Pros: Soundstage, Speed, Transparency and Detail
Cons: BassHeads need not apply (subwoofer and some EQ required), Small sweet spot and Price $$$
Let me begin by stating, I've been a long time fan of Magnepan speakers. Many years ago, I owned the Magnepan MG-IIIa and those 6' tall speakers paired with a Velodyne UDL-15 subwoofer produced some of the best two channel sound I've ever heard in my listening room. That system was capable of producing a wonderfully open, wide and deep soundstage. Imaging was excellent, and the ribbon tweeter was fast, detailed and very coherent over a wide frequency range. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and unfortunately lost my Maggies to the Quake of '89 (remember the shortened World Series coverage that year?). I've missed the sound of that system ever since. Needless to say, when I heard the Magnepan Mini was going to be produced, I was very intrigued by the prospect of recreating that "Maggie" sound on my desktop - even more so after reading reviews which proclaimed the Mini Magnepan as "The World’s Best Desktop Speaker System". Interesting, if true.
In this review, I'll share my experiences with the Magnepan Mini Maggie Desktop Speaker System and try to determine if such high praise is warranted.
When I placed my order for the new model introduced earlier this year, I was told there was a backlog of orders for the Mini. Understandable, given the pent up demand for a speaker which had first been announced several years earlier. After an agonizingly long four month wait, the shipment finally arrived. I was told the delay was due to supply chain delays with the ribbon tweeters. This may no longer be an issue with production, but it might be wise to ask about estimated delivery time for current orders. After unpacking the 3 panel system, I began the process of finding an ideal location and position for each panel.
Left Satellite Panel
Out of the box, I found the treble of the Mini to be a bit hot. To attenuate the highs, I installed the supplied 1 ohm 10W resistors. Optionally, I can apply a bit of EQ using the J.River Media Center player from my PC (or for finer adjustments an external stereo 31 band graphic equalizer) to flatten the overall response in my room. In my small 10x9 ft. home office, I located the larger woofer panel on the floor, behind the back of my desk, along the long wall of the room - not an ideal position. With the woofer panel placed less than 6" from the wall, I quickly discovered that there is little bass output below 55Hz, so I added a small 10" powered (200 Watt RMS) sub - the Hsu Research STF-2 - to give the bottom some sorely needed weight.
In my experience, proper speaker positioning is critical for delivering optimum performance from the panels. I devoted a fair amount of time experimenting with different speaker positions. With the speakers placed at the desktop level, the soundstage and imaging was unrealistically low. You should try raising the panels to different heights to find a position that sounds best for you. I settled on placing the panels on 36" high stands, which brought the ribbon tweeters to about ear level when seated at my desk. I oriented the panels with the tweeters on the inside edge of each panel as you face the speakers, and toed the panels in about 30 degrees. The panels are about 57 inches apart measured from their centers, and my seating posting is about 40 inches from the plane of the speaker panels. After all of these changes, the Mini began to sound very much like the larger Maggies in terms of soundstage, depth and imaging. Very impressive for a desktop system.
Much has been written about the low sensitivity (86dB @ 1w/m) of the Mini and the power needed to drive them properly. Yes, to play these speakers at high volumes you will need a fairly robust amplifier, but perhaps not exceptionally so. How much power will depend entirely on the size and acoustics of your room, and how loudly you wish to push the Mini. To put this into perspective, THX certified movie theaters are calibrated at a reference level of 85dB. 85dB in a home environment is much louder than I can tolerate for normal listening, especially while working at my desk. In real-world terms, to achieve 85dB in my room, I would need an amp capable of at least 10 Wpc into a 4 ohm load. I came to this value by reading the power meter from my vintage Yamaha MX-1000 amp. I measured 85dB output (C-weighted) at my listening position using a Radio Shack SPL meter while playing a pink noise test signal. The MX-1000, which is rated at 330 Wpc into 4 ohms, has proven to be more than capable of delivering sufficient power (with headroom to spare) to drive the Mini beyond what I consider intolerably loud. Since every 3 dB increase in volume requires a doubling of power, using 10 Wpc as a base, I could expect to hit 100dB with 320 Wpc - a level comparable to peak levels experienced at live symphonic performances. But realistically in my small room, I've never had a need to exceed 30 Wpc peak.
As a side note, the MX-1000 also does a very good job of driving the HiFIMAN HE-6 directly from its speaker outputs. Surprisingly, one other amp - the Trends Audio TA-10.2 SE - also pairs well with the HE-6. The Trends is not as robust or refined as the MX-1000, but it's more than adequate for everyday listening. Drawing next to nothing in power with a desktop friendly footprint, the Trends is my HE-6 "go to" amp for daily listening. This small unassuming package represents a surprisingly good value for the money. I mention the Trends because it also does a good job of driving the Mini at low to moderate volume levels (<80dB). For those times when I seek greater resolution and impact or when I'm looking to push the volume limits of the Magnepans, I reach for the MX-1000.
