American loudspeaker manufacturer Magnepan is famed for its stylish, planar-magnetic, "Magneplanar" flat-panel speakers. The problem is, Maggies tend to be rather large. Without a traditional woofer-type cone to move air, they require a large surface area and a substantial amount of space around them, because Magneplanar speakers are dipole (sound emanates equally from the front and rear of the speaker). With this, and the growing popularity of flat-panel TV in mind, Magnepan created the MGMC1 ($1,799), a much smaller wall-mounted speaker (although still 117cm tall and 25cm wide). A simple hinge mechanism on one edge of the cabinet allows the entire thing to be mounted on the wall and the panel angled in towards the listener.
We were sent a full five-speaker surround package for home theatre containing four MGMC1s and the MGCC3 ($2,799) centre channel - a virtually identical speaker but horizontally mounted and curved.
First things first: these speakers need a subwoofer. No ifs, no buts. You simply don't have a choice, because these puppies produce nothing below 80Hz. Not a peep. And if you're fussy about music you'll need a sub capable of operating competently at frequencies well over 100Hz. According to the supplier, the MGMC1s should be relatively flat to about 120Hz before rolling off - a manageable crossover point but one I was unable to attain in my lounge. Even though I had the speakers positioned on the room boundary, close to the corner as per manufacturer's instruction, the frequency response of the two front speakers, though reasonably flat, started rolling off at about 300Hz. Expecting a subwoofer to operate to 300Hz is asking a lot, since most subs top out between 100 and 200Hz. With bass performance so reliant on the listening environment they may not suit every room.
Another thing to consider is that Magneplanar-type speakers create a distinctive listening experience. Because they're dipole, sound bounces off the wall behind them creating a soundfield that is quite relaxed, slightly diffuse and expansive. Also remember there's no cabinet to colour the sound with its own resonances. While this strips a little mid-range punch, the overall effect is rather soothing - an aggressive speaker the MGMC1 is not. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on your own unique musical preferences. For instance, take a live track like Nils Lofgren's 'Keith Don't Go'. Lofgren doesn't so much play the guitar here as attack it and the Maggies tend to calm the man down a bit, creating an enjoyable, though not quite as visceral, interpretation of the performance.
That's not to say the high end is weak, however, and the crisp, accurate detail the MGMC1s produce is good enough that only an A/B comparison with more expensive speakers will expose shortcomings.
Home theatre is one area where these speakers excel, particularly the MGCC3 centre. Its reproduction of dialogue and sound effects is so vital it's frightening - good enough that I'd go as far as saying it's my favourite centre speaker to date. While the same lack of mid-bass punch is evident here, the crisp detail makes up for any failing in its cinematic guise.
Are the Magneplanars for you? Quite possibly, but they won't suit everyone. They're a gentle speaker that'll take a bit of effort to get performing well and they need powerful amplification ). But in this price bracket, and if you're after something relatively discrete, the Maggies will do nicely. Gotta have that centre, too.