Magico S5 Mk.II loudspeaker Page 2

The bass guitar on Editor's Choice had nice weight, but without the blurring of attacks that can happen with high-Q reflex speakers. However, over time I felt that the Magicos' bass was a little too fat with the Pass Labs amps. Substituting MBL Corona C15 monoblocks gave better control of the low frequencies. With "Another Brick in the Wall Parts 1 & 2," from Pink Floyd's The Wall (24-bit/96kHz FLAC files, Columbia), the MBL amps kept superb control of the Magicos' woofers without sacrificing low-frequency power. The speakers' clarity in this region made it possible for me to maximally differentiate between the sounds of the bass guitar and the kick drum—they didn't seem to be competing with one another. The deep-pitched, low-F purr from Dave Holland's double bass that leads into the entrance of Norah Jones's unmistakable voice in "Court and Spark," from Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters (24/96 Apple Lossless files, Verve/HDtracks) was viscerally satisfying in a way that some say you can't get from sealed-box speakers. The sub-40Hz notes in my 2014 recording of Jonas Nordwall performing the Toccata of Widor's Organ Symphony 5 at Portland's First United Methodist Church (24/88.2 AIFF file) literally shook the walls of my listening room without sounding bloated or boomy.

The dual-mono pink-noise track on Editor's Choice was reproduced by the S5 Mk.IIs with a very narrow, stable central image, and none of the splashing toward the speaker positions at some frequencies that would imply the existence of resonances. However, while the Magicos sounded hollow and nasal when I stood up, as expected from the speaker's measured vertical dispersion (see "Measurements" sidebar), I found I needed to sit on the tweeter axis (42" above the floor) to get sufficient mid-treble—an experience that conflicts with the measurements. The top octave also sounded shelved down if I sat in my chair in my customary slouch.

But when I sat at attention, I was impressed not only with the solidity of the Magicos' stereo images but with the sheer believability of the sound. The delicate fragility of the late Radka Toneff's voice in her reading of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," from her Fairytales (24/192 AIFF needle drop from LP, Odin LP03), was fully preserved. I'd made a number of needle drops of this track using Linn Linto, Channel D Seta L, and Liberty Audio B2B-1 phono preamplifiers, with Ayre Acoustics QA-9 and Benchmark ADC-1 A/D converters. As I listened to the files through the Magicos with peak levels equalized, the differences between the various phono preamps and converters was more apparent than I remembered hearing when I made them.


Returning to Editor's Choice: The half-step spaced tonebursts on this CD sounded very even at the listening position. However, listening to the speaker enclosures with a stethoscope, I could hear, on the sidewalls level with midrange unit, some liveliness between 450 and 500Hz and between 600 and 800Hz. This behavior was at a low level and didn't color the sound of Wayne Shorter's soprano saxophone in "Court and Spark," which has a lot of energy in these regions. Joni Mitchell's husky contralto in "The Tea Leaf Prophecy," also from River, was presented by the Magicos with maximal pitch differentiation—what Linnies back in the 1980s used to call "playing tunes." And the haunting high-register piano intro that leads into the late Leonard Cohen's resigned spoken basso in River's "The Jungle Line" sounded perfectly natural, as did the parallel-fifths figure between the verses.

As well as offering full-range envelopment, uncolored vocal and instrumental sounds, and a spacious, stable soundstage, the Magicos could play loud without low-level details becoming obscured. In Benjamin Zander's recording of Mahler's Symphony 2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra (24/192 Apple Lossless file, Linn CKD 452), captured by the old Telarc team of engineer Michael Bishop and producer Elaine Martone, the climaxes seemed more climactic without the quiet passages sounding in any way exaggerated or given short shrift. And again, the Magicos loved the sound of the solo women's voices in this recording: mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and soprano Miah Persson.