For me, good bass (and sub bass) is essential for creating an enjoyable sonic experience. The bass produced by the Mini, although solid and tonally correct is not very extended. As mentioned previously, in my room there is little to no output below 55Hz. This necessitated the addition of a sub. For this, I turned to my Hsu Research STF-2 10" subwoofer which is powered by an internal 200 watt amp. With the Hsu sub, I'm able to achieve relatively flat bass response down to 20Hz. But, since a discussion of the Hsu's performance is not germane to this review, I encourage anyone interested in more information on this product to you to visit the Hsu Research site. Suffice it to say, a good subwoofer in my opinion is "not" an optional component for this system. If you enjoy the sound of a double bass, you should consider factoring this into your purchase decision.
It has been said, "If the midrange isn't right, nothing else matters." This was true decades ago when first spoken by Stereophile's founder J. Gordon Holt, and these words still hold true today. This is one area where human hearing is the most sensitive, and this is one area I struggled to understand with the Mini. At first listen, the presentation was very good. Female vocals have an airy transparency, giving performances an strikingly realistic quality. You not only hear the voice of the artist, but can also sense the presence of the artists lips just inches away from the mic. On some recordings the effect is quite remarkable - Jennifer Warnes on The Hunter being a good example.
However, something about the midrange always seemed amiss. Eventually, I've discovered the difficulty I had with the midrange is that Classical strings and horns have an edge in the 5kHz region to which I am particularly sensitive. This peak can be seen in the uncorrected frequency response curve shown in red in the chart below. The blue line shows the new signal after applying a bit of EQ. You may find that this is not an issue for you. But if it is, a small amount of EQ may remedy the situation.
In Room Frequency Response Chart (w/sub) as measured from the seated listening position
Red - Uncorrected signal (Before)
Blue - Corrected signal (After)
The Magnepan product literature states that the frequency response of this speaker system extends to 40 kHz. As I don't posses bat like hearing, I'll just have to take their word on this one. But the treble I do hear from the true ribbon tweeter is fast, extended and detailed. To hear the silky shimmer of lightly struck cymbals try the Mapleshade Studio recording of "Heavy Blue" on Not What My Hands Have Done by the Gerard D' Angelo Trio. The cymbals on this recording are reproduced with a clarity and sustain that can be heard long after the cymbals have been struck. This is an example of a recording that possesses that "you are there" quality I love best when listening to well recorded live acoustic jazz. The realism of this recording is made all the more convincing due in large part to the contributions of the Magnepan ribbon tweeter.
This is one area where the Mini easily excels. Whether it's the delicate sounds of brushed cymbals or the soothing rattle of seeds cascading down through a rain stick - sounds like these are reproduced with stunning clarity. The speed and detail of these speakers provide a clearer view of both the artist's performance and the venue in which it was recorded. You can hear the acoustics of the studio, room, hall, or theater with greater ease. Sonic textures and multiple layers of sound more commonly associated with highend speaker systems can now be heard emanating from your desktop with this system. The attack and decay of the "Big Drum (O-Daiko)" on Kudo's Heartbeat Drummers of Japan is reproduced with unexpected realism. With this recording, it becomes abundantly apparent that this "is" a desktop system unlike any I've heard before. Here, the level of detail presented will remind you of the Mini's larger sibling the MG 3.7 - which is quite an impressive feat.
With minimally miked well recorded live performances, vocals and instruments can be presented with such clarity, the position of performers within the soundstage can be easily and precisely located. With proper speaker positioning, the image can be so vivid, you can almost see the artist producing the sounds emanating from those positions.
With Electronica, the Mini can transport you to a new world. As I listen to Spongle's Are you Spongled, I'm immersed in an expansively wide and deep sound field which extends at least a foot beyond the outside edges of the panels and several yards deep. The room shutters from the impact of the subwoofer, as it kicks in on the downbeat at 1:11 seconds into the song. The three dimensional realism and precise imaging projected by this system is not just convincing but also remarkably large for a desktop system.
In my room, one negative I've noticed with the soundstage is the sweet spot needed to sustain the ideal soundstage is fairly small. Any head movement, an inch or two in any direction, will at times destroy the illusion. The effect will vary from recording to recording, but I find the sweet spot most restrictive with Classical orchestral recordings.
