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- Written by Hans Wetzel Hans Wetzel
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 15 June 2016 15 June 2016
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
This review has been a long time coming. I first laid eyes on the original Magico S1 in Las Vegas in January 2013, at the Consumer Electronics Show. I was smitten. From its B-2 Stealth Bomber matte-black finish to its tall, narrow profile and gracefully curved cabinet, I thought the S1 was the most attractive model in the company’s lineup. My experience of listening to them was equally enjoyable. I marveled at the S1’s startling talent through the midrange, as well as its soundstaging feats. I lobbied for a pair of review samples that never materialized. But three years later, serial numbers 00001 and 00002 of the S1 Mk.II arrived on my doorstep. Apparently, patience is a virtue. Game on.
The S1 Mk.II is far from the least expensive two-way speaker around. Having reviewed almost a dozen other two-ways in the past few years, Vivid Audio’s V1.5 floorstander being the most expensive ($7700 USD per pair), I was a bit dubious about the Magico S1 Mk.IIs, which cost more than twice as much: $16,500/pair in standard M-Cast finish, or $20,295/pair in high-gloss M-Coat. But like every other Magico product I’ve seen at audio shows over the years, the attention to detail lavished on the S1 is extraordinary. My samples were shipped in robust, double cardboard cartons; the magnetic grilles, hexagonal aluminum footer nuts, tapered aluminum spikes, and aluminum footers -- all of which Magico manufactures in-house -- arrived in a separate container.
As I pulled the all-black, M-Cast-finished speakers from their boxes, something Magico’s founder, Alon Wolf, had told me two months before echoed in my head: “We make loudspeakers, not furniture.” In any usual sense, the S1 is not beautiful. The slender (43”H x 9.8”W x 8.5”D), 120-pound speaker very much reflects the philosophy of its creator, who sees beauty through the austere lens of material and mechanical excellence. For Wolf, flourishes of design and creative expression solely for the sake of appearance are ultimately at odds with an audio device’s intended purpose. Make no mistake, the S1 Mk.II is a tool designed for one thing: the delivery of brutal, uninhibited musical candor.
To that end, the cabinet is shaped from a single, rounded triangular chassis of 3/8”-thick extruded aluminum, and sealed with top and bottom plates. Each top plate takes 90 minutes to be machined from a block of solid aluminum in Magico’s CNC machines. That’s because it’s subtly convex -- its shape not only complements the curves of the rest of the cabinet, but also helps minimize internal standing waves. The tiny details are all accounted for: the floor spikes screw smoothly into the bottom of the speaker, the solid aluminum footers felt substantial in my hand, and the robust binding posts were a pleasure to use. Everything about the S1 just felt solid. Then there was the M-Cast finish: flawless. I saw zero imperfections in the highly textured application, in which are suspended lightly reflective specks that sparkle in direct light. I have no doubt that the optional high-gloss M-Coat finish would also have been well executed, but I’d opt for M-Cast every time.
Inside the S1 Mk.II’s sealed enclosure are a 7” M390G graphene-coated, Nano-Tec midrange-woofer and a 1” MBD7 dome -- the same tweeter that’s used to great effect in Magico’s S7 ($58,000/pair). Compared to the tweeter in the original S1, which had a 50µm-thick beryllium dome, the Mk.II’s beryllium dome is 40µm thick, with a 5µm-thick diamond coating applied by an outside vendor. The MBD7 also has a new motor system, while retaining its predecessor’s neodymium magnet. The 7” midrange-woofer is based on the driver used in Magico’s Q1 two-way. Compared to the midrange-woofer used in the original S1, the Mk.II’s has higher-quality neodymium magnets, and more copper in its voice-coil. The Nano-Tec cone has a different carbon-weave structure than the original, which reduces the cone’s mass, while the single layer of graphene -- an exciting new material that’s extremely light yet stronger than steel -- helps decrease the cone’s total mass by 20% while increasing its stiffness by 300%.
