavier driver's moving mass. I heard the demo in my own listening room: When the pins holding the M-Pods together are pulled (like a hand grenade), allowing the M-Pods to work as designed, the sound emerging from the speaker decisively changes; to me it is a clear improvement.

I find the argument in favor of such devices compelling, because in my experience the TYPE of floor the spikes rigidly connect the speaker to affects the sound, and at least some of that seems to be direct-coupling (not through the air). I now live in a New York City prewar apartment (built in 1910), which is a rock. But my previous long-term residence was a condo building built in the early 1970s, all steel and poured concrete. Floors were concrete slabs--but they transmitted vibrations very effectively, apparently damping very little. Low-frequency noise from the boiler room in the basement could easily be heard in my 3rd-floor apartment. Structures vary greatly in how they respond to noise.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... Seismic Isolation Podiums for speakers by Townshend?
http://www.townshendaudio.com/hi-fi-home-cinema-equipment-vibration-isolation/hi-fi-home-cinema-vibration-isolation-speaker-podiums/

A few reviews:
https://www.hifiplus.com/articles/townshend-audio-seismic-podium/

http://www.townshendaudio.com/PDF/Podium%20Review%20-%20The%20Ear%20-%20Jason%20Kennedy%20.pdf

http://www.imperialhifi.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/H_F_C_I426_2017_08_downmagaz.com_.pdf

Jim Austin's picture
but it could fit into my plans anyway. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Jim
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some of that 'low frequency transparency' JA1 describes, could be due to speaker isolation from floor vibrations and reflections ......... Isolation devices like Townshend and IsoAcoustics, could help achieve that :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Information for general interest ........ Townshend audio has a video posted on their website demonstrating the effects of floor vibrations and other types of vibrations :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I can't help being amazed at Reviewer's evaluation & support of Manufacturing Costs.

A loudspeaker or Electronic piece equating to the delivered cost of a BMW Convertible Car for example.

Loudspeaker Systems are amazingly simple devices made from common materials , there is no significant amount of engineering involved in any part of Loudspeaker Manufacturing ( even including those MBL transducer Systems ) .

Of course, Deeeeeeeeeeep pocket spenders need all the Higher Authority endorsement possible....

Tony in Venice

Anton's picture

If you bring up cost in any negative way, you will be branded a hater. Like when the pod people see a normal person in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

I think there's a rule or contract involved that forbids such discussions.

Kinda like Fight Club.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for the cautioning, no worries here.

The Big "careful" comes with the de jour criticisms of the Pharma Industry pricing that is now a determining issue in American decision making. ( and a few other issues that I won't go into )

Critiquing Super-High priced Audio gear values won't move the needle in anyone's sensibility, as it should be, with Jason Stoddard and our own HR leading the discussions.

Tony in Venice

Jim Austin's picture

Or was this comment facetious?

>>I think there's a rule or contract involved that forbids such discussions.

I can assure you that no such contract or rule exists.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Anton's picture

I know they’d never leave a paper trail!

Facetious, again.

It’s a tightrope you have to walk, though. Balancing ‘value’ is what I see as the most dire part of what you have to do. My bro in law thinks everything priced above Costco soundbars is a ‘rip off’ and my audio club buddy automatically thinks higher priced equals better. How could you ever please the full spectrum?

Jim Austin's picture

You're not wrong, and yet it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about. It's true that some companies that make expensive stuff don't like it when we point out that even the diminishing returns are shrinking, as they are in some areas. But from a consumer perspective, I don't think it matters much. If a Stereophile reader is in the market for a $50,000 pair of loudspeakers, they're unlikely to buy a $5000 pair, no matter how well they perform. (I'm sure there are exceptions; indeed, I'm aware of what I'll call the wealthy entry level, where buyers can afford a lot but scope out how much they need to pay to get sound they can be satisfied with. They may pay $5K instead of $50K.) Even more, those shopping at $5k are unlikely to end up paying $50K, although that too may occasionally happen (same thing but in reverse).

