|Magnepan Magneplanar MG 3.6 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Thursday, 01 February 2007|
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Music And Movies
To kick things off, I decided to just go ahead and start pushing the outer limits of the Magneplanars with difficult to reproduce, non-audiophile dynamic material. I figured if they were what everyone said they were, then this would be a very short experiment. Either I'd turn the Magneplanars off from ear fatigue or, worse, they'd blow up. You see, the 3.6s can't play loud, right? They're not rock speakers. They're delicate instruments that must be tenderly caressed and fussed with before they reach sonic nirvana. More bullshit. I got your Nirvana right here. I started with Nirvana's second album, Nevermind (Geffen), and the generation- and genre-defining track "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The opening guitar appeared as if from nowhere, heralding the onslaught of drums that rocked my room to its core and never let up. The kick drum was rendered faithfully with tremendous snap and punch, grabbing hold of my most visceral inner urges and starting to squeeze. The entire drum kit had excellent air and extension and felt more like the real thing than anything I'd heard in a long time. The ribbon tweeter helped round out the presentation by breathing what I can only describe as awe-inspiring life into the cymbals. I was having so much fun that I played the intro to the song over and over before actually getting to the vocals. Speaking of vocals, Kurt Cobain’s sounded exceptional on the 3.6s. There were no signs of editorializing or, worse, glossiness. The 3.6s simply reproduced these rough yet poignant vocals without restraint. They were raw, grainy and angry, the way Cobain should sound. His voice took center stage amidst the raging guitars and slamming drums, the way he would have in an actual live performance, without being drowned out or overly accentuated, as he might be in the presentation of some other high-end speakers. At rock concert volumes, the 3.6s held their composure beautifully with zero signs of strain or fatigue. The music just rocketed out of the 3.6s’ thin membranes, filling my listening space with an enveloping, dare I say "live," sound that most traditional loudspeakers simply can't achieve. The soundstage was enormous, arching appropriately back behind the speakers and extending well beyond the sidewalls. The soundstage was nicely detailed if not razor sharp. Then again, what live rock performance is? What the 3.6s did have was air, the sense of scale and space and, above all, a sense of real understanding of the source material. Often, high-end loudspeakers tend to decipher the music, presenting it to you in the way they see fit. Not the 3.6s: they keep it real. And they can play it real loud.
Moving onto the track "Drain You," it was more of the same. With the volume pegged, Cobain's vocals maintained excellent presence among the other instruments. The 3.6s’ midrange, even with a voice as sweet as Cobain's, is simply staggering. It's effortless, just effortless. The drums again were deep and impactful. Now I'll admit, at ear-shattering volumes, the 3.6s would benefit from a decent subwoofer to round out that last bit of oomph. However, for speakers that are criticized for having nearly zero bass capabilities, the 3.6s proved shockingly good at reproducing what bass they can do. The cymbals never became brittle or harsh at intense volumes; instead, they seemed to sing just a little more sweetly. One thing that did surprise me was the 3.6s’ dynamic prowess. Often, hard-to-drive speakers can tend to be a bit sluggish with anything but a kilowatt of power behind them, yet I found the 3.6s to be quite agile and extremely responsive to the track's dynamic shifts. I wasn't lucky enough to see Nirvana live, and no speaker, no matter what their brochures say, can fully recreate a live concert experience, yet with the 3.6s in my system, I feel like I've come very close. In my experience, no speaker, none, has come closer to sounding like a live event than the 3.6s.
I didn't want to leave Nirvana, but it was time for some Pearl Jam and their breakout album Ten (Epic). What I'm going to say might sound a bit strange, but it's the only way I can describe it: on the track "Black," Eddie Vedder's vocals were reproduced as if through a completely different loudspeaker. The 3.6s seemed to change their sonic signature to fit the new, slightly mellower tone of Pearl Jam. Vedder's voice was still rich and rife with detail; it just didn't seem to be coming from the same speakers. The midrange didn’t seem as light on its feet. Instead, it was full-bodied, coming from the gut, with a greater sense of weight that anchored itself firmly in the center of my room way in front of the 3.6s and the rest of the instruments. Was Nirvana wrong? No. They were both right. It's just that the 3.6s allowed me to hear further into the soul of the music in ways traditional speakers simply can't do. Within seconds, I was swaying back and forth in my chair as I visualized hundreds upon hundreds of lighters dancing in the air. The 3.6s’ sound just wafts over you in a wall of music that sweeps you away. I've never heard such spaciousness in music before. The 3.6s aren't vague-sounding or forward, they're just right. The bass guitar was extremely nimble and plenty deep, as were the drums. The cymbals took on a life of their own, shimmering across the furthest reaches of the soundstage like tiny lights in the dark dancing across a rain-soaked wall. I wouldn't classify Pearl Jam as usually beautiful-sounding, yet it was with the 3.6s. I'm not so sure I've ever gotten the full meaning, or should I say feeling, of "Black," but like good teachers, the 3.6s helped show me the way.
