Magnepan MMGW + MMGC Home-Theater Speaker System - September 2004 - Reviewed by Vince Hanada
Magnepan Inc., of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, has gone its own way from the beginning. They’re one of the few manufacturers of planar-magnetic speakers, which have a unique, flat-panel shape that produces a distinctive sound-radiation pattern craved by many audiophiles. This audiophile following is warranted -- in my experience, conventional cone-and-dome speakers can’t match the coherence of sound at the low prices at which Magnepan sells its speakers.
With the MMG W, Magnepan has found a way to offer a pair of Maggies for $325 USD, and the MMG C center-channel speaker for $299 each. The home-theater enthusiast looking for a fantastic-sounding speaker system costing well south of $1000 would be making a big mistake in ignoring the MMGs.
Magnepan MMG W
The Magnepan MMG W looks like no other speaker I’ve auditioned -- it’s more like a window shutter than a speaker. The smallest panel that Magnepan makes, it still measures more than 3’ tall. But the MMG W’s most remarkable dimension is its depth, or thickness: just 1"! The speaker is covered in a nonremovable off-white cloth, and the panel’s outside edge is finished in oak. There isn’t a stand to speak of -- the W’s top and bottom have holes for brackets that are designed for wall mounting. Magnepan also sells a wall adjustment bracket to ease setup; it allowed me to mount the MMG Ws in my room without drilling holes in my walls.
Instead of speaker binding posts, each MMG W has two wires that connect to the plus and minus connectors of your receiver. These wires are 2’ long, which is too short for most applications. I wish that Magnepan provided proper binding posts; I had to improvise with banana plugs to enable these speakers to be set up with my regular speaker cables.
Planar-magnetic speakers are essentially dipoles, which move sound to the speaker’s front and rear. The moving part, or diaphragm, is a sheet of Mylar with wires applied to its surface. Permanent magnets beneath the surface of the Mylar attract or repel these wires, which causes the Mylar sheet to vibrate, which produces sound. This is called a quasi-ribbon driver -- it’s the wires that are conductive, not the Mylar itself. (In true ribbon drivers, which Magnepan uses in its more expensive speakers, a conductive aluminum ribbon is bonded to the Mylar instead of wires.) Because of the low mass of the Mylar sheet, planar-magnetic speakers are able to respond more quickly to an input signal and stop more quickly when the signal is gone, with little decay time compared to conventional cone speakers.
In other Magnepan speakers, part of the Mylar sheet has thicker wires and part has thinner wires, which creates, essentially, woofer and midrange drivers. Not so with the MMG W -- its single-diameter conductor makes it a crossoverless, or one-way, design.
Magnepan’s wall brackets have been cleverly designed. Once drilled into a wall, the brackets hold the panel in place with top and bottom pins that let you swivel the speakers out when listening, then swing them back against the wall when not in use. The bottom pin allows the connector wires from the panel to be threaded through, which results in a clean appearance.
Magnepan MMG C
As in the MMG W, the MMG C center speaker’s Mylar sheet sits in a wooden frame covered in cloth, with an open front and back. Unlike the MMG W, the MMG C is designed to be mounted on a stand or atop your TV, not on a wall. Another difference is that the MMG C is curved for better off-axis dispersion. It’s 3’ wide and more than five times as deep as the MMG W -- a whole 5.25". The MMG C is covered in black cloth with oak accents on the sides and a single set of binding posts centered on the rear.
Because the four MMG Ws had to be mounted on walls, the system proved a bit challenging to set up. The front speakers went in easy -- I had bookshelves, which worked quite nicely for mounting the panels. All I had to do was screw the brackets to the bookshelves so that the panels would be at the recommended 2’ above the floor, and I was in business. This pair ended up around 9’ from my listening seat, at 45 degrees from the center-channel speaker -- wider than the 30-35 degrees that I normally use. The MMG C center-channel was also 9’ away, on a low stand. Because I didn’t want to drill holes in my walls for the rear speakers, I had to use the supplied wall adjustment brackets with a couple of pine boards 8’ long and 1" x 4". I needed to fiddle with these brackets to get them to lie flat against the wall. Once secured, the bottoms of the rear speakers were mounted 2’ above the floor and about 6’ from and slightly behind my listening position.
Because the MMG W and C put out no bass below 100Hz, I set up my receiver’s crossovers to 100Hz. I was a bit worried that such a high crossover point would be difficult to match with a subwoofer, but I found that both the Paradigm Seismic 12 and the Outlaw LFM-1 subs worked well.
Magnepan rates the impedance of the MMGs at 4 ohms, their sensitivity at 88dB/W/m. These numbers, especially the 4-ohm load, would indicate a moderately difficult load for an amplifier. I found that this was the case. Using my Sony receiver, I was able to drive the speakers to satisfyingly loud levels, but I had to crank the volume control higher than usual. My receiver displayed no signs of distress during the auditioning; I’m confident that if your receiver puts out enough current, you shouldn’t have any problems.