Diminishing returns are a very real thing--but diminishing doesn't mean non-existent. We tend to be satisfied with a certain level (of quality, not price, although the two are related)--we don't even notice flaws, but then we hear something even better! We all have a price range we're comfortable with, whether it's dictated by income or a sense of proportion (what portion of my wealth is it appropriate to have tied up in audio equipment?) and a sense of value. A small subset of us consider anything above our level--whatever it is to that individual--to be unethical somehow and consider the magazines complicit for continuing to review it. But Stereophile is not their magazine only. My personal preference is for equipment that is aspirational but approachable for people with relatively ordinary incomes if they prioritize good sound--let's say the $8-12K components. But I don't let that dictate Stereophile's scope, because I know we have readers who expect to pay less and other readers who expect to pay more. So I try to cover a wide price range, from the Schiits and the Magnepan XLS through ultra stuff that, for most of our readers, is of interest mainly for gawking (and often, complaining, and that's OK, too).

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

audx's picture

As Stereophile is about recommending rather than rejecting, no one is going to go out and purchasing each month's glorious gear. No matter how good it is or how much it costs or doesn't cost.

Music reviews, perhaps? It's an interesting affirmation for me.

Each month I ask myself, how is the reviewer going to say, "I like this" this month.

And I'm curious to read if the manufacturers agree with the "liking" they received.

And then there's that possibility of friction between what the reviewer thought was good and what Original JA has measured.

I miss several reviewers and their storytelling art. I even miss "therapy guy" who left for Audioquest though we get a bit from him on another site. I call him "therapy guy" not to insult him but just to mention that at times I thought I was in a therapy session with him. Even so he's really good.

Anyway, that's a good post explaining where you're coming from. As I end on a preposition.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

No 'Omerta' there, Anton :-) .......

mmole's picture

You broke the first rule!

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
Loudspeaker Systems are amazingly simple devices made from common materials , there is no significant amount of engineering involved in any part of Loudspeaker Manufacturing. . .

Not really the case, with a product like this, Tony, Check out the video I linked to at the end of the review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5OMquMru3Y.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

I did view this small outfit's build site video. What part of all this is any sort of complex or advanced engineering? Plenty of sizzle and Coffee. European manufacturer's transducer Videos show greatness.

Of course, I can't expect you to have had extensive Engineering Laboratory experience or precision Machine experience. Or have insights into complex interrelated mechanical & Electrical,electronic systems design and manufacturing.

I do admire you and place high value to your work.

Tony in Venice

ps. I think that I've seen automotive cowling with equal or greater structural build quality

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
Of course, I can't expect you to have had extensive Engineering Laboratory experience or precision Machine experience. Or have insights into complex interrelated mechanical & Electrical,electronic systems design and manufacturing.

I know you have a background in the mass-market automotive industry Tony, where product prices are driven by "markup" (materials). By contrast, the prices of products like the Magico M2, which sell in small numbers, are "contribution" (overhead) driven, which are necessarily higher. See my discussion of this subject at www.stereophile.com/content/conspicuous-consumption.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Small Batch, Limited Distribution, Exclusivity with high profit margins for Sales Network.

I know this scheme, we Automotives have been doing Limited Editions for Decades.

I'm not going to continue on any of this.

Thank you for writing back.

Tony in Michigan

cgh's picture

John, that’s a nice article and I don’t recall having read it before. I’ve thought quite a bit about this in the past and really can’t unpack it all here. Much can be said about the economics and consumer behavior around luxury items and businesses that are highly relavent to this conversation. Your article touched in something that rarely, if ever, is discussed: these companies don’t typically have high revenues or profits. Notwithstanding some of the changes that have comes from Asian business flows lately many of the companies appear to price at inefficient points on a Laffer-like curve. I woudn’t ever expect a company in the space to try and make up in volume, and I say this without proof, but it certainly seems that things aren’t priced at the highest point on the curve. If this is true it would suggest a couple of things. First, maximizing profit is not the primary objective. Second, there’s something distinctly non-monetary in the psychology of the marketplace.

