Magnepan speakers are without question unique in the high end industry, and not just because of their shape and design principles. What makes them unique is the design seems capable of almost limitless possibilities, yet they are produced at a very basic and modest level of operation.|
For whatever reason their design envelope was never pushed by the parent company who seem happiest making them affordable and a value for the money. In light of that numerous people have taken it upon themselves to alter, tweak and "pump up" their maggies over the years. Modifications tend to be confined to:
Making some sort of stand, and possibly raising or straightening them
Replacing the crossover components with better parts
Installing struts to "stiffen" the frames
What instantly struck me about all this modding was how varied the methods, parts and processes chosen were. There was no agreement, no unifying principle, no "best way". The only statement that even seemed to get universal support is "Just mod them some way, it will improve them." While confusing it highlights one truth - Something is wrong about the design and it needs to be found and fixed. That being the case "just doing anything" is not the solution. If there is a flaw then the way to improve them is finding and fixing that flaw. Since it appeared this had not been done and no one discovered what the real issue is, I made it my mission to find it.
Magnepan speakers in stock form have a few issues, but they have one major problem. Vibration. It is the biggest source of sound degradation maggies have. If you observe a pair of maggies playing moderately loudly with their socks off you will see more vibrating on the driver than you would have imagined, and in fact some people manage to get theirs to make a "slapping" noise. (from the mylar actually striking the magnets, the culprit here almost always being an underpowered amp) Maggies make sound by vibrating the mylar, but once made, ideally we'd like those waves to vanish and not interfere with the next ones. However the maggie driver is attached to an MDF frame which does not accept any of this energy. In fact, because of MDF's normal refusal to accept vibrational energy a large portion of it has no choice but to return to the driver from where it came where it meets and destroys those new waves being formed, with the net result being major loss of detail and smear.
For nearly four years I experimented with not only the stand and its design, but the crossover and components for it. While it may all seem obvious now, for a long time it was a vague shadow I could only sense, and uniting it all was difficult and took trial, error and time, often because past assumptions or "truths" all proved incorrect. The end result therefore didn't just "happen", and it's also not a guess. It is the culmination of those things which showed themselves to work best, all united and working as a whole.|
Up to now, most people utilized steel when making stands for their Maggies, which I can only attribute to the fact that's it's easier to drill a hole and insert a bolt than do woodwork. Yet even those who used wood only made either bases or struts and achieved little more than making them vertical or stand taller, the mdf was never replaced. It is our feeling that all vertical placement does is make them beam. Like a flashlight, that direct beam may seem like an improvement due to increased strength (in this case dbl levels) but if you stop and really listen and consider, do you want that any more than you want a flashlight beam in the eyes? What's more, gaining this dbl increase happens at the cost of ambience, musicality and even bass reproduction. (Magnepan itself for the majority of the companies life has chosen to tip most models) A tipped flashlight gives an ambient light, a tipped maggie gives an ambient sound and it also improves its bass response. We don't wish to lose any of that and we can make up the detail in other ways.
Sadly, for many years people misunderstood why this smear happened and they incorrectly assumed the problem was that the speakers were moving or shaking. They tried to solve this non existant problem by "stiffening" the panels with struts and metal frames. Since adding these things had some effect on the sound, people felt vindicated doing it, and it became the accepted truth. Yes, attaching struts to stock maggies will yield some improvement, but not for the reason thought. To add a strut you also need to add a base, and all three, speaker, struts and base come together in a triangle. This triangle naturally provides more floor coupling which allows more of the vibrational energy to bleed off into the floor than would normally escape the frame. However only a smaller amount more is getting off and they are not solving the inherent problem because "stiffness" isn't the actual problem.
We know that the real problem lies in the fact that the MDF frame refuses to take up and diffuse the vibrations the maggie driver makes. Imagine the maggie driver as a body of water and the waves generated stemming from a rock thrown into it's center. This first wave set is beautiful and very clear and distinct. However when it reaches the shore line it has no where else to go, whereupon it rebounds back in the direction it came from. When this wave front collides with the next set of waves it makes "choppy water" which is no longer clear or beautiful and that is exactly what a maggie driver in MDF looks like when playing and sounds like when playing - Choppy Water. The solution therefore is to remove these waves entirely and stiffening will not do that.
Fortunately it turns out that there is an ideal medium which can do this: Wood. It has a natural ability to absorb vibrational energy and diffuse it. In fact, that is one of the main jobs it is designed to do. It's cell structure is compliant and this shifting ability of it's cells allows it to turn vibrational energy into heat (friction) and dissipate it. An interesting thing I discovered is if you hold a stock maggie by the MDF frame while playing, you really don't feel a lot of vibration, but if you look at the driver it will be bouncing all over the place. If you hold one of my frames while playing the amount of vibrational energy one can feel is startling, however if you look at the driver, no movement can be seen, even at high volumes. The sound you'll hear proves I am correct, and the fact that my frames move and vibrate so much while doing this disproves the "stiffening" argument as well. It's like the suspension of a car, it moves and bounces in response to a bad road so the occupants do not. You don't "stiffen" a car to make the ride smoother, you install a system that can absorb the shock, which is what we are doing to these speakers.
