Audio aficionados toss around the word “transparency” a lot, even though the exact definition is kind of tough to nail down. Me, I liken it to hearing music through a transparent window, and that’s exactly what Magnepan speakers sound like. And because they’re thin, dipole speakers (more on that later) without traditional cabinets of any kind, they’re free of the box colorations of conventional speakers. With those colorations totally gone, the Magneplanar MG1.6s sound, well, more realistic and less like speakers.
The MG1.6 is a 2-inch-thick panel, so it doesn’t house dome tweeters or cone shaped woofers; in their places you’ll find a proprietary 2-inch by 48-inch quasi-ribbon tweeter and a 442-square-inch mid/bass diaphragm. The .001-inch thick aluminum ribbon tweeter’s huge radiating area, compared to a dome tweeter, keeps distortion way, way down. The .0005-inch-thick Mylar mid/ bass diaphragm is similarly huge compared to conventional midrange or woofer drivers. The MG1.6’s air moving capabilities are more like actual musical instruments than box speakers.
The other key difference between the MG1.6 and box speakers is that the Magneplanar is a dipole radiator—its tweeter and mid/bass drivers project equal amounts of sound from their front and rear surfaces into your room. Therein lies the first big catch to having the MG1.6; you’ll need to place it at least two feet away from the rear wall. In my room they were three feet away from the wall. And since they’re 64.5-inches tall, there’s no hiding the fact these are really big speakers (Magnepan does offer smaller models). Also, the MG1.6 is relatively insensitive, so it does its best when teamed up with 100+ watt-per-channel receivers or amplifiers. These speakers really like power.
Dialing in the MG1.6’s placement was time consuming, because moving them just an inch or two in any direction made a difference in the sound. But since the sound just kept getting better and better, I didn’t mind.
Thanks to the quasi-ribbon tweeter, this speaker’s treble is a giant step closer to reality than that of most speakers that use conventional dome tweeters. But the larger panel’s bass is just as pure, so you hear acoustic basses sounding more like themselves. Midrange is again, astounding. The soundstage is huge with great depth, so the image size feels more life-like than any sub-$2K box speaker I’ve heard, that’s for sure. Dynamic impact, however, is the one area where the MG1.6 is merely good.
The Pretenders’ unplugged The Isle of View CD [Warner Bros.] sounded spectacular. The guitars, bass, drums, and Chrissie Hynde’s vocals were vividly presented. But the band’s second album, Pretenders II [Warner Bros.], didn’t rock as hard as it does over most heavyweight tower speakers. True, the MG1.6’s detail was still impressive, but there wasn’t quite enough weight behind the sound. Hard-core rock and rollers may not be satisfied.
Ah, but the Buena Vista Social Club CD [Nonesuch] was revelatory. I’ve played this CD on dozens of systems and never heard it better. The CD was recorded in an ancient Havana studio, with lots of “room sound”— the MG1.6 put me in the midst of it. Subtle room ambiance and low-level reverberation cues were revealed in ways no box speaker anywhere near the MG1.6’s price can match. The speaker communicates rhythmic pulse like, well, live music.
The MG1.6 really let me hear the difference between the CD and SACD of the Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East [Mercury]—to put it bluntly, the SACD’s sound was a lot closer to being there.
The MG 1.6 might be the perfect way to discover what the joys of owning top-shelf audio gear are all about. The MG1.6 sounds so different— and more like live music than any box speaker I can think of for less than two grand. My wife, who rarely reacts to what I’m reviewing, was blown away by the MG1.6s, and when I told her what they retail for, she couldn’t believe it. Neither can I.