Magnepan MG30.7

All-Time Best Buy

Equipment report
Magnepan MG30.7

Folks, if you’ve never heard a Magneplanar Tympani speaker (or if, like me, you haven’t heard one for decades), you will be stunned and amazed by what a big Magnepan is capable of—and in this case you will also be delighted by the improvements that Mark and Wendell and the Magnepan design team have wrought. This is, quite simply, the most top-to-bottom coherent, highest-resolution, most astonishingly lifelike planar loudspeaker I’ve ever heard (from Maggie or anyone else). On acoustic music of any kind, it is very nearly peerlessly realistic (especially through the midband), making almost everything else I’m familiar with—and I think I’ve heard most of the contenders—sound a little less jaw-droppingly “there.”

So what is a Magnepan 30.7? It is a four-panel (two panels per side), line-source, ribbon/quasi-ribbon loudspeaker system of considerable width (a little under four feet across per side!), height (about six-and-a-half feet), and just a couple of inches in depth. As the four panels that comprise a stereo pair are completely separate (not hinged to one another in the way the panels on each side of the Tympanis once were), you will have considerable latitude in placement, which is both a blessing and a curse. (With great latitude comes great responsibility—for which see below.)

Unlike previous big Maggies, the 30.7s are four-way (first-order crossovers) loudspeakers, with a quasi-ribbon low-bass and a “transitional” quasi-ribbon upper-bass/lower-midrange planar driver in the larger of the two panels (the use of two bass-range planars to span the bottom end and the power range dates back to the Tympani IVa, though the IVa was a three-way design with far less advanced planar-magnetics). The quasi-ribbon midrange and the true ribbon tweeter are housed in the second panel, which is the smaller (less wide, though just as tall and thin) of the pair. Wendell Diller tells me that “something new” has been incorporated in the quasi-ribbon midrange, though precisely what that is remains a secret.

However, the sonic effects of that secret—and of whatever more, and there is considerably more, that Mark, Wendell, and Maggie have done to improve sound quality (Wendell says that, properly set up, the 30.7 will reproduce a near-perfect square wave—i.e., step response)—are immediately apparent to the ear. This is the first and only Maggie I’ve heard in which Magnepan’s true ribbon tweeter doesn’t immediately stick out like a sore, uh, true ribbon. The blend—in speed, resolution, output, timbre—with the quasi-ribbon midrange is forehead-slappingly good, suggesting some kind of major reduction in the quasi’s breakup modes (or other distortions) through the crossover region, and perhaps some sort of taming of the ribbon tweeter itself.

All you have to do is listen to this thing to experience the same paradigm-shifting astonishment that I first experienced so many years ago, when I discovered that a loudspeaker could not only sound “good,” it could also sound quite literally “fool-you real.” Put on Masterpieces by Ellington [Acoustic Sounds] and just marvel at the utter naturalness with which the 30.7s reproduce Russel Procope, Paul Gonzalves, Johnny Hodges, Henry Carney, and Jimmy Hamilton’s tenor, alto, and bari saxes and clarinets; Nelson Williams, Andrew Ford, Harold Baker, Ray Nance, and William Anderson’s trumpets; Quentin Jackson, Lawrence Brown, and Tyree Glenn’s trombones; Mercer Ellington’s horn and flute; Sonny Greer’s drumkit; Wendell Marshall’s standup bass; Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s piano, and (on “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated Lady”) Yvonne Lanauze’s sultry contralto vocals on this now-seventy-year-old mono recording. If, in your listening life, you’ve ever before heard, a big band reproduced with this level of performance detail (you can not only hear every key-press on the brasses and winds, you can also hear the reeds vibrating and every breath the soloists take between skeins of notes) coupled with this level of timbral and dynamic naturalness through any other loudspeaker, then I’d like to hear that speaker.

Or try the great Analogue Sounds reissue of the Son House LP Father of Folk Blues, and once again just revel in the realism with which the 30.7s reproduce every slide, squeak, pluck, and pick of that National steel guitar (body and string) and every creak and cranny of that crusty old man’s voice. It is like he is standing there, playing for you.

Or try the Bernstein recording of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (the one that Spielberg used in Bridge of Spies) if you want to hear strings like shot silk, doublebasses with the color, definition, bowing detail, and acoustic power of real doublebasses, timps that shake the room, piano with genuine ivory sparkle on top and lifelike power and fully articulated harmonics on the bottom, along with touches of instrumentation and color in the scoring that you’ve never noticed before.

As I said at the start, it isn’t hard to hear what these Maggies get more right than any other transducers (including previous Maggies); it’s just, as I also said, hard to explain. I suppose what it comes down to is the sensation that singers or instrumentalists are being more completely reproduced.

