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Magnepan's ultraskinny speakers make big, fat sound

The Magnepan Super MMG system features a pair of 4-foot-tall, 1.25-inch-thick panels, and a separate but equally svelte woofer!

Steve Guttenberg
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 Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The three-piece Super MMG speaker/woofer system. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Magnepan makes flat speakers, and has been perfecting the technology for more than 40 years. How flat is flat? The Super MMG three-piece system I'm looking at today is a mere 1.25 inches thick! The Super MMG floor-standing speaker is 48 inches high and 14 inches wide; the DWM Bass Panel is 19.25 inches high, 22.5 wide, and, like the speaker, just 1.25 inches thick. The Super MMG and DWM can be that thin because they don't use traditional box cabinets, cone woofers, or dome tweeters; they have "planar" flat drivers, designed and manufactured in Magnepan's factory in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Magnepan's speakers and woofers also differ from conventional speakers in the way they project sound into a room: the panels radiate from the front and rear surfaces. That's why for best sound Magnepan speakers should be at least 3 feet away from the rear wall. The DWM Bass Panels can be placed right up next to (at 90 degrees) the side walls of the room or out into the room.

The Super MMG system ($1,199) sounds very different from any box speaker I've ever tested in this price class. The sound is more open and spacious, and vocals are incredibly natural, more human, and real-sounding; that was consistent with every reasonably good recording I tried. Then there's the Super MMG's clarity; it's a vivid sound that draws you in. Rickie Lee Jones' new CD, "The Devil You Know," sounded more fully developed and natural with the Super MMG than any other speakers you're going to hear for the price. Magnepan doesn't refer to the DWM as a subwoofer, it's a woofer that extends the system's low bass down to around 40Hz, but any decent sub will reach a lot farther down. So if you crave really deep, pants-flapping, room-shaking bass the DWM won't cut it.

The Super MMG is a remarkable system, but it's not for everyone. Impedance is rated at 4 ohms, and Magnepan recommends using an amplifier or receiver that has a 4-ohm power rating of 50 or more watts per channel. That requirement rules out most receivers, even fairly expensive ones, but NAD's receivers and integrated amps will have no trouble, as will Wadia's. The speakers and woofer panel are also more finicky about room placement than most box speakers; they need to be placed at least a few feet away from the wall behind them. If you crave high-impact dynamics for rock or any loud music the Super MMG probably won't be the right choice. It plays rock music fine, but lacks the visceral, chest-thumping power available from the better big-box tower speakers, like the PSB T6, though that speaker can't match the Super MMG's see-through transparency.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Super MMG -- it's so darn musical, it just sounds right, or to put it another way, it sounds less like a hi-fi reproducing music, and more like the real thing, than a lot of $1,199 speakers. When I rocked out with my Zu Audio Omen DW speakers ($999/pair), the differences were striking. First, the Omen DWs soft-to-loud dynamic jolts were far ahead of the Super MMGs'. The Omen DWs are livelier-sounding speakers. They aren't as power-hungry, and can play loud with fewer watts. Ah, but the Super MMG's big, broad, and deep soundstage was mighty impressive, and classical music was far more natural-sounding and satisfying. No speaker, at any price, gets everything right; each one has different strengths and weaknesses.

I experimented using the Super MMG panels with an old PSB Speakers Alpha SubZero i subwoofer instead of the DWM Bass Panels. The Alpha SubZero i definitely produced deeper, more powerful bass, but it couldn't achieve a smooth blend with the Super MMG panels. Most of what I like about Magnepan sound disappeared with the subwoofer in the system.

The Super MMG system is sold by Magnepan brick and mortar dealers, but if you don't have one nearby it's available factory direct. The standard MMG panel speakers (without the DWM) are still available for $600 a pair; they're a great way to get true high-end sound without breaking the bank.