Brief Comparison of the Magico Ultimate II, Magico M5 and mbl 101e

Tom Martin -- Tue, 11/17/2009 - 11:28

With the caveat that I am comparing different speakers in different rooms with different equipment at different times (which is pretty hard), I would characterize things as follows:
1. The Ulimates have the highest resolution and best micro-dynamics of these three speakers. The mbls are the lowest resolution in this group. The M5s are exceptional on micro-dynamics, but to me fell short of the Ulimates. D/A conversion may have played a role here as well.
2. The overall tonal balance of the Ultimates seems the most neutral of the three systems I heard. The mbl system I have is a little darker than neutral and JV's M5 system seemed slightly less present in the lower midrange than neutral.
3. The mbls create a soundstage recording after recording that sounds un-hi-fi-like (more like live music) -- they really get the image off the speakers. The mbls don't do pinpoint imaging the way some speakers can, but then live music often doesn't have this attribute either. The Ultimates image well, but the size of the speaker makes it harder to suspend disbelief (i.e. to think that the sound isn't coming from the speakers).
4. All three speakers deliver a package that makes you initially think "this is the most realistic sounding reproduced music I've ever heard". Over time you hear reproduced music artifacts, but there is a coherence to the choices made by the designer of each speaker that is musically consonant. This idea of musical consonance has been distorted by some readers in the past to mean something unlike live music. But it is the opposite of that. Live music is clearly "of a piece". Speakers inevitably have distortions, but there can be distortions that tear at or shred the fabric of the music and those that don't. To some degree, what merely pulls and what tears will be in the brain of the listener, but I could see how each of these speakers could appeal to certain brains as musically coherent. (not verified) -- Wed, 11/18/2009 - 02:03

Awesome , good post and i would have to agree with what you said , i own V3's and love them to death


jezzicaz789 -- Fri, 12/11/2009 - 06:15

Hi all, I am a new member of forum. Would a newcomer be warmly welcome here? Good day you guys!!!

Gadgetman -- Sat, 12/12/2009 - 12:10

Ordinarily yes. But not if you are violating the Community Guidelines, which you seem to be doing:

AVGuide webmaster and general drudge

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 11/18/2009 - 04:34

I gotta admit that I'm not sure what is meant here by "less present in the lower midrange than neutral," as I don’t know what the term “neutral presence” (in the lower midrange or anywhere else) means. There is certainly nothing in the RTAs I've taken of the M5s that indicates anything like a frequency-related suckout in the lower mids (see below)—anything but, in fact. And I don't hear a suckout in the lower mids after nearly a year of listening.

Perhaps, TM is talking about bass-range dynamics here. Since he is coming from ported speakers with a rise in the mid-to-upper bass, I can see where M5s or any sealed-box speaker would seem a bit lacking in "oomph" or "presence" by comparison. I don't hear sealed-box speakers this way, but some do. 

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 15:35

JV -- just to be clear about what I meant: I detected less mid-range energy in the M5 than I felt I experience with live music. I didn't notice this with the Ultimate IIs. So, it was meant to be a comment about frequency response or power response. "Less" in this case is very slightly less.
"Caveat: I am comparing different speakers in different rooms with different equipment at different times (which is pretty hard)"
I would tend to trust your experience on this more than mine. Much more.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 16:35

It doesn't surprise me at all that the Ultimate IIs deliver more energy in the midrange (and probably everywhere else) than the M5s. No cone speaker in a box is going to equal a horn system in dynamic range or sheer SPLs, though the cones will be at least highly competitive in lifelike tone color, imaging specificity, soundstaging, octave-to-octave coherence, and disappearing as sound sources.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 15:47

It just shocks me that at $400,000, a product is *still* not the best in every category. 
And JV, you have a terrible habit of reviewing speakers that are too big for your room !!

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 16:04

 Whatever you say, J. You having been in my listening room so many times.

As you can see from the RTA, the M5s performed miserably. And, of course, my review sucked because my room was veiling their sound.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 17:31

You have revealed the size of your room in the past - and it's not fit for big speakers. Just ask your associate Bill Parish at GTT Audio what he recommends for his reference speakers. It's a far cry from what you have......

And frequency response (in a real-world listening room) doesn't tell the whole story and you know it.

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 17:39

Whatever you say, J. An RTA, taken as this one was from the listening position, doesn't just show you fr; it also shows you aspects of power response and of room effects.

Bill Parish is not my "associate" and I don't particularly care what he or you has to say about rooms. With its incredibly solid construction and almost 2856 cubic feet of space, my room does fine for just about any speaker short of a behemoth like the Ultimate II.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 17:48

Live by measurements...die by measurements. And what happens at higher listening levels ?

