Magnepan LRS loudspeaker

A visitor to named billmilosz commented: "Compared to these, everything else sounded like it was coming out of a cereal box." When I read that, I laughed out loud.

That reader was responding to my AXPONA report about Magnepan's new $650/pair Little Ribbon Speaker (LRS)—which I presume he also heard at the show.

Naturally, as a prattler who has long served at the altar of hyperbole, I was jealous of billmilosz's simile. So I'll try now to verify his observation—while fashioning a more thorough and maybe even philosophical description of Magnepan's newest entry-level speaker.

Magnepan's more expensive speakers are available at 70 brick-and-mortar stores, but like the similarly sized MMGi that proceeded it, the LRS is sold factory-direct and through dealers, with a 60-day satisfaction guarantee. If you want to move up to one of the larger Magnepan speakers within a year of purchase, you'll receive credit from Magnepan for your traded-in speakers, depending on the model you're trading up to. Sounds like they're cutting some new bait in White Bear Lake, Minnesota!

As Magnepan's head bait-cutter, Wendell Diller, writes on their website, "The LRS is a full-range quasi-ribbon speaker that was designed from the ground up to give you a pretty good idea what to expect from the 20.7 or 30.7. The LRS was designed using high-end electronics and monoblocks. The LRS will perform nicely with a receiver, but it was intentionally designed to extract the most from high-end amplifiers and electronics. The LRS expects more from a properly designed high-current amplifier. That is a radical departure from most entry-level loudspeakers. If you put your expensive high-end amplifier on the LRS, you will hear the difference."

I asked Diller about the technical differences between the LRS and its predecessor. His answer: All versions of the MMG were generically planar magnetic—wires connected to a nonconducting membrane. The LRS, in contrast, is a ribbon speaker—or, as Magnepan prefers to describe it, quasi-ribbon, since to them, the only true ribbon is the original aluminum-foil variety.

The LRS is a relatively low-sensitivity (86dB/500Hz/2.83V), low-impedance (nominally 4 ohms) loudspeaker with a taste for amplifier current. That suggests to me a speaker that will likely sound different with every amp I try—and sure enough, after weeks of auditioning these slender (14.5" by 48" by 1"), quasi-ribbon floorstanding panels, and driving them with a variety of high-quality tube and solid-state amplifiers, I realized that getting the most from the new Magnepans requires not only a sophisticated, current-capable amplifier, but it also requires a sophisticated audiophile with some listening room floor space and a trained ear.

After unpacking their new speakers, the first thing an LRS owner needs to do is look through the grille cloth (with a flashlight, if necessary) and identify the side where 12 shiny, vertical "ribbons" are spaced about 1/8" apart: That is the tweeter. You may place the tweeter side on the outside (for a bigger sweet spot) or on the inside (for better focus). All my listening was done with the tweeters on the inside.

I first heard the LRS in an audio-show space that measured 24' by 34' (816 square feet), with a 10' ceiling. The pair sounded clear and uncolored. Their soundstage was superdetailed and seemingly infinitely deep. But they also sounded a touch hard and stressed. When I set them up in my little 10' by 13' by 9' (130 square foot) room, they sounded dramatically more relaxed and fleshed out tonewise. It was immediately clear: the LRS prefers small rooms.

But getting the LRS to sound just right was a two-step process. Step one involved moving the panels away from room boundaries a little at a time, until I heard the flattest response in the 70–200Hz range. That was pretty easy. At their final resting point, 37" from the front wall, I still sensed a minor 3–4dB bump at 100Hz, but there was no mud or boom in the bass.

The second step was trickier. The speaker's response in both the vertical and horizontal planes appears more directional than it is with most box speakers. This directionality is exacerbated by the LRS's two-way design—it employs a first-order crossover—and its side-by-side placement of the woofer and tweeter.

"Whether the tweeter is on the inside or outside, the tweeter should not be closer to the listener than the bass section," Wendell Diller told me. "Measuring from your seated position, if the bass panel is 10' 6" [away], the tweeter should be at least 10' 7"." Think in terms of mid-to-treble balance and remember to not place the LRS parallel to any walls.


Of course, you can use a tape measure to certify the aforementioned woofer-tweeter relationship. I used a Bosch GLM 20 Compact Blaze Laser Distance Measure—which worked perfectly while making the setup process fun. I ended up with the tweeter 8' 0" from my listening seat, and the woofer at 7' 10" away. (The speakers were 6' 10" apart.) With my ears about 40" above the floor, the sound was precisely focused and natural-toned.

In that position, I noticed that bass began rolling off around 60Hz, and the treble appeared to fade quickly above 10kHz. (A pair of 1.2-ohm resistors are included to attenuate the tweeter, but I never felt any need to use them.) From 200Hz to 6kHz, this new Maggie delivered flat response with minimal room-added fluff or brightness.

