Magnepan 1.7i Review

My Story

My story with Magnepan 1.7i is not dissimilar to most of my HiFi adventures where one thing lead to another. This time, my rather positive experience with Magnepan LRS left me really curious about what larger Magnepas are capable of. As a matter of fact I have just finished reviewing the LRS and was in the middle of selling them on eBay, when I found a pair of Magnepan 1.7i for sale from the HiFi Lounge who have a very impressive shop located on the outskirts of Cambridge – about a 4hr drive from where I live. They were slightly more than what I was budgeting for, but because they were less than 3 years old, in mint condition, and from a reputable dealer, I decided to go for it.

And speaking of a reputable dealer, I don’t think I have ever been to a HiFi shop that had so much high end gear under one roof… I was like a kid in a candy shop. Accuphase gear? Checked. Dan D’Agostino amplification? Checked. McIntosh gear? Checked. Stax headphones? Checked. Wilson Audio speakers? Checked! And many, many more luxury brands. However, don’t be ‘put off’ by these – HiFi Lounge also have plenty of quality equipment for people don’t also own a yacht. What’s more important, Paul and his team are passionate audio enthusiasts themselves, and a really nice and welcoming bunch of people. If you are ever after some quality HiFi, I would definitely recommend paying them a visit.

I digressed a little because I really like the place, but going back to my story… I’ve managed to avoid motorway accidents and after 9h round trip I was back with a set of Magnepan 1.7i.

Speaker Info

Magnepan is an American brand that have been making magnetostatic speakers since 1969. The brand inspires very strong loyalty amongst its customers, similar to McIntosh or Harbeth. They have a very practical approach to designing loudspeakers, where any improvement they make to their designs has to make a difference in a blind listening test. This was the case with Magnepan 1.7i, which replaced Magnepan 1.7. The improvements were not large enough to justify next reiteration (i.e. 1.8), however, they were detectable in the blind listening tests, and the letter “i” was added to indicate improved models. Magnepan 1.7i sit around the middle of their range, with two models below it, and three models above it.

Magnepan 1.7i is a 3-way, planar-magnetic loudspeaker. The principle behind the design is surprisingly simple but very effective. A sheet of thin Mylar film is stretched within an rigid frame and backed by vertical lines of permanent magnets (with a small air gap between the two). Continuous pieces of very thin aluminium foil are attached to this Mylar film. The thickness of these strips and how far they are from each other determines the frequency response capabilities of each part of the Mylar sheet. The largest area of the ‘driver’ is dedicated to bass, whereas a much smaller area is for the midrange and a super-tweeter. When the current flows through these aluminium strips, it interacts with the magnetic field generated by the permanent magnets behind the Mylar and creates a sound pressure.

It it also worth noting that because there are gaps between the permanent magnets, Magnepans also emit the sound from their backs, making them a dipole. Many people praise dipole designs for more natural and box-less sound. From a technical point of view, being a dipole can reduce the interaction with the room thanks to the limited horizontal dispersion. Also, due to their design, Magnepans are closer to a line source than to a point source type of a loudspeaker. This should further minimise the speaker-room interaction by restricting vertical dispersion (i.e. reduce issues caused by floor and ceiling reflections).

Unfortunately, due to their nature, dipoles usually suffer from limited low end output in comparison to traditional boxed speakers of a similar front area. If you combine this trait with the limited diaphragm excursion of magnetostatic speakers, this means that the only way to get really low and clean bass is to have very large speakers. If you look at the top of the range Magnepans, such as 30.7, they are absolutely humongous. The only reason for that is the low end extension. Magnepan 1.7i should go down to 40Hz in most rooms, which I think is a completely acceptable compromise. Moreover, to take full advantage of the benefits provided by dipole speakers, the general consensus is that they have to be quite far away from the front wall. Magnepan recommends placing these approx. 90cm from the wall behind the speakers, which may not be suitable for everyone.