And Parish knows a thing or two about the speakers he sells *and* how to set them up. He would never recommend a room like yours for the size speakers you listen to. When I was at his showroom, he said matching the speaker to the room was the most important thing concerning loudspeakers. But you don't care...

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 18:15

The dimensions of JVs room are here, BTW:

Interestingly, the width and the height fall in the range of the rooms we typically use for reviewing (e.g for width and height JV's room is between RH's and mine). I would say from visiting many audiophiles, our review rooms are probably slightly on the large size of normal (perhaps we should survey this). JV's room is a little shorter than some of the rooms I see. There are two issues I can think of with this. First, he has to sit a little closer than he might have to in a longer room. Interestingly, all the listeners I know who have long rooms sit pretty close to the speakers and about as close as in JV's typical setup. JV is a bit closer to his rear wall, which might have an impact, though having heard several setups at his house, I would be hard pressed to say that this is an issue.

Every room will have specific modal properties that differ from the reader's; that is an issue we can't get around (at least we haven't thought of how). Same thing with reflections and treatment.

In any event, my comments here that involved JVs room were about the Magico M5, and it is hard for me to see that as too large for anything but a very small room.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 18:38

An almost square room of 16 by 17 (ft.) is too small and the wrong shape for the super-speakers JV has reviewed. Esp. the big MBLs !!

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 20:44

Ask the "big MBLs'" designer, Jeurgen Reis, what he thought of the sound of the 101 Xes in my room. Moreover, an omni like the 101 X-Treme might fare better in a nearly square room. Since it reflects equal energy from every wall, having walls that are closer to equi-distant from the speaker could be a plus.

You really sound silly.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 21:25

The big MBLs need lots of room - and you simply don't have it. Box speakers are even a bigger problem - ask Magico if they think a square room with your dimensions is right for their M5.

No audiophile I know has a square room. The best listening-room ratios are derived from ones quite different from yours - as described by Robert H. in his book.

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 21:34

When the big MBLs were given "lots and lots" of room in Vegas, they sounded godawful. Which just goes to show you that cliches about room dimensions and speaker size--such as the ones you are so well stocked with--are scarcely gospel. Most of the reviewers at TAS have rooms smaller than mine; only a few have rooms that are longer--and not much; they are also often considerably narrower.

I repeat: Ask Reis what he thought of the sound of the 101 Xes in my room. Ask Mr. Martin or Mr. Martens what he thought of the sound of the 101 Es in my room. And, by all means, ask Magico what it thinks of the sound I get with its speakers in my room. Why would I be permitted to review Magico or MBL speakers if these companies thought my room was inappropriate?

I repeat: You sound silly. Over and out.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 22:06

Well, Magico loves a rave review - that explains that.

*I'll" repeat - your room ratios do not add up to good prescribed by room-acoustic experts. Even Harley (in his book) prescribes how best to do it. Maybe the MBLs - with uniform radiation - can work. But those monster boxes (from Rockport to Magico) really don't. You and your listening panel *think* your room is great for big boxes - but it could get a whole lot better.

Tom Martin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 09:58

Interestingly, I checked the dimensions of this room and they fall on the edge of the "Bolt Area" of favorable room dimensions, just outside. Probably not ideal, if there is such a thing, but not as far off as one might think. An analysis shows that the only points of axial mode stacking are around the 33 hz range and around 105hz. From experience I wouldn't be too concerned about the two modes in the low 30s. The 105hz+- modes can be absorbed and dealt with via placement. There is a tangential mode stack in the mid-60's that might need to be dealt with. Overall a pretty clean room, whose issues are much like the modal issues of so-called ideal rooms (in fact, Louden and Volkmann and Sepmeyer all seem to have similar issues). The other nice thing about the size of this room is that the modes are distributed pretty evenly and tightly enough in the musically important bass frequencies (35-80hz). Larger rooms sometimes avoid stacking at the expense of large gaps where it matters.

That said, having custom built some ideal ratio rooms, I can say there is more to sound than these ratios. Having built some large rooms, I can say there is more to sound than size.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 11:20

Fine - square rooms for all !!

This room is bad for any box speaker (with their omni-directional wavelaunch) but *especially* a disaster with giant-box speakers like the Rockports, Kharmas and Magicos. Open-back speakers like the Symposiums need a lot of space behind them - as REG will tell you. In his review of the Jamos, he ended up placing them 9 feet from the back wall !!

But it's a cardinal fact that big speakers need big rooms. The exception might be omni-polars like the MBL..or..a speaker with dipole-bass like the Legacy Whisper.

