Partnering the S1 Mk II is relatively easy, knowing that few people are going to use a loudspeaker costing just shy of £21,000 with an old receiver from the 1970s, or a part-broken valve amp from the 1950s. With a sensitivity of 86dB and a four ohm impedance, the loudspeaker needs some relatively meaty amplification behind it, but this is as much about quality as it is quantity. It was perfectly happy being driven by the Hegel H80, which is a 75W amp that costs less than 1/10th the price of the loudspeakers, so the concept of the S1 Mk II requiring vast amounts of expensive power is not mandatory. The S1 Mk II is one of those loudspeakers that manages to show just what better power can do without making it the presentation so demanding that it only works with esoterica.
My pair arrived relatively well run in, so precisely how much shakedown time is needed to get them to the best performance is unclear, but they also performed better after a couple of days of bedding in, so expect them to improve from their fresh out of the box status. The loudspeakers are ‘pragmatic’ in installation, as their sealed box means they can work surprisingly close to rear and side walls, but that they also respond well to careful installation.
We listen to music from the midrange out, and any loudspeaker that gets the 200Hz-2kHz part as ‘right’ as the S1 Mk II deserves immediate and high praise. Put on a female voice – ‘Take The Night Off’ by Laura Malling from her Once I Was an Eagle album [Virgin] – and her vocal articulation and tonality is clear, and instantly differentiated from her guitar playing. What’s more, through the S1 Mk II you stop hearing that guitar as just ‘a guitar’ – it’s a dreadnought, specifically a Martin D28. OK, so the D28 is one of the most recognisable acoustic guitar sounds you can hear on record, but it becomes all the more instantly recognisable here. If a transducer is supposed to add or subtract as little as possible, then the Magico is doing an extremely fine job, with only the slightest hint of character in the upper mid, which gives the speaker a sense of forwardness and directness that’s very attractive. It gives the speaker an ‘attentiveness’ to music that cuts both ways; you cannot simply play music as background sounds, and the loudspeaker has incredible attention to detail.
Audiophiles want their loudspeakers to be precision tools, but perhaps not so precise as to be a scalpel upon the skin of the music. And perhaps it’s in that balance that the S1 Mk II shows its greatness. The dynamic range and detail available from these loudspeakers is humbling – it’s often closer to listening to the real instruments, just with that slight studio-derived sheen in place. However, in the process they do not leave the music laid bare and soulless. Play something truly sorrowful – Biber’s ‘Mystery Sonatas’ [Holloway, Virgin] – and you start getting suicidal ideation, but play something up-beat – James Brown’s ‘The Funky Drummer’ [King Records] for example – and you start moving to the groove. You don’t get that kind of scope through most loudspeakers. Something has usually got to give, but not this time.
The S1 Mk II is fundamentally honest and accurate sounding from its highest frequencies to its lowest, and a sealed box of this size has a ‘lowest’ around the 40Hz mark. There’s still content going on right down to the depths, but if you need full-range bass underpinning and very low-end bass lines, you’ll need a bigger speaker than this. And a bigger room. But the thing about the S1 Mk II is when you listen to it, you will be unlikely to want ‘bigger’ bass. The S1 Mk II has a fat-free bass and practically everything else you’ll hear that fits in the same setting will sound lumpy or leaden by comparison.