 

Magnepan 1.7i Specs
Frequency Response: 40 – 24,000Hz (+/- ?dB)
Sensitivity: 86dB (500Hz, 2.83V, measured at 1m)
Impedance:
Recommended Amplifier: > 60W
High Frequency Driver: Planar-Magnetic
Mid Frequency Driver: Planar-Magnetic
Low Frequency Driver: Planar-Magnetic
Crossover Frequencies: Unknown
Enclosure Type: Open Baffle (Dipole)
Enclosure Dimensions (HxWxD): 1650x480x50mm (65x19x2″)
Weight: 19.8kg (each speaker)
Production Years: 2016 – Current
Price When Launched: £2,995 for a pair

 

Look & Feel of Magnepan 1.7i Speakers

Whereas Magnepan LRS are quite petit and easy on the eye, Magnepan 1.7i are not small speakers. They are thicker than other Magnepan models, but also their height of 165cm combined with their 48cm width is quite intimidating. Whenever my good friend visits me, he always jokes that the only things I am missing now are a couple of door handles. On the other hand, when I shown these speakers to a couple of non-HiFi friends, who are rather affluent and live in a nice home, they were all commenting on how stylish these speakers look and asking where they could buy them!

Design of the Magnepan speakers is beautiful in its simplicity. It is a ridged frame made of aluminium and MDF, covered in an acoustically transparent fabric, available in off-white, grey and black. There side trims are available in two different finishes: aluminium (silver or black) and wood (natural oak, black oak, and dark cherry. The whole panel is supported by two powder coated, metal, T-shape feet. These feet attach to the back of the speaker and come with 8 plastic washers, which can be used to change the speaker angle from perfectly perpendicular to the floor, to slightly leaning back.

Speaker binding posts are a little different to binding posts used on most loudspeakers. Each socket features a hex driven bolt that can be used to tighten either a bare wire or banana plug within the binding post. They are placed quite low, which means that if you are using heavy gauge speaker cables, they won’t put too much strain on the banana plugs. Underneath the binding posts, the terminal also features tweeter attenuator posts. Magnepan 1.7i come with two sets of resistors which can be placed in these posts to reduce the treble output by up to 4dB. There is also a replaceable 3A fuse to protect the midrange and tweeter drivers from being overdriven.

Whenever I review speakers, I always tend to inspect the crossovers, however, in the case of Magnepan 1.7i the crossover is placed within the frame, next to the speaker terminal. Unfortunately the crossover cannot be accessed without removing staples and undoing the fabric speaker cover. Because these loudspeakers are relatively new, and because I bought them with an intention of reviewing and then selling them on, I was not prepared to do it.

Overall, Magnepan 1.7i are pretty well made. Magnepan seems to have a rather practical approach. There a no unnecessary exotic materials here, if something does not make an audible difference, they don’t spend money on it.

Setup Of Magnepan 1.7i

I’ve tried different placements but the best one to my ears was where the speakers were approximately 1m away from the wall behind them, and slightly closer to each other than the distance from my listening position to each speaker. I’ve also tried moving the speakers really far away from the wall behind them, but that did not improve anything in my room. I preferred the sound with two plastic washer installed between bottom mounting point of each foot and the speaker, which made the speakers lean back slightly.
I’ve experimented with tweeter on the inside as well as on the outside, and after multiple listening tests, I decided to kept the tweeters on the outside. I toed-in the speakers ensuring that the centre of the tweeter driver is approx. 30mm further away from my ears that the centre of the mid/bass driver. In addition, because my room is untreated, I found the overall speaker balance better with the 1Ω resistors inserted in the tweeter attenuators. With the setup optimised, I then commenced the listening tests.

 

Sound of Magnepan 1.7i

The first time I hooked up Magnepan 1.7i, was not long after I finished reviewing the Magnepan LRS. The two things that immediately came to my mind were: “Where is that bass coming from?” and “The sibilants are quite pronounced!”. These were just the first impressions, before I actually went through the whole setup process described above.

With the first impressions out of the way, lets talk about the low end. Manufacturer lists 40Hz as a low frequency cut off in a typical living room, and this is 10Hz lower than Magnepan LRS. Although 10Hz does not seem like a lot on paper, Magnepan 1.7i is capable of producing significantly more low end extension and energy than the Magnepan LRS. Actually, the increased bass output happened to correlate with the room mode in my room, which without careful placement and changing the listening position slightly, would have made the Magnepan 1.7i sound boomy. Of course, we don’t get much below 40Hz, thus, if like myself, you are used to listing to full range speakers, you may notice than something is missing on certain songs. A good example of that would be Old Love from MTV Unplugged album by Eric Clapton. There is a really low sound (presumably foot taping) audible throughout this track on my Harbeth M40.1, but nothing on the Magnepan 1.7i. If you have never heard it, then it won’t bother you. But if you’ve heard it before, you’ll be wondering where it is. It shows, than even in acoustic recordings, there may be sounds below 40Hz that positively contribute to your overall experience and immersion in these recordings. And if you would like to get that experience with Magnepan 1.7i, you will need a good quality sealed subwoofer, or better yet, a pair. Saying that, for 90% of my listening, I would be perfectly happy running these Maggies as they are.