The cabinet’s internal braces are secured with bolts from outside, then welded to conceal the bolt heads, which purportedly yields a much stiffer cabinet. The crossover is at the bottom of the cabinet, and while Magico doesn’t reveal what sort of filter it uses, I was told that the crossover frequency is 2.2kHz for the proprietary Elliptical design, which makes use of “the highest quality Mundorf components.”
In fact, Magico publishes few specifications for any of its speakers. The S1 Mk.II’s sensitivity is a modest 86dB -- par for the course for a two-way design -- and the nominal impedance is 4 ohms. The frequency range is a claimed 32Hz-50kHz, and Magico recommends driving the speaker with at least 50W. While many readers are no doubt aware of the benefits and drawbacks of the sealed, non-bass-reflex speaker enclosures that Magico is so fond of, it’s worthwhile listing some of them. The primary benefits include better phase linearity and minimum group delay, and reduced ringing in the time domain, which results in better transient response in the lower registers, no port noise, and a slower rolloff of 12dB/octave. By contrast, a ported design benefits from a sensitivity 3dB higher while offering augmented bass response, but at the expense of a steeper (24dB/octave) rolloff.
As ever, loudspeaker design remains a careful balance of trade-offs. Having never reviewed a passive sealed-box loudspeaker before, I was eager to hear the S1’s bass performance in my own system.
The S1s arrived at a perfect time. My mainstay integrated amplifier-DAC, the Hegel Music Systems H360, with its 250/420Wpc output into 8/4 ohms, provided more than enough power and current to whet the appetites of the moderately hungry S1s. But I was also able to make use of T+A’s PA 2000 R integrated amplifier and matching MP 2000 R DAC/network client, in addition to Gryphon Audio Designs’ biblical Diablo 300 integrated amplifier with optional DAC module. The T+A amp outputs only 100/200Wpc into 8/4 ohms, but its trick power supply provides loads of current, and it’s stable down to 2 ohms.
The Gryphon Diablo 300, meanwhile, is a statement-level model that musters 300/600/950Wpc into loads of 8/4/2 ohms. At no point did the S1 flummox any of these amps, but I can’t make promises about driving the Magicos with tubed and/or class-A gear of modest output. Alon Wolf did advise that the S1 Mk.IIs had played nicely with a 30Wpc tube amp in Magico’s dedicated listening room, so the suggested 50Wpc minimum power rating may be a bit cautious. Details of the cables and interconnects I used (DH Labs, Dynamique Audio, Nordost) can be found in the Associated Equipment box, below.
I placed the S1s approximately 8’ apart, 16” from my front wall (I had to -- I live in a narrow city living space), and slightly toed in. I found that the tweeter’s on-axis treble output leaned toward prominence, which required a less acute toe-in angle.
The Magico S1 Mk.II didn’t sound like any other two-way loudspeaker I’ve heard. So many of the two-ways I’ve listened to over the years seemed to be trying to sound bigger and bassier than they actually were. Those that didn’t just sounded thin, as if something fundamental to the music had been left out. This has made it difficult for me to ever really fall for a two-way -- it seemed that the compromises inherent in such designs were often all too audible. But in the all-important bass, Magico’s S1 succeeded where other two-ways have failed.
The S1’s bass response didn’t sound lightweight -- as if, below 50-60Hz, its low-end response had hurled itself over a cliff. Instead, the S1 made clever use of its cabinet volume and sealed design to reproduce a linear bass curve with credible extension down past 40Hz. Now, it certainly wasn’t flat below 40Hz, but there was still meaningful output down there. Moreover, the quality of this bass performance was exceptionally tight and well controlled -- it didn’t suffer from the bloat and overhang of a bass-reflex design that’s being asked to overextend itself. No, it admittedly couldn’t pack the visceral punches to the chest, the “slam” that so many audiophiles crave. But more than any other speaker I’ve reviewed, the Magico’s low-end performance was properly concussive in nature, and addictively quick-footed. All this from a single, 7” carbon-fiber cone that covers the audioband up to 2.2kHz. Special, that.
