Radically innovative speakers from Minnesota?

Magnepan's flat-panel speaker technology continues to evolve, and the company is just about to launch its smallest-ever speaker, the 14-inch-tall Mini Maggie.

Magnepan's 6-foot-tall, but only 1.6-inch-thick panel speakers Magnepan

Most speakers--from the affordable models to state-of-the-art contenders--are box designs. Some are tall, slender boxes, some are tiny cubes or spheres, but they all have some type of cabinet. Unless you're an audiophile, just about every speaker you've ever heard has dome tweeters and cone drivers, so you might conclude that all speakers are made that way. Standing apart from the crowd, Magnepan speakers are slender, flat-panel designs, less than a couple of inches thick. The speakers don't rely on conventional tweeters and woofers; Magnepan speakers' sound-producing elements are proprietary thin-film drivers.

Magnepan's Jim Winey started developing the technology in 1969; it has been used in more than 200,000 pairs of his speakers. The company is based in Minnesota, and uses American-made parts. Prices start at $600 per pair of speakers.

I've been an audiophile for a long, long time, but it's just over the past few years that I really got hooked on Magnepan's sound. I currently use its 6-foot-tall Model 3.7 speaker as one of my references, and I have reviewed a number of Magnepan speakers over the past five years. I visited the factory last week to learn more about how the speakers are made.

The thin-film driver construction is unique to Magnepan. I was truly surprised how little of the build process is automated, and that all of the speakers' sound-making parts are made by hand. Many of the workers I talked with have been at Magnepan for years, and they clearly enjoy their work.

A Magnepan worker laying out a aluminum ribbon driver. Steve Guttenberg

I'm the very first reviewer to hear the all-new Mini Maggie System ($1,495), and I'll soon write an in-depth report about it in this blog. For now I will say the 14-inch-tall speakers sounded amazing and in some ways superior to my Magnepan 3.7 speakers that are more than three times as expensive. Those 6-foot-tall speakers fill larger rooms, play louder, and make a lot more bass, but the Mini Maggie System (which also includes a separate woofer panel) sounded more realistic when listened to in the context of a desktop system. It's a breakthrough design; never before has such a small system produced this level of sound quality.

I also auditioned the 4-foot-tall, but only 1.25-inch-thick MMG speaker (sold direct by Magnepan for $600 per pair), and I will review it here in a few weeks. That speaker may be the least expensive Magnepan you can buy, but it still features the company's highly regarded aluminum ribbon tweeter. It's one of the best-sounding tweeters I've ever heard, even compared with speakers that sell for many times the MMG's price!

Magnepan speakers are made in America, and they're sold in China! Sounds like they know a good thing when they hear it.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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