Going beyond stereo

You own Maggies because you are a purist. You have the finest 2-channel system your budget will provide. Enjoy the music. (And don't get so involved in equipment that it detracts from your enjoyment.)

However, we think you should know--- there are advancements beyond stereo.

2-channel reproduction has some inherent flaws. It has been with us since the beginning. Many attempts have been made to find a solution to create more accurate and realistic imaging. None have been adopted.

In the early days of the development of stereo reproduction, Bell Labs proved that 3 channel reproduction was superior to 2 channels. But vinyl records could only provide 2 channels. With the advent of digital processing, 3-channel reproduction from a 2-channel source it is now possible to have holographic imaging that is superior to 2-channel reproduction—regardless of the quality of the 2-channel speakers or the electronics. That is quite a bold statement, but there is more to the story.

3-channel reproduction done correctly is expensive, but as you know, the prices of high-end audio has sky-rocketed in recent years. However, the cost of Magnepan's solution for holographic imaging is not expensive in comparison to what is currently sold for 2-channel reproduction. There are practical matters. It requires an additional Maggie for the middle—ideally the same as what is used for the left and right channels.

And it requires the use of the Magnepan/Bryston SP-3 processor. This was a collaborative effort with Bryston that started as a research project. We brought reviewers and industry experts to Magnepan and conducted blind tests.

There is solid evidence that the spatial cues are superior to stereo, but what should we do with it? Magnepan has no financial involvement with the Magnepan/Bryston processor and the sale of a single speaker for the center channel is not a brilliant marketing idea. So, if "3-channel stereo" is not a viable means of increasing sales, why bother?

Because it is.

The late Gordon Holt of Stereophile magazine, called it "The Last Frontier". 2-channel reproduction is lacking in the realistic sense of "space". Surround-sound music was supposed to provide that, but it was a dismal failure.

"3-channel stereo" is not surround-sound and it is not left-plus-right center channel reproduction. What it does provide is more accurate subtle cues that allows the listener to detect the room in which the recording is made or exactly where the instrument is located in that space that is decidely superior to stereo. And it is a "microscope" into the recording process. We all have heard how a superior 2-channel system is better at detecting the differences between a good and bad recording. But, it is nothing like what "3-channel stereo" can reveal. And it can be unnerving.

Some of your favorite pop recordings are, in fact, not really stereo as stated on the album. It is mainly mono in both channels (therefore, the image is in the middle with a 2-channel system).

It seems to be stereo in a 2-channel system because of what is actually a flaw in stereo reproduction. But, with "3-channel stereo", virtually all of the sound is coming from the center channel because the engineer chose to make it a dual-mono recording (you can speculate why). In that case, switch to the 2-channel mode for psuedo-stereo.

We did find one practical application for "3-channel stereo" that benefits Magnepan----audio shows. There is only one ideal "sweet spot" in the room for stereo. "3-channel stereo" has a huge sweet spot. We are able to entertain a large group of attendees and every chair in the room has imaging and sound quality that is quite close to the ideal seat in the room. If we can make a good impression, perhaps the customers will visit his nearest dealer for a private audition.

The customer's systems below are using the Tri-Center concept since they want both home theater and "3-channel stereo". For a music-only system, we recommend the same model for the center channel as the left/right speakers.

The Pennsylvania customer said--

"What a difference with the Tri-Center!!! Two-channel through the Tri-Center and the 20.7's produces a life-like sound stage with remarkable depth and detail. Instruments have their own identity and don't just melt together. I can almost walk on stage and into the orchestra. No sense of strain or constriction, just free reproduction of the music. Vocals are incredibly focused, but not restricted. It is a remarkable theater setup, but I find myself rediscovering two channel - hearing things I never heard before.You are there with the performers."

The California customer had a similar experience--

"Once the CCR was in place, I began to do some A/B comparisons between just the 20.1s in direct analog stereo mode and with the CCR in three channel digital mode. Although the CCR clearly brought prominence and clarity to soloists, whether voice or an instrument like a trumpet or sax, that center image tended to be quite flat and highly localized. When the MMC 2 came out, my Magnepan dealer convinced me to give them a try in a Tri-Center configuration. The result was immediate improvement and improvement of a surprising magnitude. Before, with just the CCR, I preferred to listen to well-recorded music in two channel stereo mode. Now, with the Tri-Center in place, I went back to my A/B testing. This time, the three channel configuration won out over stereo every time. The combination produced a seamless soundstage that wonderfully brought out the clarity of a soloist, but did so in a spatial rendering that was far superior to both the just 20.1 variant and the 20.1 plus CCR variant. Operatic voices, violin soloists, trumpet soloists and the separate components of a jazz trio come through in amazing clarity and spatial width and depth. I still have not quite figured out what the audio acoustic magic is that causes this, but I do know I clearly prefer the outcome."

The North Carolina customer reported the same--

"I was the first customer to receive the CCR and MMC 2s for the Tri-Center. I have spent many years listening to 2-channel analog music. I believed this was the purist format. Once I received the MMC 2s, I experimented with 2-channel analog using my 3.6s vs. "3-channel stereo" with the Tri-Center. My findings were astounding. I do not understand how this all works, but, one thing is for certain--the Tri-Center adds so much more life and realism. For me, it makes 2-channel analog a dead issue and this is not downgrading my 3.6s in any way. "Thank You" to all the staff at Magnepan

A Georgia customer recently added the Tri-Center to his 3.6s--

I always preferred the acoustic continuity of pure 2-channel....Now, I never listen to 2-channel material without the Tri-center....The presentation is much 'airier,' with low-level ambient details better revealed, an improved depth illusion, and a greater sense of scale....Now, I am very aware of the deleterious effects of the combing and other spatial distortions that are inherent in the phantom image (of stereo). Those who think that 2-channel is the only way to go have not heard the Tri-Center....Clearly, only the dedicated enthusiast will be likely to accept the added complexities and cost of a Tri-Center setup. But for such individuals, the sonic rewards are well worth it. All Magneplanar fans, even 2-channel die-hards, need to hear the improvements that the Tri-Center can bring to an already excellent system.

Magnepan's 'Tri-Center' Concept: Does Stereo Sound Better with Three Channels?

Scroll down to "Stereo Improved"--- Monday at Magnepan

A review of the Tri-Center can be found near the end of the Wide Screen Review article. Of particular note is the sidebar ("Is It 'Cold Fusion'") by multi-channel expert, Roger Dressler.--- Wide Screen Review (large file)

An excerpt by Roger Dressler from an online forum. (Mr. Dressler is a well known multi-channel expert from his work at Dolby Labs.)

"I felt the Tri-Center added something unique to the presentation. My comments are covered in a letter printed in WSR (Wide Screen Review). Playing a variety of stereo recordings, particularly with vocals, switching between stereo and three-channel mode was a night and day difference in depth. But not just to the usual degree I've experienced before. No, there is indeed something special going on here that is not a result of merely adding a center loudspeaker to an otherwise superb stereo system. The center image is now as tall as the L/R, but there is also an obvious sense of depth to the vocals that was remarkable; much deeper than I hear from conventional loudspeakers driven from the same processing."

California customer with 20.1s and Tri-Center