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CES: Will Magnepan's new speaker be an open window to the music?

Magnepan promises to redefine the sound of state-of-the-art flat-panel speakers at CES.

Magnepan, based in White Bear Lake, Minn., has built nothing but flat-panel speakers since 1969. The company will be premiering a new speaker, the MG 3.7, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, from January 6-9. To some this may appear to be a deja vu event, mirroring last year's introduction of the MG 1.7, which turned out to be one of my speaker of the year picks for 2010.

But I wouldn't want you to think of Magnepan as one of those companies that rolls out "all new" models every year. The 3.7 is replacing the 3.6 that debuted 12 years ago! That may feel like an eternity in the fast paced consumer electronics business, but the 3.6 was so good it took 12 years to come up with something better.

The Magnepan 3.7 flat panel speakers, less than 2 inches thick! Magnepan

I haven't heard the 3.7 yet, but I spoke at length with Warren Gehl, who works for Audio Research, a high-end electronics manufacturer, because he's spent many hours auditioning the 3.7. Gehl could hardly contain his enthusiasm, "It is one of the most lifelike, natural imaging speakers I've heard," he said, "and clearly the best sounding single-panel speaker Magnepan has made to date. It's in the top handful of truly realistic sounding speakers I've heard at any price." Audio Research uses lots of vastly more expensive speakers to test their electronics, and regularly demonstrates their latest gear with them at shows like CES. Not this time--the company will be using the 3.7.

Magnepan is promoting its own 3.7 CES demonstrations with a rather unusual claim, promising there won't be a bad sounding seat in the room. That's a bold assertion for speakers that have up to this point have had a rather small sweet spot, so only one or two people would ever hear Magnepan speakers at their best. The Magnepan room will seat upwards of 20 people.

Judging "better" sound can be subjective and prone to bias, so during the research and development stages Magnepan conducts extensive "blind" listening tests of its new models, with audiophile and non-audiophile listeners that don't know which speaker (old or new) they're listening to. The proposed model must consistently be chosen over the old speaker before it can join the Magnepan speaker line. The speakers are all made in the U.S.; with 95 percent of the parts sourced from U.S. manufacturers.

The 3.7 is a flat-panel design, 71 inches tall and a mere 1.5 inches thick! Like last year's 1.7 speaker the 3.7 is a "full-range" ribbon design. The terminology refers to the flat, thin-film aluminum tweeter, midrange and woofer drivers. Conventional tweeters and woofers are "driven" from the center or edge by a voice coil, so the surface of the tweeter or woofer is free to deform its shape as it makes sound. The 3.7's woofer, midrange, and tweeter's entire surface area remains under full control. Translation: the 3.7 will sound significantly clearer and more lifelike than cone and dome driver designs. I will be getting a pair of 3.7 speakers early next year; watch for a review here on the Audiophiliac.

The 3.7's suggested retail price is $5,495 a pair. If that's too expensive, Magnepan's smaller, but similar technology MMG speaker runs just $599 a pair. They're sold in the U.S. direct from Magnepan, call them at 800-474-1646 after the holidays to learn more.

Magnepan will be demonstrating the 3.7 with Bryston electronics, in stereo and multichannel; Audio Research will also be using 3.7s for their demos at CES. Which manufacturer will get better sound from the 3.7? I don't know, but I'm sure I'll hear all about it from my pals at the show next week.

Have you ever heard Magnepan speakers? Please tell us about them in the comments section.