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Magnepan 1.7 Review

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  • Magnepan 1.7 Review

    Having been an extremely frugal music listener-mainly due to financial reasons-it has been difficult throughout the years to satisfy my want of good sound. I've typically either bought used gear, waited for something to pop up on the interweb, or used various employee discounts to buy the next piece of the audio nirvana pie. Thus it was outside my typical comfort zone when I purchased a brand new pair of Magnepan 1.7s two months ago. For that story, see this thread:

    I decided to write up a quick review of my impressions, since just about every other review of Maggies was of some "audiophile" type music, which I respect but don't really listen to. I wanted to see what these panels could really do in a real world rock-centric environment.

    My stereo set up is currently the Maggies, and my DIY subwoofer. Electronics are an AppleTV V1 which handles ALAC music server duties, a Sony BDP-S550 blu-ray player, a Marantz SR7001 AVR as the processor, an Emotiva UPA-2 for the left/right channels, a Crown XLS-602 with a Behringer BFD for the subwoofer.

    The 1.7s were positioned in multiple configurations during my days of listening. Different distances from the back wall, from each other, and toe in were listened to. Crossover points of 100Hz and 80Hz were tested. Real subwoofer set up was dependent on how the record was mixed, and the genre. Blues and "lighter" fare either didn't require the subwoofer, or the lower point was better. Rock and "heavier" tracks sounded better with the sub on at the higher crossover point. I should also say that the rock songs were tested at a louder volume as well as my standard mid 70dB playback level, so the Maggies may have needed a little help down low. I also had to juggle with gain matching when switching between the two points. No room correction was used. Pure Direct was used when I wanted the subwoofer off.

    First up was Joe Bonamassa Live From The Royal Albert Hall on blu-ray. This recording really shows off the imaging now available to me. For this show Joe had two drummers, and the mix is split with one kit on the right and one on the left. The 1.7s had no problem resolving each kit, and the individual sounds (cymbal types, ghost notes, etc) played, while keeping Joe center stage. The bass is recorded well, and the Maggies integrated nicely with the subwoofer. The 1.7s can keep up and rock out with Joe, that's for sure. A pleasant surprise.

    The first "CD" was Mumford & Sons Sigh No More. This is a really cool record, and I like how the instruments are layered, and the dynamics involved. The track "The Cave" demonstrated how the Maggies could resolve the vocalists voice and all the associated creaks and strains. The layers of the small kick drum, the horns, the guitar, bass and banjo were all very easily reproduced. Subwoofer not needed.

    Mofro's Lochloosa album is played quite a bit in our house. I really like the laid back southern feel to the record. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals, organ, harmonica, percussion and background noise all have a place. The guitars in particular appear well recorded. Very cool mix. The Maggies were also able to dig deep and resolve all the bass lines while still delineating the kick drum. Again no subwoofer needed for this record. These speakers could transport you to the Florida swamp in a heartbeat if you weren't careful.

    Jazz was represented by Bill Moring & Way Out East with their record "Spaces in Time". This record is anchored by a very well played (in my opinion) stand up bass. The Maggies really imaged depth well, with the horns in front, with the bass and drums in the background. Here's where the first negative thing happened. I really tried to leave the subwoofer off, but the bottom tones of the bass just weren't presented like I prefer them with just the 1.7s playing. They hit every note, but the bottom register was thin, or possibly just not balanced with reference to the horns or the ride cymbal. I can't knock them too much, specifically because the tone of the trumpet was superb. I played trumpet in a jazz band years ago, and this was by far the closest representation of a trumpet that I've heard outside of a real one. I'll leave the one minor issue for later. Or it may just be the recording. We'll see.

    Moving on to rock I dug deep into the hard drive and cued up Rob Halford's first solo band Fight, with the War of Words record. Pure metal. Not only could the Maggies handle Halford's vocal range and cymbals, but kept up with the bass heavy tracks and the quick kick drum. The fuzzed out guitars also sounded very full. For anyone who says that Magnepans aren't the speakers for rock, I challenge them to come on down here and give a listen.