In February 2016, I visited Magico’s factory in Hayward, California. During my time there, with Alon Wolf at his iPad selecting the tunes, I listened to a pair of S1 Mk.IIs through some fabulously expensive electronics. But at the onset, he’d asked what music I liked.
“Electronica . . . ?”
He seemed to inwardly wince. Not only was that the most non-audiophile thing I could have said, but electronica’s preponderance of pounding bass lines would be a torture test for something like the S1.
Wolf chuckled. “How about jazz?”
The fact is, back in my listening room, the S1s handled my extensive collection of electronic garbage better than I ever could have imagined they might.
Before he was a film and TV composer nominated for three Grammys, Englishman Rupert Parkes was a DJ known as Photek. His 1996 single “The Third Sequence” (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Astralwerks) isn’t the prettiest or most sophisticated music you’re likely to hear, but when I need to see maximum driver excursion, this is the track I rely on for its throbbing bass line. As I ratcheted up the volume with my Hegel H360, the S1s’ carbon-fiber cones and substantial rubber surrounds were moving in and out so violently that I was concerned about taking a shot of Nano-Tec to the face. In fact, I was almost sure I’d hear the S1s struggle to maintain their composure.
Yet even with “The Third Sequence” at 90dB (measured at 1m), that moment never arrived. Instead, I heard a torrent of bass energy that, while less vigorous than what I’ve heard through many three-way designs, was still every bit as composed as it had been at more reasonable volumes. The sheer speed and impact of the S1’s single 7” cone, which moved with shockingly quick reflexes, were delightful. Magico has clearly opted for bass impact over bass weight; in my humble opinion, they’ve succeeded. When, within reason, I tried to abuse the S1, it doled the abuse right back at me in equal measure.
For me, what separates merely very good from great speakers are the formers’ abbreviated soundstages. The S1s painted immaculate soundscapes. In “No Son of Mine,” from Genesis’s We Can’t Dance (16/44.1 ALAC, Atlantic), a metronomic tone rings from the right channel, a guitar is repetitively strummed in the left, and lead singer Phil Collins’s voice springs to life right through the middle of the recording. Through less accomplished speakers, the three can sound a touch disconnected from one another. Yet the S1 contrived to paint a complete, coherent aural picture.
The hallmark of the S1 was its unimpeachable midrange, with the tonality of Collins’s voice the very best I’ve heard: an intoxicating combination of buttery-smooth attack and decay, with no hint of imposed edginess on the leading and trailing edges of his voice, as well as an effortless airiness to his delivery that sounded completely nonmechanical and entirely unrestrained. There was very little inherent midrange sweetness or bloom, but a virile tube amp would ameliorate that nicely. The S1’s midrange was a model of neutrality: nothing added, nothing taken away, and reference-level transparency.
However, the treble was slightly prominent. I doubt that anyone would describe the S1 Mk.II’s sound as “polite.” Yet it would be unfair to characterize the S1’s high-frequency performance as bright or edgy. It was merely . . . prominent. With “No Son of Mine,” this manifested itself in the drums and hi-hats that fill in behind Collins’s voice as the song continues; they took on a brasher, more vibrant sheen than I’m used to hearing. With Max Richter’s “recompositions” of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (16/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon), as performed by the Berlin Concert House Chamber Orchestra conducted by André de Ridder, this treble prominence revealed itself in a different way via the violin of soloist Daniel Hope. Hope’s instrument sounded positively electric through the S1, with soaring extension, liquidity, and a wicked turn of pace. Despite pushing his instrument harder and harder as the piece progresses and the high-frequency transients become increasingly frenetic, the Magico’s diamond-coated beryllium dome never sounded hard or brittle.
