Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
Prior to this review, my experience with Magico speakers was limited to brief listening sessions at audio shows. For years I would see the latest and greatest creations from Magico and listen to my fellow reviewers sing their praises, so I was definitely curious about the company's new A Series, which was created with the goal of bringing the Magico design philosophy to a larger range of listeners at more affordable price points without jeopardizing the quality and performance that the Magico brand has spent years refining.
Four speakers were announced to be part of the new A Series. The A3 floorstanding speaker reviewed here is the biggest and most expensive of the bunch, being a four-driver, three-way design priced at $12,300 per pair. The A1 stand-mounted two-way speaker is priced at $7,400. The ACC center channel is configured more similarly to the A3, as it is also a four-driver, three-way design priced at $6,800. The last speaker in the series, so far, is the ASUB, which features a single ten-inch driver powered by a 500-watt amplifier with integrated digital signal processing for $6,500. As one would expect from Magico, each of the A Series speakers is a sealed design.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Magico's Alon Wolf at the company's headquarters in an unassuming office park in Hayward, California. We spoke for hours regarding different pieces of audio equipment and design philosophies. Magico's design philosophy places heavy emphasis on low distortion and function over form. Alon contends that the cabinet is 60 percent of the challenge in building the speaker. He is very passionate about the use of aluminum, 6061 T6 in the case of the A series, as both the cabinet wall and internal bracing material.
While I cannot do Alon's technical explanation of all of the benefits of aluminum as a cabinet material justice, the long and short is that it provides a solid mounting point for the drivers and has minimal resonance when properly implemented. Alon explained that he believes wood or resin cabinets are not stiff enough and store too much energy. This lets the drivers move as they are trying to reproduce sound, thereby adding distortion at the primary acoustic output points, as well as adding noise through additional, unwanted cabinet vibrations. On the other hand, steel, while very rigid, can be hard to dampen. Aluminum is in the sweet spot of this equation.
In this regard, the A Series is very much a Magico speaker, as the outer cabinet walls of the sealed enclosure are made of very substantial 3/8-inch sheets of aluminum, which are then reinforced by an extensive internal bracing structure. The midrange driver and tweeter have their own enclosure to protect them from the woofers' back waves. Similar construction can be found in the A Series' more expensive siblings.
Alon explained that Magico could not have produced a speaker with these cabinets five to ten years ago. Changes in manufacturing technology and, I suspect, increased purchasing power allow Magico to outsource the cabinets in sufficient quantities to produce the speakers at the targeted price points. There are some sacrifices, such as lack of color selection, though. With the more expensive lines you have color options; with the A Series you get any color you want, as long as it's black.
The cabinets are also simpler than the M, Q, and S Series Magico speakers, in that they have flat surfaces rather than curved components milled out of large blocks of aluminum. The flat front baffles mean more diffraction than with the M Series speakers. It is tradeoffs such as these that challenge designers; the question at the end of the day is whether Alon and the rest of the team at Magico made the right decisions. When I was visiting Magico, the company had just received a shipment of cabinets, and I looked at the fit and finish of a large group in case my review samples were a cherry-picked pair. All of the cabinets exhibited a very nicely grained brushed aluminum finish identical to my review samples.
The internal bracing system looks like a high-tech aluminum version of B&W's classic Matrix system, and when I knock on any portion of the A3's cabinet my knuckles are met with only a solid, dull thud. All of the A Series drivers are designed by Magico specifically for these speakers, and were engineered not only for accurate on-axis propagation but off-axis as well.
The A Series drivers share much of the design traits from the drivers in Magico's more expensive speakers. The 28mm pure beryllium dome tweeter is based on the M Series tweeter, but without the diamond coating and with a more simplified motor system. The six-inch midrange and dual seven-inch woofer cones are made from Graphene Nano-tec and carbon fiber in a multi-layer configuration that is said to provide an optimal combination of weight, stiffness, and damping. Large Neodymium magnets are used throughout.
Magico's proprietary Elliptical Symmetry Crossover integrates the drivers with a three-way network utilizing a 24db per octave Linkwitz-Riley filter that Alon explained maximizes frequency bandwidth while preserving phase linearity and minimizing intermodulation distortion.
