That three-piece “Tri-Center” array consists of a pair of Magnepan’s MMC 2 quasi-ribbon-type wall-mounted panels supplemented by a Magneplanar CCR hybrid true ribbon/quasi-ribbon center-channel speaker. You can also use, and Diller did use, a set of Magnepan’s DWM woofer panels to help ensure absolutely phase-accurate bass as hear at the primary listening position for the left/right main speakers. To picture how the array looks, imaging a left/right pair of MMC2 panels, which are swing-out, wall-mount speakers, positioned vertically and several feet apart (with about the spacing you might use if the speakers were to flank a mid-size flat panel TV). The MMC 2’s are mounted fairly high up on the wall so that their top edges are roughly the same height at the top of the main 3.7 floorstanders. Then, below and directly between the MMC 2’s is the stand-mounted CCR. Together, these three speakers collectively serve as the “center channel.”
We started out with an acclimatization period where we listened to the conventional two-channel Maggie system. In stereo, the 3.7’s sounded terrific, and I must say that—on some pipe organ music I had brought along—they showed significantly deeper bass extension than I had expected on the basis of Jon Valin’s review of the speaker in The Absolute Sound (this didn’t entirely surprise me, since past experience with Magnepans suggests that their ultimate bass extension can be quite room dependent). Image size was beautifully scaled and exhibited the expected Magnepan ability to reveal image height. Resolution, timbral purity, and other sonic qualities were pretty much as described in Jon Valin and Harry Peason’s reviews, which is to say they were excellent. While some perhaps could or would pick minor nits, it was the sort of system that—on the whole—might leave even jaded listeners feeling impressed and well satisfied with the sonic results achieved.
Just then, however, Diller engaged the Tri-Center array with results some listeners might have found downright shocking, and in a good way. Suddenly, images became more focused and palpable while depth cues in recordings were more fully delineated and explicit. At the same time, the overall three-dimensionality of the sound improved markedly. Timbres remained vibrant and pure, while certain low-level details became easier to discern, perhaps because their “anchor points” within the soundstage seemed more precisely defined with rock solid stability. In short, absolutely all of things we normally enjoy in great stereo systems actually got better with the Tri-Center array in play.
These observations were gleaned when I sat in the “sweet spot” listening chair, but at Diller’s suggestion I repeated my listening tests while deliberately sitting off-axis and found that from off-axis the impact of Tri-Center array became even more significant. When heard from off-axis, the normally fine imaging and soundstaging aspects of the stereo pair of 3.7’s can sound somewhat imprecise with center fill images that are noticeably less palpable and convincing than when heard from the “sweet spot.” But from off-axis, the sonic benefits of the Tri-Center array, which are pretty impressive even when listening from the “sweet spot”, are if anything even more apparent. Center fill images remain vivid and rock-solid when listening from either side of the central seat, and three-dimensional soundstaging cues likewise remain sharply focused. In short, the Tri-Center array effectively expands the useful listening area, so that it makes the vaunted Magnepan sound something that a whole couch full (or room full) of listeners could fully enjoy at the same time. This is a step forward, I think.
One point I can’t stress highly enough is that the stereo + tri-center presentation doesn’t sound at all strange, unnatural, “processed,” or garishly different from traditional stereo. Rather, it sounds much like stereo—replete with timbral purity, inner detail, expansive dynamics, killer imaging, realistic soundstaging, and so forth—only better, as if a subtle, underlying layer of sonic vagueness or imprecision has suddenly been banished.