Magnestand frames accept the wave energy reaching them and turn it into heat thru cell friction and simply bleed it off, therefore it NEVER goes back into the driver and that energy never contaminates the subsequent waves. What you get is one of the purest sounds in audio, which has been compared to and even beaten electrostats in its delicacy and beauty.
We do still use struts in the design because they add to the over all strength, but I have played modded maggies without them installed and I have yet to be able to say I can tell a difference. That's because the wood frame is doing the job so completely that there is nothing left for struts to really do as far as draining away wave energy and "stiffening" as we've proven is not a real issue.
MMG's, the heart of any great system
There are two parts to this equation however and that brings us to the crossover. Years ago I noticed posts online where people would comment that they pulled their old SMGa's out of the closet when they had gotten tired of their main system and they were amazed at "how damn good" the SMGa's sounded. You would see these comments often, and replies would always be in agreement. The model was regarded as "magical". I looked into this magic and discovered the source: It had a very unusual crossover unlike any used in any other production maggie. Since it is my belief all maggies are essentially the same, they only get bigger, (all materials in every frame from the MMG to 3.6 are the same) it seemed reasonable to assume that if this crossover was so damn good, it could (and should) be applied to every model.
This design is a shared, 1st order series with a 6 dbl slope and what is interesting is it makes both voice coils on the maggie driver use a "shared" input. There are not 4 "in" wires, (2 to each voice coil) there are only 3 and each voice coil shares this third positive and negative lead. (the XO components stop the drivers from seeing the signal which would short them) It is my feeling that this method effectively turns the two separate elements on the single maggie driver back into a single, coherent one. Some have claimed this unifying notion is impossible and not technically correct, however listening is the proof of the pudding here and there is no question that is exactly what it sounds like it does, and it's what everyone who hears it says it sounds like. So others can have their semantic wars about it, but for me, if it quacks like a duck... Another side benefit of this crossover is it's efficiency raises the decibel output of every maggie it's used on (except for the 1.7) from around the stock 86 dbl to about 92 dbl.
With the help of a computer aided technician friend we have adapted this design and applied it successfully to all models from the MMG to the 3.6 and older ones like the MG-I and MG-II series. In choosing the components to use for it, I wanted detail but did not wish to lose the inherent warmth of the speakers. After a long trial period I selected inductors, capacitors and resistors based on performance, not cost, and selected those which could deliver warmth and detail without adding grain or edge. Musicality was most important, and fatigue must never be an issue. You can read more about the parts used on the Prices page.
The result was a crossover worthy of the frames and neither is limited by the other in any way, and in fact they are greater than the sum of their parts. The crossovers get built into matching custom wooden boxes (every pair is different) which feature Vampire binding posts. This box then "rides" on the plinth on Herbies "Iso-Dots" which allows the boxes weight to be added to the panels over all mass yet completely isolates the crossover from all vibrations. This gives the listener the clearest window into the music possible. The fuses are also permanently removed from the speaker because as far as Maggies go, "No fuse is good fuse".
The result? Clarity, immediacy, warmth, musicality, far better bass reproduction, no limiting sweet spot, more forgiving placement and increased efficiency. We believe the result is one of the best speakers on earth, and I would be willing to put them up against any commers. So far customers have auditioned and preferred them against top of the line models from companies like Gallo, Harbeth, Merlin and Vandersteen and they have even beaten specialized speakers costing as much as 15 thousand dollars. In fact one customer has told me he compared his 1.6's to 50 grand Wilson MAXX 2's and said it's pretty much a tie. Another customer compared his Magnestand modded SMGa's against his friends pair of $4,300 Harbeth Super HL5's (Of which Stereo Times said the following: "Never, at any price or design type, have I heard a speaker that so completely got out of the way and let the music speak for itself. Never have I heard a speaker that exceeds the HL5ís ability to reveal the artistic quality of the music and its performance.") The results of that meeting? "....we A/B'd the Harbeths against the SMGa's and once again your SMGa's smoked a much more expensive speaker. It was incredible!!" The Harbeth is a speaker the reviewer called the best of it's type he ever heard, and our modded SMGa wasn't just "better", it smoked it? Yes, and apparently this customer had tried his modded Maggies against all (rather expensive) comers, and the Maggies won every time handily.
MURDERERS ROW - Modded MMG, MG-12 and MG 1.6 in Canarywood, Sapele and Makore
BUT WHICH MODEL DO I CHOOSE?
This is often the hardest decision, and in fact many agonize over it. That is not necessary however and I have written a page to help you thru the decision making process. It can be reached by clicking here. Hopefully it can resolve your concerns if you are honest about your situation and don't let desire cloud your judgement. Still, if you have any further questions please feel free to contact me at any time.