"Hot Product" Archives - August 1, 2003 - Magnepan MG3.6/R, MGMC1, MGCC2 Home-Theater Speaker System

They sure don't look like loudspeakers.

They look like screens standing in the room -- or, in the case of the MGMC1s, hanging on the wall.

They don't work like ordinary loudspeakers, either.

And they sure don't sound like ordinary loudspeakers. They have a big, open, airy sound that's like nothing else out there.

No, there's nothing ordinary about the Magnepan home-theater loudspeaker system.


And now for something completely different

Magnepan's name is a compressed form of magnetic planar, the technology the company's speakers employ. Simply put, the speakers have no cabinet or "box," just a framework that supports a tightly stretched, electrically conductive Mylar membrane between arrays of small magnets. On each side, all the magnets are arranged so that the same magnetic pole faces the membrane and the two arrays oppose one another in polarity. When a signal is passed through the membrane, it is attracted to the magnets of opposite polarity on one side of the membrane and repelled by the similarly charged magnets in the opposite array. The motion of the membrane creates the speaker's sound. Since there's no "box" to catch the backwave, a planar-magnetic loudspeaker radiates as much sound to the rear as it does to the front.

The MG3.6 (5,000-USD/pair) is a large (71"H x 24"W x 1.625"D) three-way, full-range design that couples a true ribbon tweeter to midrange and bass panels, based on Magnepan's basic planar technology. Each speaker has a 55" line-source ribbon tweeter, which is essentially a long, thin strip of conductive foil suspended between two magnets A user-replaceable fuse further protects the tweeter.

The 3.6/R's crossover points are 200Hz and 1700Hz. Magnepan specifies the speaker's sensitivity as 86dB/2.83V/m. The speaker connections are made through an externally mounted crossover box with accommodations for biwiring or biamping. Speaker connections are nonstandard sockets with threaded setscrews that tightly grip bare wires or posts. My Deltron connectors worked fine, as would any banana plug.

The MC1 ($850/pair) is a far smaller panel (46"H x 10.25"W x 1"D), but it has an interesting twist -- it can be mounted on the wall on its supplied brackets or used as a floorstanding design with a pair of optional conversion stands. The small size of the panel necessitates near-wall placement if you want to achieve the company's specified frequency response of 80Hz to 24kHz. Sensitivity is given as 86dB/2.83V/m and impedance as 4 ohms. The MGMC1 is a two-way design with a bass/midrange panel and a tweeter panel -- the crossover point is 1300Hz. Speaker attachment is by means of a fixed wire-tail with tinned ends.

What makes the MGMC1 so slick for surround use is that nifty little hinged wall-mount bracket. When you're not using your system, the speakers can be pushed flush to the wall. When you are, they can swing out like doors -- and their on-wall position means they get all the boundary reinforcement they require. What a marvelous concept.

The same could be said for Maggie's center-channel speaker, the $990 MGCC2 (a new version, the MGCC3, which adds an octave to the bottom of the speaker's response, has just been released). It, too, is a two-way design, employing a quasi-ribbon tweeter and a midrange/woofer panel. But here's the cleverest bit -- the midrange/woofer panel is curved, which gives the MGCC2 far better horizontal dispersion than a conventional (well, comparatively) flat panel. The curved panel crosses over to the quasi-ribbon array at 750Hz. The MGCC2 is large for a center-channel (10.5"H x 36"W x 8"D), but it only weighs 22 pounds. Speaker connections are the same set-screw-adjusted sockets that the MG3.6/R sports.

The MGCC2's claimed frequency response is 160Hz to 18kHz. No, that's not a misprint, but at the time the CC2 was developed that was all the bass Magnepan could coax out of the technology -- besides, the company reasoned (I think correctly), home-theater enthusiasts would probably have a subwoofer in the system. Despite the reduced low end, the MGCC2 does not employ a high-pass filter, relying instead upon the physical characteristics of the diaphragm to act as a mechanical filter; like Bartleby, when confronted with a signal they cannot reproduce, they prefer not to.

