Magnepan’s Mini Maggie System Revisited (Playback 53)

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Magnepan Mini Maggie
Magnepan’s Mini Maggie System Revisited (Playback 53)

When I reviewed Magnepan’s Mini Maggie speaker system in Playback 48, I said the system “establishes a new benchmark for desktop systems, and one that I doubt will soon be equaled.” My reactions really shouldn’t come as a big surprise given two key factors that the Mini Maggie system leveraged the exact same design philosophies and technologies that gave rise to Magnepan’s award-winning 1.7 and 3.7 loudspeakers. It is also important to know that the Mini Maggie system was, from the outset, designed and voiced specifically with desktop applications in mind.

Despite the system’s made-for-desktops design brief, however, many readers (and some Magnepan dealers) have wondered whether the Mini-Maggie system might also be used as a conventional sat/woofer system in smaller whole-room applications. I talked with Magnepan’s head of marketing Wendell Diller about this idea when I was doing my original Mini Maggie review and at the time he felt strongly that the system should be evaluated purely for desktop use (the application for which the design had been optimized). In that original review I summarized the desktop vs. whole-room question as follows:

“…some listeners will inevitably ask if the (Mini Maggie) system can be used as a near full-range satellite/woofer-type system in smaller rooms settings.”

“Wendell Diller fields such questions by emphasizing that the Mini Maggie system was designed from the outset for near-field, desktop listening applications—applications where the speaker’s performance is simply spectacular. While conceding that the Mini Maggie ‘will work’ as a sat/woofer-type system in some small rooms, Diller’s opinion is that listeners who want a whole-room speaker system might be better off choosing one of Magnepan’s larger floorstanding models.”

“There are two reasons why the Mini Maggie system is best used in a desktop context. First, as Diller points out, the phase response of the Mini Maggie system is “incredibly easy to get right” in a desktop setting, but much harder to get right when it is set up as a whole-room system. Second, the power response characteristics of the Mini Maggie system are geared specifically for near-field listening, whereas the power response characteristics of the bigger, floorstanding Maggies typically work out better in a whole-room context.”

Despite these precautions, there has been a groundswell of interest in using the Mini Maggie system for smaller whole-room applications. This makes sense, I suppose, given that listeners are understandably drawn to the idea of a compact sat/woofer system that sounds much like Magnepan’s stellar 3.7, yet sells for a fraction of the price. And so it happened that, several weeks after my initial Mini Maggie review was published, I got a call from Wendell Diller, who asked, “would you consider doing a second review of the Mini Maggie system, but this time around evaluating it as a sat/woofer system for whole-room applications? I’ll provide whatever help I can in terms of set-up suggestions, but you’ll basically be on your own to figure out how, or if, the system can be made to work well in that setting.”

I agreed to Magnepan’s request and set to work, not knowing exactly where the project might lead. This follow-up review provides observations on the sonic performance you can expect from the Mini Maggie system when used in whole-room contexts, along with practical setup and positioning tips that should help you achieve the best results.

 

BACKGROUND/FEATURES

Those of you who read my initial Playback review of the Mini Maggie system can skip this part, but for those of you who did not, here are basic things you’ll need to know about the Mini Maggie package.

Basics

The standard Mini Maggie package consists of three elements: two dipole Mini Maggie satellite speakers (9-inch x 14-inch) and a single panel, dual-channel dipole DWM lower midrange/bass module (19.25-inch x 22.5-inch).

Mini Maggie Satellite:

•The Mini Maggie satellites features true ribbon tweeter (roughly .8-inch x 6.7-inch), which are essentially a scaled-down version of the famous ribbon tweeters used in Magnepan’s larger 3.7 (and now the new 20.7) loudspeakers.
•The Mini Maggie satellites also feature compact (roughly 4.5-inch x 8.5-inch) planar magnetic midrange drivers.
•Each Mini Maggie satellite is fitted with a driver protection fuse, a set of high-current capacity speaker taps, and connectors where an optional tweeter-output padding resistor (included) can be installed, if desired.

