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RE: That 1.7 review is nonsense

I can't speak to the standards of reviewers. However, these guys do listen to the best equipment made and, really, I don't see many raves of the kind that greeted the 1.7.

You've been to CES so you know how much "also ran" sound you hear their -- often the fault of room acoustics and hurried setup. But not many loudspeakers garner the kind of enthusiastic praise the 1.7 did.

I've also noted that, contrary to what you suggest, at CES I can hear immediately whether a system sounds realistic or not, provided they're playing something like an orchestral recording (according to an interesting Harman study the most revealing kind of music for loudspeaker evaluation). A brief show encounter doesn't provide all the listening experience a critic would need for a full review, of course, but you were the one who mentioned CES and said the sound of the 1.7 was "mediocre" there. Forex, you mention levels. As I recall, in his review of the 1.7, Jon Valin said that the upper midrange got a bit hard when levels were pushed to extremes. That's the sort of information you read a review for, and can't count on reading in a show report.

You say of PG's 1.7 review, "[It] seems to support exactly to a tee what I have said about them (especially his bright comments on the 1.6). Funny no one ever reads that stuff when the 1.6 was the current model." I say, really? Here for example is an excerpt from Brian Damkroger's original review of the 1.6: "Second, although the l.6/QR was unfailingly musical and engaging, it didn't sound particularly flat in my room. I'll leave the measurements to JA, but they sounded a bit boosted in the upper bass and the low treble. The latter affected the perspective, as I'll discuss in a minute, and seemed to emphasize both record-surface noise and the hashy digititis that's woven into some CDs and inexpensive CD players."

My criticism of PG's review lies in his misunderstanding of basic technical matters and his misstatements of fact, rather than his listening impressions. I think he's right about the brightness of the 1.6's (there's a 7 kHz peak in the highs, according to JA's measurements -- gonna sound a bit bright and emphasize noise and hash), and I think he's also right that the 1.6's had more bass, actually a bit too much midbass. But everyone has his own preferences. It's pretty obvious from reading both professional and owner reviews that the 1.7's are highly regarded speakers and a remarkable value for the money.

Beyond that, the individual must decide, because different people have different needs. However, I would say that for those who care about the reproduction of acoustical music, Maggies are pretty much unbeatable in their price class, and often far above it. That is why they evoke such passion, both from owners and reviewers. Whereas those who listen mostly to studio pop, or who are after "hi fi" attributes, may not care for them. At that price, with that kind of music, dynamics and extension may be more important than realism.

But when reproducing acoustical music, dipole line sources have a "magic carpet" realism to them that most speakers lack.

I wouldn't call Maggies polarizing speakers, BTW. All speakers are a bit controversial and I've found personally that everyone reacts positively to the sound of planars. What's more, in my experience, that isn't generally true of most boxes, because they lack the "magic carpet" quality of being transported into another acoustical space.

Again, that doesn't mean that they are the best choice for everyone -- that realism with acoustical music may not be what people are after, and for those who do love acoustical music and can accommodate planars, there are credible alternatives in the higher price ranges, e.g., the Quads, the Kings, the Sound Labs, some of the more esoteric boxes like YG and Magico, or big yacht-priced line sources like the Genesis.

BTW, some of the techniques Magnepan has used in the 3.7 are indeed applicable to dynamics (and to some extent already used in a different frequency range). Some are applicable only to panel speakers of various kinds. And despite what you said, I haven't noticed that people who make dynamic speakers don't like panels, any more than I've noticed that the people who make panels don't like dynamic speakers. They both have their uses. But it would make little sense for every manufacturer to make every kind of speaker. Not every company wants to turn into Harman International.

By the way, you keep saying that electrostats are the best panels, but IMO, that's an oversimplification of the tradeoffs. Electrostats are more transparent than planar magnetics, yes, but the laws of physics say that they have to be huge and expensive to play loud and go deep -- Sound Labs territory. You can make hybrids as M-L does, but you'll always hear a dynamic mated to an electrostatic, it stands out like a sore thumb. And there are other issues as well, e.g., the dispersion/power response issues that are so difficult to address in stats (Quad's two mile delay line, the huge width of the Sound Labs, ML's curved diaphragm which adds distortion and causes power response problems as wavelength approaches the radius of the driver's arc).

Are Sound Labs better than the 1.7? No doubt. But at $50,000 rather than $2,000, they ought to be. The Apogees, too, were more expensive speakers, in fact so expensive to build and service that the company went out of business.

Again, I think what Magnepan is trying to protect here is the 3.7, not the 1.7, which uses a related technique with different means in a different frequency range. And as I said, not every speaker maker buys and measures every competitive speaker made, it would be a waste of time and money. Whereas just about every speaker maker does see JA's measurements in Stereophile. And yeah, if they see something unusual in those measurements, they're going to say "What's this?" and buy a pair.

I doubt very much that a domestic manufacturer could make and sell Maggies for half the price, as you suggest. You'd either have to make a carbon copy clone or master a lot of "black art" technology, and even if you made a carbon copy you'd need custom manufacturing facilities and experience. (And how many audio manufacturers do that? I can think of only one in audio, a big German semi-pro manufacturer with a reputation for stealing the designs of others, sometimes even to the point of copying circuit boards.) In the end, you'd end up putting more engineering effort into the planar than Magnepan does. And then you'd have to match their economies of scale, and overcome the fact that they have a big dealer network and a universally-known name.

In this sort of market, people generally enter because they want to fill a different niche. That's what Apogee did when they entered the planar/ribbon market at the high end, and Eminent Technology, in its own planar magnetic niche, and BG and Wisdom, in theirs.

Edits: 03/20/12

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