Has Valin treated the room like you stated ? Even if he did, it's still a lost cause for the giant box.

Tom Martin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 12:42

There are tradeoffs in all of these factors. When you get very long rooms that allow the speakers to be well out into the room, then the modal distribution is often off. And theoretical considerations are difficult to apply, given the complexity of all the factors. But, sure, I suppose it would be better if JV's room were longer, RH's room were wider, and HP's big room didn't have a stairway in the middle. I wish my big room was shorter.

I've listened to systems in JV's room and in all three of HP's (bigger and smaller) and my two rooms (bigger and smaller), and in many others, and I can say that JV gets top notch sound. I'm sure his room isn't ideal for all speakers; no room is.

The question all of this ignores, though, is whether our approach of using real, albeit limited (they're different from the readers'), rooms provides useful information. Since at heart we aren't trying to certify the exact excellence of a given component, but rather to suggest components worthy of further evaluation, we think the limitations of the approach are workable. And if someone can suggest a practical way around these limitations, we're all ears!

(Your desire to insist that a rectangular room is a square either suggests that you have no grasp of mathematics or that you just want to be annoying. If the former, I'd ask that you pay attention to those who actually run the numbers; if the latter, take your crusade elsewhere please.)

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 12:54

A 16 by 17 room is *almost* a square. No audiophile I know - nor reviewer - has a room that's so square-ish. It's a double shame that JV reviews giant, 600lb. loudspeakers. If TAS approves of this, that's your business. But I, for one, will disregard JV's reviews when working with super-sized boxes.

And it scares me indeed that TAS is "not trying to certify the exact exellence of a given component." Are you aware of what you're saying ?

Tom Martin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 13:07

Fully aware. If one wants to focus on serving consumers (rather than manipulating them), and one is reviewing components of a complex system, and the phenomena under discussion are complex, and the consumer's processing of the phenomena can vary, one would be well advised to acknowledge certain limitations in predictive precision. We do acknowledge that. We think you should instead be scared by people who profess absolute knowledge and predictive skill when that pretty obviously isn't possible.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 21:05


The room I listened in prior to this one was much larger 26 feet by 32 feet with 13 foot cathedral ceilings, and it sounded much worse than my current room--on any and all speakers.

I'm lucky in my room. I think it probably has less to do with dimensions and more to do with construction--it is just a very very solid box built in the mid-nineteenth century. (The big room I used to listen in was built in the 1970s.) A. Wolf has compared my room, sonically, to European rooms he's listened in, which are also old and very stoutly built. The solidity of the walls (of the entire structure) seems to make a huge difference in the reproduction of dynamics and the low bass, which you wouldn't think I would get much of and yet I do--right down into the bottom 20s (as anyone who's listened here, including TM and CM, can attest). I have heard many "purpose-built" rooms that don't compare.

For the record, the room is seventeen-feet long. my listening seat is about two-and-a-half-feet from the backwall (which is treated with RPG Skylines behind the listening area and with AVRS Metu corner traps in each corner). I sit roughly ten-to-ten-and-half-feet from the speakers, which sit roughly four to four-and-a-half feet from the front walls and three-and-a half-feet from the sidewalls.


Robert Harley -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 22:57

Large speakers can work in moderately sized rooms if carefully set up. In my 14.5' x 21' x 9' room I've had Genesis 200s (a four-piece system with woofer towers each containing, if I remember correctly, 6 12" servo-driven woofers) and Wilson X-2s, among other large loudspeakers. I've also heard mega-speakers sound great at some shows in mid-sized rooms.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Fri, 11/20/2009 - 00:16

But no square rooms !! And mega-sized boxes would have sounded god-awful in typical showrooms. Most show rooms are bad - making futile JV's (and others) "best sound at show" awards. Wilson always came in high in show awards...but was missing in reviewer's reference systems, over the years. Correct ?

I know you're defending your friend here...but jeez !!!

Tom Martin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 12:56

The logic of show awards involves two thoughts:

1. Show awards are accompanied by the caveat that shows involve limited exposure to complete systems with which we're usually unfamiliar (as a whole)

2. At shows we focus on what sounds good (referenced to the absolute sound), not on what sounds bad. The logic is that it is hard to make a system sound good, and doubly hard to do so if the system is bad. Thus, if it sounds very good, that's probably because it is (but remember point 1). If it sounds bad, it could be any number of factors (room, prototype issues, power limitations, setup, etc).

In recent years, my limited recollection is that Wilson's official showings were either auditorium-style displays (which usually sounded poor IMHO because the room was too vast and audience too big) or static. RH has Wilsons in his reference system now. Perhaps you are speaking of a decade or so ago. I don't recall what the situation was then.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 13:12

This has gone beyond silly to stupid and nasty. Robert's not "defending his friend"; he's stating a fact.

