- What associated equipment works best with Magneplanars?
- What is the best amplifier for Magneplanars?
- How much power do I need?
- What is the best Magneplanar for my room?
- Small Room, Small Speaker? Big Room, Big Speaker?
- Are Magneplanars good for home theater?
- Should I upgrade to the new models?
The small staff at Magnepan have their hands full trying to keep up with our back orders, research and development, and all the demands associated with trying to stay at the forefront of our business. We understand the fundamentals of amplifiers and other associated equipment, but we simply can't do our jobs and keep up with ever-changing products and models. It may come as a surprise, but many of our customers have auditioned more amplifiers than we have.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive source to answer these questions. We know many of the reviewers personally and they all have their own preferences. The Internet is full of free advice, but very little consensus.
That's the bad news. The good news -- while you could make it your career to find the ultimate amplifier for your money you want to spend, the top choice from any one of our dealers will be a winner. There are so many products available to the dealers that they can pick and choose what they want to sell. We don't know of any Magnepan dealers selling substandard amplifiers with Magneplanars. Part of the dealer's motivation to go into the business is the enjoyment of the art. If you believe they are strongly promoting a specific brand just for the money, we strongly disagree. They enjoy what they are doing; and if there is any criticism, it could be that in their exuberance, they may recommend better products costing more than you are willing to pay.
There are a few general design recommendations we can offer:
- Subwoofers - The subwoofers that move a lot of air and are impressive in a demonstration are usually "sloppy" and become tiresome during extended music listening. Integrating a "musical" woofer is both expensive and tricky, but, it can be done. Here is where your Maggie dealer will prove to be most helpful.
- 4 Ohm capacity is important in amplifier design (more on that later).
- Speaker Cables - As with other ancillary equipment, we can't keep up. But we can offer this advice: a system's total performance is dependent upon on a balanced approach. Sometimes spending less in one area and more in another will result in a total performance improvement. This applies to cables and speaker wire as well as other ancillary equipment.
Some individuals assume we won't make product or amplifier recommendations for "political" reasons. Not true. We CAN'T make specific recommendations because WE DON'T KNOW. It is too much work to keep up with changing models and the vast number of products. As it is, our small staff is not getting all of our work done. However, the following guidelines will be helpful. Class A/B amplifier designs that come close to doubling power at 4 ohms have a long and successful track record.
There are 2 features or aspects of a receiver or amplifier that will enhance your music or experience-- High current power supplies (ability to drive 4 ohm loads) and adjustable crossover points in the bass management menu for home-theater.
The most common question is about the amount of recommended power for Magneplanars, but, first, it is important to understand the role of current and the power supply. High current and the capability of the power supply is a good indicator of the QUALITY of the amplifier. The amount of power you will need is a matter of QUANTITY. High current and total power are two separate issues. The ratio of the power at 8 ohms and 4 ohms defines the quality of the sound probably more than any other aspect of the sonic performance. Typically, if the engineers got this right, they probably did a good job in other areas of the design.
The power supply is "what separates the men from the boys." A receiver is very efficient and cost-effective way to get is all in one package, but there are "issues". Unfortunately, consumers want all the "bells and whistles" without understanding the importance of power supply. Many manufacturers offer the "bells and whistles", but, compromise the power supply to be price competitive. There are a few manufacturers that are the exception.
Everyone understands they need plenty of power, but the role of power supply is not understood. There is one important concept you need to understand when shopping for an amplifier or receiver---and it is somewhat like understanding "good" and "bad" cholesterol. The ratio is very important. An Gold Standard for an amplifier would be to double the power at 4 ohms. This concept is important even if you are buying an 8 ohm speaker. If the amplifier is rated at 80 watts at 8 ohms, it should (ideally) produce 160 watts at 4 ohms (or close to it). None of the receivers will do that. However, this is the benchmark of a good amplifier design. A 10 watt amplifier that produces 20 watts at 4 ohms "speaks volumes" about the PHILOSOPHY of the designer. (But, of course, it does not tell you if a 10 watt amplifier is enough for your room.)
A good receiver might produce 30-40% more power at 4 ohms. Most receiver manufacturers don't want to talk about 4 ohm ratings because they have cut the "guts" out of their products to keep the cost down. Some receivers produce the same power at 4 ohms as the 8 ohm ratings. Or they use a switch on the back for 4 ohms to reduce the power and to prevent the receiver from self destructing. Others warn against 4 ohm speakers and will only offer a 6 ohm power rating. Regardless of what speaker you buy, we don't recommend any of these receivers. There are a few manufacturers making receivers with good 4 ohm capability. But, we can't keep up with who's doing what. All you have to remember is to ask-- "What is the 4 ohm power rating?" If the 4 ohm rating isn't available, find another model or brand. It may take some digging to find the 4 ohm rating, but there are a number of receivers on the market that are rated for 4 ohms. For example, the THX rating requires that the amplifier section must be able to drive 4 ohms continuously. Even an inexpensive receiver like the 50 watt NAD C725 BEE (suggested retail of $799) is advertised to be stable with impedances down to 1 ohm and has peak power of 200 watts. So, don't be fooled by pretty front panels. Its what is on the inside that counts.
A new type of amplifier (Class D) has become more popular because it is a "green" design and uses less power plus it is smaller in size compared to conventional amplifier designs. We have heard reports of Class D amplifiers shutting down when driving 4 ohm loads or sound quality that is less-than-desirable. Some, more recent designs are much better. Because we do not have the time to determine which models of Class D designs are compatible with Maggies, we must take a conservative approach. Class A/B designs with high current capability have proven a good choice for many decades.
