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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
may/june 2012


Magnepan's Triumphant 3.7 Loudspeakers and BSG's ql "Sonic Completion" Unit
by Jim Merod


Why did the Righteous Professor

...want his colleagues to stay away from his wife? Because he wasn't sure. Here's another one. How come big ass speakers almost always seem more authoritative than sophisticated mini-monitors even when they're not as accurate across the entire spectral range? Just because, dude... just cuz (see)?

Getting it On

...or off, I'm not certain which, but imagine the surprise of large MBL speakers plopped in your jumbo listening room by the Tooth Fairy. After the shock wears off, you get them set up and ready to boogie. Imagine that, okay? Would you choose Socrates or the Audio Guru at Seacrestequally gnomic, equally wise, two versions of Tutto de Tutti Capito share the first round of serious musical satisfaction? There's no correct pick here. Both have advantages, don't you think? Choose one. No answer below.

Taking it Off

...which was pretty much what Plato's Symposium seemed to be heading toward until drunkenness overcame the soon languorous assembly, part raconteurs, part lushes with a single purpose: mooching wine while gossiping.

The topic, you'll remember, was Amora subject of narrative entanglement that quickly devolved to weird imaginative concoctions, no doubt a strong motive for more vino and the tug of Morpheus. Only Socrates survived the long night sober even though he out drank everyone on the scene. He ended up at the public baths as dawn arrived... but I wonder what he made of 5th century B.C. lute music. We have little evidence of its notational structure or sonic outcomes. Given all this, probably HP is a far better listening companion because he digs classical, some jazz, and is not shy about saying clearly what he likes and all the rest. No matter what, who wants to get out guzzled by a fat old guy who asks too many questions?

magnepan 3.7

Moving On imagine, that now settled, your new speakers are the Magnepan 3.7s. We already know what Harry thinks because, first, when the two of us listened together at CES in Las Vegas' Venetian Hotel in January, 2011, each of us came to the same stunned agreement with shared pleasure. The 3.7s are (and were) way out and far above improvements to every previous iteration of the Maggies (not including their huge model 20s). Their superiority was clear and without blemishes, tho' HP griped a tad that sub reinforcement goosed the whole sonic package down to true full-range performance, an unfortunate tho' necessary fact, he seemed to feel. Agreed, but a quibble, I think, when you encounter such instantly soul-defying ambient musical reality on high resolution "live" recordings... a hope I carry constantly and seriously, tho' with frequent disappointment. When the Tutto his own self, published his views, despite how much he admired the 3.7s, he added a caveat that the new Magnepans still had room to improve and blow us all away beyond this immediate (if potentially temporary) victory. Harry noted that he believed that this projection was not merely theoretical but virtually a sure thing that will be realized concretely down the road. I will not differ from that outlook but add only this. The 3.7s do not need to accomplish anything "more" than what they now bring forward at a ridiculously fair price. Nope, they don't.

Diggin In

I've always admired HP's self-confidence. After all, only one guy can be the tutto, as Harry has been and may still be, etcetera, so I defer to his confidence on occasion but stick to my close attention to what my own hungry ears take in, nonetheless. Remember here, as a slight divagation, Shakespeare's nostrum about how wonderful hearing truly is despite all the ill it suffers in a world devoted to nonsense, balderdash and much worse. Maybe that was Wallace Stevens, but I've always admired Shakespeare's modesty, now that I think of it. He was the one (or was it Hamlet) who called attention to the special providence in the fall of a sparrow. Now take that one on, I challenge you, since how many of us ever actually saw a sparrow fall kerplop from some branch or tree top? And, given that lack of direct evidence, how to wrap one's cognitive gums around the abstract wisdom ol' Will throws at us there (unless that was Hamlet and not really the Bard)? So my providential inclination here heads toward the majestically relaxed sonic reality the 3.7s create. If anyone sonic virtue defines Maggie's 3.7 new incarnation, it is musical relaxation and audio "are you there" reality.

Digging It

...the "it" here, of course, is anything that you throw at the 3.7s, whether vinyl or double DSD master recordings. When I first heard these friendly "just like life" sonic pleasure-givers they were driven by Bryston mono-block amps. Very nice. The second time I spent extended time with them was in Evanston, Illinois, during an afternoon pause between two nights of recording in the wet bowels of mid-December Chicago. The spiffy audio emporium that generously suffered my protracted visit drove their 3.7s with a fantastic Ayre stereo amp (the VX-R). That approached real world Nirvana. Completely truthful imaging, harmonic layering, tonal centers, dynamic force and pace. What's not to like about Magnepan 3.7s? I discovered for sure the answer is "nothing" or "less than that". At the extremely modest price point they carry, they're setting themselves in line to be the 21st century version of Richard Vandersteen's amazingly low-priced, high-value 2Ce speakers that sold approximately 333,333 pairs across twenty years or two decades worth of sales (whichever calendar came first). I, on the other hand (where did the first hand go?), am now driving the Maggie Giant Killers with my "tried and truly tested, bolt the door and hang-onto-music-for-dear-life" McCormack DNA-125 stereo amp modified several times such that it's now a "platinum" version of a DNA 225 amp on short-bore high-torque thrust. I believe in this amp. It makes the 3.7s sing better than Caruso (tho' maybe not as seductive as Liberace's duets with Elvis Presley).

