Magnepan LRS loudspeaker Page 2

With the LS50s, driven by the Pass Labs XA25 amplifier, I started by listening to Buddy Holly's Down the Line: Rarities (44.1/16 FLAC, Decca/Tidal) and was surprised at how dense and resolved the music sounded. On "Buddy & Maria Elena Talking in Apartment," I was surprised how clear Maria Elena's voice came through: I got that really close in-the-room-with-Buddy feeling. I started thinking, Who could want anything more? Then, without my permission, Tidal's algorithm bot played Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" (single version, 44.1/16 FLAC, Chess/Tidal), and I freaked!

I left my home in Norfolk Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound
And rode him into Raleigh and on across Caroline
I woke up high over Albuquerque
On a jet to the promised land

When the song ended, I was speechless. I could not imagine a million-dollar system playing it any better. Like a child, I played "Promised Land"—America's greatest poem by America's most original poet—over and over, each time louder than the last. Suddenly I wondered: Could the new Maggies play Chuck—loud and with attitude?

Sure as you're born, they bought me a silk suit
Put luggage in my hands

The Little Ribbon Speaker played Chuck loud enough for me (88dB average/96dB peak, C-weighted). And Chuck's Chess-era "rock-it" attitude was definitely getting through. But every cell in my body cried out for more wallop and stronger bass.

This is when I realized that most rockers would want to use a subwoofer (or two): not big ones, just ones that play hard, tight, and fast. However! When the Tidal bot led me to a fine-sounding remastered version of rock-progenitor Fats Domino singing "I Want to Walk You Home" (from Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits, 41.1/16 FLAC EMI/Tidal), I forgot all about subwoofers and wallop. Fats' voice (which I deeply love) never before sounded this pure and close-to-the-mike present: I could observe the sound of that voice as if it were a crystal or a coin. The LRS took me inside the recording venue; every trim pot and fader-setting was there to be noticed.

As Fats sang, I realized that the KEF LS50 and the Magnepan LRS were showing me two distinctly different views of rock'n'roll recordings. The punchy, deep-voiced KEF was playing fit, well-drawn, mesomorphic rock. The KEF's rock had impact. It inspired action. The LRS version of Fats was more ectomorphic. More detached. Instead of head-bopping and foot-stomping (like the LS50), the Magnepan LRS wove complex webs of high-resolution audiophile sound. It directed me to study how the recording was executed. The LRS employed its extraordinary transparency toward the causes of intimacy, tactility, and reflection. Canine vs feline.

For me, the most important difference between these speakers came down to this: Because the KEF LS50 imparts a slight opacity to everything it plays, it makes recordings sound more similar than they actually are. Not surprisingly, the Magnepan's extreme transparency achieved the opposite: It directed my attention toward how different recordings sounded. The LRS let more of a recording's true sound come through. In this singular regard, the LRS almost equaled my favorite "chameleon" speaker, the $2195/pair Harbeth P3ESR

"Horses for courses," they say—and by that measure, Magnepan's LRS is not the horse I'd want to ride into The Dark Side of the Moon or Led Zeppelin II fantasies. Meanwhile ...

Compared to the Magnepan .7
Pianos are giant percussion instruments, with enormous wooden soundboards that amplify the vibrations of their strong steel strings. Even a small upright piano puts more energy into a room than any domestic-use dynamic loudspeaker. That's why I use piano recordings to get a feel for how an amp-speaker combination pumps energy into my room. A speaker's most important trait is its ability to power a room. This powering is a consequence of driver size and the magnitude of impelling forces.


I became very aware of this issue while making a simple comparison between Magnepan's .7 speaker and its ¾-size sibling, the LRS. The .7 has approximately 400 square inches of diaphragm area, and the LRS has 333—just 20% less than the 71. Somewhat surprisingly, the .7s seemed to put a lot more than 20% more energy in my room. They played a lot bigger than the LRS.

I used Claudio Arrau's recording of Liszt's Etudes d'execution transcendante (Philips 2-LP 6747 412) to compare the two Magnepans. The .7s presented Arrau's concert grand as a lot closer to life-size, with more surrounding air: They set that bigger piano in a deeper, more capacious soundstage. The air in the .7's soundstage was denser and moister than the LRS's. And the .7's bass went deeper and seemed more than 20% more powerful.

Lou Reed's voice and guitar on "Sweet Jane," the closing song from the concert film/live album Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse (24/96 FLAC, Matador/Tidal), was more tangibly there with the .7s—plus the shouting and clapping of the crowd seemed bigger and more real. With the LRS, the crowd shouting and clapping was more microscopically drawn: Hands and flesh were more precisely differentiated. And on this and every other recording I tried, the LRS sounded fresher, with more focus, sparkle, and transparency.

Compared to the Klipsch RP-600M
They both play recordings at high levels of audiophile descriptiveness. They both require careful positioning. They both generate a bright-sun transparency. They both yearn for subwoofers. And they're similarly priced. But the Klipsch RP-600M ($549/pair) and the Magnepan LRS sound completely different.

The Klipsch RP-600M is a moderately sized wood box with a moderately nice fake-wood finish. It requires a precisely located high-quality stand, which is not included, and could possibly double the price. It plays loud, with super dynamics. It puts a satisfyingly solid piano in my room. It can jack up the Ramones and drink cocktails with Dean Martin. But it is not a wine connoisseur's speaker.

The Magnepan LRS, on the other hand, is slender and elegantly finished in a timeless, haute couture way that will compete for House & Garden awards with speakers at any price. Unfortunately, it does not play loud, or with super dynamics. The pianos presented by the LRS are altogether more ghostly sounding than the Klipsch's—although LRS pianos are precisely formed (you can see their edges) and feature an engaging left-hand register. Klipsch pianos seemed blurry in comparison.

Compared to the vintage Quad ESL
Magnepan's new Little Ribbon Speaker is one of the lowest distortion, highest musicality loudspeakers I've encountered. It delivers, with Leica-like focus and purity, extraordinarily uncolored sound that reminds me of the original Quad ESL electrostatic. The Quad and the Maggie are both genuine audiophile speakers. Both require precise, out-in-the-room positioning and carefully measured toe-in. Both require the listener to sit in a narrowly designated sweet spot. Both deliver a sense of infinite detail and a mesmerizing transparency unrivaled by most speakers. Both are extraordinary at reproducing the form and idea of music. But they share one inescapable failing: They do not do visceral very well. While both move more air than the average box speaker, neither develops enough low-frequency energy to generate slam or corporeality. Consequently, both might inspire their users to connive for subwoofers.

Does Magnepan's new LRS loudspeaker "make everything else sound like it is coming out of a cereal box"? Maybe. It definitely sounds boxless. And surely its levels of microscopic detail, accurate timbre, and pure-water transparency are unprecedented at anywhere near $650/pair.

Could the Little Ribbon Speakers become a new classic, like the old Quads or the ageless BBC LS3/5a? Perhaps. It has the right personality. Highly recommended.

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