As JA2 points out, someone with a budget of $50k isn’t going to buy something for $5k when they have more to burn. I’ve seen this work out well on the manufacturing side. A fellow I know was selling a piece of audio equipment for $85k. He was losing sales to people that wanted to spend more. So he arbitrarily increased his price to $125k and his southeast Asian orders 10x’d and he’s busy for a decade. For makers that aren’t that lucky it seems they want to maintain price points that are far from optimal, but that may be sustainable. I see this in high end instrument building when a maker gets a well known name playing their instrument. They double their prices and extend their waiting lists rather than trying to produce more instruments to meet the demand. In some cases they produce fewer instruments at higher price points to give them something money can’t buy.

Ortofan's picture

... the overall price range of audio equipment suggested that the vast majority of manufacturers were operating using the markup-driven pricing model while only a few outliers may have been using contribution-driven pricing.

Now, the situation appears to be just the opposite, with the market dominated by those using contribution-driven pricing and the markup-driven makers few and far between.

When was the last time Stereophile reviewed an integrated amp (or CD player) from a manufacturer such as Yamaha, Denon or Onkyo - whose prices give the impression of still being mainly markup-driven?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

When Yamaha, Denon and Onkyo start making tube equipment, may be Stereophile will review their equipment? ...... They could follow the example of Luxman :-) ........

AJ's picture

There is no significant analogy between audio hardware and cars, so stop using them. Fine wines are "Luxury" goods as well, yet no comparison.
You are correct that the engineering involved weighs heavily towards autos, but I'm pretty sure auto companies have acoustics (sound) engineers as well.
The nose dive >10kHz tells exactly whose "hearing" these are for.
And so much for the true off axis (non-normalized), it was fun while it lasted (previous review).

cheers
AJ
Soundfield Audio

tonykaz's picture

Engineering Principals remain constant.

Transportation industry is focused on Noise-Vibration-Harshness, to a far greater extent than these simple Transducer Companies.

Automotive Sound Systems probably have significantly greater amounts of Design & Build Component than home audio systems and Automotive Sound is upwards of 20 Billion Dollar Industry ( just on it's own ) in size.

These $50,000 dollar loudspeakers are "Art Objects" Sound Transducers. They should be reviewed as Gallery objects that make music.

I've lived in both industries, I understand the differences.

Care to mention the Point Percentage of markup? Probably it's over 50%. with 5% more for co-op advertising. The Audio Industry Standard since forever.

Tony in Iowa

AJ's picture

Right. Engineering.

Quote:

These $50,000 dollar loudspeakers are "Art Objects" Sound Transducers. They should be reviewed as Gallery objects that make music.

So we *agree* car analogies are poor?

cheers,
AJ
Soundfield Audio

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Look at Fig. 6, red trace in measurements section ....... Measurements taken from JA1's listening position ...... There is a treble roll-off from approx. 5 kHz reaching down to approx. -12 db at 20 kHz ........ Also, there is a -3 db 'BBC dip' from appox. 1 kHz to 3 kHz ........ These M2s are also difficult to drive ...... The impedance goes down below 4 Ohms in the upper bass to lower midrange, reaching down to 2.3 Ohms ........ There is also, severe phase angle in this area ....... JA1 describes it ........ For comparison look at the measurements of Revel Salon2, including JA1's in-room frequency response :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Magico S5 MkII reviewed by JA1 also show somewhat similar measurements as M2 :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... the chutzpah to add a presbycusis compensation control to their products.

This control would be a marked with calibrations corresponding to the listener's age and would add an increasing amount of high frequency boost as the setting is advanced.

Such a function might best be implemented on speakers such as the top models from McIntosh, which have an array of about 40 tweeters and thus would be better able to handle the necessary tens of dB of boost.

Or, maybe Schiit could make another version of their Loki equalizer with a fifth knob for level adjustments in the range of 15-20kHz.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

dbx makes several equalizers for under $500, available from Sweetwater :-) ........

supamark's picture

Since they're likely well heeled, one of these might do the trick:
https://maag.audio/maag-eq4m/

Very high quality EQ. Some version has been around for almost 30 years in the pro world - at their pricing, crap gear won't last on the market, pros are a lot like audiophiles (including the tube/analog vs transistor/digital debate). Now, if only preamps these days came with tape loops...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If somebody wants to go ultra hi-end, they could get the D'Agostino Momentum HD pre-amp with tone controls, reviewed by Stereophile :-) .........

