The Dismal Wizard, being retired with adequate savings, was not concerned that the wolf would be at the door in a few months so he spent his CARES Act income support where it would benefit fellow Americans. He bought a pair of Magneplanar Little Ribbon Speakers made in a small town in Minnesota. The LRS is a planar magnetic speaker about a foot wide and 4 feet tall. After the break, read about this magical panel speaker.
How Maggies are Different
If you read through the About , Magnepan describes how a Maggie is made and what makes them unique mechanically. The speakers appear deceptively simple but todays speaker is the product of 50 years experience in this family business. I first heard the Magneplanar Timpani model 1 back in the mid-70’s. This was a big multi-panel speaker that looked like a room divider. Since then, Magneplanar has improved the efficiency and bass response while retaining the phase coherency and quickness that make Maggies special. And getting the production design down. Magneplanar, like Schitt Audio makes what it can in house and uses local sources for manufacturing inputs. The two companies share a similar design philosophy aiming for good sound, good value, reliability, and manufacturability.
Magnepan Sales Model
Magnepan has designed the LRS to be an easily shipped demonstration speaker for the larger models. The LRS is neutral in voicing and pin point sharp in its imaging. The Maggie sound is the same from the LRS to the flagship Model 30.7. In a small lounge, there is no significant difference between the two speakers. The bigger speakers are designed to fill bigger rooms. Although the LRS is intended for normal suburban living rooms, it can fill a large hotel meeting room without sounding strained. The Model 30 is tall (about 8 feet) for use in larger high-ceiling mansion spaces.
Magnepan now sells all models direct and makes bespoke production for each purchaser. Pricing is the same whether purchased from a dealer or from Magnepan. The customer pays sales tax and shipping either way. I would imagine that the speakers are produced to order in either business model as margins don’t allow warehousing and local stocking of inventory which can double the retail price of a product. See  to learn more about Magnepan’s business model.
The simple design and evolved manufacturing processes allow Magnepan to offer the LRS for about $700 per pair. Tax and shipping bring the delivered price to about $770. Those wanting to trade up to larger models receive a credit for the original purchase less shipping and tax. Well before the LRS. Ask if you plan to audition LRS and trade up to a numbered speaker.
How the LRS Sounds
The Little Ribbon Speaker is representative of the Magneplanar sound in voicing and ability to image. It is really impressive on piano records like Thile-Mehldau, the Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau duet tour record. The Maggies reproduce the piano with authority. Chris and Brad are in your lounge playing for you. The depth is startling. The piano is behind Chris and his mandolin play is crystal clear radiating from a pin-point.
There’s something about the Maggies that I don’t understand. My lounge is plaster skim coat over dry wall on wood frame construction. It has not been treated but it is cluttered. For some reason, the sound is cleared up. The reverberant field seems to be reduced. Records seem quieter than I remember with the Dhalquists. This is most notable on the Trinity Session. And also more focused. And gawd, are the Maggies quick. Hand drums have a wonderful sound with that richness that only a deep bodied under-square drum can have. Warm. The experience is a lot like cleaning your eye glasses. The instruments become clear and defined.
LRS does real depth
The Dhalquists had a sense of depth from the sound blooming into the room toward the listener. I believe this was primarily a resonant phenomena. The speaker would excite the room modes and the resonances would reinforce the sound. The Dhalquists only radiate forward. When you walked behind them to look out the window, you were listening to the back wall reflection.
With the Maggies, the performers appear as if on stage behind the speakers. On a careful recording of a small ensemble, this effect can be pronounced as it is in Thile-Mehldau. Pan potting of the tracks establishes the left to right placement but phase and time delay information places them in depth. To have depth, the recording master must be multi-track analog or common clocked multi-tracked digital. Each channel is sampled simultaneously preserving the sound field phase information.
In contrast to box speakers, all Maggies radiate equally from front and back. This makes placing them different. They need to be a meter or so off the back wall and a meter or so off the side walls. Magnepan recommends that the speakers and listening position form an isosceles triangle with the speakers on the baseline and the baseline length about sixty percent of the altitude (distance from baseline to listener). In my room, my speakers are about 2 meters from the back wall and 2 meters apart and my listening position is about 3 meters back. This works nicely. I move them back during the day and bring them forward in the evening for listening.