I caution readers not to judge these speakers on a single audition in an unknown system. As I experimented with amplifiers and positioning, I realized the LRS could sound anywhere from hard and shouty and lean to thick and slow and soft. It takes patience to set them up just right! Driven by the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium tube (EL34) amplifier when the new Magnepans arrived, I removed my No.2 daily-driver reference speakers, the Harbeth P3ESRs, and connected the LRSes to PrimaLuna's 35Wpc ProLogue Premium. I imagined the PrimaLuna would choke somewhat while trying to flow extra current from its 4-ohm taps. But it didn't. Bass wasn't Thor's hammer, but guitar picking and string strumming brought me copious detail-charged pleasures. This was a sweet, elegant-sounding combination that really let the music flow. I found it extremely enjoyable. I suspect, though, that many of you would find it too tubey-sounding: Its chief weaknesses were lack of bass punch and transient snap.

Driven by the Pass Labs XA25
Even with low-feedback tubes, the Little Ribbon Speakers demonstrated an uncommon level of uncolored detail and clarity. But the full measure of this naturally rendered clarity was not exposed until I connected the famously transparent Pass Labs XA25 stereo amplifier ($4900).

At the time I switched from the PrimaLuna amp to the Pass Labs, I was reviewing fancy phono cartridges—and immediately, on every black disc, I was hearing stuff I subliminally knew was there but never actually noticed. I heard new coughers in audiences. I spotted a squeaking church-bell support. The backs and sides of soundstages became open for inspection. It was a new kind of fun.

Things got genuinely spooky when I put on the Electric Recording Company's new LP reissue of The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (Riverside/Electric Recording Company RLP 12-838). It was a promo copy, loaned by a friend, and the sound was recording-studio clear in a way I rarely experience from any home hi-fi. Hooker sang dramatically, swinging for expression between loud and whisper-soft. He strummed at his guitar with that signature John Lee Hooker beat. Intimacy, rhythm, and absolute clarity dominated the experience. Hooker's singing voice had throat and lungs. His vocal inflections were roller-coaster rides. Wow!

What a recording! What a speaker! What a completely memorable high-fidelity moment.

Compared to the KEF LS50
Few if any 21st century speakers have been anointed as classics; the moderately priced KEF LS50 ($1499.99/pair) has achieved that status. It is so effectively balanced and well-executed a design that it does virtually everything right—except move air and make low bass. Comparing the LRS to the high-functioning, overachieving KEF was a must.

Magnepan Inc.
1645 Ninth Street
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
(612) 426-1645

Forgotten Audiophile's picture

Those speaker measurements appear downright scary.

JHL's picture

...try these.

Granted, they're from the most dismal "review" site online, but it does illustrate how important competence is.

Anton's picture

This review seems perfect for one of JA1’s “in room/listening position” frequency response curves!

It would look way cool overlaying the curves for this speaker and the LS 50’s!

Herb: This speakers literally cries out for you to keep it around long term!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Excellent idea, Anton ....... As you suggested JA1 could do one of his in-room listening position comparison frequency curves, overlaying LS-50s ......... Also, JA1 could store that curves/information for future reference with other comparatively priced other types of speakers ....... Hope JA1 reads your comments/suggestion ...... Anton, you are a genius :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If HR likes his Magnepan speakers, HR can keep his Magnepan speakers :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... inexpensive dipole speakers, then get four of the JBL Stage A170 (available for $170 each) and install them two-per-side and back-to-back in a dipole configuration.

Also, if HR believes that "even a small upright piano puts more energy into a room than any domestic-use dynamic loudspeaker" then there must be certain domestic-use dynamic loudspeakers (driven by a sufficiently powerful amplifier) that he has yet to experience.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I'm not sure if Wilson WAMM speakers with the accompanying subwoofers could fit into HR's listening room ........ If they do, my guess is that, they could probably put out enough energy into his listening room to resemble a concert grand piano :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Add .... four D'Agostino Relentless mono-block amps to the above :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JVS could custom build a 'barn' to house the Wilson WAMMs and the D'Agostino Relentless mono-blocs, and invite us all to listen to Keith Jarrett's version of Bach WTC :-) ..........

MZKM's picture

Any estimate to how much wattage these can handle? The manufacturer gives a non-answer to this in their FAQ.

Glotz's picture

Measurements and dipole planars... sigh.

Apparently this Magnepan company knows what they're doing??


jmsent's picture

...and their measurements tend to correlate poorly with their sound. The large radiating area and dipole pattern are complicating factors.

JHL's picture

Microphone junkies may not appreciate a speaker with such attributes as this speaker.