Anton's picture

If you think about it, it will make sense to you that this feature is not needed.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Equalizers, tone control devices and similar adjustments built into the speakers, could be useful for the internet billionaires ........ A lot of those ultra-rich individuals are young people, who may not have much hearing loss ....... They can easily afford ultra hi-end stuff ....... all kinds of ultra hi-end stuff :-) .......

a.wayne's picture

Its an avg response , so while a bit steep it may be a measurement phase anomoly as JA never showed the direct vs off axis , seeing the 3 graphs before summing with phase would be nice .

The discontinuity in the step response does tell a tale ...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Crossing the threshold' ........ That is what the TAS reviewer said about Magico's M6s, after listening to them ($172,000/pair) ...... M6s have three 10.5" woofers in each speaker ....... They sure could rattle the windows :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Magico A3, is priced at $12,300/pair ......... A3s were favorably reviewed by some audio magazines/websites :-) ........

jimtavegia's picture

"Who could ask for anything more."

Beautiful cabinets IMHO, pricey, but for what they do and the cost of other speakers on the market who make claims, the Magico's seem like a bargain for those who can afford them. It may be that the A3's are the real bargain from what another writer remarked. Trickle down is good.

JA's measurements are superb and I am going to ry and find a way to hear them even though I could never afford them. Sadly.

I can say that the reason my old AR 58's have never left my house is I like acoustic suspension designs and have other ported speakers here as well. I have never grown tired of the last remake of the famed AR-3a, or my old Large Advents.

tonykaz's picture

You nailed it, great summary.

These loudspeakers are aimed at the Wealthy Caste. Probably the folks that use Helo-taxis and Lear Jets.

They better sound pretty good. ( with or without the special feet )

Tony in Iowa

jimtavegia's picture

They could also afford to buy Wilson's if they wanted as well. My Citizen, Seiko, and Elgin watches will just have to do, and think when I was 10 how excited I was to get my first Timex, and all it took was that TV ad by John Cameron Swayze. "It takes a lick'n and keeps on Tick'n."

michaelavorgna's picture

As an ex-employer, I never experienced anyone who argued for less money than the offer - "I'm not worth $90,000/year. Please pay me less." It never happened.

Yet in the land of the audiophile with a keyboard, an Internet connection, and a free place to post, we are to believe that an inconsequential bystander is somehow qualified to determine what other people should make for their work. And make no mistake, all of this price bitching and moaning is just that and nothing more.

If I choose to play along with this silly inconsequential bystander logic, we should find some of these same people arguing for increased prices for under-priced, over-performing gear. I'm not holding my breath. But...

If that day comes, I'll gladly change my opinion of typists who have nothing to offer beyond too much time on their hands.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I would recommend increasing the price for the new NAD M33 integrated amp, $5,000 ........ M33 has Purifi 'Ultra-quiet Amplification Technology' with 200 WPC ....... M33 has built-in phono stage, DAC, tone controls, Dirac-Live, Wi-Fi access, Pre-amp and subwoofer outputs and, headphone output and, HDMI input :-) ........

michaelavorgna's picture

And when you buy something for more than the asking price because you believe it's worth more, I'll be impressed beyond the fact that you can type.

funambulistic's picture

Michael - I hope you are doing well. Your retirement from HiFi has left a void in my monthly consumption of music/equipment/art/wit/et all. Best wishes to you and yours!

michaelavorgna's picture

Best wishes to you and yours too!

Cheers

Anton's picture

Is him paying over retail the same as a reviewer saying, "That piece of gear is so good, I paid them retail to buy it?"

That would impress, as well.

How do we compare value when there is no common price point? I think that throws some people off, as well. I fully understand how someone may be able to place a piece of gear in a price context, but some people take those value pronouncements a little literally and we get the sort of replies that trigger you. All part of the hobby, I figure.

