I've always held off buying Magnepans. I thought that they were ugly, too large and above all too woolly in the nether regions. Off all things I could think of voting against them I found their below-par toe-tapping ability most insurmountable.
But finally I caved in. After having owned Martin Logans for many years, having fallen back onto my work horses the B&W N804's and consequently longing for more refinement I finally took the plunge.
If you have never experienced electrostatics or magnetostatics you may well be blown away by the resolving power and lack of coloration or you may also find them strange sounding if you're used to box speakers colorations and bass-heft but just think of these kind of speakers as sounding a lot like a really good pair of headphones because they really do. But you need to set them up properly. You have to invest time into the exact placement and tilting because they respond even to milimeter differences.
Even I had doubts in the beginning but you do get used to their size.
You do need a large room. Cramming them against the wall will result in no bass and a flat soundstage.
I admid: they are not speakers with a lot of WAF...
So what do they sound like?
The Magnepan MG3.6R's are speakers for purists. they are for people that want to hear everything but want it presented in a friendly, musical manner. These are analytical speakers, for sure,but they also possess warmth and fluidity. They are not very frogiving of badly recorded music and when there's a mismatch elsewhere in the chain, they will let you know about it. That said, they are not ruthless or clinical. You can also tune them to a great extent to match your personal preferences by adjusting the positioning, toe-in and tilting. The 3.6's are much more tight in the bass and much more open in the mids than previous models. Magnepans have a reputation for being warm, friendly and rouded off sounding. Well, not the MG3.6R's. The MG3.6's can even sound dry and too controlled if you have them set up wrong or use electronics that are too aggressive. They need musical components. Jeff Rowland can be too relaxed for some people in some systems but with these kind of speaker these amplifiers work extremely well. They are precision instruments and need to be handled that way. They are magnificent speakers that share many aspects that are great about the Martin Logan SL3's, but without some of the latter's lesser sides and with a different presentation.
Magnepans are magnetostatics and can be considered a purer form of transforming electrical energy into audible energy than electrostatics but I would nevertheless call the SL3 more neutral than the MG3.6. The Magnepans are still very neutral and uncolored compared to any cabinet-speaker but have some character that is difficult to describe. You do get used to this character quickly. The Magnepans have incredible inner detail and focus, together with a massive soundstage that is wide, high and deep. They have these traits in common with the Martin Logans but they differ in some areas.
The stands pictured are seperately available from Sound Anchor. They are spiked and permit adjustment in all areas including tilt. By titling the panels you can control the clarity of the midrange and the fluidity. Tilt them toward you for a relaxed sound or have them straight up for more inner detailing and a tighter sound. Don't underestimate the care that you will have to put in for these speakers... The devil is in the details...
Martin Logans may well be better at rock, they sound more impressive and visceral and love playing at high levels but Magnepans are more refined, more gentle and more suited to my taste. (clearly I am getting older:-) These are speakers that need great care in setup and lots of patience if you want to hear what they're capable of but they really do reward the efforts. Also they are extremely sensitive to tilting so you really should buy better stands that allow adjustment in this area.
Addendum 17 october 2009
There's the issue of tweeters inside or outside. Of course I experimented with this and my conclusion is that there's no rule written in stone here. Much depends on your taste, your listening room, listening distance, placement of the speakers and the rest of the system. Generally I think it's valid to state that you get a more open and fluid sound but also more precise focus, a more recessed midrange and more treble energy when the tweeters are on the inside and a more integrated, more relaxed, slightly darker and drier, more analytical sound with a more upfront midrange when the tweeters are placed on the outside.
tweeters inside: more treble, more open, more fluid
tweeters outside: darker, more integrated, drier
Addendum 21 may 2011
Indeed, I still have my Magnepans. I was surprised to read above that I already have had them for more than 2 years. How time flies... Recently, I tried a pair of Cardas Golden Reference speaker cables with the Magnepans, instead of my usual Transparent Reference XL cables. The results are interesting because, as it turns out, the GR cables sound much warmer than the XL's and also less focused and rhythmic. This was surprising because I know that the Transparent is also pretty smooth and the Golden Reference is said to be very neutral yet I find it sounding much like the Golden Crosss, which is forgiving, friendly, smooth and never harsh. It is also a little slow and unprecise in the bass and lacks a little focus and definition in the midrange. Nevertheless, if you have Maggies and find them too harsh or in your face, Golden Reference cables might alleviate the problem. For me though, they weren't as engaging as my Transparents so even though the Maggies can sometimes be a little on the dry side, I decided to stay with the Transparents. I solved the dryness with the addition of two excellent Rel Strata III subwoofers.
Magnepan versus Martin Logan
The areas in which they differ most obviously are Bass, treble, and imaging.
There is no woofer; this panel is fullrange and it goes surprisingly low and even remains tight, fast and controlled. So far so good, but there's no real pressure down below. The bass is a lot like that from a Quad 988 electrostat in articulation and extension. You really need a comlimentary room to boost the bass a bit or resort to small subs, like I do for signals below 40hz.
The treble is in a league of its own. It is extremely resolving, refined and airy in a way that I have never heard from any Martin Logan. It is both fluid and lush but can also lay bare bad recordings because of its openness. The tweeter is in fact an aluminium ribbon hung between to rows of permanent magnets, to which the music signal is connected directly. There is no voice coil, no uptransforming and no circuits. Only the aluminium. The conductor is in effect the transducer.
The mids are just as detailed as those from the Martin Logans but presented in a more natural manner. Decay is better, there's more ease and the Magnepans don't project singers right into your lap but are instead more natural in the portrayal of the soundstage. It is big and forward when needed but not leaping at you by default. Also, and I see this as a great plus side: Despite the Logan's curved panel, the Magnepan's sweetspot is a lot wider. The ribbon tweeter really spreads sounds across the entire room. Even when sitting to the side or when standing up you still hear both tweeters. Like the Logans, the midrange falls off off-centre and you loose depth-imaging but nevertheless the sweetspot is now easily extended to two people as opposed to one person with the SL3's.
External crossover. Here is a lot of room for tweaking but I left them factory default. At the rea are two fuses which have been replaced by AHP's by the previous owner. I know that AHP's are very detailed but also slightly dark and a little too controlled sounding so I have ordered Hifi Tuning fuses as replacements. I will of course post the results here.
Martin Logan SL3 has a closed cabinet for the bass. It really has great bass but it's very different from the Magnepan's.