Newport 2012: Magnepan











In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am a not only a Magnepan fan, but an owner. I’m not going to apologize for it, either, but I will admit freely, openly and repeatedly that I love the brand and the fact that the speakers are all still made in the USA — by hand. Better still — even after all these years, the folks at Magnepan have seemingly gone out of their way to not only offer something interesting to the market but they’ve managed to do so affordably. There is no good reason why Magnepan couldn’t charge far more for their offerings than they do, but the fact that they don’t — and have steadfastly refused to do so — has not only won them my respect but also does cast a rather unhealthy light on other manufacturers in this industry.

If Magnepan can do it, why can’t you?

I spoke to Magnepan’s Wendell Diller on the way into the room, after glancing around in relative confusion that Friday afternoon, looking wildly for a big panel or two — and not seeing any on display!

“It was a risk,” Wendell explained. “We wanted to show something different this time through,” he said.

Today, Wendell was showing off the Motorized MMC-2 speakers. These run $2,000/pair and include all the mounting hardware you’d need to get them out of the way, which is what they do — get out of the way. The goal is to provide world-class sound with the Magnepan approach (that is, panels), but to do it in a way that won’t cause undue domestic distress. No, really! Wendell related a story about having to appease a family member’s need for “good sound” and his spouses’ requirement of “not mucking up my living space with a giant panel”. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s a fair point.

In fact, it’s more than a fair point. Apparently, these models aren’t really carried by the Magnepan dealers for some unknown reason. After hearing them in this room, I can’t imagine why. They solve a real problem — the WAF issue — neatly and completely.

Which means no one really has heard them! So, how better to get the message out than with a captive, audio-friendly audience? Hence, the demo here at Newport. I’m bummed I couldn’t get more time with the 20.7 über-panels, but honestly, there are lots and lots of places I can hear those. But this was a once-so-far-in-my-lifetime opportunity to hear something new and neat, so obviously I was on it like white on rice.

Nestled in the middle of the display was an $800 CC5 center channel.

Center channel?

Yes! The point was to demo an audiophile-quality system in an unconventional space. A center channel can really anchor an otherwise suboptimal listening space — assuming you have the proper gear for it … which they did, courtesy of some 3-channel gear from Bryston — an SP-2 processor and a 6B 3-channel amplifier.

I will say this — when the panels folded out of the wall, I was a bit non-plussed. Not negative, just not sure what to expect — they’re not big. And they’re not optimally placed, sitting something like 16′ apart. I mean, how good could they sound? But then the music started.

I was sitting next to Marc Mickelson from The Audio Beat and I am embarrassed to say, he started dancing in the most peculiar way. Okay. No, he didn’t — but I’m sure he wanted to. I did.

I stuck around for all the demo tracks. We covered the immediacy of vocals, the dynamics of a full orchestra, and some jamming from a rock band — and I was not only surprised, I was a very happy camper.

I found myself chatting with a guy and his wife who’d come in, looking for 1.7s and leaving confused as to whether or not to pursue getting them. It’s a fair question, given that the MMC-2 are the same price — they don’t really sound “the same”, however, the demo at the Atrium Hotel here in Newport very definitely did share a “house sound” with the rest of the Magnepan line — a point which I made to the curious shopper. And it’s true — I think the big panels tend to sound more coherent than any scattering of little panels, but I think that the immediacy and transparency in the room will be very similar to what he’d get if he took the 1.7s home. The main caveat is this — there is no way a 1.7 is ever going to vanish as completely as the MMC-2 setup I heard here. Ain’t gonna happen, no way, no how. And no, I’m not talking about some weird, only partially decipherable, audiophile cliche. With the MMC-2, they really do vanish — into the friggin’ wall.

I can hear my wife singing “Halleluiah” in the background now.

Now, there were some supporting actors in the room, too. Hiding behind some potted flowers was an $800 DWM woofer module — and another of them was tucked “into” a table on the other side of the room. All told, there was about $4,700 worth of Magnepan speakers creating a stable and rather tangible sound stage. I heard all the Maggie trademarks here — fast if not cavernous bass, soak-your-hair-in-it mid range, and an extended, clear treble with no grit or grain.

Pictured above is Gary Arluk of Hi 5 Stereo, a Magnepan dealer in La Habra, California.

All things considered, I thought this a fair and fun demo. I wasn’t expecting it, to be sure, and sure, yeah, I want more time with the big new panels but whatever. I got something nifty, fun, great-sounding, and actually useful. For those interested in using them to solve some problems, a 30-day in-home trial is available.