Review: Magnepan MMG Speakers

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Magnepan MMG Planar-Magnetic Speakers

Review By Nick Katsafanas

Photography and edit by Don Lindich

From the Magnepan website:

“Have you ever noticed that instruments projected from small boxes sitting on the floor sound like they are coming out of boxes on the floor? This problem can be partially corrected by placing the box speakers on tall speaker stands. However, the sound still seems to be coming out of a box, because that’s precisely what it is doing…. The patented Magneplanar principle eliminates these problems by a fundamentally different approach to sound propagation.”

Magnepan, based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, has been making their unique speakers for over 35 years. Magnepan speakers have traditionally been quite expensive (compared to what the general public is used to paying) and required lots of high-grade amplifier power to make them sound their best. The MMG (and its wall-mounted brethren the MMGW and MMGC) represent Magnepan’s attempt to reach a wider audience. Sold only factory-direct, the price is very affordable but they still require good amplification to make them sing. And now, on to our review, written by new Sound Advice product reviewer Nick Katsafanas! Nick is a very knowledgable audiophile pursuing a degree in engineering. I recently hired Nick to contribute to the site and I’m proud and happy to have him helping me with some new projects.

Product Tour and Overview

Magnepan MMG

$599/pair

Floorstanding Quasi-Ribbon Planar speaker

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Side profile of the MMGs. The angle can be changed by “flipper feet” on the supports.

Dimensions and Weight

48″ H x 14.5″ W x 1.25″ D

These thin panels would not look like speakers to the uninitiated. They are 48” tall, 1.25” deep, and 14.5” wide, wrapped in an unobtrusive black grille cloth with solid natural or black oak trim down the sides. The unique design really makes a stylish statement in your room. Think of a miniature version of the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey” trimmed with oak tilted slightly backwards, and you’ll have the right idea.

Frequency Response

50-24,000 HZ +/- 3 dB

Bass response of 50 Hz means this speaker will perform well with music even if you do not have a subwoofer, but it won’t shake the walls. If you pair a sub with the MMGs, you must take care to balance it properly so you don’t mess up the magical midrange and tight bass of the MMG. If you like lots of bass, you are probably better off looking for different speakers. If transparency and naturalness are what you are after, read on.

A top end of 24,000 Hz is beyond human audibility, ensuring the audible range of up to 20,000 Hz is handled with ease.

Power Requirements

Sensitivity: 86 dB/wM

Impedance: 4 ohms

Power Handling: Not rated by Magnepan (read review for more info)

With a sensitivity of only 86 dB and a fairly constant 4-ohm load, these speakers are power hogs that demand good quality amplifiers with hefty power supplies. If you hook up your typical sub-$500 home theater receiver to these, you are likely to send both receiver and speakers to an early grave. This isn’t all bad news, however, as good quality amplification can be quite affordable if you know what to look for, and driving these speakers with a good amp will yield great sound. Some amplifier recommendations are made in the text below.

Warranty and Satisfaction Guarantee

The MMGs have a 3-year parts and labor warranty. Magnepan also provides a 60 day “if you don’t like ‘em send ‘em back” guarantee, and if you want to upgrade to a bigger model you can trade them in for full credit anytime in the first year.

Cabinets and Finish

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Close-up of wood finish and grill cloth. Despite some imperfections in the wood, this product has quality and cachét.

The flat panels are available in either natural or black oak trim with a choice of three different colors of grill cloth (off-white, grey or black.) As said before, they look extremely cool and make a statement in your room, and the quality of construction and finish tells you that this is a high-end product, though an afforable one.

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Rear view of MMGs, showing support feet and connection terminals

The Magnepan logos are not affixed as the speakers arrive from the factory. Two are provided if you want to attach them.

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Front and side profile of the MMGs. You can see the ribbon on the inside of the speaker on the left.

Drivers

Magnepan MMGs are “Quasi-Ribbon Planar” magnetic speakers, which are dipolar. As opposed to the classic (dynamic) transducers that you are used to seeing in your speakers such as cones and domes, Magnepan uses a .0005” Mylar diaphragm. This diaphragm vibrates within a magnetic field to produce sound.

What about the “Ribbon?” Think of the Mylar diaphragm as a flat, extremely thin sheet of Mylar. Attached to that sheet, at regularly spaced intervals, are thin strips of another diaphragm, looking much like a ribbon. When the Magnepan speakers are powered, the “sheet” vibrates back and forth within the now-charged magnetic field, creating sound.

The design makes the most of this front-and-back vibration. Think of your standard speaker as a monopole; it only radiates sound in one direction. Magnepan speakers are dipoles, which radiate sound from front and the back equally. The sound coming from the rear of the speaker is called known as the back-wave.

What do you gain by using a dipole? What everyone wants from their sound system- a more realistic, true-to-life reproduction of the sonic musical event. Think of your favorite band playing on stage. When they are playing, does the music go out in just one direction? Of course not… you can hear them all around the room. With dipolar speakers, that live-music experience is better recreated as you can hear sound in a wider, more open space.

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Threaded allen bolts

Connections

Your speaker wire of choice connects to the speakers via a metal plate on the back of each speaker. The connections can be tricky as the wire is held down by a threaded Allen-bolt, inside of a metallic terminal. To connect it you strip insulation off of the speaker wire, insert it into the terminal, and then tighten it down with the bolt.

