"The little studio at ATC/Dunhill as very nicely tricked out with a brand new Bosendorfer piano, our splendid double Magneplaner monitor system, and a newly acquired and fabulously expensive set of Audio Research D-76 tube power amps to go with the Maggies. You should have been there."
-- Donald Fagen & Walter Becker's liner notes to the CD reissue of 1975's "Katy Lied"
27 years later I'm listening to Magneplanars on a fabulously expensive set of tube power amps.
In 1982 I started work and put together an underpowered system:
A few years later I finally gave in to CDs and got a Sony D-15 portable CD player.
I put the turntable on a Sound Organization stand, which substantially changed the sound compared with a coffee table, though it was hard to tell whether it was better. When the Rega RB-300 arm came out, I upgraded to it.
Apart from a succession of cassette decks (the Denon DRM-510, whose fluorescent lights die after a few years), that was it.
I replaced the turntable belt, and after 14 years upgraded the cartridget to a Sumiko Blue Point Special with a Creek outboard phono stage.
Occasionally I'd read a hi-fi magazine and shake my head at the $2000 connecting cables. I did go to the Stereophile show at a hotel and was blown away by the SoundLab speakers, the Wilson X1-Grand SLAMM, and the Meridian audio-visual systems.
Then after 17 years the Magneplanars blew. They sounded muffled.
It's been 20 years. Dolby Digital 5.1 is out, Dolby EX 6.1 is coming, I haven't bought an LP in years, Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio high-res formats are trickling out, digital is everywhere. So I assumed I would wind up with an all-digital software-updatable RS-232 controlled multi-channel active speaker system, with 1's and 0's running direct to each speaker. That's got to be the future, right?
The masters of that approach are Meridian. So we went to the Meridian dealer for a listen.
We were completely underwhelmed. Sure, bass was solid and guitar had a certain authority, but it just wasn't happening. Vocals weren't convincing, there was no space around the instruments.
The salesman kept trying to show us "James Taylor Live in Concert" on a $40,000 plasma display to hide the distinctly average audio.
We went to "The Audible Difference". After some listening we wound up with the setup below, 180 degrees from where I thought the best sound would be in the 21st century.
The 3.6R have the wonderful Magneplanar presence I've grown accustomed to for 20 years but are a giant step forward. They're behind their smaller brothers.
The salesperson set them up with Linn CD player, VTL TL5.5 preamplifier and VTL MB-250 tube amplifiers, and the sound was great. No surround sound, no computer chips (outside the CD), no tone controls, no bass adjustment. But unquestionably great sound.
The only change I made was after going for 20 years with underpowered speakers, I stepped up to the MB-450 amplifiers. Magneplanars will soak up all the power you can send to them; I have no doubt these speakers would sound better still with more power.
So how does it sound?
Generally great. Even at moderate levels, you hear more details. Often tracks will have credits for musicians on additional keyboards or acoustic guitar, and you have to struggle to hear their contribution. On this you just notice more going on. It doesn't make badly-recorded song unlistenable, but
The system nails the sound of cymbals. On well-recorded tracks, you feel there's a big piece of metal in the room with you.
Piano is also lovely. People think there's a piano in the loft.
Female voice varies a lot.