One standout trait of the Magnepan "house sound" is coherence, and the MMG W and C did not disappoint in this regard. This coherence was evident while listening to "Fly Me to the Moon," from the SACD Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone [Telarc SACD-63562]. As Alexander played lows and highs on the piano, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t hear the transition from midrange driver to tweeter that I can sometimes hear from conventional cone speakers -- after all, the MMGs are one-way speakers. Because the MMGs’ bass response extends to only around 100Hz, I expected the sound of Ray Brown’s double bass to be more disjointed as he played up and down the full range of the instrument. But the transition was nearly seamless, no matter which subwoofer I used -- both the Paradigm Seismic 12 and Outlaw LFM-1 were excellent matches.
Another high point of the Magnepans was the enormous soundstage they put forth. Dipole speakers send sound to the front and rear: the rear soundwaves bounce off the walls (in my case, the bookshelves) behind the speakers to contribute to this large soundstage. This enhanced such DVDs as The Matrix Reloaded. Chapter 4 has a scene in which Morpheus makes a speech to a large crowd. I got a convincing sense of the arena-like space, the Magnepans seeming to push out the walls of my listening room. It helped that all of the speakers in this system are dipoles -- the surround envelopment was seamless from speaker to speaker.
The MMG W and C thrilled me with their transient response. In chapter 3 of the DVD of Kill Bill: Vol. 1, there is a fight scene between The Bride and Vernita Green. During the scene, a glass coffee table is broken when one combatant lands on it. The shattering glass sounded more realistic through the Magnepans than through most other speakers I’ve heard. And a gunshot in chapter 4 sounded particularly startling through the MMGs.
I found the Magnepan MMG C a thoroughly convincing center-channel speaker. Throughout Kill Bill: Vol. 1, the engrossing dialogue was captured well. I didn’t have to strain to hear the actors’ speech, both male and female voices sounding clear and natural. The MMG C’s curved panel helped as well -- dialogue was as clear in the sweet spot directly in front of the MMG C as it was at the ends of the couch. As mentioned earlier, the C and the four Ws matched well. During any front-to-center transitions, such as in chapter 14, "Swarm of Smiths," of The Matrix Reloaded, the MMG C was the equal of the MMG W, which is seldom the case with home-theater systems. Great job, Magnepan.
I didn’t have another flat-panel system with which to compare the Magnepans, but I did have a comparably priced bookshelf speaker -- the Axiom M3ti, which retails for $275/pair. The Axiom M3ti stands about 14" high, with a 1" titanium-dome tweeter and a 6.5" aluminum-cone woofer. This speaker is a conventional, direct-radiating design similar to most speakers built today.
The first thing that struck me while comparing the Magnepan and Axiom systems was the difference in the size of the soundstage. While listening to "Stop This World," from the SACD of Diana Krall’s The Girl in the Other Room [Verve B0002293-36], the MMG W/C filled in the entire front wall; the M3ti could not match this width and depth. When I listened to the two-channel SACD track, the piano sounded large through MMG W/C, Krall’s voice filling in the center of the front soundstage. Through the Axioms, the piano sounded much more closed-in, although the phantom center image was stronger.
The two-channel SACD mode does not invoke the subwoofer. When I listened to "Temptation" from the Krall album, it was evident that the Maggies needed a sub; the Axioms could get along without one. This difference can be eliminated with an external crossover for SACD or DVD-Audio listening, such as the Outlaw ICBM. In direct comparison with the Axioms, the MMG W/Cs’ high frequencies sounded rolled-off. When I listened to "Chuck E.’s in Love," from Rickie Lee Jones [CD, Warner Bros. 3296], the guitar didn’t have the bite though the Magnepans that it had through the Axioms.
The MMG W/C combination truly shone as a home-theater system. The Magnepans’ huge, seamless envelopment was advantageous with DVDs with lots of atmosphere, such as Gothika, which has stormy scenes throughout. The ability of the MMGs to convey the sense of space made for a more involving listening experience than with the Axiom M3ti system.
Magnepan’s MMG W and MMG C comprise a unique flat-panel speaker system in a price range dominated by conventional cone-and-dome speakers. In my experience, however, even conventional speakers costing many times the Maggies’ price cannot match their coherence. The huge soundstage they produced was mesmerizing. Combine these two standout traits with class-leading transient response, and you have the bargain of the century. I don’t see how Magnepan can make any money selling this system for $999.
Final words of advice: Give the Magnepan MMG W and MMG C an audition before word gets out and you end up on a long waiting list.
1645 Ninth Street
White Bear, MN 55110