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Supplied allen wrench can’t make a full turn, making connection a time-consuming process

This will take about 10 minutes, however because the supplied wrench does not allow for a full rotation. By the end of the experience you may find yourself cursing Magnepan for the poor design consideration, as I did. But when all is said and done, it will look professional. Another downside to this redundant system is that you are limited to (at the most) 14-awg wire. I used 16-awg wire, which fits very well.

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Connection plate with fuse and tweeter attenuator

While looking at the back panel, you’ll notice two other connections. A fuse, for protection of the mid/tweeter section and another pair of nuts for “Tweeter Attenuator.” Leave the fuse in place, as noted by the manufacturer. As for the “Tweeter Attenuator,” leave it alone for the time being.

Use and Listening Tests

The MMGs require a few concessions from their owner to achieve their sonic potential. For the best bass response, they need to be placed some distance into the room. For this review I had my pair 24” off the back wall as measured from their bases, as the speakers do slope slightly back, supported by a pair of substantial metal feet. They should be spaced at least four feet apart, measured from inside edge to inside edge. This spacing is what allows the MMGs to create a realistic stereo image. ( By image I am referring to the acoustic phenomena of imaging, where you feel like the music is centered perfectly between the two speakers, not in one or the other.)

Another placement consideration is the speaker’s distance to the closest sidewalls. Three or more feet would be ideal, but 10 to 20 inches will do fine. If you ask yourself if this placement is all that important… think about it, would you expect a band be able to play at their best when jammed up against a wall? The band needs some room to breathe, as do the MMGs.

As previously mentioned, the MMGs also require a healthy amount of amplifier power. I’d recommend a minimum of 85 watts per channel into 4 ohms (w/ch @ 4W) for an average room. I used 120 watts per channel in this review. The receiver or amplifier used also needs to be 4-ohm stable. The MMGs present a nearly constant 4-ohm load over their operating range, which requires a lot of current as well as watts. Most modern receivers cannot provide enough current for the MMGs. Some receivers will have a switch on the back for 4-ohm operation, and if you’re not sure if your unit is stable for 4-ohms, call the manufacturer.

If you are buying a receiver or amplifier for the MMGs, you can still find them at affordable prices. For example, the Harman/Kardon HK 3380 or HK 3480 will drive them easily, and both are available for under $200 (refurbished with warranty) at www.harmanaudio.com. Vintage amplifiers from NAD also work well with the MMGs and are available for under $200. (Look for the PE “Power Envelope” series.)

Most home theater receivers are not rated for 4 ohms and will not drive these speakers. A home theater receiver that will drive them is the Onkyo TX-SR805, which is rated for 4-ohm operation. A good friend has a full set of Magnepan MMG speakers and her TX-SR805 does a great job driving them.

All Magnepan speakers produce an amazingly lifelike midrange; it’s this inviting and human-like tone that makes them so special. The MMGs are no exception; their midrange quality is seated comfortably at the top of their price range, and some ranges well above. Along with this, the MMGs impart a fantastically clear high end, sounding excellent with horns and percussion. Their mid-high clarity is breathtaking. If your tastes focus on jazz, chamber music, strings or piano sonatas, then the MMG’s clarity in the mid-high band will suit you perfectly. Fans of vocalists will appreciate the lifelike midrange as well. In my opinion, for the asking price you will not find a clearer midrange. But this does not mean that the MMGs cannot handle the rigors of rock or pop music. The MMGs produce a tempered, exacting bass. They do not shake the walls, but they also do not impart the distorted, muddy bass that many speakers do. With the correct room placement, they will sound very full and robust. They do very well on classic rock and folk, but for newer pop and hip-hop you may want to invest in a subwoofer. I’d only do tat if hip-hop and Top-40-type pop is your main musical taste. Then again, if those are the only genres you listen to, the MMGs may not be right for you at all.

The MMGs aren’t without their problems. With many modern recordings, the high-end is equalized, by the recording producers and engineers, to be unnaturally “hot.” This, combined with the Magnepan Ribbon-Planars, can cause some unpleasing high notes. This is were the “Tweeter Attenuation” comes into play. In the packet with the owners manual and warranty information are a set of rectangular power resistors. If you’ve never seen these sand-colored objects before, they are electrical components that restrict the flow of power to the component they are connected to. In this case they can be placed in the “Tweeter Attenuator” circuit to tone down the highs. I used the 1.2 ohm set for this review. Refer to the owner’s manual for instructions on using them,. I recommend that the distance between you and the center between the speakers be at least 160% of the distance in between them. For example, if you place the speakers 4 feet apart, you should sit about 6.5 feet back. If you are sitting more than 8 feet away, you may need to adjust the angle at which the MMGs slope backwards. This is easily done by flipping down two small plastic “flippers” on the feet of each speaker. This will right them upwards enough to help the highs propagate to your listening position. Do note if your room is carpeted, these “flippers” will just sink into the carpet, loosing their purpose.

Conclusion

Overall, the MMGs represent one of the few great values in audio. For just $599 a pair, you get a very stylish, full-range, Ribbon-Planar, dipolar speaker that it is entirely made in America, using all American labor. You buy them directly from the factory, and they come shipped in a robust package with a superbly well-written owner’s manual and the sets of resistors for the back panel. But remember, you must be able to afford the MMGs the power and space that they need. If you cannot get them enough power, you’ll be disappointed. Likewise, if you must jam them into a corner, or an overly large space, you’ll not be happy either. But if you can do those things, and the MMGs sound like a good fit for you, by all means try them out. I doubt you’d be disappointed. Highly recommended.

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