So How Does It Sound?
When properly dialed-in, the Mini Maggie system as used in whole-room applications exhibits similar sonic benefits to those conferred on listeners by the Mini Maggie desktop system—but with three caveats that are worth noting.
First, the system’s dynamic envelope, if you will, effectively becomes narrower in whole-room applications, because you typically will need to turn up the volume to higher levels to get adequate output for whole-room listening. In other words, you are essentially using up a good bit of the speaker system’s dynamic headroom, simply to get it to play loudly enough for whole-room use (which means you may also need a more powerful amp).
Second, the Mini Maggie system’s overall tonal balance, and in particular its bass performance, tends to become at least somewhat room dependent—a problem that really never arises when using the system in a desktop audio context. Potential users should be aware that it might take considerable experimentation in order to get adequate bass extension and weight (bearing in mind that some rooms seem ill-suited for use with dipole woofers in the first place).
Third, the system’s limitation in terms of conveying image scale, and especially image height, become more noticeable in whole-room applications. Even so, I would say the Mini Maggie system is at least as good an imager as other systems its size and price, but it doesn’t sound as big or expansive out in the middle of a room as it does on a desktop.
But having noted these caveats, let’s also consider the system’s benefits. Once again, you have a modestly priced speaker system that, for all intents and purposes, matches the detail and timbral purity of Magnepan’s exceptional 3.7, which is saying a mouthful. Does this mean, then, that the Mini Maggie rig is capable of higher levels of resolution and freedom from grain than the full-size Magnepan 1.7? Yes, it does. The tradeoff, however, is that the power response characteristics of the 1.7 (and of the 3.7) are much better suited for most whole-room applications, and their bass performance is much easier to tap in more kinds of rooms than that of the Mini Maggie system. For many listeners, just as Wendell Diller had predicted, the full-size Maggies would probably be the better choice overall. Still, there’s real magic in the resolving power of the Mini Maggie system.
One afternoon, I put on “Joe Turner’s Blues” from Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues—Live from Jazz at the Lincoln Center [Reprise Records Jazz] as a demonstration for an audiophile colleague. This live recording is noteworthy not only for the masterful playing of the key soloists, but for the uncannily realistic manner in which it captures the sound and feel of a jazz ensemble performing live on stage. My colleague listened to the Mini Maggies almost slack-jawed in disbelief and then blurted out, “Their soundstaging is so believable and their imaging so precise that I can tell exactly—and I mean exactly—how big the stage is and where each ensemble member is seated. Most $2k speakers I’ve heard could never do this.” My colleague’s reaction neatly summarizes the appeal of a $2285 speaker system that sounds much like its more capable big brother, the Magnepan 3.7—itself one of the greatest bargains in high-end audio.
But let me supply just one further anecdote, which in a way parallels the story that my colleague Jonathan Valin at The Absolute Sound likes to share about his first encounter with Magnepan speakers, where he mistook the sound of the speakers for that of a real piano. One day I played a very realistic drum recording, “Drum Solo by Dirk Sengotta”, from the Henrik Freischlader Band Live [XYZ/Pepper]. Suddenly, there was a knock on my listening room door. A relatively shy, quiet member of our office staff poked his head in the door and said, “Forgive me for bursting in on you, but I just had make sure you hadn’t moved a real drum kit into the office, because from just outside the door it certainly sounds like you’ve got the real thing in here. Could I come in and listen for a minute?”
He was right; the drum kit on the recording really did sound almost real through the Mini Maggies, with the kind of tautness, snap, and definition that only very fine speaker systems possess. But what was even more important was that the Mini Maggies had proven their ability to win friends the old-fashioned way: namely, by making music sound so real that people can’t help but stop and listen. Isn’t that something we can all appreciate?