The stated sensitivity is 88 dB with an impedance of 4 Ohms. Read this as meaning you need an amplifier that can deliver significant current without strain. Despite low frequency extension down to 22Hz, the A3 is a relatively compact speaker at 44 inches high, 11 inches deep, and 9.25 inches wide. Don't let the small size fool when you go to pick it up, though, as each cabinet weighs in at a very solid 110 pounds a piece, no doubt due to the thick aluminum walls and bracing.
The A3 has an attractive, all-black modern design, with exposed drivers. The front panel is very clean, with no seams except at the top plate and bottom plinth, which extends out about half an inch around the bottom and provides a wider stance for the four included spiked feet. Nicely finished grooves surround the side panels, but there are no exposed fasteners except on the drivers. The brushed aluminum finish is an attractive fine grain that provides luster without any annoying glare. Grilles are also available as an option, but unless I was worried about little fingers or pets causing damage I would opt for the clean, exposed-driver look.
Magico provides easy-to-follow instructions, including images that detail how to unpack the A3. The owners' manual describes how to find the best position for the speakers in your room as well as some suggested guidelines. I was able to get them in position and set up by myself, but would recommend a second set of hands. Their relatively compact size made them easy to maneuver, but at 110 pounds each, they were tiring to move around.
I experimented with placement, particularly distance from the front wall. I ended up with the backs of the speakers 24 inches from the wall and about eight feet apart. Per my discussions with Peter Mackay of Magico, I used a laser tape measure and laser pointers to do the final positioning. The tape measure was mounted on a tripod at my listening position, which allowed me to ensure that each speak was equidistant. I then used the pointer to aim the speakers to a position about eighteen inches behind me. Once I had the speakers in place, I installed the included spikes. Magico also includes a set of discs to place under the spikes to protect hard floor surfaces. I did not use them on my carpeted floor.
The rest of the review system components included a PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network player, an Oppo BDP-95, D'Agostino's Progression Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier, and Kimber Select cabling. I also used my venerable Halcro DM-38 stereo amplifier for a bit and was pleased that it was still up to the task.
I let the A3s play for a few hours a day for a week or so before sitting down for any serious listening. The sealed enclosure and modest size of the A3s had me skeptical about their bass capabilities. I played a wide variety of tracks that I have used for years to test a system's low end, including Paula Cole's "Tiger" from This Fire (Warner Brothers), Crystal Method's "Busy Child" from the CD release of Vegas (Outpost Recordings), and even the obnoxious and rude Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness/Soopa Villains" from the CD release of The Wraith: Shangri-La (Psychopathic Records).
"Tiger" has deep, multi-note bass that the A3 reproduced with the lower note much closer in amplitude to the higher notes, which I took to be a sign of the slower roll-off of the sealed enclosure. The fast, crisp bass on the synthesized, electronica "Busy Child" were rendered with fast attacks and no blurring of the leading edges of the notes, nor was there any overhang on the back end. "Ain't Yo Bidness/Soopa Villains" is by no means an audiophile song and isn't something I would play when my son is around, but it gave the A3s a workout that they handled with aplomb, loading my room with taut, well-defined bass.
Deep and powerful bass can be fun, but there should be a lot more to a speaker's bass capabilities than that. In many pieces, bass needs to be quick and detailed or it will detract from the presentation. Holly Cole's "Train Song" off It Happened One Night (Blue Note Records) and "Poem of Chinese Drum" by Hok-Man Yim (Naxos) are examples of pieces that require more finesse. The stringed bass on "Train Song" was reproduced with the perfect balance of strength and detail.
The drum notes on the "Poem of Chinese Drum" had a fast attack, with a detailed and natural decay that did justice to the large drums in the recording. While many large speakers and subwoofers can reproduce the weight and impact of the drums, it takes speed and precision to reproduce the sound of the skin being hit and the natural decay rate, and the A3s delivered both.