 

DWM Mid-Bass Module:

•The DWM module is a single panel, one- or two-channel, dipole lower midrange/bass driver. Many users mistakenly think of the DWM as being just a “woofer” (or “subwoofer”), but in fact it is more than that. Specifically, the DWM module not only provides all of the bass output for the system, but also contributes a significant part of the system’s lower midrange output.
•The DWM provides dual (left/right) high-current speaker taps and satellite speaker outputs (see rear panel DWM photo). Along with dual inputs, etc., the DWM provides connectors where optional woofer-output padding resistors (included) can be installed, if desired.
•The versatile DWM module provides built-in crossover network with settings appropriate for use with several different Magnepan products, including:

oMini Maggie satellites,
oMMC2 or MC 1 on-wall speakers, or
oCCR or CC5 center channel speakers.

•DWM uses a planar magnetic mid/bass panel that, by design, features dual conductors or “voice coils” (one set for the left channel of the Mini-Maggie system, the other for the right channel). Note, however, that while the DWM panel can be used with two-channel inputs, it also works fine with a single-channel input.

SONIC CHARACTER

Mini Maggie System on the Desktop

When used in desktop applications, the Mini Maggie system sounds uncannily similar to Magnepan’s much larger and more costly 3.7 floorstanding loudspeaker—a speaker that has won critical acclaim and awards from The Absolute Sound and other publications. The only major differences involve the fact that the Mini Maggie system offers less powerful and deeply extended bass, a somewhat less expansive dynamic envelope, and conveys images and soundstages with less of a sense of scale (especially in terms of image height) than the 3.7 does. Indeed low bass extension and wallop (from about the mid-40Hz point on down) is not really the Mini Maggie system’s strong suit. But where it plays (mid 40Hz on up beyond the highest audible treble frequencies) the little Mini Maggie system sounds very much like the superb 3.7, which is high praise indeed.

In practice, this means the Mini Maggie rig sounds smooth and evenly balanced from mid-bass frequencies on up, with terrific levels of transparency, openness, resolution, and transient speed. One aptly chosen word many listeners use in describing Magnepan speakers in general, and the Mini Maggie/3.7 in particular, is coherency. That term also applies to the Mini Maggie system in a big way. The sound is remarkably consistent from top-to-bottom, so that the speaker’s various drive units merge seamlessly and speak as if with one common, qualitatively consistent voice.

Unlike many desktop speakers, the Mini Maggie system is capable of presenting soundstages that offer almost shocking degrees of apparent width and depth. Image height is quite good, too, though not on a par with Magnepan’s larger floorstanding models (which are known for their spectacular sense of scale and image height). But as desktop speakers go, the Mini Maggies system’s imaging and soundstaging are—in my experience—about as good as it gets. It’s an eerie thing to listen the system, realizing that the Mini Maggie satellites are in fact being heard at arm’s length, yet at the same time receiving the sonic cues that suggest musical events are unfolding on a big, broad stage located what seems like 20, 30, 40 or more feet away from the listener. Imaging precision is excellent—the best I’ve ever heard from any desktop speaker system. In short, Magnepan’s ads for this system have got it right; it’s a desktop rig that provides a listening experience similar to hearing big dipole speakers in a large, well-proportioned listening room.

But Can it Work for Whole-Room Applications?

Let’s begin by stipulating that the Mini Maggie system will only ever work well in mid-to-small size rooms—typically the smaller the better. I would also add that, for almost all whole-room applications (except for exceedingly small rooms), listeners should probably plan on upgrading the system to include two DWM modules (not just one, as comes with the standard Mini Maggie rig) in order to achieve optimal bass balance.

 

Understanding the Rules of the Road

To cut straight to the chase, let me say that the Mini-Maggie system can work well, actually very well, in small-room applications, provided that you are willing to accept certain set-up requirements and also willing to accept a few performance caveats. Let’s discuss requirements, guidelines, and caveats first, and then talk about the benefits, so that you can realistically weigh pro’s and con’s of using Mini Maggies for your whole-room application.