Positioning into the room is important because it determines how front wall reflections of the binding post side waves combine with the logo side direct waves. Moving the speakers toward the listening position increases the sense of depth perceived when listening.
The other thing to manage is the side wall first reflection. Many rooms would benefit from absorption being placed there. The first reflection is on the side wall mid way between the speaker base line and the lounge seating base line. The panel should be centered head high for a seated listener.
Things I’ve played
- Cory Wong, Jon Batiste, Cory Henry, Meditations
- Nickel Creek, Why Should the Fire Die
- Cowboy Junkies, Trinity Session
- David Crosby, Here If You Listen
- Jon Batiste, Holywood Africans
- Snarky Puppy, Family Dinner, Vol 2
- Yo-Yo Ma et al, Not Our First Goat Rodeo
- Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, eponymous record
Cory Wong and Jon have a winner with Meditations, simple, calm, free jazz improvisation. They piled into the studio and rolled tape for two evenings of improv. From that, they took the best bits. Cory is a perfectionist and has learned to track and mix. Beautiful record.
Jon Batiste Holywood Africans shows off Jon’s piano and vocals. Wonderful sense of space and clarity.
Chris and Brad seem like the odd couple until you listen to the record. Brad is insanely good on keys and he and Chris worked up originals and arrangements for the record. And Chris charmed Brad into singing on Scarlet Town. Sometimes in unison with Chris and other times in harmony. Always the bridge. Chris took the verses. The Maggies separate them and each voice is clearly articulated even more so than with the Dhalquists. Piano and mandolin play are pin point sharp and the upper register of the piano rings bell-like. The bottom end growls with authority. And boy is this record deep. And you can hear Chris grooving as the ambience mics pick up the movement of the mandolin. Wow.
Unboxing and assembly was a joy compared to the Dhalquists. The LRS come packed as a a pair much like a flat pack book case. The package weighs about 20 kilos, is less than shoulder width, and is shorter than me making carrying in easy. The straps are cut off, the top lifted off the bottom, and the corrugated sleeves slipped off the panels. I stood each panel inverted to insert the machine screws securing the L-bracket feet. These have keyholes making it easy to hang the bracket and snug the screws with a ratcheting screwdriver.
The speaker terminals are unique. Each is a hex head post with an Allen set screw in the upper flat. These are drilled for 10 AWG stranded cable. Strip 1/4 inch, insert into the well, and tighten the set screw. Easiest speaker terminal posts I’ve used.
This post would work well on amplifiers also. These are cheap, simple to use, and reliable. I recommend that Magnepan update the field guide to mention suitable wire gage for use with its speakers and this connector; 10 AWG was a tight fit. Nothing larger would work.
Maggie LRS and Schiit Audio Vidar, Match Made in Heaven
Magneplanar designed the original SMG and the recently retired MMG to play well with integrated amplifiers like those from NAD. Todays LRS is designed to behave like the larger products. As a result it requires a high current capable power amplifier. But the high value Schiit Audio Vidar at $700 is more than adequate.
The LRS and Vidar love each other. Maggies are an easy drive but they need an amplifier that can deliver high current. The LRS having a 4 ohm impedance, Vidar develops 200 watts peak per channel of clean signal. Don’t play pipe organ music (death metal) loud, Vidar’s power supply is designed for 100 watts, the 8 ohm rating, but it will manage 200 watt transient peaks on drums and percussion. Run Vidar as a mono block and the peak output doubles to 400 watts into 4 ohms.
Vidar is quick. The power supply is designed for rated average power but is able to supply and quickly recover to the peak demands of musical transients. This quickness of power response along with well behaved phase response is key to Vidar’s ability to image and to sound natural with any loudspeaker and outstanding with Maggies.
Schiit cautions that use of Vidar with 4 ohm speakers and in mono mode with 4 ohm speakers may occasionally trigger the safe operating envelop protection in the amplifier when played at high levels
. Overcurrent conditions and over power conditions will mute the amplifier until it recovers. In a normal lounge environment, Vidar will be operating at a 1 watt average power with 100 watt transient peaks. It is perfectly happy doing so all evening long.