Magnepan LRS Review

My Story

I have recently been listening to quite few modern and vintage BBC-style loudspeakers (with the exception of Klipsch La Scala II) and I got a little bored. I thought, what speakers I could review that are very different to what I have. I remembered that during the 2020 Bristol HiFi Show (here you can read my review of the show), Magnepan LRS were one of the very few loudspeakers that caught my attention. There was something natural and easy when listening to them. “Variety is the spice of life” they say and I  tend to agree with that. I enjoy speakers that are different, either because they sound different or because they have an unconventional design. Magnepan LRS have both. Furthermore, because they are reasonably priced in comparison to a lot of high end gear, I ended up purchasing a set for a review. Enjoy!

Speaker Info

For those who are not familiar with the brand, Magnepan is a US based manufacturer of magnetostatic loudspeakers founded in 1969. It has been operating as an independent business since and proudly states on their website: “Made in America. Sold in China.”
Magnepan LRS sit at the very bottom of their range and were designed as a product that is supposed to introduce Magnepan to a wider range of customers. In the United States, these LRS are priced at a very reasonable $650 per pair and can be purchased directly from Magnepan with a 60-day home trial/money back program. Sadly, this offer is not available in Europe and the RRP is much higher than the equivalent USD price. However, this is understandable considering transportation costs and dealer margins.

But enough about that, lets look at the speakers. Here we have a 2-way, planar-magnetic loudspeaker. It sounds rather complicated but the design is beautifully simple. It is a very thin continuous piece of aluminium foil attached to a Mylar film and stretched in a MDF frame – this aluminium foil acts similarly to a voice coil in a traditional loudspeaker driver. Behind the Mylar film (separated by a narrow air gap) are strips of permanent magnets. When the current flows though the aluminium foil it interacts with the magnetic field and creates sound pressure. This design, in contrast to electrostatic loudspeakers, does not require an additional source of power – magnetostatic loudspeakers such as Magnepan LRS need only to be connected to an amplifier, no mains voltage required. The similarity shared by both designs is that these type of speakers are usually dipoles, meaning that they radiate the sound from the front and back. They are often also a line-source type of loudspeaker, where all frequencies are emitted from a vertical line as opposed to more of a “point-source” in traditional speakers.

You may ask, what does this all mean for the Magnepan LRS? Well, aluminium foil embedded onto Mylar should be much lighter and have a much greater surface area than ‘dynamic’ speakers, which in theory, should result in less distortion and better transient response. Being a dipole, can reduce the interaction with a room and enhance the naturalness of the sound. Being a line-source should further minimise the speaker-room interaction by restricting vertical dispersion (i.e. reduce issues caused by floor and ceiling reflections). However, speaker design is always a compromise and the story is no different here. Because the Mylar diaphragm cannot move as much air as diaphragms in conventional speakers, the only way to achieve deep bass from magnetostatic loudspeakers is to make them really large. Magnepan LRS are fairly wife-friendly, and thus, the low end extension will be somewhat limited. In addition, due to limited diaphragm excursion combined with a moderate size, these speakers will not be capable of providing high dynamics and high sound pressure levels. Also, although the impedance curve is very linear, it is quite low and oscillates between 3Ω to 3.5Ω. If you combine this with a relatively low sensitivity, you get a loudspeaker which can be very demanding on your power amplifier. The amplifier choice will of course be dependent of your room size and how loud you listen. As an indication, you’ll need an amp that is comfortable driving loads less than 4Ω. And if this was not enough to put you off, because these are dipoles, they should not be placed too close to the wall behind the speakers. Magnepan recommends placing these approx. 90cm from the wall behind the speakers, which may not be suitable for everyone. Saying that, conventional speakers usually have deep cabinets, thus, because how thin Magnepans are in comparison, you may find that their fronts will be exactly where the fronts of your conventional loudspeakers would have been.

Specification and theory, although important, tell us very little about how a loudspeaker may sound, so do not be discouraged by my description above and do read the paragraph about the sound of Manepan LRS.