    Enchant's record Tug of War is a very well recorded, mixed and mastered album. The track "Sinking Sand" has been a demo song of mine since purchasing it a few years ago. The fullness of the 1.7s are on display with the mix. Guitars are big, with keyboards and bass filling out the empty spots. The song has a very cool bass grove, and the drums are mixed as you are looking at them. So the hat's are on the right, the ride is on the left, and the toms and cymbals are across the front. Vocals are recorded well and are out in front. There's a breakdown at about the five minute mark through the song, where it's just the bass doing a cool run. The 1.7s were able to not only resolve the individual notes with vigor, but could get down as low as needed. Although tested with Pure Direct on, I personally preferred the subwoofer on.

    The next up was Dream Theater's Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence's second disc, which is a concept album. As with most Dream Theater releases, there's plenty going on, with all the instruments played to the hilt. I had a pleasant surprise with this one. Not only could the Maggies resolve all the craziness, but could do it well loud. Drummer Mike Portnoy uses two different hi-hats, and through the Maggies it is easy to distinguish when he changes by the tone. Very cool. The bass tone was also very present, which has lacked on not just my old system, but most of the rest I've heard Dream Theater through. Stand out tracks include "Solitary Shell", and the "War Inside My Head/The Test That Stumped Them All" mash up. The 1.7s give off a huge sound stage. I've seen Dream Theater many times in concert and I'm very happy with how the living room representation stacks up.

    Metal's first entry was Meshuggah with their album Koloss. Against better judgement I even turned up the volume. This type of music is always difficult for me to use as a demo. Most of the songs are played with a rhythm heavy atmosphere, with guitar, bass and drums all playing the same patterns. Not only could the Maggies keep up with the volume level, but they could separate the individual instruments. I could clearly hear the "thwack" of the bass guitar over the heavily distorted tone of the guitars. The drums are recorded with a great deal of low end eq, which were also easily distinguished. Tomas Haake, the drummer, uses ride cymbals as his crashes, and I could hear the different tone in each one. Through all the heavy layers the guttural vocals still were front and center. Although I listened to most of the album with the sub on, when turned off and at lower volumes the Maggies were fine.

    I concluded the music listening with Tool's Lateralus album. This is a very well recorded and produced mix, with good dynamics. This record proved again that the Maggies could handle multiple tones and sounds going on at once. They had no problem reproducing acoustic drums, electric triggers, male vocal, bass and guitar. I even heard "atmospheric" type sounds that I had never had before, as well as some trickery the bass player does with hammer ons, pull offs, and slides. The best was the guitar sound. The guitar player plays through a bass head, which gives his tone a very chunky and unique feel, and the Maggies reproduced it very well. Even in Pure Direct mode the bottom end of the guitar was full and rich, with only the lower bass lines loosing some presence.

    Since these will be my left, right and center speakers for movies I tried "The Expendables 2". The sound track came through very well, even in my down mixed state. The Maggies threw a very convincing center image, while still hanging tough with the left/right channels. Dialogue came through well. The gunfire staccato in numerous scenes was convincing, with the crack of a shot going from the 1.7s down through the subwoofer. It it extremely nice to have such a deadened sub to be able to keep up with the speed of the panels. No bloat. One thing I noticed was that Stallone's handgun was dubbed (mixed/recorded?) with a lower fundamental than the other handgun sounds. I don't know if my old speakers would have resolved that.

    We had a movie night with "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" with my wife and kids. They had no problem hearing the dialogue, even without a center channel. The sound stage was expansive from left to right, and it was easy to be drawn into the movie. This isn't a demo type movie for me, but it shows that the Maggies could handle our typical movie nights with no problem.

    In conclusion, the Magnepan 1.7s are as good as I could have hoped. After finding a good spot in the room to position them, I threw everything I had at them, and they took it and made it better. Jazz and blues images were intimate, while rock and metal were huge. I could not discern band breaks or internal crossover points, and they were about as smooth as the real thing. The high range was super smooth, so much so that I do NOT want to listen to the higher end Magnepans. Low end presence is harder to explain. The best I can come up with is the way an IB subwoofer sounds compared to a typical box sub. I couldn't discern any coloration at all to the sound. I found myself leaving Pure Direct on longer just to see how they did with the heavier stuff. Did the Magnepans peter out, or is this what the recording is supposed to sound like? This will no doubt be an ongoing test. I also wonder if this is a result of the amplification. The UPA-2 is conservatively rated at 185 watts into four ohms, and has a large power supply. A bigger amplifier may help the Maggies dig deeper. I am beginning to wonder what new equipment I can install up stream to make them sound better. The time for being a frugal audiophile may be at an end. The journey continues.
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