We’ve covered the amount of and extension of bass, how about its quality and impact? Well, quality of the bass is simply great. Its seems very coherent and very resolving although sometimes not as ‘meaty’ as I would like it to be. On multiple tracks I’ve noticed that I am able to hear the drums decay a lot easier that on any other speakers. Good example of that is Yendo De La Cama Al Living by Charly Garcia from his Hello! MTV Unplugged album, where I am able to hear the decay of the bass drum for longer than on the Harbeth M40.1. On the other hand, if you are doing side by side compassions, this can also be perceived as bass being less tight. I have verified this however on quality headphones, and the decay length was consistent with what I’ve heard on Magnepans, which leads me to believe that they are closer to what was recorded.
In terms of impact, Magnepan 1.7i perform surprisingly well. I remember sitting upstairs in my study when my wife started playing Oh Devil by Electric Guest. Initially I thought that I left the M40.1s plugged in, because the whole floor was shaking. Imagine my surprise when I went down to our living room and realised that she was playing it through Maggies! If you think that magnetostatic speakers cannot generate sound pressure, think again. Of course, you are not going to get as much visceral experience as you would from large dynamic speakers, but I imagine that a good number of listeners would be perfectly satisfied with the impact that Magnepan 1.7i are capable of. On the other hand, if you are into hard rock or other types of impactful music with busy passages, Magnepan 1.7i may not be for you. For instance, Thunderstruck by AC/DC sounds OK on Maggies, but I’m missing the meatiness and impact that I get with Harbeth M40.1.

One thing worth noting here is that Magnepan 1.7i, cannot be played extremely loud using music material rich in bass. If you go too crazy with the volume control (providing that your amplifier can handle it), you will begin to hear audible distortion and compression. I’ve only experienced it once when I turned up the volume on Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer. It is the type of music that I enjoy loud – I like the visceral experience of feeling pressure in my chest. I’m used to playing it on Harbeth M40.1, where I can turn it up really high and there is no audible distortion or compression coming from the speakers. With Magnepan 1.7i I was able to get it to a certain level, but when I wanted a little more sound pressure, it quickly became clear that the speakers were outside of their comfort zone. Consequently, if you are planning to use Magnepan 1.7i in a very large room or you enjoy your music very loud, then you will have to explore high-passing them with an active crossover, and adding a dedicated subwoofer. Having said that, 99% of times my listening sessions would not require it, and I suspect that this will also be the case for most HiFi enthusiasts.

Enough about the bass, let’s look at something that Magnepan loudspeakers are well known for – quality midrange and treble. Magnepan 1.7i do not disappoint in this area. In contrast to my Harbeth M40.1, they seem tonally leaner, and yet, most instruments and voices sound unbelievably real. Saying that, the warmth of Harbeths can definitely make poorer and brighter recordings easier on the ear, whereas, Maggies have a lot less mercy. The somewhat  cooler sound of 1.7i also impacts your perception of stringed instruments – you pay more attention to the actual strings than to the instrument bodies. Vocals seem more emphasised and life-like on Harbeths. On songs such as Jolka, Jolka Pamiętasz from the Live At Carnegie Hall album by Budka Sulfera, the lead singer sounds richer and a little more real on my Harbeth M40.1. Where Magnepans shine, is how they deliver the rest of that live performance. They seem to reveal microdetails and separate the instruments better, which creates a greater illusion of you being there.
This is somewhat puzzling, because whenever I noticed something new in the recordings when listening to Maggies, I went back to Harbeths, and lo and behold, I could also hear it. So it is not that Magnepas can reveal the details that are not audible on other high quality speakers, it is more to do with how easy it is to notice these details in relation to all other sounds. This quality can affect different tracks in a different way. Good example of that is one of my favourite Bruce Springsteen’s songs, Further On (Up the Road) from the Live in Dublin album recorded together with The Sessions Band. On average loudspeakers, this track can sound uninvolving, especially during busy passages. Whereas on my Harbeth M40.1 it sounds great and very engaging because of their warmth and gentle presentation. On Magnepan 1.7i, despite not having as much warmth, this track sounds equally as engaging if not more, and it’s to do with that extra clarity and separation. During busy passages, its much easier to stay engaged because you hear multiple instruments playing separately as opposed to all of them lumped together. I’m exaggerating a little here, just to illustrate the point of what Magnepans do that is different to most other loudspeakers that I have experienced.

