Magnepan MG2.6/R loudspeaker Page 2

Nevertheless, with all the amplifiers I used, there was a delicious smoothness to the MG2.6's overall midrange presentation, a seamless quality in the transition region between the two drivers, that enabled individual instrumental textures to be easily differentiated. In JGH's recording of the Járnefelt Praeludium, again from the Stereophile Test CD, there is a passage after the bridge where oboe, clarinet, bassoon, clarinet again, flute, then French horn all toss around the same little rising fragment of tune. The MG2.6's lack of coloration allowed the differences between those instrumental identities to be laid clear, even between bassoon and horn, which can sound astonishingly alike live. (I shall ignore the fact that an extra clue to each instrument's identity is given by the fact that the horn player drops a clam on this recording, as horn players are wont to do.)

The wide range of instrumental tone colors on William Malloch's arrangement of Bach's Art of Fugue (The Art of Fuguing, Sheffield Lab SLS-502) was also beautifully delineated. (If you've always felt Bach's serious work to be more mathematics than music, this delightful recording will give you easy access to his genius.)

And when it came to palpably seamless playback of voice recordings, this Maggie is up there with the best.

Treble: At playback levels below 90dB (see later), the MG2.6's ribbon is one of the least aberrant, most transparent transducers I have heard. I was hard put to hear any fizz, sibilance, or any other aspect that could be laid at the ribbon's feet. However, in absolute terms, particularly with the Audio Research amplifier, the top octave was a little depressed, leading to a lack of air to the sound in my room. Placing the speakers with their ribbons to the inside edges made the sound brighter, but with too much energy in the mid-treble. It's possible that in a room that has very lively high frequencies—though my room is reasonably live in the lower treble, it is well-damped in the top octave and a half—this lack of top-octave air will be minimal. In my room, however, it was only a problem with older rock recordings, where the ear-damaged engineers had so overmodulated the tape that the highs were mainly missing in action. Even so, the speaker's transparency still allowed you to hear considerable musical detail in what highs remained.

Bass: The 2.6/R is not a speaker for bass freaks. While it respectably reproduced much of the orchestra's power region, the bass both rolled off rapidly below 40Hz and seemed a little shelved-down below 120Hz, perhaps in contrast to the slight emphasis in the region above that frequency. The organ pedals on Peter Mitchell's and Brad Meyer's organ recording on the Stereophile Test CD, for example, lacked sufficient weight to make complete musical sense of the resolution at the work's close. The speaker also lacked a little transparency in this region, bass instruments sounding more alike than they ought to. But this criticism is relative: on the new Robert Lucas Luke and the Locomotives LP (AudioQuest AQ-LP1004), the amplified Fender bass had the appropriately loose quality to its sound on its A and E strings. Be warned, however: Magneplanar bass differs in quality from box-speaker bass. If accustomed to the latter, you may take some time to accommodate to the panel's cabinet-resonance–free but rather loose presentation.

Imaging & soundstaging: In terms of image precision, the Maggies were excellent when optimally set up. While not quite up to the best speakers in image depth, the MG2.6/Rs' excellent upper-midrange and treble transparency allowed a considerable amount of recorded ambience and reverberation to be decoded.

It's said by some that the impressive imaging possessed by panel speakers is merely due to the reflected backwave adding a heightened sense of space. Yet this reproduced ambience varied, as it should if it were real, with every record played. Whether it was the old stone acoustic of Santa Fe's Loretto Chapel on track 12 of our Test CD, the live studio sound on the new Robert Lucas album (rush out and buy this if you have any love for the sound of real electric instruments playing in a real space), or the vast space of Liverpool Cathedral on the most real-sounding organ recording I know of, Ian Tracey plays the Henry Willis III Organ of Liverpool Cathedral (Michael Woodward LP MW931), there was just the appropriate amount of space made audible. Very dry recordings, such as the soprano voice of Dick Olsher's wife Lesley on the Test CD, remained very dry (although her voice image was more palpable than I remember it from most other speakers).

The diagnostic LEDR tracks on the Chesky Test CD played over the Maggies with exquisite precision (although when the image is intended to fall beyond the speaker outlines, it acquired a rather phasey, buzzing-in-the-ears quality). The "Up" and "Over" tracks, where a sampled cabasa sound has had its spectrum fooled with to give the impression of a soundsource that first moves up from the loudspeaker positions, then up and across to the other side, were also reproduced superbly. This excellent presentation of image height is perhaps due to the speaker's dipole radiation pattern minimizing the effects of boundary reflections that would otherwise destroy the illusion.

Dynamics: Perhaps due to its tonal balance, the MG2.6/R sounds a little polite overall. While free from compression effects or any sense of strain at reasonably loud SPLs, below 90dB or so, I did find its sound to harden up in the low treble when I tried to take it to the limit on a continuous basis with the Levinson (which will pump out 400W into the 2.6's 4 ohms). This ultimately fatiguing behavior in the lower region of the ribbon's passband proved to be the loudness-limiting factor rather than the Magneplanar woofer running out of excursion, which is what I had expected. Note, however, that this happens with the speakers being asked to play loud. A Mahler symphony played at an average (not peak) level of 90dB at the listening seat is quite uncomfortable.

To sum up
Warmer-balanced than its predecessor but with a much better managed transition between its two drive-units, the MG2.6/R offers an excellent balance of performance at a relatively affordable price. Its tendency toward lower-midrange thickness will mean careful system matching, and its owners must remember its need for careful setup and room positioning. But when set up optimally, while other loudspeakers will play louder without strain and plunge deeper in the bass, I'm hard put to think of one that offers a similarly well-balanced combination of midrange smoothness, treble neutrality, and overall musicality that doesn't cost considerably more. If you're thinking of trading in a pair of dynamic two-ways for expensive "audiophile" loudspeakers, do yourself a favor and check out the MG2.6/R. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

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

monetschemist's picture

Such a fine example of using listening as a means of critical evaluation - the difference in staging on various recordings perhaps refuting the idea of better staging just being due to the dipole arrangement, or the comment "live pianos don't sound that warm".

This is core Stereophile good stuff. Thank you so much!

My only tiny complaint would be that, while understanding the principle of reviewing equipment sold via local dealers, I feel it's really too bad not to have this kind of wonderful critical light shone on more stuff that is sold direct-to-consumer, since for many of us that's the only way we'll know in advance about the merits or otherwise of one of those alternatives.

dial's picture

I had the III/A (and even their tonearm) and sold them in the 90's for diy high efficiency.

Josh Hill's picture

This old review is a model of what a review should be! I particularly enjoyed the technical description, and the way JA correlated it with his subjective impressions.