The world of high-end loudspeakers is not without its drama and controversy. And Magico seems to engender both in great measure. A young and precocious company, fronted by the outspoken Alon Wolf, in some respects it’s hard to imagine Magico not courting more than its share of controversy. It’s worth remembering that the current captains of the high-end industry were once young, precocious and outspoken too, so sometimes controversy is a good thing.
Especially when it’s backed up by products like the Q5.
Part of the controversy surrounds Magico’s recent past. Only a few years ago, the company launched its M5 flagship loudspeaker. That product is still in production, but the difficulty is the Q5 is every bit as good – often markedly better – than the M5 flagship at almost half the price. Far from being received as a company simultaneously pushing the performance envelope while saving prospective Magico owners money in the process, the chattering classes took umbrage on behalf of M5 owners, who they felt were left with a lesser product at a greater price. As ever with these things, people who actually owned Magico M5s were absent from this online grumbling session, as they were too busy enjoying their speakers to notice.
The Q5 is a five-driver, four-way design, featuring a custom 25mm MBe-1 Scan-Speak derived beryllium-dome tweeter, a 150mm NanoTec midrange driver, a 230mm NanoTec mid-bass driver and a pair of 230mm NanoTec bass units. Calling this tweeter ‘Scan-Speak derived’ is one of those journalistic short-cuts, because the reality is there’s more Magico in there than there is Illuminator tweeter, and that also exposes the limitations of the ‘berylium=bright’ idea. NanoTec (Magico’s proprietary mix of Rohacell coated with carbon nano-tubes) gives the drive units all the benefits of Rohacell (almost unburstable, very dynamic) with none of the downsides (distinctive sound, especially in the midrange). As ever with Magico, the speaker drivers are bolted to the back of the baffle; this not only gives clean lines, but allows for the sort of tensioning that would tear many speakers apart. The tensioning bolts on the back of the M series models are hidden from view, but they are there. There are a series of little holes at the rear panel, but they are there for heat dissipation. The two bass units are slightly offset, which helps to cancel break-up modes, and is known as Bass Mechanical Resonance Cancellation.
Nothing is left to chance, and that costs. So, the hand-made resistors in the crossover are a natural inclusion for the Q5, even though sane loudspeaker designers would hesitate to use a custom-designed bulk metal film resistor that costs more than most loudspeakers inside their loudspeaker (in fact, many of the components inside the Q5 cost as much as a pair of loudspeakers, which perhaps explains why surprisingly few people start coughing when they hear that price tag, especially if they hear the speaker first). That dedication to fine detail is common to all many loudspeakers brands and all loudspeakers in the Magico range, but its effect is an order of magnitude stronger here. And it’s backed by good, solid engineering.
Why audiophile reviewers get heated about Magico simply comes down to respect for the ‘no quarter given’ approach to loudspeaker building. It makes for great copy. Take the drive units for example; most companies fall into one of three categories – buy them off the shelf, make your own, or get the OEM supplier to build to your own specifications. Not Magico. Instead it takes the component parts from the best OEM manufacturer it could find, sends them across the world to the best place for key proprietary treatment, and then back across the world to the people who are better at assembling complex structures than anyone else on the planet.
Take off one of those thick aluminium side panels and you are met with an aluminium spaceframe. It’s worth learning how to remove these panels if you have any friends who spent too long playing with Meccano or Erector sets; take off a side-plate (no easy feat – it’s held on with 100 fasteners) and watch their reaction. They’ll notice the 400 or so parts that go into holding the thing together, even if they aren’t ‘into’ spotting the extreme components that pepper the Q5. It’s a bit like leaving a bibliophile alone with a copy of the Gutenberg Bible for a few minutes… they are reduced to dumbstruck awe.
This aluminium skeleton is relatively light, but incredibly rigid and placed under great tension to help it stay that way. The drivers (with their vast magnets), the crossover and the half-inch-thick aircraft-grade aluminium panels add mass. And they add a lot of it; you’ll begin to wonder whether the Q5 is only black because light cannot escape its clutches. The combination of satin black baffle, shiny black drive units and matt black anodised aluminium cabinet – bereft of any Magico markings, logos or even a speaker grille – makes this a loudspeaker of brutal charm. The anodised cabinet can be finished in almost any colour (but not, of course, wood veneers) and the black on black is appealing. It’s like having a pair of scaled-down versions of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey in your living room. Strangely, this works better than you might expect in unlikely rooms, but it is very ‘man cave’; if you share your listening space with someone who has memorised the Laura Ashley catalogue, the ‘none more black’ approach might meet some resistance.