This is Part 2 of the Magnepan On-Wall Surround Sound Speaker System review. You can read Part 1 here.
As I thought about this section of the review, two key words that came up over and over again in my listening notes were “cohesiveness” and “coherency,” which I feel are the two defining characteristics of the Magnepan on-wall system. With many speaker systems you will hear subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) sonic discontinuities that remind you that you are, after all, listening to collections of disparate drive units that have been loaded into box-like cabinets—cabinets that can also contribute audible colorations of their own. But with the Magnepan system there are no boxes, no piston-type drivers, and no voice coils (at least not in the traditional sense) to contend with. There’s just an open frame in which is suspended a membrane-like diaphragm that is driven over its entire surface area, so that there are virtually none of the phase problems that can arise in most multi-driver systems.
The result is a sound that is very pure, very clear, very lifelike, and that offers excellent transient speed while exhibiting a wonderful quality of internal self-consistency. What does this quality of self-consistency really buy you? Well, for starters it means that all of the elements of a given sound—the fundamentals, the harmonics, the attack, the body, and the decay of individual notes—all seem to originate from a single source and to belong together, rather than sounding like a discombobulated collection of pieces and parts. If it’s realism you seek, then you may find (as I do) that these benefits have a huge impact for you. In fact, if you’ve never spent quality time with a Magnepan system, then I can’t overemphasize just how compelling and disarming the qualities of coherence and cohesiveness can be.
In terms of overall timbre, and tonal balance, the Magnepan on-wall system reflects its technical influences, which means that it sounds a bit like a cross between the firm’s second-from-the-top model, the MG 3.6 loudspeaker, and its top model, the MG 20.1. The midrange and highs of the system, which are contributed primarily by the MMC2) remind me of the sound of the MG 3.6: well-balanced, fast, and open, though relative to the MG 3.6 the MMC2 can sound slightly forgiving way up high (perhaps a deliberate design concession in light of the fact that the MMC2 will, by definition, be used in close proximity to hard, reflective wall surfaces?). Interestingly, the MMC2 provides a Tweeter Attenuator switch that offers LOW/HI settings, so that you can tune the speakers response to best fit the acoustic properties of your listening room (I used the HI setting for the tweeters in The Perfect Vision’s relatively well-damped listening room, but your mileage may vary).
Overall voicing of the CC5 center channel speaker is very similar to that of the MMC2 on-wall speaker (or, for that matter, to Magnepan’s MG 1.7 full-range speaker), though the treble response of my review sample, which was a pilot production unit, was slightly downturned relative to the MMC2 and MG 1.7. But note: just before posting time I learned from Magnepan’s Wendell Diller that the full, serial-production CC5 units do not have the slight treble rolloff that I observed in my review sample. Instead, the full-on production CC5 offer treble response that aligns just about perfectly with that of the MMC2 (or MG 1.7).
The bass of the system, which is primarily defined by the DWM woofer, resembles that of the MG 20.1, albeit with less absolute low-frequency extension than the 20.1 offers (remember that the very large 20.1 floorstander has much more surface area to work with, whereas the DWM is quite compact). In particular, the DWM offers excellent transient speed (it really is fast enough to keep up with the MMC2, which most other woofers would not be) and superb pitch definition, but it also offers something more: namely, rock-solid mid-bass punch. This last element is particularly important in light of criticisms I’ve sometimes heard regarding Magnepan’s full-size speakers, where some listeners feel the Maggies lack mid-bass clout relative to conventional piston driver-equipped speakers. For those listeners I think Magnepan’s on-wall system will prove an eye-opening surprise, in that the DWM woofer combines Magnepan’s traditional virtues of speed, transparency, and purity with an element of serious mid-bass muscle and “grunt.”
Viewed as a whole, the Magnepan on-wall system sounds a fair amount like Magnepan’s critically-acclaimed full-range speakers, but with a just slightly warmer balance overall, which is primarily attributable to the ample mid-bass punch of the DWM woofers. Bass performance is, as with any dipole system, tunable by subtly repositioning the woofers in the room, and one of the coolest aspects of the on-wall system is that you can move the woofers around at will without disturbing the placement of the on-wall or center channel speakers.