Magnepan Magneplanar MG3.6/R loudspeaker Page 3

With the MG3.6/Rs, there was also a continuous ambience field that stretched from the side walls down into the front-to-back spaces between singers, who were clearly and obviously moving around within a single, defined acoustic envelope. I often felt as if I could actually enter the recording's acoustic environment and wander around among the performers. Even on good studio recordings, where there's no real "stage" per se, the soundstage and images were so tangible that it seemed as if I was almost able to get between and behind the performers.

Great Expectation No.2: Pinpoint precision and extraordinary detail. While Magnepans have always done a good job of soundstaging and their images have always been wonderfully coherent with the surrounding space, they've never had quite the precision of the best cone-type speakers. Each succeeding generation of Maggies has improved on their performance in this regard, and both the MG3.5/R and the 1.6/QR were dramatic improvements over their predecessors. But the picture was still a little diffuse—certainly not a Monet, but not quite a laser photograph either.

The MG3.6/Rs didn't noticeably improve on the 3.5s' performance in this area. The performers' images were natural, and there was sufficient detail to resolve, in a general sense: individual instruments within an orchestral section, even within dense, complex passages. Similarly, the images' edges interacted naturally with the surrounding space, the notes blooming and expanding, the overtones dissolving into the background ambience. However, there weren't the layer upon layer of fine detail, the complexity, or the density with which speakers like the best Thiels and Avalons can imbue an image.

The situation wasn't perfectly black-and-white, however. I typically sit somewhere mid-hall at local symphony and chamber orchestra performances, and the perspective there isn't terribly dissimilar to the Maggies' slightly diffuse portrayal. Conversely, the added detail that the Thiel CS7.2s provided (se February '00, pp.119-127) unquestionably made voices and instruments more vibrant and alive.

A great example was "Chuck E.'s In Love," from Rickie Lee Jones' live acoustic album, Naked Songs (Reprise 45950-2). Through the MG3.6/Rs, her guitar and vocals, even the audience sounds, sounded very natural, nicely detailed, and dimensional. With the big Thiels, however, the extra detail and complexity seemed to supercharge the images and make them breathe, and gave the performance a presence and life that had me turning out the lights and sitting spellbound in my chair.

Great Expectation No.3: Seamless top-to-bottom consistency. This is another traditional Magnepan strength, and an area in which the MG3.6/R proved a solid improvement on its predecessor. The 3.5/R is wonderfully consistent across the frequency range, but if you listen closely, it loses a bit of articulation in two areas: from the midbass on down, and in the upper midrange to lower treble, just before it transitioned to the ribbon tweeter.

The 3.6/R was every bit as seamless and consistent as the 3.5. There was a slight warmth to its tonal balance in my room, probably reflecting a boost in the upper-bass region, but no overt discontinuities in character or distortions—nothing to draw attention to the speaker. Both instruments and soundstage remained consistent—cut from a single cloth, if you will—across the entire range of frequencies and levels.

The 3.6/R's bottom end was an improvement over the 3.5's, remaining powerful, clean, and articulate all the way down to about 35Hz in my room. The fast electric bass runs on Fourplay's "Bali Run" (from Fourplay, Warner Bros. 26656-2) are a true torture test. The 3.5/R got muddy and confused during these passages, but the 3.6/R sailed right through them. There wasn't the absolute power or last bit of detail at the very bottom that I hear from the Thiel CS3.6 and CS7.2, but the Maggie had a goodly amount of slam, with crisp, fast transients and excellent pitch definition.

The 3.6/R's upper-midrange performance was excellent as well, with no perceptible loss of detail or obvious transition to the ribbon tweeter. Piano recordings showed this off well, and Dick Hyman's In Recital (Reference Recordings RR-84CD) is a particularly good example. This very natural-sounding recording has a slightly distant perspective and a very well-defined portrayal of both the instrument and its interaction with the surrounding space. With some speakers, the piano will sound slightly different as its pitch moves up and down, or its size and placement within the recording space will seem to change. With the Maggie, the piano's tonal balance and the combination of the notes' attack, bloom, resonance, and decay were entirely consistent across the instrument's range, as were its size and placement.

Great Expectation No.4: Pure, articulate upper bass and midrange; airy, detailed highs: The MG3.5/R is superb in these areas, but the MG3.6/R was probably just a bit better. Vocals were treated well, with a natural mix of chest, throat, and mouth tones, but strings really showed off the Maggie's upper bass and midrange best. One of my favorite albums is Franz Helmerson's performance of solo cello works by Bach, Hindemith, and Crumb (BIS BIS LP-65). Listen carefully to some of the slower passages in Bach's Suite No.2, in particular. When Helmerson draws his bow across the string, I could hear the combination of sounds that were layered on each other to build each note. The bow's initial contact, the resinous draw across the string, the string's vibration, and, finally, the resonance building within and expanding out from the cello's body—all were exactly right in their balance and timing. The result was a beautiful, almost heartbreakingly pure cello sound.

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