Back in 1973 I bought my first pair of high-end loudspeakers— Magnepan’s original “Magneplanars” then marketed by Audio Research Corporation. At $1200 per pair they were expensive for the time, but produced an enormous wall of warm, involving sound very different from anything I had heard from conventional box speakers. They certainly didn’t look conventional. Back then, the huge panels looked like giant three-section room dividers. They gobbled power like a hungry animal and were just about bulletproof. Over the years, Magnepans have continued to evolve and improve in most ways, and today’s larger models are among the best values in high-end audio. Some of that earlier warmth is gone, but resolution is many orders of magnitude higher now and the newer tweeter panels are worlds better than the originals.
There’s something about the Magnepan sound that’s incredibly appealing. Perhaps it is their characteristically clean and delicate sound, or the huge, coherent soundstages they produce. Still, large planar magnetic panels tend to dominate rooms and have a limited wife acceptance factor. Recognizing this Magnepan has introduced the smaller, more affordable, wall-mount MC1s, which look far less conspicuous. Having heard TPV founder Harry Pearson’s spectacular “Super Maggie” reference system, I wanted to try the MC1s to see how much Magnepan magic the smaller system could produce.
Since the MC1 speaker panels are quite light, only a pair of mounting screws (or sheetrock anchors) is needed. Once installed, they can quickly swing out from the wall to their playing positions, facing the listening area. My test system featured a dual center channel speaker consisting of two MC1s meant to flank wall-mounted displays. Wiring exits near the lower hinge and would run invisibly into the wall. Various coverings are offered in decoratorfriendly colors.
Normally, reviewers mount the MC1s on temporary floor-to-ceiling braces, but I couldn’t do this because my ceiling is vaulted. Fortunately, my nearby friend Kevin Johnson kindly volunteered his home theater room for our tests. We mounted the L/R main panels on the sidewalls of Kevin’s long, narrow room, a few feet out from the front wall (leaving space behind dipole speakers usually enhances sonic depth and three-dimensionality). We also mounted the surrounds on the sidewalls, but back beside the listening chairs, with the panels swung out almost 90 degrees for use. Listening on the side of the dipolar surrounds gives a diffuse soundfield ideal for rear channel information—though surroundchannel bass is mostly cancelled out. Various positions were tried for the MC1 center channel pair.
Kevin’s associated equipment included a Lexicon DC-2 controller, a 350Wpc Adcom multichannel amplifier, a large M&K THX-350 powered subwoofer, and a good conventional Mirage speaker system (when new, comparable in price to the MC1s) that made for an interesting comparison.
Once listening began, the first attribute that stood out was the sound of the Magnepan tweeter. Delicate yet sparkling, the tweeter gave incredible clarity and freedom from coloration— superior to most conventional speakers, even expensive ones. Next was a stunning sense of size and coherence. It was impossible to localize sound coming from any one speaker, especially the surrounds. The entire front wall was alive with sound. A long-time reference of mine is the music heard during the final credits of Titanic [Special Collectors Edition]. From the center seating position, the image and overall sound presentation was spectacular by any standard. Even from off center the sound was good, but lost some of this magical effect. Kevin’s Mirage system handled this music well, too, but not with the pure highend magic of the Maggies.
The dual center channel speakers were tested on stands ($200/pr) placed on either side of the display. I tried placing the MC1s several feet out from the front wall, but reflected sound from the rear of the panels interfered with dialog intelligibility. Moving the dual center speakers closer to the front wall solved this problem, and angling the MC1s inward made the dialog sound as if it emanated directly from the screen rather than a position below it—really nice, but still not without another problem.
Though the MC1s supposedly reach down to 80 Hz, they didn’t have nearly enough upper bass presence in this room. Lacking upper bass warmth, center channel information often sounded shrill and thin (though better with the MC1s mounted near the wall and angled inward). Charlton Heston’s voice at the beginning of Armageddon sounded unnatural. Quiet scenes from any source had breathtaking clarity, but volume levels had to be kept down to prevent the MC1s’ thin sound from becoming irritating. Full mid-to-upper bass is essential for playing movies at high levels without listener fatigue, and in this respect the Mirage system trounced the Maggies, emphasizing the MC1s’ need for more mid-to-upper bass.