The 1958 recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade by Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra (16/44.1 rip from CD, Decca) has a rather close-sounding balance, but the Magico S5 Mk.IIs handled with aplomb this work's big dynamic sweeps, such as the one three minutes into The Story of the Kalendar Prince, and the drumstrokes and cymbal crashes in Festival at Baghdad lit up the recording acoustic. Nevertheless, such small details as the sound of the snare wires in the drum pattern in The Young Prince and the Young Princess were readily apparent without being thrust forward at me. On the 1963 recording of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Sinfonia of London and the Allegri Quartet (16/44.1, Apple Lossless rip from CD, EMI Classics CDM 5 67240 2), the fragile images of the string quartet were set forward in the soundstage, with the rich, warm string orchestra behind them. The wonderful reprise of the big tune with the full orchestra after the fugue, and then the joyous coda three minutes before the work's conclusion, were presented by the MBL-driven Magicos with maximum dynamic fervor.

Those last two recordings are 59 and 54 years old, respectively, but the Magico S5 Mk.II's full-range transparency and resolution maximized the ability of my audio system to act as a time machine, allowing me to disregard the obsolete technology with which these recordings were made to focus on the music.


Time machine? Years ago, I'd transferred to digital a cassette recording of a 1981 chamber-music concert in which I performed my own transcription for bass recorder of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, with Hi-Fi News & Record Review's then editorial assistant, Felicity Mulgan, accompanying me on piano. The Magicos plunged me 35 years back into the dry acoustic of that London hall—there I was, onstage, playing this most Romantic of music on a decidedly non-Romantic instrument: a large-bore Renaissance recorder from which I'd removed the top cap so that I could blow straight onto the fipple to better control the intonation.

Yes, the higher the quality of the system, the better it can transport the listener back in time—even when, in the case of my Rachmaninoff recording, the curtains on the machine's windows might have been better left closed.

Summing Up
My congratulations to Magico's Alon Wolf and Yair Tammam for producing a speaker that offers full-range, uncolored, low-distortion sound coupled with superbly stable and accurate stereo imaging. At $38,000–$42,750/pair, the S5 Mk.II is not too dissimilar in price to the Wilson Audio Alexia ($48,500/pair) and Vivid G3 Giya ($39,990/pair), which I reviewed in December 2013 and March 2014, respectively (footnote 1). The Magico S5 Mk.II joins those speakers as ones I could live with when I'm done with this reviewing business. It may indeed be large, but, as I found out, it had no problems, large or otherwise.

Footnote 1: Prices quoted were those current when these speakers were reviewed.
Magico, LLC
3170 Corporate Place
Hayward, CA 94545
(510) 649-9700

Anon2's picture

I heard these speakers at a show and was impressed. These speakers, while out of my price range for sure, have kept a lid on price (albeit a high one), and are a product that is chock-full of technology and thoughtful engineering.

The remarks from the manufacturer in this review are reminiscent of the first review I read of the late great Magico Mini. To quote this early review, and the same open disclosure exhibited in this review of the S5: "His [Alon's] ingredients and assembly protocol are an open book. You know exactly what you're getting and how it works." I could be wrong, but I don't recall many other speaker manufacturers who provide as many technical insights into their expensive products as does Magico. This review shows a continuation of this "open book" approach to Magico's engineering and design process.

Another question I'd pose is that Magico seems to be consistent in its use of advanced materials (and aluminum) for its drivers. These materials would seem to be durable and long-lasting, in addition to their acoustic properties. Other manufacturers, meanwhile, are going back to paper and textiles (the materials of the past, whatever positive traits they have as transducers). We need more information on what the expected longevity of materials is for expensive speakers. The purchasers of these high investment products must be asking these questions if I am.

Still, this was a fine review. The Magico product I am most curious to see tested is the Q1 stand-mount. The Magico Mini (or Mini II) never seems to have made it to a full test bench. Perhaps Stereophile can test the Q1 at some point.

Here's the link for the early review of the first generation Mini. The listening room pictures featured in this article stand among the most memorable ones I've seen:

Here's a video clip for the Q1 from a RMAF of a few years ago:

If anyone has a video clip of the MIni or Mini II, please post it.