It's useful to remember that since they have linesource trebles, they will not exhibit a flatline response: The linesource region's behavior falls off at half the rate of a conventional speaker. The further back, the higher the treble rises. Season to taste.

The little jag in the upper response may be the simple axial behavior of the low-order transfer function between drivers. Also moot where real sound is concerned and again, adjust accordingly.

It's the time behavior where such designs reveal themselves, and sure enough, this speaker's step response is as exceptional as it is rare.

Glotz's picture

Rendering the measurements almost moot. Waterfall plots from 30 years ago look almost identical to today's measurements.

I've owned several Magneplanars... they sound sublime.

10basetom's picture

While I love Maggies, the problem with these is that, like their other speakers, there is an added hidden cost since they require boutique dedicated amps that will set you back an arm and a leg to sound their best. These, for example, will not sound their best paired with your typical integrated amp, or even your $1200 Denon AVR.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You are right ....... They are current hungry ......... Look at their impedance measurements :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The greatest strengths of the panel speakers are, transparency and box-less-ness ........ They are also, time-coincident ........ Those qualities can make them quite addictive :-) .........

DougM's picture

What an insult to Maggies, to show them with a cheap Fender acoustic with 4 black bridge pins and two white ones? I love Fender electrics, they're my favorites, but their acoustics are really very poor. Even an entry level Yamaha or Epiphone would have been better, but I would have gone for a nice Martin D28 or D35.

Ortofan's picture

... the Audiophiliac "can just tell" that the combination of the LRS and the new Schiit Ragnarok 2 amplifier "will be magic".

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hopefully HR may review the Ragnarok 2 and tell us how the combination works ....... We can also see the Stereophile measurements of Ragnarok 2 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Start saving money to buy the new mid-engine Corvette Stingray with Bose 10 speaker audio system :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be HR could reveal that 'secret stereo amp', he writes about in that AXPONA 2019 show report, driving the LRS :-) .........

Could that be a Bryston 3-B/3 stereo amp? :-) ............

Herb Reichert's picture

and my mind is a sieve, but it might have been a prototype amplifier being developed by Magnepan


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Speaker manufacturers developing custom amplifiers to work with their speakers is not a bad idea ....... Vandersteen audio does it for their top models, for example :-) .........

jeffhenning's picture

After writing Roger Sanders about the performance of his electrostatic panels (which he will sell to DIY folks) and getting his specs about their performance, I thoroughly understood why he made an amp to drive that highly reactive speaker.

If you think that you need a special amp to power an inefficient speaker that acts as an almost purely resistive, 4 Ohm load, you have absolutely no understanding about speakers or amps.

There is nothing easier for any amp to drive than a purely resistive load. Any decent amp that can pump out 100 or so clean watts will work great with this speaker.

Of course, I do not expect people who pay $5K for a magic power cord to know any of this.

One more thought: perhaps, to judge speakers, you want to use music recorded in the last 20 or 30 years. I don't care whether it's been remastered. Many of the songs listed for listening were of dubious quality and from before I was born in 1959. Few are what I'd consider hi-fi.

The reason I'm seriously considering buying four of these as surround speakers is because of JA's measurements, not how a Fats Domino record sounds on them.

Honestly, Fats Domino? How lame.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"When I get to New Orleans, I want to see the Zulu King
I'm gonna stay right there till I see the Zulu Queen" :-) .........

mdiaz0429's picture

I got my pair yesterday after almost a 3 month wait due to demand. Out of the box, without any break in, they sound amazing!!! Soundstage is fantastic! Bass is much better than I expected even though eventually I will use them with a subwoofer. I cant imagine what I'll get out of them after a few weeks of use. These are highly recommended. I don't believe there is anything out there that can compete with them at the $650 price.

Poor Audiophile's picture

what amp did you use & what did it cost?

cyclebrain's picture

Good to see J.A. do a speaker test that does not fit the normal process.
Well done J.A. Very impressed with the effort required to test this type of speaker.
Was worried that you might slack off now that semi-retired. This is why I subscribe to and put so much trust in Stereophile's test reports.

ejlif's picture

I bought a pair of these to experience the ribbon speaker sound and hopefully understand the hype. I get it. These are magic! in the right context. What an insane value, just have a set lying around to use in the right moments. I've had transcendent listening sessions with these. It's not going to be heavy and hard driving music that will make the a memorable session, when the volume is medium and you aren't trying to push audiophile limits these speakers are insane in what they do. I have power cords that cost 10X as much as these speakers and I am so impressed. They need some power, I get pretty good results with a pass 30.8, they shut down my Naim Nova at medium-ish levels. 650 bucks really??? Everyone should have a pair of these just to understand. I might have to take them up on their trade up program