While I didn’t challenge the S1s with the deafening volume levels that I save for three-way designs, not once during my listening did I hear the Magicos even begin to compress. Given my medium-size listening space and my proclivity toward raucous music, I thought that was quite an achievement. At one point I did manage to bottom out the S1’s midrange-woofers, when I played “Why So Serious?” and its thumping, mid-30Hz bass line, from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score for The Dark Knight (16/44.1 ALAC, Warner Bros.). Even then, I heard only the slightest of struggles from the Nano-Tec cone and surround.
Up to this point, Vivid Audio’s V1.5 floorstander ($7700/pair), with its 1” catenary aluminum tweeter and 6.2” aluminum midrange-woofer, had been the best two-way speaker I’d heard. Its avant-garde appearance leaves its visual attractiveness up for debate, but I thought it was a sonic masterpiece. I felt the Vivid’s defining characteristic was its speed. From the lower midrange up past 20kHz, the ported V1.5 sounded obscenely fast and light on its feet. As with Magico’s S1 Mk.II, high levels of transparency and resolution were present and accounted for, but the way the Vivid achieved them was a bit different from the Magico’s. Indeed, while neither speaker demonstrated even a hint of midrange coloration, I found the S1 to be the more honest speaker. The V1.5 sounded consistently fast, which I attribute to a dash of upper-midrange sparkle. While I don’t necessarily think that a bad thing, the S1 Mk.II just sounded “right.”
That said, the Vivid’s lightweight, curved, wonky-looking cabinet of composite, and the South African firm’s bespoke aluminum drive units, pay real sonic dividends. A pair of Vivids can do a fabulous “disappearing” act and, more important, image extremely well. The positions and shapes and sizes of voices and instruments can be discerned with pinpoint accuracy, and soundstages are impressively wide and deep. Despite their best efforts, the Magicos didn’t “disappear” from music and room quite so easily, nor were their central images quite as well defined in space. But these differences were very small.
What wasn’t small was the difference in bass performance. Presented with challenging low-frequency material, the Magicos remained calm, composed, and utterly nonplused, even at high volumes. Moreover, the integration of the outputs of their tweeters and midrange-woofers was terrific. The Vivids, however, run into difficulty, sounding as if, below 100Hz, their 6.2” midrange-woofers are struggling to keep up with the rest of the audioband. The result is punchy, reasonably extended bass that’s nonetheless a bit lethargic and plodding in comparison to the speaker’s crystal-clear midrange and treble. I find this sort of sound common among two-way designs, which must mean that it’s a constant challenge to engineers: maximize bass reach, or maintain linearity? Magico’s real success is in seeming to have achieved both goals in the S1 Mk.II, which makes it a more complete loudspeaker than the Vivid V1.5.
With its immaculately lifelike sound, sterling midrange neutrality, and soaring top end, Magico’s S1 Mk.II revealed an incredible amount of low-level musical detail without sounding clinical, and was engaging without resorting to artifice. Most impressive, it produced a good portion of the tight-fisted, concussive bass you’d expect from a small three-way design, and in that sense is the first two-way speaker I’ve heard that doesn’t sound like a two-way. Marry this to its beautifully finished, minimalist cabinet and top-to-bottom cohesiveness of sound, and Magico’s S1 Mk.II is where excellent materials meet excellent sound. It’s the finest two-way speaker I’ve heard.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- KEF LS50, Monitor Audio Silver 10, Sonus Faber Venere S
- Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, Pryma 0|1, PSB M4U 4
- Integrated amplifiers -- Gryphon Audio Designs Diablo 300, Hegel Music Systems H360, T+A PA 2000 R
- Digital-to-analog converters -- Arcam irDAC, T+A MP 2000 R
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running iTunes
- Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS (XLR)
- USB cables -- DH Labs Silversonic, Nordost Blue Heaven
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
Magico S1 Mk.II Loudspeakers
Price: $16,500 USD per pair (optional M-Coat finish, add $3795/pair)
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
3170 Corporate Place
Hayward, CA 94545
Phone: (510) 649-9700