I’ve just heard something extraordinary: namely Magnepan’s three-piece Mini Maggie desktop speaker system ($1490), which I feel confident in describing as the best system of its kind in the known world. These are strong words, to be sure, but words that in this case are more than justified by this compact system’s jaw-droppingly terrific performance. In the course of this review, I’ll discuss the Mini Maggie system’s sound in some detail, but before I do, some background information is in order.
The Mini Maggie system consists of three elements: a pair of true ribbon/planar magnetic dipole desktop panels and a matching Magnepan DWM planar magnetic dipole woofer module, which is designed to fit neatly within the knee hole space of a typical desk. The crossover network for the system is housed within the woofer module, so that you would run speaker cables from your amplifier to the woofer, and then run shorter supplemental speaker cables from the woofer up to the two desktop modules—all very simple, elegant, and more or less foolproof. Once you get the system wired up and begin to play music, it’s pretty much time to fasten your figurative seatbelts, because you will be treated—assuming your amp and source components are up to the task—to sound that not only sets a world-class standard for desktop audio, but comes very close to matching world class standards for hi-fi systems of any kind.
Let me also provide a few words of explanation and introduction for those of you who have never seen or experienced Magnepan loudspeakers of any kind. All of Magnepan’s loudspeakers, regardless of size, use planar magnetic drivers and are dipole radiators (meaning they radiate sound to the front and to the rear, but have a distinctive dispersion pattern that, if viewed from directly above the speaker, would resemble a “figure 8”). There are several implications of using this sort of configuration.
First, Magnepan speakers do not have (or need) box-type enclosures of any kind, and second, Magnepans do not use traditional piston-type drive units with cone or dome-shaped diaphragms. Instead, Magnepan speakers have relatively large, rectangular, membrane-like diaphragms with conductors (either wires or quasi-ribbons) bonded in a specific pattern over the diaphragm’s surface. The diaphragms, in turn, are mounted in a minimalist perimeter frame (remember, there are no boxes here) and suspended in front of an open-mesh metal panel to which are attached slender arrays of bar-type magnets, also arranged in a specific pattern. When audio signals pass through the conductors on the diaphragm, they interact with the fields from the magnets causing the entire diaphragm surface to be pulled toward or pushed away from the magnet array, thus producing sound.
In Magnepan’s most sophisticated speakers (including the Mini Maggie systems), tweeter assemblies use what the firm terms “true ribbon”-type drivers, which offer another variation on planar magnetic driver technology. Instead of having conductors bonded to an underlying plastic membrane, ribbon drivers use an ultra-thin, corrugated “ribbon” of aluminum in a dual-purpose role, serving as both the conductor and as the diaphragm at the same time. The result is a driver whose sole moving element is quite literally lighter than the air it is moving, which means the driver can be incredibly responsive and offers almost incomprehensibly quick transient response.
One final configuration note is that Magnepan speakers are typically fairly large in frontal area, but are very thin—just 1.25 inches thick! For listeners who have played with Magnepan speakers the ultra-thin design seems perfectly normal, but it can be a bit mind-bending, at least at first, for those who have known nothing but box-type loudspeakers in the past. But after a few minutes of listening, many first-timers concede that “Maggies” neither look nor sound like box speakers, noting with delight that they offer important elements of sonic realism few box speakers can match.
Magnepan Mini Maggie desktop panels:
• Mini Maggie desktop panels feature planar magnetic midrange drivers and true ribbon tweeters whose design is a miniature version of the tweeter used in the firm’s top tier 3.7 and 20.1 floorstanding loudspeakers.
• Desktop panels are each a bit larger than a typical notebook in frontal area (14” high x 9.5” wide), but are—as mentioned above—just 1.25” in depth or thickness.
• The panels come with elliptical pedestal-like desktop stands and are offered with either natural or black-finished solid oak or dark cherry trim and fabric grilles produced in black, grey, or off-white.