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General speaker questions for audio and home theater.

Re: Why does everyone talk about Maggies? Are they really that great?

I'd like to add my perspective on Magnepan having been an owner of 3s and reviewed the 20s.

The Magnepan story consists of three periods: pre-ribbon tweeter, ribbon tweeter and QR midrange (current). Why Magnepan speakers gained early acceptance and noteriety were that they offered audiophiles a piece of the electrostatic sound without the drawbacks of arcing and unreliability.

The earlier Maggies were somewhat rolled on top, a little hard but were really quick. A model like the Timpani IVa had bass that was extremely fast that revealed little details that the big slow woofers of the day just smeared. In fact, many bought the bass panels (despite their size) and combined them with other drivers (like the QRS/1D system) to produce some outstanding speaker combos.

Then the real breakthrough came with Maggies introduction of their ribbon tweeter (now in its third incarnation--and many still believe the initial despite it's somewhat limited power handling--was the best of the ribbons) in the MGIIIs. This ribbon is still arguably the best HF transducer ever made. Suddenly, HFs were opened up like people never heard in a speaker. This type of resolution was also problematic in that it now revealed faults in equipment that we never knew really existed--and Magnepan soon introduced a resistor to tame problematic high frequencies.

The new MGIIIs had exceptional highs and lows (to around 40 Hz) but the midrange was a little veiled compared to the extremes. (of course some like JGH objected to the venetian blind effect of the transducers being placed side by side.) Why I eventually settled on ML reQuests over MG3.5s was the midrange however. The bass on the two speakers were different, the ML moving more air and Maggies being faster and more resolving; the Maggies have of course the better top end by far; but what was the deciding factor was the midrange: here the ML's had the upper hand.

The main problem was that the MGIIIs required a lot of power to get going -say like 100 watts min and definitely were better sounding biamped (due to bypassing 40 mikes of caps in the xover). Some other complained that the coherency from top to bottom was slightly compromised--but compared to other speakers with the exception of full range estats (which have a transformer which causes other problems --I didn't feel it was a huge failing.

Then Magnepan developed the quasi ribbon driver (QR) for the mids and lows. I must say if you have the right room and amplification, the 20s are probably one of the best buys on the market for slightly under 10K. Having reviewed them, they really need to be biamped and you really need to have a big bass amp with a lot of current driving the bass panel--or else you can hear it slap. The 2nd version which has the outboard passive xover is the one to get for most people--otherwise you'll have to play with active xovers--and I'm not a big fan of active xovers. The 20s really give you the feeling of a real size orchestra--yet don't oversize small ensembles. They are more coherent than earlier Maggies--with all of their attributes.

Then we come to the 3.6s which are supposed to be a real step forward--with the QR midrange--and I'm waiting for the review pr to show up that Steve Rochlin is reviewing for the winter issue of UA. They do promise to be some exception sound, especially for the money. It will be very interesting to hear how the new mid driver integrates with the rest of the drivers and if overcomes the slightly lower midrange resolution of older models.

That said, I think another reason for the popularity of the Maggies is that they're like the Dynaco equipment of yore. The speakers are easily modifiable and the speaker can become even better. I know that I totally rebuilt my MGIIIs with new caps, wiring, chokes, bracing, binding posts, hard wiring the speakers, moving the entire xover outboard--and the sound of the speakers just improved by leaps and bounds. Some like George Cardas even went so far to replace the wire on the panels--and gaining an additional 3db of sensitivity in the process. They're a few Cardas modded Maggies circulating around on the West Coast and people swear by them.

Replacing the polyester caps on the tweeter with polyprope or styrene RELs revealed nuances and delicacy that other drivers only dreamed of. Playing the bass---improved not only the speed (and hang over) but revealed the smallest changes in the playing of upright basses on jazz recordings--that other drivers were just too slow to decipher. Then of course whenever you improve the low end--you'll find a greater sense of ambient space!!! The MGIIIs also used iron core chokes (sure they reduce the size but they don't sound good) and I replaced them with 12 ga. Solen air core chokes (expensive and heavey but worth it!)

Anyway, I hope this gives a little more insight into why the speakers have developed such a loyal following. The main problem with Maggies is their requirement to be placed at least 4 ft from back walls and their size. Not so long ago, big speakers were falling out of favor--but suddenly the demand has picked up and size seems to matter less ;-)

Myles B. Astor
Ultimate Audio

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