Do you think you are the only person who has ever read a book about room acoustics, Braniac? Good Lord, I had the guy who INVENTED Room Tools software, a highly regarded European room-acoustics-testing program that is used by many recording studios in Europe, test my room and he pronounced it THE best-measuring room he'd ever measured! I had the guy who INVENTED the Praxis Suite of room-and-speaker-testing software measure my room and he too pronounced the room exceptional! I had Jeurgen Reis of MBL also measure my room with a MLSSA-like software/hardware program he uses to test his speakers and ditto. And then some top-shelf, first-class, gen-u-ine idiot like you comes along to tell me that all of this is impossible because you read in a book that square or squarish rooms are b-a-a-a-a-d.

You've seen the RTA on the M5s. But you dismissed it. (If my squarish room is such an ipso facto disaster, then where are the 12-16dB swings in the midbass you would expect in a "b-a-a-a-a-a-d" room.) You read what Tom Martin said about my room. But you dismissed that, too. I've told you to contact Reis and Wolf and ask them what they think about the sound of my room, but you dismissed that with a little piece of invective, implying I'm bought and sold (and by logical extension that TAS is bought and sold) by Magico. And now you're going to find some way to dismiss all the evidence I just laid out--Room Tools, Praxis Suite, MLSSA tests, RTAs, independent testimonials.

Ain't the Internet grand?

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 13:56

Yes, the internet is grand. According to Tom Martin (above), who ran the calculations, your room is "outside favorable room dimensions" and "not ideal". And this was without taking into account the 600lb. monsters that frequently dominate your room, which make things a lot worse.

Your measurements are flawed - being that they *don't take into account* realistic listening levels. Remember, symphonies roar up to 110-15db on peak...and you were surprised to find this out (on another thread) as I recall. 90db peaks are therefore a fourth as loud as a live peak !!

You stand alone as an audiophile and reviewer with an (almost) square room.......

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 17:46

Oh, I remember you now!!! You're the dunderhead who thinks that horns are the only speakers worth owning! No, I don't listen to 115dB peaks. Nor do I know anyone else who does.

The tests I mentioned--conducted by professionals from Room Tools, Praxis (LIberty Instruments), MLSSA (Reis), not to mention several others--were all made at lifelike AVERAGE levels (around 85-90dB). Do you think these professionals were lying to me about the results? Do you think I'm lying to you? If not, you're simply ignoring evidence because it doesn't jibe with your prejudices.

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Sat, 11/21/2009 - 18:30

Then why is Tom Martin (above) refuting your "experts". Why does the *same thing* happen when we read Robert Harley's book for optimal room dimensions ?

Music goes louder than 85db...and if the sound gets destroyed above this level, then it's not worth listening to. Your experts are cherry-picking the results.

The only reviewer with a almost-square room. Go get 'em JV !!!!!!!!

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 17:53

Yeah, I live by measurements, J. My reviews are filled with them. 

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 17:55

I do think J. Phelan articulates a point that is shared by more than a few people. To wit: "It just shocks me that at $400,000, a product is *still* not the best in every category." Now this might simply be an expression of shock about something expensive. That's a subjective thing, and can be a statement about a worldview. Fine, and experience proves there's not much to say about that.


But, it could also be a genuine statement of surprise. If so, I would only like to point out that there is a lot of room for surprise in the world. That's because it is almost never the case that the items in the top tier of pricing are the best at everything.


Example in the world of cars: Bugatti Veyron -- Not the best handling or the fastest on a track among street cars.


Example in the world of cameras: Hasselblad HD3II-50MS -- Not the highest frame rate or most compact or the widest lens selection or lowest noise


Example in the world of bizjet aircraft: Gulfstream V -- not the fastest, most efficient or the best at high/hot


To exemplify this, try to think of a product that is the best at everything, except price. Examples are very rare in my experience. Several things make this observation generally true I think:


Of course, we're basically dealing with engineering exercises and there are always tradeoffs in engineering. That's because technology is usually at a state where different goals have different optimal solutions. And often the key parameter for one goal fights the pursuit of another (e.g. in cars: towing capacity requires structual mass beyond the minimum; speed requires minimal mass -- you can't have both). 


