The Mini Maggie System -- Honey, I shrunk the speakers!
It's been rumored about for ages, played at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, but sometime in September Magnepan will begin shipping the Mini Maggie System ($1,495). It's a desktop speaker system, albeit one designed to satisfy the most demanding audiophile tastes.
I visited the Magnepan factory in White Bear Lake, Minnesota in late July to spend some quality time with the Mini Maggies. The company's floor standing, flat panel speakers have all been pretty big, ranging from four feet to over six feet tall, but the Mini Maggie satellites are just 14 inches high! Wendell Diller, the company's tight-lipped Marketing Director wasn't revealing much about the technical details, and when he grudgingly offered scant tidbits they were mostly limited to something like, "It's a miniaturized 3.7." That works for me, I own a pair of Magnepan 3.7s and love them dearly.
Magnepan was founded in the late 1960s, making it one of America's oldest high-end speaker companies. Magnepan has specialized in building flat panel designs, which up until recently featured proprietary planar-magnetic driver technology (very similar to the type used in Audeze and Hifiman planar magnetic headphones). The newer 1.7 and 3.7 speakers now use "quasi-ribbon" midrange and woofer panels instead of planar-magnetic drivers, but no Magnepan speaker has ever sported a dome tweeter, cone midrange or woofer drivers. The speakers are built in Minnesota, with American made parts.
Wendell had the Mini Maggie System setup with a modified Denon DVD 3910 SACD/DVD-Audio player, Audio Research LS-1 line stage preamp, and a Threshold S/550 power amp. My first impression of the sound was unprintable in a family magazine, so let's just say it was far beyond my high expectations. The Mini may be a scaled down 3.7, but it actually sounds better than a 3.7 in a number of ways. First, it's more see-through transparent, but I was sitting a lot closer (4 vs. 10 feet) to the Minis, so I was hearing more direct sound, with fewer room reflections with the Minis than I do with the 3.7s. The Minis soundstage depth and image focus are better than the 3.7, which is no slouch. The desktop system was about five feet away from the front wall, and the soundstage depth was excellent, but most of the depth will disappear if you cram the Minis up against a wall. Before we go any further, there is one other little caveat: when the Minis are on your desk the imaging and tonal balance will get funky if you stand up. Vertical dispersion is limited, to hear the Minis at their best your ears must be near the same height as the speakers. If that's a deal breaker for you, consider buying one of the larger Magnepan speakers.
The Mini-Maggie System is a three-piece affair; it comes with two satellite speakers and a DWM-Maggie woofer panel. The sats measure 14 x 9.5 x 1.25 inches; the woofer is 22.5 x 19.25 x 1.25 inches. Did you catch that, they're incredibly thin designs. All are covered in black cloth, and sit on small stands.
The 3.7, 20.1 and now the Mini Maggie are the only models to feature "True" ribbon tweeters (other Magnepan speakers rely on quasi-ribbon tweeters where the aluminum ribbon is bonded to a backing material such as Mylar). True ribbons are classified as such because the aluminum conductor is the only moving part of the tweeter. That approach lowers moving mass and greatly increases the tweeter's speed and resolution. The True ribbon has been hailed by many reviewers as one of the finest tweeters ever made, even compared with the priciest diamond dome tweeters! The Mini Maggie System's midrange and woofer are planar-magnetic drivers.
My demo system's woofer was in the desk's foot well, and I felt the woofer/satellite integration was pretty good, but not perfect. There were times where I felt the midbass was a tad lightweight, but on most recordings the bass balance was fine. I'm guessing the woofer's bass went down to the low 50s Hertz range; for a system of this size bass extension is very good.