A caveat to that, however, is where the A3 was equally undemanding of placement, that’s not the case with the A1. The loudspeaker does need to be positioned carefully in the room, and used with appropriately heavy loudspeaker stands. If not, it can sound a little bass light, and even a touch bland sounding. At its worst, if you hear a sound that is light in the bass, bland-sounding and divorces bass and treble, the A1 has been set-up by someone who might be best sticking to their day job. Or rather, it has been deliberately set-up to sound bad by someone wanting to sell something else! That all being said, the dial-in process isn’t overtly obsessive and the sound snaps into place over the course of a few inches, rather than a sweet-spot that falls apart if you move it one electron layer to the left. Particular care should be taken with the precision of the rear- and side-wall placement, and toe-in. Run-in is harder to determine because the review sample came with some miles on the clock.
As I said at the outset, we ‘know’ two-way stand-mounts. That’s especially true among British audiophiles, who still hold to the notion that UK designers are the best at making two-way stand-mounts. While the need to make a two-way stand-mount is understandable in a country where any room sized 12x16’ or more is considered ‘capacious’, the A1 shows that we don’t have exclusivity over the design.
In fact, if anything, what the Magico A1 shows is that, with a few notable exceptions, the UK stand-mount market has been asleep at the switch! Granted, many of our best and best-loved stand-mounts are less than a quarter of the price of the A1, but the level of uncompromising design that is put into honing and perfecting the sealed-box two-way from Magico effectively completes a project started – and more or less abandoned – by the BBC in the 1960s. The A1 is no BBC LS3/5a clone... it’s what the BBC LS3/5a might have become had it not become frozen in time.
This sounds almost disrespectful to both Magico and the LS3/5a, but if anything, it’s complementing both. The BBC design set standards for neutrality and speech clarity in its day, but that day was 50 years ago and the A1 is one of the very few products that takes that inherent neutrality as a starting place and builds from there.
As a consequence, the loudspeaker is one of the most uncompromisingly uncoloured stand-mounts you can find, yet without the dynamic foreshortening that high-enders equate to small cabinet designs. Yes, it rolls off at 35Hz, but that is an honest roll-off rather than an exaggerated tale-wagging exercise. It’s the difference between bass that is ‘taut’, ‘dry’ and ‘honest’. And bass that is ‘impressive’ yet ultimately ‘flubby’, ‘flaccid’ and ‘indistinct’. This means it aces the ‘Trentemøller Test’; playing ‘Chameleon’ from Trentmøller’s The Last Resort [Poker Flat] results in bass notes that are clean and precise; other similarly-sized loudspeakers make those bass notes sound deeper, but on closer investigation they come with a lot of overhang, and that slows the sound down.
Long after you have grown accustomed to its bass (cue Rex Harrison), it’s the clarity and detail that really hit home. Like most Magicos, the A1 is a resolution monster. If it’s on the recording, it’s presented for you through the loudspeakers without grace or favour. This is something that people who haven’t experienced it think is something like over-stimulation of the senses. Another way of looking at this much detail is “where have you been all my audio life?”, and that usually comes from those who have heard what this much information can do for their audio pleasure. Take ‘Tearjerker’ from Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales’s Room 29 [DG]. This simple recording (just voice and piano recorded in a hotel suite) can be played on any system and it sounds good, but through the A1, it’s truly mesmerising. The level of information puts you not just in the room, but almost between the two musicians, and the bittersweet (but mostly ‘bitter’) lyrics hit home. It’s the antithesis of ‘easy listening’ but leaves you hungry for more. More, in this case being everything from a string quartet playing Schoenberg to all of Joy Division’s Closer album [Factory]. Such is the power of the A1, it took some time to shake off the sads.