Beyond that, the most expensive items tend to fall in niche markets. To attract a niche market requires doing something exceptional. But because the niche is small, there isn't a lot of money or R&D involved. So the practical reality is that there isn't anything like the R&D budget needs to optimize everything, whereas at lower prices there is more R&D money total and engineers can do more things well. Given that, we should expect top-tier items (measured by price) to be exceptional at something, but probably not be "good all-rounders". When we find one that does both, then we should be surprised.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 18:09

Good point, TM. But I would think the Veyron is damned-close to the best, across-the-board !!
In my view, the issue with music is pure-quality. The products you mention are (partially) about "performance" and "efficiency". 
I still can't believe that the Ultimate's are not the ultimate, across-the-board.

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 18:33

I think a lot of people share your view, and it does seem intuitive. Two further thoughts:

1. Music reproduction does seem to be more one-dimensional than something like a car. But really, it is still pretty complex (micro-dynamics, macro-dynamics, tonal balance, frequency range, imaging, soundstaging, continuity, etc). In any price range I haven't heard a product that is the best at all of those.

2. The Veyron, in my evaluation above, really only has the simple goal of going fastest (I didn't mention its' not-the-bestness in fuel mileage, luggage capacity, rear seating, towing etc). But it doesn't go fastest in many cases. That's an illustration of my first and second points above about tradeoffs. Bugatti decided the Veyron had to have the fastest top speed and have 1000 bhp (pt. 2: be exceptional). That made the Veyron need a huge engine, with massive drivetrain components and the ability to dissipate massive heat (pt. 1: tradeoffs given a goal). Ergo, the Veyron is heavy. Thus it isn't as fast as many cheaper cars. It also isn't that great to drive. That doesn't make the Veyron bad, it makes it normal.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 19:04

Here's a thought - the Veyron is about 80 times more expensive than the typical new car ($1,600,000 vs. $20,000). The Ultimates are $400,000 - *1,000 times* the price of a typical mass-market speaker (at roughly $400) !!!!! I would expect the Magicos to be #1 in every category and by a wide margin, no less....

This happens a lot in high-end. In 1998, the Linn CD12 came out, at 100 times the price of "street" CD player, $200. Then you wonder why there's so much vitriol on these forums. Thank God there are ways out of this mess...

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 19:48

Yeah, I can see the analysis (though the Magico is better at essentially everything the $400 speaker does and the Veyron isn't relative to the $20k car).

I confess I'm a bit mystified as to why 80 times more expensive seems okay and 1000 times isn't (I'm uncertain of the breakpoint ratio between awe and vitriol), but I acknowledge your math is basically right and I acknowledge that some people here feel the math makes sense. To me it is similarly unclear why a Hasselblad at 500 times more is lauded but a Magico at 1000 times is suddenly unacceptable. Or a Gulfstream at 1000X or a Picasso at 10,000X is lauded, but... It feels like there is something else at work, but maybe not. As I said, I don't get it.

I'm also uncertain why anyone cares about ratios (and beyond that cares enough to be vitriolic). The existence of something that tries to move the state of the art forward, and does, and does those of us not in the market for it no harm, and which might trickle down to lower price points would either seem to be a cause for celebration or a cause to yawn. But vitriol?

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 20:22

No-one is saying that 80 times more expensive is "okay". I just find *1,000 times* outrageously over-priced. Even 200 times does not justify.

There are plenty of companies "moving the state-of-the-art forward" that are not charging $400,000 for loudspeakers. But like always, TAS will find the most expensive products (in their respective categories) and justify *them*, not other brands, as advancing the art. A fetish for high-prices.....

Tom Martin -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 21:43

Each person is bound to have his/her own value equation. That makes sense. Doesn't require vitriol though, as far as I can tell.

I have to say I don't think that your characterization of TAS is either fair or in touch with the facts. We've covered, repeatedly and with awards, the PSB Alpha series and the Usher S520s at the $400-ish price point. We've covered pretty much every price range in-between, and we do so regularly. We've awarded products across that range. We've discussed at length the advancements of Magnepan, Gallo, Definitive, Sound Labs, Harbeth, Klipsch, Tannoy, Martin-Logan, Nola, ProAc, and Quad among others, none of which are the most expensive or even close (that's just in speakers). Most of our praise isn't for the most expensive products in those lines.

Ironically, this thread was stimulated by a reader who wanted more commentary from other reviewers on these super high-end speakers.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

J. Phelan (not verified) -- Thu, 11/19/2009 - 21:56

I am aware of the other, more affordable, products TAS reviews. I guess it gets a little nose-bleeding when we read JV's reviews, RH's (expensive) reviews and now this $400,000 loudspeaker.

But my point about "multipliers" in extreme-retail is still a good one, nevertheless.....

All content, design, and layout are Copyright © 1999 - 2011 NextScreen. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in whole or part in any form or medium without specific written permission is prohibited.