 

Magnepan LRS Specs
Frequency Response: 50 – 20,000Hz (+/- ?dB)
Sensitivity: 86dB (500Hz, 2.83V, measured at 1m)
Impedance:
Recommended Amplifier: > 60W
High Frequency Driver: Planar-Magnetic
Low Frequency Driver: Planar-Magnetic
Crossover Frequencies: Unknown
Enclosure Type: Open Baffle (Dipole)
Enclosure Dimensions (HxWxD): 1220x370x30mm (48x15x1″)
Weight: 9kg (each speaker)
Production Years: 2019 – Current
Price When Launched: £995 for a pair

 

Look & Feel of Magnepan LRS Speakers

When I brought the Mangepan LRS home, my wife thought that I was going to use these to replace my beloved Harbeth M40.1, and she was really happy! Even though the LRS are taller (122cm high) than most conventional loudspeakers, and fairly wide (37cm), she really likes the look of them. I think it has something to do with how thin they are (30mm) but also with the off-white colour, which blends with most interiors and makes them look less imposing. For the same reasons, I like their look too.

In terms of design, it is a fairly ridged MDF frame, covered in an acoustically transparent fabric, available in off-white, grey and black. There are narrow wooden trims running vertically on each side, and these are available in natural oak, black oak, and dark cherry. The whole frame is supported by two powder coated, metal, L-shape feet. Each of these features a metal ‘ring’ towards the back, which can be dropped down to change the angle of the speaker – very simple and effective but a little fiddly.

Speaker binding posts are placed quite close to the floor on the back of each speaker and are a little different to binding posts used on most loudspeakers. Each features a hex driven bolt that can be used to tighten either banana plug or a bare wire within the binding post. This terminal also features tweeter attenuator posts underneath the binding posts. Magnepan LRS come with two sets of resistors (1Ω and 2Ω), 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 speakers from being overdriven and Magnepans come with a pair of spare fuses, just in case.

I always like to inspect crossovers, however, in the case of Magnepan LRS the crossover is placed within the MDF frame next to the speaker terminal. The only way I could get to it would be to remove the staples at the bottom and undo the fabric speaker cover. Because these were new and I bought these with an intention of reviewing and then selling them on, I was not prepared to do it.

Overall, Magnepan LRS are pretty well made. Magnepan seems to have a very practical approach – there a no exotic materials here, and I like it – especially at this price.

Setup Of Magnepan LRS

I’ve tried different placements but the best one to my ears was where the speakers were just over 1m away from the wall behind them, and they were slightly closer to each other than the distance from my listening position to each speaker. I’ve tried rearranging the room and moving the speakers 1.7m away from the wall behind them, but that did not improve anything in my room, and actually had a negative impact on the soundstage. I preferred the sound with the metal ‘rings’ on the feet dropped down (i.e. speakers in a more upright position). This somehow lifted the soundstage up and made me feel that singers are in front of me rather than lower down. In addition, I kept the tweeters on the outside and I toed-in the speakers ever so slightly, but ensured that the centre of the tweeter driver is approx. 30mm further away from my ears that the centre of the mid/bass driver. Also, because large proportion of my listening room is still hard, 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 LRS

When I first played these speakers I did not expect much. After all, how could such an affordable loudspeaker even come close to my reference Harbeth M40.1? Well, I was in for a surprise…my first impression was that vocals on Magnepan LRS sound more natural and are less sibilant. In addition, they also had more attack than I was expecting form speakers of this type. Yes, it was not the impact of a large floor standing loudspeaker, but it was comparable to a lot of bookshelf speakers.