I switched tracks to "Jeremy" and was immediately drawn to the cymbals, that is, until the drums rocked in and launched me back into eighth grade. Vedder's vocals once again were full of emotion that the 3.6s never failed to recreate. Not wanting to sound redundant, I will say that the 3.6s have rhythm. Loads of it. They can swing, they can rock and everything in between. Their dynamic capability is rather startling, given their sheer size. Okay, the lowest reaches of the bass could be a bit fuller but again, what's there is pretty damn impressive. Other speakers would kill for the kind of seamless presentation that the 3.6s can dish out from top to bottom.
Keeping with my anti-establishment theme, I went ahead and grabbed Tool's album AEnima (Volcano Records) and cued up the track "Eulogy." The track begins with several minutes of textural elements and subtle percussion that builds up to the song's eventual release. These elements, ranging from light raps on a wood block to some more synthesized sounds, are quite amazing and a bit eerie through the 3.6s. The entire opening played out more like a horror flick, so much so that my eyes began to dart around the room as I tried to locate each individual sound. At times, the music seemed to emanate from behind me, no doubt attributable to the 3.6s’ bipolar design. Nevertheless, it was freaking sweet. When the drums, mainly the bongos, finally do chime in, their sound reached back into the farthest extremities of the soundstage, completely free from the 3.6s’ physical boundaries. The bass was full-bodied and filled out the otherwise treble-based performance beautifully. When the song really gets going, the 3.6s exhibited more of that rhythmic muscle I had heard earlier. Maynard's vocals grabbed at my throat and never relinquished their grip until the track was over. Nothing within the track seemed to stress the 3.6s; they simply wouldn't back down. I pushed the volume higher still and found that my ears crapped out way before the speakers did. The music just thundered on and head banging commenced. Yes, there was head banging. Honestly, forget everything you thought you knew about the 3.6s and all of the bloated audiophile nonsense that comes with it, for these are speakers that know how to rock and roll. They are simply and utterly fantastic.
While this review was supposed to be two-channel only, I couldn't resist the urge to watch a movie or two. I started with the HD DVD presentation of The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Studios Home Video). I didn't have any of Magnepan's center channel or rear speakers on hand, so I rounded out my system with some Definitive Technology speakers. Right off the bat, one thing was overwhelmingly apparent: if you're going to be using the 3.6s or any sort of Magnepan speaker in a multi-channel configuration, you're going to want to make sure it's an all-Maggie system. The 3.6s just didn't jibe with the dynamic drivers of the Definitives the way other speakers can and do. This being said, I set the disc to high-resolution stereo and continued with the show. I never thought I’d say this in my career, but even in two-channel, the 3.6s create one heck of a surround sound movie experience. The sense of atmosphere in many of Bourne’s wide European shots was incredible. It was if the city went on for days and I was right in the middle of it. The way the 3.6s can unravel the minutest ambient details is quite shocking, given their stature. Dialogue through the 3.6s was natural, distinct and appropriately rich. The 3.6s’ way with dialogue seemed so effortless that I didn’t find myself missing my center speaker. More impressive still was the way that the 3.6s retained all of their musicality throughout the film’s score, even when playing it back behind a foreground car chase. The 3.6’s ribbon tweeter is just amazing; it draws that last bit of detail out of everything, taking the sounds and bringing them into sharper focus, all the while remaining incredibly poised and balanced within the rest of the 3.6’s sonic presentation. Dynamically, the 3.6s proved just as awesome with movies as they did with rock music. Bourne’s climatic car chase was visceral and had a sort of “right here” feeling about it that was unlike anything I had experienced before.