During my meeting with Alon Wolf, we spent some time discussing the materials used in creating driver cones and the evolution to multi-layer Graphene, and I believe this technology assisted greatly with the A3's prodigious bass capabilities in light of the relatively modest amount of cone area. However, I think the finesse that the speakers demonstrated on these more nuanced pieces is equally due to the motor structure, which is not visible. Part of our discussion was about relative magnet strengths and designing a motor structure that can maintain control throughout the excursion range while minimizing any negative impact to the reproduction of the audio signal.
At one point during my listening sessions, I got up and placed my hands on the speaker cabinet walls to see if I could feel any vibrations. The heavily braced thick walls did not completely eliminate vibrations, but they were extremely low in amplitude and ended quickly. In comparison, by way of the Canton Ergo stand-mounted speakers with wooden cabinets, the cabinet wall vibrations were stronger and were slower to dissipate.
Many years ago, I picked up a compilation disc of high-quality recordings at "T.H.E. Show" called Burmester Art for the Ear - Vorfuhrungs CD 2. Since then, I've heard this disc at many audiophile shows, as well as listening to it at home over many different system systems. The compilation features a variety of well recorded tracks: some mostly acoustic, smaller and intimate in scale, and some larger-scale classical pieces. There are even a few rock tracks thrown into the mix, which makes it a good compilation for evaluating new components or systems.
I wanted to focus on the A3's midrange and treble, so I started with tracks like "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Radka Toneff, "Live in America" by Paco de Lucia, and "Call Me" by Hans Theessink. The description of peeling back the veils to reveal more clarity and detail may be a bit clichéd, but it's appropriate here. Listening to these tracks through the A3s, I could not help but be impressed with the combination of detail and precise positioning. The music had the detail of an electrostatic speaker, but with more precise imaging.
The voices of both Radka Toneff and Hans Theessink were accurate and natural, solidly placed just beyond my front wall. Paco de Lucia's guitarwork was reproduced with such realism that I found myself listening to that track a few times in a row. To make sure it was not a fluke I grabbed a handful of other well-recorded acoustic guitar pieces, and with each the A3s reproduced them with the appropriate weight and with great speed, making them sound natural and present. The A3s completely disappeared, letting the seamless soundstage for each track form behind the speakers. The soundstage itself was a bit further back than the Revel F228Be or Vivid Audio Kaya 90s I recently reviewed.
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9 (Inbal & Wiener Symphonika, Denon One Point), also from the Burmester CD, is a more complex, larger scale orchestral piece that the A3s revealed layer by layer. My attention was particularly drawn to the nuanced reproduction of the violins. However, what really impressed me were the horns. The dynamics of a horn can be so difficult to capture, especially quick leading notes, but the A3s did it with uncompressed dynamics and treble that never turned harsh. The highs were extended and open throughout my listening sessions, similar in balance to the Vivid Audio Kaya 90s but with a bit more detail.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the A Series will also include a center channel and a subwoofer. While reviews of these speakers are forthcoming, I would be remiss if I did not offer some initial thoughts about the A3 in a home theater setting. I set my Oppo BDP-95's output to stereo and began the next step of my evaluation. The opening scenes of John Wick 3: Parabellum (UHD Blu-ray) follow Keanu Reeves through a rainy cityscape then getting into a series of fights and shootouts. Even with only two channels, the A3s were able to reproduce a solid front soundstage as voices and effects panned across the screen. From the detailed rain sounds to the more aggressive breaking glass, the A3s handled the effects with apparent ease. The more energetic motorcycle chase and gunshots were not a problem with the powerful D'Agostino amplifier providing the power.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the A3s will do a great job with movie soundtracks and multichannel music as part of a larger A Series surround sound system. My only concern would be with finding a multichannel amplifier that can provide enough current for a dynamic soundtrack.