Since this is Head-Fi, no review would be complete without a comparison and for the Head-Fi community what better frame of reference than headphones. Here are a few quick Mini vs. headphone comparisons:
Mini vs. SR-009
This round goes to the speed and detail of the electrostatics. As good as the Magnepan ribbon tweeter is, it doesn't quite match the speed and transparency of the SR-009. However, it's also important to note that as the SR-009 has raised the bar in terms of resolution and detail for headphones - the Mini has similarly raised the bar in terms of ultimate detail, transparency and soundstaging for desktop speaker systems.
Mini vs. HE-6
In my system, this is a closer fight. The Mini and HE-6 have similar midrange and treble qualities. Although, given the proper ancillary equipment, the transparency of the HE-6 can rival that of the SR-009. The bottom end is where the HE-6 has an advantage. The HE-6 easily hits harder and goes lower than the stock Mini system, and the HE-6 has better low volume resolution. The Mini (even with the sub), although good at low levels, sounds best at moderate to loud levels. All things considered, the sonic signature of the HE-6 is closer to the sound of the Mini (in terms of tonality and detail) than any of the other headphones among this group.
Mini vs. LCD-2 R2
The LCD-2 has a warmer and fuller sound, and female vocals come across more subdued. With the LCD-2, the highs are softer and less extended. The bass is not as tight and has less impact. Within this group of headphones, the LCD-2 stands out as having a sound which is least like that of the Mini.
Mini vs. HD-800
Midrange detail approaches that of Mini's but is not as forward. Overall, the HD-800 sounds a bit smoother than the Mini. It has a softer sound, if you will. But as a result, horns have less bite and vocals are a bit less immediate and engaging with the HD-800. Soundstaging, however, is where the HD-800 and the Mini share similar qualities. With the right recordings, the Mini is able to present the listener with a wide and deep three-dimensional sound field which parallels the expansive openness of the HD800 headphone listening experience (albeit in the out-of-head presentation format typical of two channel speaker systems).
The folks at Magnepan have successfully scaled down, to a desktop size package, the same ribbon tweeter technology previously available only with the larger format Magnepans. I'm now able to enjoy the same open, wide and deep soundstage I remember from the past in the comfort of my small home office - albeit on a slightly smaller scale. There is much to like about the Mini - wonderful detail that lets you hear into the performance with outstanding lifelike soundstaging and depth. But I found to get the most from these speakers, you do need to tweak things a bit. Straight out of the box the Mini Magnepan only provides a hint of what is possible. The care and feeding needs of the Mini (most of which I've tried to detail in this review) can be involved, and the price of admission for this level of performance is certainly high. However, if you are willing to devote time for proper setup, make appropriate equipment changes to optimize the sound, and apply a judicious amount of EQ to complete the process, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
Is this the world's best desktop system?
Given the caveats previously noted, I would have to say a "qualified" yes.
That being said, the Mini Magnepan is my new reference desktop speaker system. Given the level of performance I've been able to achieve from this system, I suspect it will retain that status for some time to come.
Looking for an amp for the Mini Magnepan system? Magnepan is offering a generous Mini Maggie/Wadia 151 PowerDAC bundle with their Dealer-Direct 30-day home trial offer. If you have an authorized dealer in your area, this would be a good way to take the Mini for a test drive. Contact Magnepan directly for more details - http://www.magnepan.com/model_mini_maggie.
Mini Magnepan Desktop Speaker System
Hsu Research STF-2 10" Powered Subwoofer
Benchmark Media DAC1 PRE DAC/Preamp
Yamaha MX-1000 Amplifier
Trends Audio TA-10.2 SE Amplifier
Yamaha Q2031A Stereo 31-Band Graphic Equalizer
Desktop PC (running Windows 7) Source
M-Audio ProFire 610 Digital Recording Interface (Mic Preamp)
Behringer ECM8000 Microphone
J.River Media Center 17 - FLAC playback
Room EQ Wizard (REW) - Measurements & Graphs
Gerard D' Angelo Trio: Not What My Hands Have Done (Mapleshade Studio)
Diana Krall: Live In Paris (Verve)
Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird - Finale: Tutti! Orchestral Sampler (Reference Recordings)
Jennifer Warnes: The Hunter (Private Music)
Johan Helmish Roman: 3 Violin Concetos - 3 Sinfonias (BIS)
Kodo: Heartbeat Drummers of Japan (Sheffield Labs)
Massive Attack: Mezzanine (Virgin)
Shpongle: Are You Shpongled? (BMG Records)
Talking Heads: True Stories (EMI)
Various Artists: Jazz At The Pawnshop (Proprius Records)
Various Artists: The Ultimate Demonstration Disc Volume 2 (Chesky Records)
Vince Benedetti Meets Diana Krall: Heartdrops (TCB Music)