Requirements: To get the Mini-Maggie system to work well in whole-room applications, you’ll first need to address several basic equipment and room requirements. Specifically, you will need:

•A good pair of speaker stands on which to place the Mini-Maggie satellites—ideally stands that will position the speakers at or near ear-level for seated listeners.
•A powerful, high-quality amplifier. Note that the power requirements for the system tend, as a rule, to increase for whole-room applications.
•A reasonably small and appropriately shaped small room. Rooms in the range of 120-200 square feet seen to work well, although this is not a hard, fast rule. Note, though, that the system generally works better in rectangular than in square rooms.
•In almost cases, you will need to add a second DWM mid/bass module ($795) to the system in order to get adequate bass performance and optimal overall tonal balance. It is important to understand that DWM module normally benefits from a significant amount of bass reinforcement when placed in the foot well of a typical desk. The under-desk placement also helps roll off some of the midrange output of the DWM—a factor Magnepan designers have taken into account when voicing their desktop system. When you move the DWM out into an open room, however, you typically encounter two problems: bass reinforcement falls off significantly, while effective midrange output increases—effectively making the system sound midrange forward and somewhat bass-shy. The best method I’ve found to combat these problems is to add a second DWM module, and then to follow the placement guidelines I’ll sketch out below (though as always, your mileage may vary, so that experimentation is the order of the day).

Set-Up Guidelines:

After considerable trial-and-error experimentation, I’ve come up with several recommended set-up guidelines for using the Mini Maggie system in small rooms.

•Place the Mini Maggie satellites on stand at ear level for a seated listener, and locate the satellites well away from nearby walls. Leave plenty of open air space behind the satellites.
•Toe-in the Mini Maggie satellites toward your listening chair (feel free to experiment with “tweeters in” or “tweeters out” orientations to see which sounds best to you).
•Try for left/right symmetry of placement where possible: Ideally, the Mini-Maggie satellites will sound best when both satellites are placed the same distance away from their respective sidewalls of the room.
•If you wish, you can experiment with using just one DWM module, though my experience has been that two are almost invariably needed for whole-room applications. If you chose to try the system with just one DWM, place the DWM on the floor, so that it faces directly toward your listening chair and is precisely centered between the stand-mounted satellites. Note: the DWM should be placed the same distance from your listening chair as the two satellites (you can use a tape measure to verify this). Wiring, when using a single DWM, is the same as for the desktop system.
•When finished, the single-DWM system arrangement should look something like the configuration shown in Illustration 1, below.

•In all likelihood, however, you will find that two DWM modules will be needed for optimal in-room sound. Where this is the case, I would strongly recommend following the placement guidelines below.
•Place one DWM to the far right side of the room, so that the right edge of the DWM, as viewed from the listening chair, actually touches the sidewall of the room (this placement restores much-needed bass reinforcement). Repeat the process with the second DWM, but on the left side of the room.
•Important tip: Do not toe-in the DWMs toward the listening chair (this is very important, since the system’s tonal balance is most even from the listener’s perspective when the DWMs are heard from off-axis).
•Make sure the both DWM panels are perpendicular to the sidewalls of the room, so that each DWM is “firing” along the axis of the sidewall.
•Where more bass reinforcement is desired, orient the system so that if “fires” down the long axis of the room.
•Make sure that that both DWMs are the same distance from your listening chair as the satellites left and right satellites (you can use a tape measure to verify this).
•Also make sure that each DWM is the located same distance from its associated satellite speakers. Left/right symmetry of placement is very important to the overall sound, especially in terms of achieving well-focused imaging.
•Wiring: Route the right channel speaker cables to the right DWM, and then run “stub” cables from the DWM to the right satellite. Repeat the process for the left DWM and left satellite.
•When finished, the dual-DWM system arrangement should look something like the configuration shown in Illustration 2, below.

So How Does It Sound?

When properly dialed-in, the Mini Maggie system as used in whole-room applications exhibits similar sonic benefits to those conferred on listeners by the Mini Maggie desktop system—but with three caveats that are worth noting.

First, the system’s dynamic envelope, if you will, effectively becomes narrower in whole-room applications, because you typically will need to turn up the volume to higher levels to get adequate output for whole-room listening. In other words, you are essentially using up a good bit of the speaker system’s dynamic headroom, simply to get it to play loudly enough for whole-room use (which means you may also need a more powerful amp).

Second, the Mini Maggie system’s overall tonal balance, and in particular its bass performance, tends to become at least somewhat room dependent—a problem that really never arises when using the system in a desktop audio context. Potential users should be aware that it might take considerable experimentation in order to get adequate bass extension and weight (bearing in mind that some rooms seem ill-suited for use with dipole woofers in the first place).