I could go on and on with examples from my listening sessions where the A3s did a phenomenal job with track after track, but they do have their limits. I played many tracks at volumes ranging from soft background levels to levels where it was borderline too loud for comfort without any sign that the A3s were reaching their limit. Until, that is, I played Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" performed by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Eric Kunzel (Telarc, CD). As with the other large-scale orchestral tracks, it was like a spotlight illuminated every sonic recess of the orchestra. The A3s revealed loads of detail without any artificial etchiness in the higher frequencies. The large soundstage extended deeper than with the Kaya 90s, approximately the same overall space as the MartinLogan ESL13As or Revel 228Bes. However, when I played the piece at a level where the orchestra was on the loud side, the one specific canon blast at about the twelve-minute mark was too much for the A3s to handle, exposing their excursion limits. Given the relatively compact size, though, it's impressive that during all of my listening sessions, they only reached their limit on one, highly dynamic track.
A more universal criticism is that the A3s need power and lots of it. At 88 dB/watt/meter they aren't the most sensitive speakers on the block, and their 4-ohm nominal impedance means they draw a lot of current to get to that level of output. After learning about the efforts to control unwanted movement in the drivers (and cabinet), I am not surprised that significant power is needed to move the drive units.
More than just raw power, it needs to be high quality power. I tried the A3s with some moderately priced, lower-current amplifiers and the coherence, detail, and especially the dynamics were greatly diminished. If you are not going to invest in a powerful and high-quality amplifier, these are not the speakers for you. A low-power amplifier simply will not drive these speakers to their full potential. Magico's minimum recommended power of 50 watts at 4 ohms should be adhered to. More important than the number of watts, though, is the quality of power. These speakers are very detailed and revealing. This means any unwanted artifacts from an upstream component will be revealed.
Some audiophiles I have spoken with have described these speakers as having a recessed midrange/upper midrange. I spent a lot of time listening for this, and when listening at lower, background level volumes there was a hint of such, which I suspect may be related to the extreme damping and control of the speakers. However, as soon as I bumped the volume up to normal speaking volumes or above, it disappeared.
Lastly, if you have a large room and want to play your music at concert levels, be sure to audition the A3s in your room or a similar space first to be sure they are capable. As I mentioned above, the canons during louder playback of Tchaikovsky's 1812 pushed the speakers to the limits, but otherwise they handled everything with grace and precision in my listening room.
Competition and Comparison
I have been fortunate enough to spend time with some other terrific floorstanding speakers recently, including the MartinLogan ESL 13As ($15,000), the Revel F228Bes ($9,995), and Vivid Audio Kaya 90s ($26,000). The configuration of Magico A3s would be most similar to the Revels in that they are both four-driver floorstanders with Beryllium tweeters. I wish I had these both at the same time to compare, but based off of my recollection, the Revels are more forward in the midrange and treble and have more slam in the bass. On the other hand, the A3s had smoother low-frequency roll off with more bass energy at the lowest frequencies.
The MartinLogans' detail was on par with the Magicos, but the A3s had better dynamics and more precise imaging. The ESL 13As' powered woofers with ARC room correction provided more bass energy with similar detail, though.
The Kaya 90s probably sounded the closest to the A3s and were similar to the in speed and detail, but reproduced a wider image on large scale pieces despite not extending quite as far back. I think the A3s reached a bit lower, as well, with more control. The Kaya 90s and Magico A3s both have meticulously designed cabinets and resonance control systems, but each attacks this problem from very different angles.
These may be the most detailed and coherent dynamic speakers I have reviewed. Magico's borderline fanatical obsession with controlling cabinet resonances and unwanted driver movement pays off with astonishing amounts of detail and clarity while maintaining musicality and without crossing over the line to being clinical.
As I was listening to the A3s, I often thought about how I would describe their sound. I found my listening sessions growing to several hours in length as I was discovering new nuances in many recordings that the detail and dynamic capabilities of the A3s revealed, and even then, I was eager to listen to more.
The A3s are not an "in your face" speaker; there is no forward, analytical treble, and the presence range and upper midrange is neutral, perhaps even a bit recessed in some case, but the A3s deliver copious amounts of detail, coherence, and frequency extension that makes for an involving experience that sucks you into the music.
• Visit the Magico website for more product information.
• Read Magico Expands A-Series Lineup with New Center, Bookshelf, and Subwoofer at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit our Floorstanding Speaker category page to read reviews of similar products.