Adjustable crossover points- If you are shopping for a receiver or processor, you will want a model with adjustable crossover points for "small" speakers in the bass management menu. This is very important to the design of a Magneplanar home-theater system. Adjustable crossover points up to 250 Hz are desirable.
Most ribbon or electrostatic center channel speakers incorporate a dynamic midbass driver since the rather small ribbon or electrostatic elements can not produce midbass. This seems like a mistake to us. The center channel speaker does approximately 60% of the "heavy lifting" for movies. Why compromise with a dynamic woofer?
Magneplanar center channel speakers are also small (relative to our full range models) and cannot produce adequate midbass-- by themselves. Our strategy is to utilize the front left/right Magneplanars (or one of the new Magneplanar Woofers) to produce the center channel midbass/bass. When optimally setup, the illusion is of a big Maggie in the middle. However, it requires one of several solutions for getting center channel midbass/bass. Adjustable crossover points in the bass management menu is one of the easiest solutions. If your receiver or processor only has an 80 Hz crossover point for "small" center channel, there are other options. Please call us and we will be happy to discuss your installation requirements.
We are asked this question every single day. We wish that we could be of more help, but individual tastes vary. If someone tells you that you need an amplifier with ___ watts, how can they be so sure if they are not listening with you in your room?
You can get a lot of free advice in the chat rooms on the internet. Most of it is of very little value (or misleading). Often, their power recommendations are influenced by their listening habits and room conditions. If they have a strong opinion of what you need for power, take it with a grain of salt.
Personal tastes are "all over the map". We hear of customers that are perfectly happy with 50 watts and others using 1000 watts. Without the option of listening with you, we have no way to give meaningful advice. The most reliable way to answer this question for your particular needs is by visiting a dealer or arranging to hear a pair of Magneplanars. If you listen to your music at your normal volume, in a room that is approximately the same size as your room, with an amplifier similar to what you plan to use, an accurate power requirement can be determined for your listening habits. This is a lot to ask, but it is the only reliable method of determining the power needs for a specific individual.
There is a persistent impression that the larger Maggies require more power. It is true that most customers with the more expensive models have more powerful amplifiers. But, the popular assumption is not correct. They typically have a larger budget. If and when you upgrade your electronics is a separate decision.
Conventional wisdom isn't always right.
In a very real sense, the 20.7 or a 3.7 are SMALLER than an MMG. If Magnepan sold only the portion of the 3.7 or 20.7 that operated from 200 Hz and up, the question of speaker size/room size would be less of an issue. An ideal ribbon line source driver is very narrow and would go from floor to ceiling. (It would look like a pole.) Most of the area of a Magneplanar is needed for bass reproduction. A large Magneplanar in a small room is mostly an aesthetic issue.
Hypothetically, it might be possible to sell a very narrow line-source driver that would fit within your price budget and provide the level of definition you desire. The choice from several bass panels which would be voiced for your room would complete the modular speaker system and provide a "custom" solution. However, the cost would be prohibitive.
You may have noticed similar specifications for the least-to-most expensive Magneplanars are very similar. There is nothing in the specifications to justify the cost difference. More than any other performance parameter, what you are buying as you move up in the Magneplanar line is RESOLUTION (or definition). However, unlike video, there are no specifications in loudspeakers for resolution. You can hear it, but it is not easily defined.
The higher performance Magneplanar will sound better than a lower-priced model--even in a small room. To use an analogy-- a high definition video monitor does not lose resolution when placed in a small room. Buy as much Magneplanar resolution as your budget will allow. However, the aesthetic objections from family members of a larger Magneplanar in a small room is one we can't help.
If room size is an issue, "Plan B" might be one of our on-wall models such as the motorized MMC 2.
The Gold Standard for speaker placement (for any speaker) would provide a minimum of a 10-12 millisecond delay for the first reflection off of the walls. To make it more complicated, there is the issue of optimizing placement to achieve smooth bass response and good stereo imaging. Few of us have the room or the freedom to place speakers where they sound the best. Much of life involves compromise.
Magneplanars will sound their best very close to whatever position is the best compromise for conventional speaker placement in your room. Without being there, we have no means of improving on what you have discovered by trial and error.
The editor of Wide Screen Review has a complete Magneplanar system as his reference. Why? Because resolution is more important than extreme sound pressure levels. But, high resolution sound for home-theater will not be fully appreciated in a 5-10 minute demonstration. What Magneplanars can do for home-theater will take at least 20 minutes or more into a movie. The process is subtle. High resolution sound does not call attention to itself. You become more immersed in the movie and don't realize until later that Magneplanars have a seductive quality that will increase over time.
The majority of consumers in North America live too far from a dealer to audition speakers before making a purchase. There are now fewer audio specialty dealers than any time in Magnepan's 43 year history. (It seems that America buys most of their home entertainment equipment from Wal-Mart and Best Buy.) How is a Maggie customer going to make a buying decision that lives hundreds of miles from the nearest Magnepan dealer?
Our customers are known to keep their Magneplanars and rarely switch to another brand. If you decide to upgrade, we want you to be happy with your purchase. So, if you call us, we will not be giving you a "hard sell" to buy one of the new models. We want you to feel confident that the new model is worth the trade up. But, that is little help to the customer that lives hundreds of miles from a Magnepan dealer.
The new 1.7 and 3.7 got a 100% grade in blind testing by "golden ears" and non-audiophiles. Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound magazine said of the 3.7s in Issue 213-- "...if they don't knock you out, they are set up wrong or by the incompetent. Period."