GREATEST OVERACHIEVER: Magnepan Magneplanar On-Wall Surround System ($6675, Magnepan components + $2800, high-quality third-party subwoofer)
Connoisseurs of fine loudspeaker system the world over will tell you that, whether you are listening to music or to movie soundtracks, the acid test for performance boils down to one simple question: can the system fool you, at times, into thinking the sounds you are hearing are the real thing—and not just an entertainment system trying to mimic reality.
If you believe, as The Perfect Vision does, that the does-it-sound-like-the-real-thing test is the toughest of all benchmark challenges, then know this: few systems at any price can equal the Magneplanar On-Wall Surround System’s ability to create moments of breathtakingly convincing realism. A small example may help illustrate our point. During our review tests, we played a movie soundtrack for a guest listener where the stone ceiling of a cavern, which is supported by rickety wooden beams, is on the verge of collapse. The perspective of the very well recorded soundtrack is such that you hear the beams creak, groan, and then violently snap from an apparent location behind the main listening system. When we reached this point with the Magneplanar system in play, our guest literally jumped out of her chair, spun around with a genuine look of wide-eyed fear and panic in her eyes, and then very slowing sighed and said, “Ohhh, I guess that loud ‘craack’ was just in the soundtrack… right??” People, let me tell you that you don’t get that kind of raw, visceral, immediate and almost involuntary reaction with just any old surround sound speaker system. It takes a great system, and one capable of great realism, to evoke a response like that. It is also a sonic feat that the Magnepan rig pulls off, both on music and movie soundtracks, with singular grace and ease. What makes this all possible is Magnepan’s signature quasi-ribbon-type, planar magnetic technology, wherein conductors are embedded upon thin, membrane-like driver diaphragms, which in turn are suspended within a carefully structured grid or array of magnets. When an audio signal is applied, the entire diaphragm surface responds, moving forward and backward to produce sound. Unlike most loudspeakers, the large membrane-like drivers require no enclosure boxes at all; instead, they are suspended from large open frames and radiate sound both forward and backward. Two big parts of the secret to the realism of “Maggies” (as their fans call them) are that A) the drive surfaces are incredibly light and responsive, and B) there are no speaker boxes to create typical boxy-sounding colorations or distortions. In short, there’s less to get in between you and the sound of the real thing. Our review system consisted of four Magneplanar motorized on-wall speakers (which fold flat against the walls when not in use), a Magneplanar center channel speaker, two Magneplanar woofer modules, and a very high-quality third-party (JL Audio) subwoofer to handle the lowest frequencies between about 20 Hz – 40 Hz .The system has a lot of elements and requires careful set-up and final tuning, but the results more than justify the time and effort invested. If you want a speaker system that can help you suspend disbelief and buy into the reality of what you’re hearing, look no further.