However, during the prolonged interval between the time Maggie shipped me the MGCC2 and this review, the design mavens at the company came up with what company spokesperson Wendell Diller calls "a clever design trick" that gives the MGCC3 bottom-end response down to 80Hz. Always nice to have, of course, but since I do have a subwoofer, I have to say that I never missed the extra bass.

Their principles are the same, though their modes of thinking are different

Setting up the Magnepan MGMC1s is dead simple, of course. Just mount them on the wall (using the supplied brackets). Maggie recommends you place 'em on the wall so they blend on-axis and reflected sound for a nice diffuse blend. This gives you a (ahem!) magnitude of placement options, since their mounting brackets are infinitely adjustable. Nice touch, that.

The MGCC2 was a no-muss-no-fuss setup as well. If you have a direct-view monitor, just place the speaker above or below the TV. If, like me, you have a projection system, just place the speaker under the screen on a stand. If you can't do that, you'll have to play the angles and experiment with which precise tilt-angle makes dialogue sound as though it originates from the screen. The MGCC2 seemed particularly forgiving when it came to placement, possibly because of its wide horizontal dispersion.

The MG3.6/R has two different driver types and, as a result, two different radiation patterns -- the quasi-ribbon tweeter is a line source and the rest of the speaker is a dipole. Normally, panel speakers are tricky to place because their bass response needs rear-boundary reinforcement, so getting that speaker-to-front-wall ratio takes some experimentation, but the side-wall interaction is almost completely nonexistent. However, those line-source tweeters change that equation -- place them too close to the side walls and the speakers will throw a distorted image of the original event. The trick is to get them just far enough from the side walls to keep the soundstage three-dimensional and then move them back and forth between the front wall and your listening position.

If you're lucky, that's all you'll have to worry about. Me, I also had to place them on either side of my screen and keep the screen at the proper focal length from my projector. Even with these added complications, getting the Maggies set up and sounding good was a lot easier than my description of the process would make it seem. Just be warned, you may have to work for the best sound they can produce.

Also be prepared to give them some juice. At 86dB sensitivity and a fairly consistent 4-ohm load, the 3.6/Rs don't seem as though they need a lot of power -- however, they do, they do. The Musical Fidelity M250s were able to drive them to a fare-thee-well; so was the 200Wpc Plinius Odeon -- but most receivers would not be up to the task.

In addition to the MF and Odeon, I also used the McCormack MAP-1, the TAG McLaren AV32R Dual Processor, and DVD-32R DVD player upstream. I crossed over to the Polk PSW650 subwoofer, which remained the go-to-bass workhorse throughout the audition. (I'll be coming back to the TAG McLaren and Plinius components in the upcoming weeks).

We boil at different degrees

If you set a premium on spacious, expansive, enveloping sound, the Magnepan HT loudspeaker system is the answer to your prayers. Yes, it took a bit of placement jiggery-pokery, but the results were worth it.

Central to this embarrassment of sonic riches was the full-bodied wraparound sound of the MG3.6/Rs. Some folks have called them lean, but they aren't at all thin sounding -- not if you take the time to couple that backwave to the front wall properly. Once I got that tuned in, the 3.6/Rs projected big-boned sound that was particularly impressive in its seamless top-to-bottom coherence. And the side-to-side soundstage was bigger and deeper than that of nearly any speaker I have experienced at anywhere close to the price of the Maggies.

Seamlessness and depth are what I expect from a high-resolution panel loudspeaker. What I did not expect was the amount of sweet, extended top-end the 3.6/Rs produced -- not to mention that most valued audiophile commodity, "see-through transparency." The 3.6/R's quasi-ribbon tweeter is really, really special and it adds a new level of detail and ease to the Maggie sound.

Another surprise was the way the MGCC2 mated flawlessly with the far-more-full-range 3.6/Rs on either side. No comb-filter effect, no timbral shift, no dynamic damping -- the center-channel just blended in perfectly. And no, the missing bottom octave never caused a problem.