As an older audiophile, I can recall the days when an audiophile of average means could participate at the highest levels of the hobby. Now, we have seen prices outpace budget. Which is fine, but there are going to be audiophiles who have the feeling the the top of the hobby was ripped away and they don't relate to that market segment AT ALL. I give people a lot of slack on their value 'complaints.'

I see the same thing with wines that have gone from 30 dollars per bottle to 500...some people are put off, while others seem to think the price is the primary correlate of quality.

We have a broad distribution...there are likely people who think what I spend is crazy, even as I look at what those higher than me on the audio food chain and think what they spend is kinda crazy.

Ortofan's picture

... compare value may well depend upon whether you consider yourself to be more of an audiophile, forever on the prowl for the next "better" sounding component, or more of a music aficionado, who just wants a good sounding system through which to listen to their favorite recordings and which doesn't require a second mortgage to afford.

Look at the review of the Wharfdale Linton speakers. JA1 says that they offer "excellent measured performance". HR says that they "merge a refined, elegantly detailed, full-range sound with a magnetic personality that made me want to play records—made me want to listen longer, and to understand more of what I was listening to." A pair of Lintons, with stands, cost about $1500. Are they a good value? Are these Magico speakers, at 50 times the price, a good value? Will you enjoy your music that much more by owning them?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One could add two powered subwoofers to the Lintons, and still the total cost would be less than $5k :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Oh, BTW ...... Here is one that will survive 200 years from now 'Hotel California' :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... that album will still be played as demo music at hi-fi shows in the 23rd century.

Anton's picture

Well said!

Tromatic's picture

And thank you for that.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Oh Lord .... 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' (feat. Lady Gaga) ....... Brian Newman :-) ........

otaku's picture

$7,600 for the outrigger stands? There are a dozen Class-A speakers in Recommended Components that cost less than that.

prerich45's picture

Meanwhile ...... I live in audio purgatory!!!! LOL!!! The only one in the area that gets an oasis of stuff in this class every now and then is Thomas Norton!!!! Tell'em Thomas...There's no audio for hundreds of miles!!!!!!!! :(

HM's picture

I own a pair of M2 speakers, and I am very, very happy with them. I had the opportunity to audition the Magico A3, S3MkII and M2, all in the same room, with the same electronics driving them (a Soulution 330 integrated amp with the DAC option installed). The A3 sounded good, however going to the S3MkII was a kind of "wow!" experience. It takes only 10 seconds of listening to realise that the S3MkII is a better speaker. The S3MkII has more base and the soundstage is more precise and "3-dimensional", i.e. the position of instruments is more precisely defined. Going from the S3MkII to the M2 wasn't the same step up as from the A3 to the S3MkII, at least not initially. Upon longer and closer listening the M2 is superior, though. Precision of the soundstage and firmness of the location of instruments is better still, the soundstage is "more open". At first listening there is more bass with the S3Mk2, however at the expense that the bass covers up details at higher frequencies. The bass of the M2 is extremely precise and "dry", compared to the S3MkII there is no "bass aura" hiding other details.
Before buying the M2's I also auditioned the Piega Coax 711, Piega Master Line Source 3, and the B&W 800 D3, however with different electronics (T+A PA 3100 HV) and in a different room. The combination of Magico M2 and Soulution 330 INT sounded best, at least for my taste. Btw, I don't have the outrigger stands, I use the standard spikes that come with the M2. I couldn't hear any degration of sound quality because of this. The outrigger stands however for sure look better and provide more stability.

steve59's picture

I’m in audio heaven today, not sure how long it will last, but for the guy crying out for the 328be review why not try to get a listen to the new magico A5? After owning a few models by revel I’m fairly confident in their sonic goals and would consider them in my ht system were I building one. For stereo and bass concerns with sealed box speakers the 3 9” Not off the shelf woofers in the A5 have my interest should I ever need to change.

MikeP's picture

You can be in Audio Heaven for a lot less money too with the new NSMT Model 100 speakers !

https://www.nsmt-loudspeakers.com

a.wayne's picture
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