|Magnepan Magneplanar MG 3.6 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Thursday, 01 February 2007|
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One of the most lauded speakers in the history of audiophilia, the Magneplanar 3.6 might seem like an odd subject of review for a publication that is more focused on cutting-edge 1080p video displays than propping up exotic, mercury-filled speaker cables on the floor on some oddball, sawhorse-like stands. Yet in a world where 1.5 million relatively flat HDTVs get sold every month in this country, it has become time to take a critical look and an even more critical listen to one of the more famous flat speakers ever made, the Magnepan 3.6. And this time, I broke a vinyl copy of Jazz at the Pawnshop over my knee and scratched a CD copy of Steely Dan’s Aja before I started my listening as if to flip the proverbial bird to the audiophile gods before I even started the project. As the Magnepan 3.6 has been reviewed in all of the old-school print magazines, this review without question was going to be different. Can big, nearly $4,500, physically flat audiophile speakers cut the mustard in a world where mainstream consumers could not care less about tweaky audiophile tendencies? People with the money, the ears and the inclination to buy such a luxury goods item as the 3.6 have different demands on their products, with questions along the lines of: can they play back movie sound tracks at powerful levels? Can they rock Audioslave at 100 dB without blowing up? Can they recreate real instruments in a way that lures you into your easy chair to listen to SACD, DVD-Audio or even your iPod for hours at a time? It’s a new world out there and it’s time to see if an old-world champion can keep up.
All About Maggie 3.6
The Magneplanar is unlike conventional speakers in the sense that it doesn’t employ traditional dynamic drivers. Instead, the 3.6 utilizes a thin membrane or diaphragm that (not unlike MartinLogan’s hybrid electrostats) generates a large, more cohesive sound across the frequency spectrum. Unlike most MartinLogan designs, the typical Magnepan speaker doesn’t use a powered woofer to augment the lower registers, giving it a more full-range design than the competition. The 3.6’s high frequencies are handled by a true ribbon tweeter, which is reportedly presents the source and ultimately the recorded material itself more transparently, creating a more natural and true to life presentation. The 3.6 has a full-range design, due in part to its larger size at 24 inches wide by 71 inches tall and one-and-a-half inches thick, giving it roughly 540 inches of radiating area. That’s a lot of real estate for sound. With the ribbon tweeter in tow, the 3.6 seems like a two-way speaker. However, it has a three-way design boasting a frequency response of 34-40kHz, with a sensitivity rating of 85dB/2.83v into four ohms. It’s important to point out that the 3.6, like all Magnepan speakers, is a dipole design in that sound fires behind the speaker out of phase from the waves emanating from the front, which in my opinion goes a long way toward creating a more lucid and natural-sounding soundstage. More importantly, the Magneplanar’s lack of a “box” frees it from resonances and a lot of coloration that plague more traditional speakers, making the 3.6 more of a window to the music than a tool for reproducing it. However, while the 3.6 may be a metaphorical window to the sound, it is not a visual one. It is large and comes in a variety of fabric and wood finishes, ranging from light to very dark, with prices to match, though the 3.6's stock price is $4,450.00. The 3.6 isn’t aesthetically slick like an iPod, but it has a sort of vintage chic that seemed to fit right in with my modern décor. It was like a retro 1950s piece of furniture in a modern room. Somehow, it worked and felt right. Guests during the months I had the Maggies on display all had something to say about them, be it good or not so good, on the presence they had in the room.
More than any other speaker, the Magneplanar seems to come with a barrage of special needs that any person in the know won't hesitate to spew out at you: it takes a lot of power, it’s challenging to fine-tune to your room, it can't play loud and on and on and on. It's a lot of audiophile bullshit that frankly turns people away before they even get a chance to hear and decide for themselves. So, for this review, I was going to ignore all of it. Well, most of it. I started by unpacking and assembling, yes, assembling, the 3.6s. They need to be mounted to their "legs," which are more or less metal L brackets not unlike those found in a hardware store, albeit slightly better-looking. Also, the 3.6's crossover and binding posts are located in an external box that needs to be attached via very small screws with the supplied Allen wrench. With the help of a friend, I had the 3.6s upright and ready to go in about 40 minutes.
If you go online, you'll find a barrage of theories about the best place to put your Magneplanars in your room. I placed mine where I place all my loudspeakers, roughly two feet from the front wall with a foot and a half to either side, which put the 3.6s about six feet apart from one another. I toed them in a little and left them. You can fiddle with placement until the cows come home and you might hear a difference here and there, but for the most part, if you treat the 3.6 like any quality loudspeaker, you'll be fine. In fact, you will likely be better than fine. Pour a tall glass of Macallan 25 and experiment with an inch one way or another. With some time and effort, you might find another few percentage points of performance, but for the most part, I didn't think it was that hard to get them sounding good.
Next, I connected the 3.6s to my home theater rig rather than my two-channel set-up, which consisted of the Outlaw 7200 multi-channel amp, the Outlaw 970 processor and the Toshiba XA-1 HD DVD player. All cables and power filtration came by way of Monster Cable. The reason I decided to connect the 3.6s to such a modest set-up was to illustrate that even with budget gear, the 3.6s are capable of sonic feats that most people, audiophiles especially, spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing. So, even with a Mark Levinson 433 amplifier and 326S preamplifier within reach of the mighty 3.6s, I never caved – I stuck with the budget gear for the duration of the review.