Third, the system’s limitation in terms of conveying image scale, and especially image height, become more noticeable in whole-room applications. Even so, I would say the Mini Maggie system is at least as good an imager as other systems its size and price, but it doesn’t sound as big or expansive out in the middle of a room as it does on a desktop.

But having noted these caveats, let’s also consider the system’s benefits. Once again, you have a modestly priced speaker system that, for all intents and purposes, matches the detail and timbral purity of Magnepan’s exceptional 3.7, which is saying a mouthful. Does this mean, then, that the Mini Maggie rig is capable of higher levels of resolution and freedom from grain than the full-size Magnepan 1.7? Yes, it does. The tradeoff, however, is that the power response characteristics of the 1.7 (and of the 3.7) are much better suited for most whole-room applications, and their bass performance is much easier to tap in more kinds of rooms than that of the Mini Maggie system. For many listeners, just as Wendell Diller had predicted, the full-size Maggies would probably be the better choice overall. Still, there’s real magic in the resolving power of the Mini Maggie system.

One afternoon, I put on “Joe Turner’s Blues” from Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues—Live from Jazz at the Lincoln Center [Reprise Records Jazz] as a demonstration for an audiophile colleague. This live recording is noteworthy not only for the masterful playing of the key soloists, but for the uncannily realistic manner in which it captures the sound and feel of a jazz ensemble performing live on stage. My colleague listened to the Mini Maggies almost slack-jawed in disbelief and then blurted out, “Their soundstaging is so believable and their imaging so precise that I can tell exactly—and I mean exactly—how big the stage is and where each ensemble member is seated. Most $2k speakers I’ve heard could never do this.” My colleague’s reaction neatly summarizes the appeal of a $2285 speaker system that sounds much like its more capable big brother, the Magnepan 3.7—itself one of the greatest bargains in high-end audio.

But let me supply just one further anecdote, which in a way parallels the story that my colleague Jonathan Valin at The Absolute Sound likes to share about his first encounter with Magnepan speakers, where he mistook the sound of the speakers for that of a real piano. One day I played a very realistic drum recording, “Drum Solo by Dirk Sengotta”, from the Henrik Freischlader Band Live [XYZ/Pepper]. Suddenly, there was a knock on my listening room door. A relatively shy, quiet member of our office staff poked his head in the door and said, “Forgive me for bursting in on you, but I just had make sure you hadn’t moved a real drum kit into the office, because from just outside the door it certainly sounds like you’ve got the real thing in here. Could I come in and listen for a minute?”

He was right; the drum kit on the recording really did sound almost real through the Mini Maggies, with the kind of tautness, snap, and definition that only very fine speaker systems possess. But what was even more important was that the Mini Maggies had proven their ability to win friends the old-fashioned way: namely, by making music sound so real that people can’t help but stop and listen. Isn’t that something we can all appreciate?

SPECS & PRICING

Magnepan Mini Maggie desktop speaker system
Type: 3-way planar magnetic/true ribbon speaker system
Frequency Response: 40Hz – 40 kHz
Sensitivity:
Desktop satellite modules: 86 dB/500Hz/2.83V
Mid/bass module: 86 dB/50Hz/2.83V
Impedance: 4 Ohms, satellite and mid/bass modules
Dimensions:
Desktop satellite modules (H x W x D): 14” x 9” x 1.25”
Mid/bass module (H x W x D): 19.25 x 22.5” x 1.25”
Weight (complete three-piece system): 41 lbs.
Warranty: Limited Three-year, to original owner
Standard System Price: $1490

Magnepan DWM mid/bass module
Type: Planar magnetic
Driver complement: 1-way
Frequency response: 40 Hz -5 kHz (wideband)
Sensitivity: 86 dB/1 meter/100 Hz/2.83 v.
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 19.25” x 22.5” x 1.25”
Weight: 19 lbs.
Warranty: Limited Three-year, to original owner
Price: $795 ea.
System Price with Dual DWM Modules: $2285

Magnepan Inc.
(651) 625-1425
www.magnepan.com

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