Magneplanar 1.7 Loudspeakers (with a bit of help from the Bryston 4BSST2)
as reviewed by John Zurek
The roll-out of Magnepan's 1.7, in my opinion, has been one of the most anticipated audio events in the past few years. I've heard many audiophiles and music lovers at shows, on the web, and on forums speculating about the new speaker. Magnepan, certainly one of the cornerstones of high-end sound, has a large, faithful following, many of which have been eagerly anticipating the follow-on and upgrade to the much-loved 1.6.
I've lived happily with the 1.6 for the past year, and was thrilled when Wendell Diller from Magnepan offered me a pair of 1.7s to evaluate. Wendell didn't stop there. He also arranged for a Bryston 4BSST2 power amp to accompany the 1.7s, and came out with his lovely wife Galina to set them up with a personal touch. Very nice.
Wendell used a pink noise track for position and tow-in. He set the 1.7s with the super tweets on the inside and toed in directly towards the listening position, about 4 ft. from the rear wall and about 7 ft. apart. What did I notice straight away? Well, the 1.7 looks a lot like the 1.6 – a large floorstander of the same shape, the same size, even the panels look much the same. Although they may look the same, Magnepan is now using its quasi-ribbon technology for the lower-mids and bass, as well as the rest of the rest of the panels. My review sample had aluminum trim on the sides that gave the speaker a very cool, and different (for Maggies) look, and Wendell tells me, does make the frame more rigid, like an I-beam. "If you put the 1.7 across a span and measured the deflection of the frame, it stands to reason that the I-beam effect of the aluminum stiles would stiffen the frame to some measurable degree. However, we are very conservative about making claims that increased mass or stiffness of the frame has an audible improvement. We have made prototypes with crazy levels of both stiffness and mass. The question, "Does it hold up in rigorous, controlled listening tests?" We could wink and say, "Sure, that is part of why the 1.7 sounds better." But, we don't have any concrete proof."
Another noticeable change is that the 1.7 accommodates only single wire inputs, bi-wiring is not available as was on the 1.6. No more jumpers to worry about. Wendell says the crossover is improved but just smiled and would not say much more on the subject. Frequency response is 40-24 kHz and sensitivity is 86dB/500Hz /2.83v at 4 ohms.
First impression? The overall sound was a little warmer than the 1.6, nice. Although the Bryston amp and the 1.7s were fresh out of their respective boxes for the first time, I heard delicate, immediate music while we listened to the Tokyo String Quartet play Ravel. I did end up repositioning the 1.7s from Wendell's original placement. Once I had the opportunity to live with them for a while, I just couldn't resist. An inch here, a couple inches there, and the tonal balance in my challenging room changed for the better. The sound could only get better as both components would break-in.
And a long break-in it was. I didn't count the hours or sessions, but I think it was 2-300 hrs before the bass in these planars broke through. Once it did, I could hear the absolute control the Bryston 4BSST2 exerted on the panels. It was obvious the 1.7 is capable of playing large scale music to high levels while keeping its composure if provided with the right amplification. While listening to "A Remark You Made" from Weather Report's Heavy Weather I couldn't help but tune in to the fact the Jaco's bass seemed much more a part of the performance. His fretless Fender sprang to life and was right on the money, quick attack, with no overhang, but lots of sustain when required. Beware - bass done properly from these panels can be addicting.
Although the 1.7 looks much like its predecessor, it's better in many ways.
For me it was the timing. The 1.7 did not sound faster per se than the 1.6. What I heard was a much more coherent presentation, as if there was only one driver. The nuance factor was incredible. As they broke in I found myself moving to the music. I was returning to listen at odd hours. A little longer, and I stopped listening critically, and kept thinking, "time to write some of this down". A good sign. I noticed lovely highs dancing across the soundstage, with more captivating directional cues than the 1.6 provided. Once the break-in was complete, there was no contest in the bass department. The 1.7 is clearly superior. The critical mid-range was where I heard the least individual change, but uncolored and superb nonetheless.