This quality of Magnepan 1.7i that I am trying to describe here tends to favour acoustic recordings. As a matter of fact, there are a number of albums that I previously only listened to selected tracks (i.e. Ne Kuni Me Ne Ruzi Me Majko by Ljiljana Buttler), and on Mangnepan 1.7i, I listened to full albums. What springs to mind is live music. On number of occasions, I have came across musicians playing live, and although I did not know the songs or wasn’t a big fan of the genre they were playing, the fact that the music was being played live made it really engaging. I stayed and listened. This also seems to be the case with Magnepan loudspeakers – they tend to make acoustic recordings sound closer to real life.

How do they compare to Magnepan LRS? Well, they seem to emphasise the sibilants a lot more, which makes them not as easy to listen to, and requires more careful tuning. Fairly bright tracks such as Hell Is For Children by Pat Benatar are quite tolerable on LRS but much harder to enjoy on the 1.7i. In addition, my impression of the LRS was that you could put them anywhere and they would sound good, and with careful tuning, things would only get better. Whereas you can easily make the Magnepan 1.7i sound average if you don’t position them right. I suspect it may have something to do with their size in relation to the size of my room, and this may not necessarily be the case for everyone. However, if you dedicate some time to careful tuning, you will be rewarded with a more focused soundstage and greater illusion of depth. One of my criticisms of the LRS was that the soundstage was a little fuzzy, and that the depth illusion wasn’t as good as on my Harbeth M40.1. Carefully tuned Magnepan 1.7i definitely outperform the LRS in this area and are much closer to the soundstage definition and depth that I am used to from the M40.1s.

When I finished reviewing the 1.7i, I invited two of my audiophile friends to see what their impressions were going to be. They are normally quite reserved and rarely get exited. Imagine my surprise when one of them said something along the lines of “I really like these, they sound so balanced and you can very clearly hear all details“. When the other one finished his listening session, he said “I’ve heard this song reproduced really well 100 times, but sounding like this only once! I really like these!“. Hand on heart, I’ve never seen these two fellows so excited about loudspeakers.
Just to balance it, I have also invited a friend who is just getting into HiFi and his musical tastes lean towards heavier music. Although he liked the sound, he commented on missing the visceral impact that he gets at home with his floor standing speakers.

Overall, Magnepan 1.7i are very special speakers, but not necessary best all rounders. I’m a great believer that you should choose your speakers based on the music that you enjoy. After all, what’s the point of having loudspeakers that sound fantastic on 10% of recordings, and make everything else sound average or unlistenable. If you have an eclectic music taste which varies between heavy music and quiet acoustic performances, then something like larger Harbeth loudspeakers may be a better choice for you. However, if most of the music that you listen to does not rely on impact, low bass and volume, then you should definitely consider Magnepan 1.7i. That is providing that you have room and patience to carefully tune them – these are not the ‘place anywhere and forget’ type of speakers. To get the most out of them, you need to put some effort in. However, once you do, you’re in for a real treat. I’ve not experienced any other speakers that make my foot tap on acoustic and live music as much as Magnepans do.

 


 

Conclusion

Magnepan 1.7i are very musical and natural sounding speakers. Fantastic transparency and transient response. Although they do not produce the really low bass, the overall amount of low end and the tactile feeling is greater that one would expect from magnetostatic speakers. They are extremely engaging and quite easy to listen, albeit not as easy as Magnepan LRS. If you have room and patience to set them up them properly, plus a decent amp to drive them, I would wholeheartedly recommend them.

Balance of Sound: 4 grey stars
Neutrality of Tone: 5 grey stars
Transparency: 5 grey stars
Soundstage: 4.5 grey stars
Attack: 4 grey stars
Engagement: 5 grey stars
Total Score: 4.5 red stars

 

Songs Mentioned In This Review

AC/DC – Thunderstruck
Bruce Springsteen with The Sessions Band – Further On (Up the Road) (Live)
Budka Sulfera – Jolka, Jolka Pamiętasz (Live)
Charly Garcia – Yendo De La Cama Al Living (MTV Unplugged)
Electric Guest – Oh Devil
Eric Clapton – Old Love (MTV Unplugged)
Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F
Ljiljana Buttler – Ne Kuni Me Ne Ruzi Me Majko
Pat Benatar – Hell Is For Children

 

Reviewed: August 2021 | Published: December 2021

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