HC63's picture

the reason many of high-end loudspeakers manufacturers are using old fashion cone materials like paper and silk is due to the fact that most of the off-the-shelves driver manufacturers, which is what most of these companies use, do not offer any advance solution to the stiffness/dampness cone conundrum and have been dumbing down their available selection due to shortage of R&D funding and market demand. The lack of unique drivers design in most high-end loudspeakers is alarming. Magico has been quite unique in their pursuit of real solutions to the challenge of taming a true pistonic cone.

tonykaz's picture

How many do they batch before they do another Revision?, I'd like to know what issues they correct for the MK.111

Tony in Michigan

tonykaz's picture

Wow, you're still enjoying this wonderful recording. I got mine from Karen Sumner & Electrocompaniet who were spreading them around at CES 1984 ( I think ). I gave away quite a few.

I'll betcha, you & I are the only two folks still playing it.

Kinda makes me wish we could go back to those heady Analog Vinyl days. At the time, I didn't realize how wonderful it was.

Of course, I wasn't making any serious money at it, it's a poor man's vocation, I think it still is.

Tony in Michigan

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
I'll betcha, you & I are the only two folks still playing it.

What I had not realized (or had forgotten) was that the LP was cut from a digital master. Bob Stuart was given access both to the master and to the unique digital recorder with which it was made. He is working on correcting the digital-domain problems with the early A/D converter and is planning to make an fully restored MQA version available.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Geez, I love that Meridian Active gear and the Company. Interesting that Stuart is the third Toneff lover that I'm aware of.

Thank you for letting me know this, I'll certainly buy it ( and have a closer look at the Meridian Catalog of Recordings. Linn Recordings too, for that matter. I'm hunting for "Songs of the Hebrides" that I had on vinyl and loved. We may be entering the Golden Age of availability for all of these wonderful niche performances.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Thanks for mentioning Radka

scottsol's picture

"I'll betcha, you & I are the only two folks still playing it."

You Lose!

allhifi's picture

Mr. Atkinson: Referring to Fig.1, and Fig.5:

There are some (technically-minded) folk/engineers who feel that the results in Fig. 1 (Impedance/Electrical Phase plot) should ideally be both linear (as far as practically possible) as well as not to overlap --being as close to 0-degree phase angle as possible.

Could you shed some insight into this --above and beyond the "loading" it would represent to the driving amplifier.

Figure-5: The considerable 5-db. dip (between 200-500 Hz.) is rather shocking giving the floor-loading of the woofers --that typically offer up a far more predictable, linear response. Indeed, if most listening environments demonstrate a (inversely proportional) "peak" in this range, a more linear response would be achieved. Be it far from me however, to bitch about "taming" low and low/mid bloat from the listening experience.

Yet, an explanation of this anomaly would be appreciated. I note, tat, among others, the excellent KEF RE-3's (for example) have the woofer's a considerable distance from the floor yet have a beautifully linear/even frequency response !
The gains in lower frequency definition must surely be far superior to drives coupled (and aimed) at your toes.

Seeking clarification.

Thank you,

peter jasz

Axiom05's picture

1) It looks as if these speakers do not use any sort of wave guide for the tweeter yet there is what appears to be a very smooth off-axis horizontal response. It is often difficult to clearly see these normalized graphs, am I seeing this correctly? One might expect such a wide baffle to result in a rapid roll-off at upper frequencies yet there seems to be a good match between the lower end of the tweeter and upper end of mid-range.
2) JA, do you have any thoughts on why these speakers do not appear to excite your 32Hz room mode? Do closed box systems not couple to the room to the same extent as ported speakers?

audiopacer's picture

Love the SOLID chassis design. Revolting that some very well known manufacturers deploy cheap, inferior construction materials; Think high density compressed paper mache; It's a wonder some modern "high end" boxes don't vibrate apart;

Heard the A3's and loved them;