BACK STORY: I purchased my Magnepan MG-12 loudspeakers (list $1,100!) about 2 years ago through Audiogon. At that time, they were Magnepan MG-12 Speakerless than 9 months old. The seller had begun an upgrade but then decided to buy a pair of Magnepan MG-3.6 instead. They arrived with one sock off and missing both binding posts. Apparently, he needed them for his next project. Since they were already half apart I decided to do some immediate modifications prior to putting them in service. I rewired them with DH Labs hook-up wire bypassing both the tweeter fuse and the attenuator link. Later I purchased a set of Sound Anchor stands, and recently replaced the stock spikes with Star Product Audiopoints, and filled the stands with their Micro Ball Bearing fill (a big improvement over sand or lead shot).

A few months back, after a friend had purchased a pair of MYE stands for his Maggie 1.6s, I became compulsed with the idea of improving the bass by bracing the speakers in order to cut down the excess vibrations. After a failed attempt to brace the speakers with cables and turnbuckles, I attempted to add a 2″ oak frame that attached to the stands and around the perimeter of the speakers. Sadly, this too, was a failure. Both projects actually stabilized the speakers, which improved the bass, but alas, both “fixes” flexed the frame to the point where everything else sounded like mush! So, starting from the top of the speaker, I began removing the screws holding the support frame to the edge of the speakers. After removing all but the bottom screws that were connected to the speaker stands, I heard, to my astonishment, a remarkable improvement, not only in bass response, but in imaging as well. Apparently, loosening the frame separated it from the top of the speaker by about an inch, allowing it move freely and separately from the speakers themselves. Like separate tines of a fork, the speaker and frame are connected to a common base, but move independently above that point. Surprisingly, the frame that was meant to be a stabilizer, now acts as a mechanical damping system absorbing unwanted vibrations that would otherwise be acting on the speaker itself, and dissipates those vibrations harmlessly, and silently, as kinetic energy. It’s amazing the kind of weird stuff you can come up with when you keep tinkering around!!

GENERAL: The MG-12s are somewhat of an odd duck, they’re Magnepan’s smallest commercially available full-range loudspeaker, but most Magnepan dealers don’t have them on display, preferring to show the larger, more popular and more profitable, MG-1.6 model instead. Because of this, the 1.6s must outsell the MG-12s by at least a factor of 10-to-1 (just guessing).

DESIGN/SPECIFICATIONS: Covering the middle-ground between the factory-direct MMGs and the 1.6s, the MG-12s are a 2-way, planar-magnetic panel using Magnepan’s popular quasi-ribbon tweeter. The rated sensitivity is 86dB/500Hz /2.83v. Nominal impedance is 4 Ohms. The dimensions are 17″W x 51″H x 1.5″D. Add the stands and they’re 61″ high.

SETUP: (see my profile for related equipment). Maggies are set up asymmetrically in my approx. 13′ x 17′ living room. They’re 44″-45″ from the back (short) wall, 48″ from the left wall, and 28″ from the right half-wall. Spacing is 59″ center-to-center, with tweeter panels on the inside. The speakers are toed-in about 1″. Listening position is about 90″ from the plane of the speakers, and about 70″ off the back wall.

ROOM: Quasi L-shaped with half wall and doorway to adjoining kitchen. Living room is carpeted with a wool 5’x7′ throw rug in the center, with blinds on windows. Currently there are (3) 2’x4′ Auralex acoustic panels mounted on the wall behind the speakers, (1) 2’x4’ and (1) 2’x2’ panel mounted on the wall behind the listening area, and (3) 2’x2′ panels placed around the room. There are room tune pillows in the four ceiling corners and midway along all four wall-ceiling junctions. Lastly, there is a 12″ DIY bass trap in the rear left corner.

SOUND: There’s a seductiveness about planar loudspeakers, you either get it or you don’t. An open, box-free sound that few cabinet speakers can match (this side of megabuckland). Instruments take on a lifelike quality and dimensionality. When set up properly, they are capable of pinpoint accuracy, and throw a wide and layered sound stage (room permitting), with instruments and voices occupying their own discrete places in the sound stage. On the downside, planar magnetic panels are notoriously inefficient, requiring a lot more amplifier power than your typical bass reflex design. Because of their dipole configuration, the bass, though fast and taut, will rarely approach the slam you get from a loaded box driver. But, hey, life is a compromise.

The MG-12s share all these strengths and weaknesses. However, first and foremost, they are an amazingly neutral loudspeaker that allows you to hear everything else in your system, and with the right equipment, everything in the source material as well. As Maggie’s go, they’re probably the easiest to drive, part of which can be attributed to its simple crossover design, which consists of just one inductor (coil) and two capacitors (plus a small bypass cap) per speaker.

Based on a list price value of the components in my system, the MG-12s account for less than 6% of my total system cost! A ridiculously low apportionment for a component as important as loudspeakers, and yet, through all the upgrades and all the tweaks, the MG-12s keep getting better and better! I don’t know of any other speaker in its price range (or at twice the price) that would have survived in my system half as long! It’s like the Little Engine that could. “Chug-a, chug-a, chug, I think I can, I think I can.” So as long as the MG-12s keep chuggin’ up that hill, I’ll keep on tweakin’. I feel like I’m exploring the depths, and I haven’t reached bottom yet. Just inserted the new Ridge Street Poiema!! digital cable…and I’ve been stepping on my jaw all evening, but that’s another review.

UPDATE: 1-15-05

With the addition of a pair of RSAD Poiema!! speaker cables, I have finally completed the re-cabling of my 2 channel system with all Poiema!! cables (a cable review will be forthcoming soon).

The new cables were introduced into my system one at a time over a period of about 8 weeks. Through it all, the MG-12s never skipped a beat. With the addition of each cable, the improvements were easily discernable, and the speakers sounded better each time. The new cables have forced me to reconsider some previously held beliefs about the possibility of creating a deep 3-dimensional soundstage in a small room with equipment racks and a TV occupying a large portion of the space between the speakers. My new soundstage now extends 2-3 feet beyond the outer edge of the speakers, and several feet into my neighbor’s apartment!

But it’s the integration of that soundstage that’s most surprising and spectacular! Before, on good recordings, instruments and voices each occupied their own acoustic envelope. Depending on the recording, the size of that envelope would expand and contract, yet there was always a certain amount of “empty” space between these individual envelopes. The new Poiema!! cables are so good at retrieving the acoustic space surrounding instruments and voices that the entire sound stage became a single, contiguous whole, floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall. None of this could be possible if it weren’t for the utter accuracy and neutrality of the MG-12 speakers. In the end, perhaps the finest compliment I could pay these speakers is to say, “I still don’t know how good they can sound!”