As listening progressed, I truly became more involved with the music. Sure, I listened to the usual reference recordings, but soon moved on to many discs in my collection that I hadn't heard in many years. You know the ones I'm talking about—they just don't sound good on the big rig, so they tend to get left on the shelf. The combo of the Maggies with the Bryston brought new life to many recordings I loved, but didn't play often. Strange, I really envisioned it would be the opposite. I think the combination of the Bryston's almost limitless power and control, along with the newly-found dynamic range of the 1.7s, may be just the spark to change the mind of those who thought Maggies had limited dynamics.
The Bryston 4BSST2 is one fine amplifier. You can't help but notice the build quality. The faceplate is a heavy brushed aluminum with rack-mount handles. The rear panel includes balanced and unbalanced inputs, settings for gain for balanced or unbalanced, a master power switch, binding posts, an IEC connector, and connections for remote turn-on. It offers 300 watts per channel into 8 Ohms, 500 watts into 4 Ohms and over 1000 watts available in bridged mono mode. The amp performed flawlessly the entire time I had it. And it should. Bryston is the only company I know of that offers a 20-yr transferable warranty on amplifiers. Maybe it's because they manufacture every part that goes into the amp. Their products are born from an impeccable pro-audio lineage that goes back may years and inspires confidence.
My first time living with a Bryston, I felt it was pleasantly neutral, with just a touch of warmth in the midrange that gave the Maggies a very listenable balance. They like to be paired with an amp that doesn't flinch when asked provide high current, and you can be sure that the 4BSST2 can foot the bill. The highs were present and most pleasant, but never harsh. And in the bass department? The 4BSST2 abides. Quick, full, and exciting, I found myself hearing lower registers that were brought closer into the fold of the music.
This is certainly one the best solid state amps I've ever had the pleasure of living with, I think it would most likely be a great match with many speakers that require hefty power. All that power was able to control the Maggies in a way that resulted in dynamic swings that had me riveted. The 4BSST2's projection of tonal balance was equally distributed across the audible spectrum, not calling attention to itself in any frequency range. The confluence of its attributes was always pleasing, and I felt it was also consistently faithful at either end of the dynamic range.
I played "Take Sarava" from Silvia Torres on the compilation Brasilero for some friends one night. This is an excellent recording that features lovely voices in Portuguese. As we listened, we felt those voices in the room, with crystalline clarity, suspended in space. The vocals were pure, succinct and poignant. This gave the entire presentation an ethereal quality that was quite stirring. No speaker that I know of anywhere near this price performs this type of presentation like the Magneplanar 1.7.
The most compelling recording I heard was "Senior Mouse" from Chick Corea and Gary Burton's Crystal Silence. Although I'm very familiar with this record, I hadn't heard it in a long time. So hard to believe it was recorded in one day. The technical virtuosity and musicianship captured in these tunes is beyond outstanding. The percussive impact of hard yarn mallets on metal bars and hard felt hammers on metal strings was just, well, striking. With the piano stage left and the vibes stage right, Gary and Chick worked their artful magic right in front of my eyes. Because vibes and piano cross ranges I've heard both instruments get blurred in this tune because of complicated lines that are doubled. Not this time. I could pick out each instrument easily, and hear the complex chords they created together. The1.7 communicates the performance and displays excellent resolution.
Is the Magneplanar 1.7 a worthy successor to the hallowed 1.6? Properly amplified it will provide you with a balanced, focused sound that has that incredible "you are there" feeling. The big change in these planars is Magenpan's integration of a uniform quasi-ribbon technology across all the drivers that, in concert with crossover upgrades, provides the 1.7 with a compelling, emotional presentation that is further enhanced by its superior dynamics. Bottom line, the 1.6 morphed from an excellent speaker to a world-class offering at a price that is really hard to fathom. OK, so it took a while for Magenpan to get the new line in production. The wait was worth it - from 40 Hz up the 1.7 is very hard to beat. No matter the price.
Though not in the top tier of Magnepan's offerings, the 1.7 delivers stellar performance, is an incredible value, and could very well be your favorite in the line, no matter the price. It is handcrafted in the USA and made with virtually all American-made parts. Be sure you pair it with a high-quality amplifier such as the Bryston 4BSST2. A speaker for audiophiles and music lovers, it excels at what is most important to me—communicating the very fundamental nature of the music. John Zurek