Love is a Three-Channel Word

by John Crossett | October 27, 2010

he people at Magnepan, Minnesota's foremost proponent of planar-magnetic speakers, see an opportunity -- a way for audiophiles in less-than-perfect sonic environments (or domestic situations) to have their proverbial cake and eat it too. Their answer to "I’m not having those big speakers in my house" is an unobtrusive three-channel system that will appeal to the significant other who wants to keep the living room from looking like an electronics showroom and still give the audiophile of the house a full-on musical experience.

Having had Wendell Diller, Magnepan's marketing manager, visit and set up this system for me (with many thanks to the good folks at Bryston for supplying the electronics), I have had the chance to see and hear if there is validity to the idea. The system uses a pair of motorized Magnepan MMC2s ($1995) that can tuck against the wall and out of sight when not in use; two Magnepan woofers ($795 each), which can be purchased in no-frills cabinets -- what I received -- configured as end tables, or even built into custom furniture; and Magnepan’s new CC5 center-channel speaker ($995).

Before Wendell and the hardware arrived, there were preconceived notions to overcome: the small size of the MMC2s, the separate Magnepan woofers that lack the physical bulk of so many powered subwoofers, the non-audiophile pedigree of such an unusual system. However, backed up with Bryston’s BCD-1 CD player, SP2 surround-sound processor, and 6B-SST2 three-channel amplifier, the Magnepan system was a real ear-opening experience. It was fully as involving as Magnepan MG1.6es, which I once used in a stereo setup. There was the pure tonal balance that I’ve heard only from planar speakers along with a huge sense of space. Vocals -- both male and female -- were palpable, and depth was outstanding. Background singers were set well behind the lead and clearly delineated. With classical music, the sense of a complete orchestra, layered front to back, was obvious.

Even playing stereo CDs through the system -- which sums the left-right info into the center channel -- was a unique experience. I heard the planar coherence that has always given me goose bumps, and adding the center channel meant that I didn’t have to sit in one spot in order to perceive width and depth. Only a very good center-channel speaker will achieve this, and the CC5 qualifies in spades. Of course, any system that can excel at reproducing music will be able to do the same with movie soundtracks.

It took Wendell and me (okay, mostly Wendell) about an hour to set everything up. Most of this time was spent assembling the disposable stands. The CC5 can be mounted in a number of different locations -- including close to the front wall. Wendell demonstrated this by moving it back near the curtain behind the system, and still the sound impressed.

My purpose was to evaluate the system's performance, and the setup was effective for this. However, the finished product will not look like what you see in the pictures I took. Magnepan has many installation ideas and can even provide pictures of finished rooms. There will also be a link to a virtual tour that shows Magnepan installations in Mandalay Bay's high-roller suites. Through all of this, potential owners will get an idea of how their rooms can look with everything properly installed, in which case the speakers will vanish into the room's décor.

With my installation, I had to use my imagination to envision how the system would integrate into a finely decorated living space. However, the sound required no mental gymnastics -- it captivated and involved. Don't thumb your nose at or dismiss this system until you've heard it. I'm willing to bet that your preconceived notions will take the same beating mine did.

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