If asked to draw a picture of a typical set of loudspeakers, I’m betting most readers would sketch box-like enclosures with round, piston-type drive units on the front. Or they might draw a set of skinny, pylon-like “plasma speaker” enclosures with small drivers on the front, with a bigger box and driver shown alongside to represent a subwoofer. Either way, they probably wouldn’t draw a pair of Magnepan’s MG1.6s—speakers that challenge established norms in that they have neither box-like enclosures nor traditional piston drivers of any kind. Instead, Magnepan planar magnetic speakers are tall, wide, thin fabric-covered panels that look something like room divider screens, and that sound—at their best—more than a little like live music.
Magnepan speakers aren’t looking to be different just for the sake of being iconoclastic. On the contrary, their unorthodox design is the result of a concerted effort to address a number of problems that have proven maddeningly difficult for traditional speakers to solve. The first of these would be the problem of producing speakers that sound completely coherent from top to bottom and that offer natural and unforced clarity.
Consider what happens if you play a recording such as the “Fantasia Suite” from John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia, and Al DiMeola’s Friday Night in San Francisco [Columbia, LP]. You’ll hear three master guitarists performing onstage together at the same time, using acoustic guitars tuned to the same pitches and played at similar volume levels. This could be recipe for sonic chaos, and with some loudspeakers it would be, but the Magneplanars make it easy to tell the guitars apart because they show how each instrument combines different elements of timbre, attack, resonance, and decay to exhibit a sonic signature as distinctive as a human fingerprint.