The Magnepan Mini System hits my desk

My demo Magnepan Mini System showed up on Friday of last week. I got them set up and running, but couldn’t spend much time with them. So, after a grueling weekend filled with honey-do’s, I was finally able to sit down today and give them a listen.

They’re really good!

Yes, I have all of 48+ hours or so on them, so they still have quite a bit of “loosening up” to do, but some things are immediately obvious.

1. They play big. They’re 15″ tall or so, but unlike a lot of mini-monitors, they don’t sound constrained or small or even like they’re there. Poof … gone. What’s left is a sound stage that is big, open, and spectacularly clear. Hello, center-image. Shazam!

2. They will not replace a pair of 1.7s or 3.7s. Wishful thinking here, I’m afraid. Not that you’re going to notice … you wont be playing your 3.7s much.

3. Positioning matters.

3a. I’m not sure that the straight-on/no-tilt speaker setup is the best for “critical listening”, but there’s not a lot of options here, so the issue may be moot. The Minis do sound better pointed right at my ears, but since this is a desk, they aren’t — unless I lift them somehow. Even with my sorry excuse for posture, my oddly beautiful ears are still 3-6″ higher than the top edge of the speakers when the Minis sit square on the desk. No, instead of pointing at my intake valves, the speakers are instead centered on my hugely massive biceps, whose dimensions may well have distracted you from the fact that they are not actually on my skull. So, unless I push back from the desk and slouch — a lot — my ears aren’t on-plane. And when I slouch, my biceps get in the way. It’s a problem you probably don’t have, girlyman.

3b. I tried them up on some Stillpoints Ultras “just to see”, because when they sit on the desk, I can feel the desk humming along with them. The Stillpoints definitely decouple the speakers more than a little — the buzz in the desk is reduced (but not eliminated). But the sound didn’t seem right.

3c. I could put them on desktop stands and pull them a full 9″ off the desktop, which would center things up nicely (with my skull, that is) if I wasn’t bonelessly draped across my Aeron. But, the more I fiddle, the more I’m convinced that they’re voiced to work with the desktop, maybe for reinforcement. That is, pulled that far from the desktop, there’s a bit of a discontinuity with the woofer panel, which is tucked safely into the footwell. The top-to-bottom coherence, which my big Maggies are rightfully famous for, just isn’t there. A bit of this was happening with the Stillpoints, I think, but on the stands, it’s a bit more obvious.

Now, don’t get alarmed. This is a great time to remember that I’ve not got but a couple of days on them. Brand-new Maggies always have some challenges with the lower part of the register until the panels break in and loosen up, so this is exactly where the Mini System will improve over time.

3d. Did I mention that they’re freaky good? The sound is really immediate. Almost forward. Again, part of this is a break-in issue (if you could call it an issue at all as I’m not complaining), as with stretching, the upper-mids will take a half-step back. I opted to slip a pair of resistors in as treble attenuators in order to tilt the treble back — a huge help and everything is now silk and lace up top.

3e. The bass panel is weird. It’s in the footwell, so it’s taking advantage of some bass-horn acoustics down there to add a whole mess o’ presence. I have it in the center of the two speakers (just below them) and about the same distance away as the two other speakers — and it works. I’m getting way more bass energy than I’ve gotten with just about any other desktop rig. No, it’s not subwoofer bass — it’swooferbass. It’s early, but I suspect it’s enough. I do have a pair of subs that are loafing around doing nothing, so I may slip one in just to see what happens, but I think it’d be overkill.

4. I’ve never heard a speaker this small sound this good. And it is small. 15″ panels, on a desk, take up a lot less visual (and physical) space than a pair of boxes of the same height and more than 1″ depth. Being panels, there’s just not a lot to them — they’re not unobtrusive, but they’re way less so than my big 3.7s.

The Audioengine A5+ is an outstanding speaker and an outstanding value — clearly a reference at its price point. Before the Maggies, they were my favorite desktop speaker, but the Mini is a whole ‘nuther thing. Of course, the Maggies are 3x the cost and you still need an amp.

Speaking of which — I’m using a Red Wine Audio Signature 15. It’s cranking out a healthy 30wpc into 4ohms, and it’s more than enough for near field listening. With the attenuators in place, I found that (counter-intuitively) that I need to turn it up less. 11 o’clock on the dial is distractingly loud at 3′ away. I can tolerate louder, but I’m not getting anything else done at that point. For those of you curious, the knob continues to pile on the SPLs all the way over to 3am, where it’s too loud to listen. Go, 30 watts, go!

Anyway, just thought I’d share what little I have at this point as the work is all ongoing. But I’m really happy with what I have so far.

So, if you’re interested, don’t forget, there’s a new try-and-buy program, too. Magnepan Dealer-Direct gives you 30-days of use with money back and no restocking fees if things don’t work out. Surprised? I’m not. I can’t see these going back.