Enter Alex at Ayre

...or maybe not, but I say YES. That, I hope, will lend the goal of this matter, to discriminate precise degrees of the Ayre VX-R amp's magic that I heard for an hour and a half on a clear, cold day in Evanston. But what about on the west coast near the ocean? Can such a manically calm stereo juice box kick butt with such brio here atop the lookout? I betcha, but I wanna find out definite, see?

The ql: Sonic Enhancement Rocket Booster Stage what my near neighbor, Robert Harley, found it to bethe real deal, an "enhancement" device that doesn't swallow musical signals only to disgorge them like fresh barfed dog food all the while wagging an invisible tale happily suggesting you are the dope if you do not get the mellifluous regurgitation. I've swapped a few notes with an audio engineer who I regard as among the hand full of The Best and Most Astute anywhere. His skepticism about any "enhancement" unit is maximum, bordering on well-earned cynicism. His take on the qlwhich matches beautifully with the transparency of the 3.7sis that, slice or dice it, you'll always get more circuitry, more wire and useless networked rigmarole with any unit that pretends to make your system's sonic fidelity better. It is just impossible, my genuinely astute colleague insists... and, to be honest, it's very hard to argue with this man's long accomplishments in the recording and audio industry. On the surface, as mere Aristotelian logical deductions, how can he not be right? If (99 times out a 100) less is more, then there it is right in front of you: more circuits and gizmos will deliver less clarity, accuracy and sonic truth.

qol unit

But that is not exactly what's going on here with the ql. The clams that accompany this device do not say "more accuracy" and the like. Ql's inventor, Barry Stephen Goldfarb, started with a genuinely profound sonic perception: that "the overwhelming, all-encompassing sounds that fill space were gone and the space-and-time relationship was totally lost" on the vast bulk of recorded music. He explored that anomaly for eight years until he found a way to combine in-phase with out-of-phase audio signals over the entire spectral dispersion to create the coherence of real music in live ambient space. Now, first, we realize that the recording environment, regardless of isolated mic techniques, has its own eccentric influence on what is captured by individual mics and in the sum of their mixed configurations. Second, any audiophile who is not as thick as my pal Percy around the corner recognizes how powerful the shaping and limiting (distorting, dampening, brightening, et. al.) effects of any listening room truly are at the point of reception. Maestro Goldfarb confronted the before signal reproduction facts of recorded music as well as the facts of reproduced musical signals from a variety of speakers and sound systems. Musical signals recorded in the strictest in phase purity carry a dry pristine "sonic rectitude" that feels, to anyone who has spent thousands of hours over long years of hearing live music in dozens of venues, to be very much like audio finger nails scraping sonic blackboards. Although I have the utmost respect for the astute, knowledgeable and truly legendary Dr. Johnson, recognizing how difficult it is to record music with the absolute degree of ambient and collective (mixed) purity he achieves, I cannot listen to the outcome of those recordings without a touch of auditory nausea. This has nothing to do with the actual accuracy of signal capture and transfer, but derives from the absence of precisely what Barry Goldfarb discerned as "space" and "air"the real world ambient truths of music in real environments. Suck the air out of the room where music is recorded or heard and you have an otherworldly and (for me) somewhat disorienting aesthetic experience.

qols Tricky Brilliance

I'll have more to report on this wonderful if counter-intuitive "signal completion" box soon... for the moment I want to underline something that applies to the partnership between the Maggie 3.7 speakers and ql's "musical reality recovery" system. I've hooked the ql into a bedroom "back up" sound system with decent gear (Silverline mini-monitors; a Yamaha receiver; MIT cables) and the result had none of the astonishing revelation of musical and spatial nuances that are the extraordinarily subtle but undeniable sonic outcomes of the ql's signal transfer on a very good system like 3.7s with McCormack high-rev amplification and Kubala-Sosna Elation! cables. When that system is fronted by a Tascam 24/96 master recording or, even more brilliantly, a Korg double DSD master recording, the bloom and sonic color of musical truth emerges at an order of magnitude higher yet. What I've found is that the better the reproduction system, and the more resolved the signal accuracy and musical capture truly are, the greater the ql's performance-enhancing partnership. I'll work this magical unit through yet more audio and musical iterations and then report back here the series of likely surprises, stupefactions, and/or the need for willing suspensions of disbelief.

One Last come the professor locked his lady friend in his backyard banyo? She was reading his unfinished book manuscript: "Purple Prose for Bathing Porno Stars Buck Naked in Purple Light."