AXPONA 2016: Magico S5 rolling thunder, CAT and tape disrupt my mind

Magico S5 MK II ($42,750 USD).

There’s a locomotive with massive drivers that’s rolling thunder down the tracks as it hurtles towards your listening chair: It’s the Magico S5 MK II.

axponaThe S5 features inert, rigid, and non-resonant half-inch thick aluminum enclosures that are heavily braced. This creates an ideal environment for Magico’s proprietary Nano-tech 10″ bass drivers to reach full pistonic potential (the S5 also features a six-inch midrange driver, and a one-inch beryllium tweeter). Don’t get in their way, they will crush you mercilessly with deep, uncolored, and multi-note bass down to 20 Hz.

I’m not kidding about Magico crushing it, and that’s on a couple of fronts. People are catching on that the people in Hayward, California are on to something very good indeed. Magico figured prominently as the transducer of choice in more manufacturer’s showrooms at AXPONA than I can remember seeing at any show I’ve previously attended. Here Magico were paired with the almost legendary (CAT) Convergent Audio Technology SL1 pre-amplifier, ($7,995 USD  approx. with line stage, $9, 995 USD approx. with phono) and JL3 Signature Mk II Pure Triode ($39,990 USD) mono blocks. These power amps are a little thin on the ground, and from what I can gather, CAT doesn’t even have a website, so bear with the links. Cabling was supplied by Transparent Cabling.

JL3 mono blocks pumping out 150 pure Class-A watts into 8 Ohms.
With a good teflon pan, these amps can pull double-duty for cooking eggs.

The CAT amps are Class-A triode mono blocks each using 16 6550 Winged “C” tubes outputting 150 watts into 8 Ohms, and tip the scales somewhere north of the neighborhood of 100 lbs each. According to Internet lore, the SL1 pre-amplifier has not changed much since its introduction by designer Ken Stevens in 1985. Think about that. In a day, and age when many manufacturers are introducing changes on an almost bi-monthly cycle to gear – especially digital gear – here is a design that elicits hushed whispers of superiority from audiophiles in the know for the last 31 years.

AXPONA coverage brought to you by Underwood HiFi, Exogal and Emerald Physics
31 years near the top of the sonic heap in pre-amplifiers. If it ain’t broke…

This room had really piqued my interest when I walked in, because not only was the pedigree of the playback gear top shelf (so I was a little guilty of expectations, always problematic in hi-fi; more so if you’re my parents, who hoped I’d be a doctor … but I digress), the source was also top shelf as I was able to listen to a mix of master-tape copies from International Phonograph Inc., recorded by audio engineer Jonathan Horwich, with the big Sony APR-5000 reel-to-reel, pulling magnetic-tape rotation duty. The gorgeous Kronos Pro turntable, ($28,000 USD approx.) and ZYX Universe LOMC cartridge ($8,495 USD approx.) were relegated to furniture duty while I was in the room, so this is all tape-based blather.

Counter-rotating platters of aural delights – $28, 000 USD – The Kronos.
Sony APR-5000. Disruptions to neural pathways may ensue.

award-sighting-smThe sound was ballsy, dynamic, and had incredible depth, and human presence to every aspect of the frequency spectrum. Huge hanging spheres of space delicately expanded around instruments, and voices spreading like sonic ripples. Each ripple possessed an extreme speed of attack, followed by a fragrant bloom of decay on notes of all colors; be they horns, percussion, or piano especially.

Technically speaking, the gear was handling its translating duties with real aplomb, élan if you will, but it was the emotional connection to the music that this system was capable of eliciting that got me pretty squishy.

Tapes do something to my brain. There’s a weird disconnect of connection (so to speak): like jacking into a power line. A type of interference occurs. Pleasurable interference. Since brains are electrical-impulse based organizations of thoughts, and memories, I’m finding analog tape causes a fair number of misfiring synapse to occur. Mind you, it’s in a great way. All this adds up to, once again, a terrible f*cking truth that sooner, rather than later I fear, I’m going to have to address the acquisition of a reel-to-reel tape player.

Pray for me.

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream


  1. I have the same relationship with tape. My dad used to rebuild old reel-to-reel decks. Unfortunately I don’t have any of his, um, projects, but I do have some 1/4″ tapes I made on them. At some point, as time, space and budget allow, I wouldn’t mind coming over to the dark oxide side.

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