Why Maggies sound more “complete” than other speakers has always been a bit puzzling, as their flaws are as obvious as their virtues. It has something to do with getting overall tonal balance just so, without any box-speaker-like darkening of timbre or ambience; it has something to do with the sheer amount of air they move, which no conventional cone speaker can match; it has equally to do with a transient response that is neither so fast that it blurs everything but initial attacks, nor so slow that it softens those attacks; it also has to do with the resolution of very fine details that other transducers typically don’t resolve as clearly—details that describe what I’ve called the “action” of instruments (the very concept of “action” was born from listening to Maggies with ARC electronics).

Somehow or other, Maggies are better able to reproduce “action” than almost any other kind of speaker—not just the way a guitar string, for instance, vibrates to create an intensity, a color, a pitch, and a duration, but the way the energy of that vibration comes off the string, setting the air around it in motion toward you and, again, back toward the resonant body of the instrument. Maggies are simply better able to tell you how instruments and voices work to create sound, because they let you hear the air in the recording venue moving in response to physical excitation. (In my experience, only a great horn loudspeaker, such as the Magico Ultimate, can reproduce this extremely low-level effect as realistically as the Maggies do.)

So…the perfect transducer, right?

Well, no. Putting aside the fact that no loudspeaker is perfect, you might have noticed that I didn’t include a rock album in my short list of records that will wow you. This isn’t because the 30.7s aren’t good at reproducing rock ’n’ roll. They are, in fact, quite good at it. It’s just that, because of their low-end linearity, they don’t have the sizable boost that many box speakers add in the midbass.

Though the 30.7s are much more filled out in the power range (thanks to that separate quasi-ribbon upper-bass/lower-mid driver) than previous Maggies and have greater bottom-octave extension than any previous Maggies, they still don’t do “slam” the way box speakers do. Thus, Chris Frantz’s drumming at the close of “Life During Wartime” from Stop Making Sense isn’t reproduced with the sledgehammer impact it has through a top-rank cone speaker, like the Magico M Pro or the Raidho D 5.1. Moreover, though the 30.7’s blend of quasi-ribbon midrange and true-ribbon tweeter is far smoother and more of a piece than that of any previous Maggie, the ribbon tweet can still stick out a tad on a hot recording, like the aforementioned Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto, when it is asked to reproduce spotlit piccolos and flutes playing fortississimo. (Unlike past true-ribbon Maggies, such added upper-midrange/treble brightness is rare.) In addition, the 30.7 still doesn’t have quite the same tonal weight and body as a great dynamic loudspeaker. This isn’t a question of suckout—as I just noted, the new transitional mid/bass driver makes the 30.7 much fuller in the upper bass and lower mids—but of dispersion pattern. Because they have a large, cylindrical line-source wavelaunch, Maggies don’t “concentrate” timbres the way point-source cones do. Instead, they expand them, giving them a bloom and airiness that I find very realistic, though some listeners reasonably prefer the denser, more focused color of cones. Then there is the question of the 30.7’s frame and stands. Currently, as per past Maggie practice, the frames are heavy-duty wood, the stands flat metal. Sturdy enough undoubtedly, but one can’t help but wonder what these superb drivers might gain if Maggie were to go with thick, constrained-layer aluminum or carbon-fiber frames and heavier-duty, constrained-layer footers. Yes, the 30.7’s price would rise quite a bit—and so would its weight. But that added mass, stiffness, and damping might pay back the cost difference in even higher resolution and transparency. (OTOH, it might also make the speaker overly analytical and aggressive.)

Finally, there is the tricky matter of setup. As with all Magnepans, you have options to wrestle with. Single-panel Maggies, like the 3.7s or 20.7s, can be situated with either the bass driver or the midrange and tweeter to the inside or the outside. The two-panel 30.7s quadruple the possibilities. Lower-bass drivers inside or outside? Upper-bass/lower-mid drivers inside or outside? Midrange driver inside or outside? Tweeter inside or outside? On top of this, do you want the panels situated roughly parallel to one another, or do you want the mid/tweet panel located a few inches ahead of the low-bass/upper-bass panel (as I currently prefer)? Do you want both panels per side toed-in equally, or independently toed? The choices are many and, thanks to the vagaries of rooms, there are no uniformly right answers. Which means the urge to perfect your setup will nag at you relentlessly.

Understand that none of this takes a jot away from the thrill I feel every time I listen to the 30.7s. Unlike Frank Sinatra singing the great Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn song, I don’t fall in love that easily (the last time I did was the Magico M Pros, to which the 30.7s bear a striking sonic resemblance), but the fact is I love these things. For absolute sound listeners with enough room and the permission to use it, I think they are very close to nonpareil.

Oh, and I’ve saved the best for last. Not only are the 30.7s the handsomest-looking large Maggies of all time (in their blue trim and white panel covers), they are also among the best deals Maggie has ever offered. They cost $29,000 the pair (release slated for January, 2018). That’s not chump change, I grant you, but compared to the price of the six-figure speakers they so successfully compete against, it makes them, as noted, one of the greatest bargains in ultra-high-end history.