In theory, the center-channel should precisely match the L and R -- I know this because experts keep telling me so. However, I think you can get so hung up with frequency response that you lose sight of the importance of dispersion, and most identical center-channels just don't cut it when you have to sit off center from the picture (yeah, I know, and some do). In an imperfect world, we make our choices where we must and I vote for dispersion -- especially of the sort the MGCC2 delivers.

The MGMC1 wall-mounted panels were also just right, as Goldilocks would have it. When it came to disappearing completely, they were as close to perfect as surrounds can get. Ambience and sound effects were delivered invisibly and (ahem) discretely. I may not be entirely rational when it comes to the MGMC1s, but it’s hard to maintain critical distance when you're in love.

The world of the happy is quite different from that of the unhappy

This is a home-theater site, but I have to mention just how satisfying the Maggie surround-sound setup sounded with multichannel music. My infatuation with Telarc's disc of Hovhaness nature portraits (Mysterious Mountain; Hymn to Glacier Peak; Mount St. Helens; Storm on Mount Wildcat [Telarc SACD 60604]) continues unabated, and the Maggie system kept that flame fanned with its extraordinary presentation of the ambient wash of a big concert hall. The reflected sound coming from the rear speakers was impossible to pinpoint, seeming to come from the rear of -- well, certainly not my room, my room isn't 90' deep!

The front channels delivered the full-on assault of a big ensemble -- the sound spread from wall to wall and seemed 30' deep (again, not the typical sound of my listening room). When I say full on, I mean full. These are burly, muscular speakers, capable of bench-pressing a lot more than their weight!

Red Dragon's 5.1 sound was particularly impressive -- and dramatically effective -- through the Magnepan system. It keeps the surrounds going throughout the entire film, establishing locale, deepening the emotional impact of scenes, and placing the viewer deep into the acoustic of the film's environment. In addition, Danny Elfman has composed a stunning -- and extremely grown-up -- score, which the three front channels delivered with precision and panache. Red Dragon is one of the rare films where even its least action-oriented scenes make the strongest possible argument for the surround experience. Well, probably with any high-rez speaker system, but definitely with the Maggies.

That's all fine and dandy, but not all of us watch only demo-worthy films. I still watch silent films, but even less fanatical movie buffs watch classics from the age before hi-fi soundtracks. Fear not, the extremely high resolving power of the Maggies does not make it impossible to listen to less-than-pristine soundtracks (they won't hide the flaws, but they don't highlight them either). I watched Kiss Me Kate, which sports a fuzzy-sounding (occasionally sharp, even) audio track, but the Maggies just reported that fact without adding any shrillness and distortion of their own. Just like they oughta.

We’re probably both trying to say the same thing in different words

The Magnepan MG3.6, MC1, and CC2 loudspeakers gave me many hours of musical and filmic ecstasy. Doing all the "hard" research that resulted in this review was grand fun from start to finish -- in fact, I may have prolonged the process unduly simply because I was enjoying myself so thoroughly. Does that mean you should rush out and buy the system?

Naturally, that all depends. If you like spacious, transparent, vivid sound, maybe you should. You'll need lots of cash ($6840 for the whole shebang) and you'll need a big room (the 3.6s need space), and you'll need a lot of power for the 3.6s (at least 100W, but mo' is betta). Answer yes to all of those needs and the system might be just the ticket.

Of course, you could get a lot of that openness and transparency from a system that substituted Magnepan's MG 1.6s for the 3.6s -- or, in a smaller room, you might get away with the MC1 at the corners and the CC1 in the front'n'center position, if you have a really good sub.

But the MG 3.6, MC1, CC2 system is the one I fell in love with, and I suspect it might enchant you, too. At the very least, you should experience this system before you buy anything in its price range.

I guess it's possible you won't like them as much as I do, but at least you won't have wasted your time listening to yet another ordinary loudspeaker system.

...Wes Phillips


Magnepan MG3.6, MC1, CC2 Home-Theater Speaker System
Price: $6840 USD for complete system (MG 3.6, $5,000/pair; MC1, $850/pair; CC2, $990/each).
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.


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