First impressions out of the way, lets start with the bass. Looking at the specs one may be forgiven for thinking that a subwoofer is necessary to enjoy these speakers. 50Hz low end extension is very similar to Klipsch La Scala II, and I would not be happy using La Scalas without a sub. However, this is not the case with the Magnepan LRS. I’ve played a variety of music on them and rarely missed the bass. This is another case where the specification in isolation tells us little about the sound we may expect. Because I’ve conducted room measurements with these speakers, I was able to see that in my room Klipsch La Scala II have gentle roll-off that starts above 100Hz, whereas Magnepan LRS are stronger down to 55Hz, and then begin to roll off steeply. Thus, on paper, both loudspeakers look similar, yet how they get down to 50Hz is very different. My measurements supported my audible impressions, and it appears that in my room Magnepan LRS have a lot more energy output between 50Hz to 100Hz than Klipsch La Scala II. And this is most likely the reason why I rarely miss low end extension on the LRS. Sure, on a small percentage of songs that rely on heavy bass I felt that I could do with a little more. For instance on the Into My Arms track by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, there is a really low foot taping noise about 1:30 into the track, and I could not hear that on the Magnepan LRS and could clearly hear it on my Harbeth M40.1. Moreover, once you’ve heard deep bass and you know it’s there, you cannot really unhear it. Consequently, if a lot of music that you listen to relies on really low bass, you may want to consider using the LRS with a subwoofer. Also, depending on your music choice and how loud you listen you may miss some impact. On tracks such as Dreamgirl by Dave Matthews Band the speakers lack a bit of kick, especially in comparison to conventional boxed speakers. However, despite this, for 90% of my listening, I would be perfectly happy with these little Maggies as they are. There is something different about how these LRS deal with bass. It gives you an impression of being quicker, softer and more coherent than bass from most conventional loudspeakers. It definitely makes your foot tap.

What about the midrange and treble, you may ask? Well, in short – they are fantastic! Tonally, they seem leaner than my Harbeth M40.1, and yet, most instruments and voices sound unbelievably real. For instance a song such as It Don’t Have to Change by John Legend can have a noticeable amount of sibilants when played louder on my Harbeth M40.1, but sound a lot smoother and easier to listen to on the Magnepan LRS. On the other hand, guitars seem to have more body on the Harbeths and this is easy to notice on songs like Thugz Mansion by Nas feat. 2Pac. Apart from the strings you are also aware of the body of the guitar, whereas on the LRS, the strings seem to be more dominant and the body is less noticeable. Clapping tend to sound equally real on both speakers.

They also seem to be very revealing and have plenty of ‘air’ around the instruments, yet they are one of the most forgiving and easy to listen to speakers I experienced in my living room. This is different from the norm. In my experience, airy and transparent speakers tend not to be very forgiving, and can become fatiguing during longer listening sessions. It is not the case here. Additionally, they are very good at revealing microdetails – the really quiet noises in the background that are so helpful in creating the atmosphere of live recordings. Where they fall short a little, is the soundstage depth illusion. Don’t get me wrong, the soundstage is wide with sounds often coming from outside of the speaker edges. The phantom images are large, but the soundstage does not give you a great impression of depth and it is not very focused. Let me expand. You can still hear sounds coming from behind the speakers, however, they don’t seem to give me an impression that they are as far as when I play music through my Harbeth M40.1. The phantom images also appear to be more fuzzy, i.e. when I close my eyes and play live recoding though LRS, I can tell the general vicinity of the sounds, whereas on the M40.1 I can tell exactly where they are coming from – they seem more clearly defined. And before you say it, yes, I’ve tried different amps with the LRS and tried different placements, but never got the same level of soundstage illusion that I get with Harberth M40.1. On song such as 4 Jeźdźcy (Unplugged) by Kult the Magnepan LRS just seem less three dimensional. But, is it even a fair comparison? After all, the existing version of my Harbeths retails for nearly £17k and I am comparing it with a bottom of the range Magnepan speakers that retail for £1k. The answer to this question is “yes!” – because these little Maggies are so good…

There is something very alluring about how they sound and I am struggling to convey this well in this review. They are very natural and organic sounding, and I actually struggled to find albums that I did not like to listen to on these speakers. Frankly, even with their shortfalls mentioned in this review, I would be more than happy to have Magnepan LRS in my system. And although on balance, I’m going to stick with my Harbeth M40.1, I am pretty sure that LRS are not the last Magnepans that I will experience in my listening room.


 

Conclusion

Magnepan LRS are very musical and natural sounding speakers. Fantastic transparency and transient response. They do not produce really low bass and they are somewhat limited in dynamics, yet despite this, they are extremely engaging and easy to listen. If you have room to place them properly and decent amp to drive them, I cannot think of a better speaker in this price range – exceptionally good value for money!

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

 

Songs Mentioned In This Review

Dave Matthews Band – Dreamgirl
John Legend – It Don’t Have to Change
Kult – 4 Jezdzcy (MTV Unplugged)
Nas feat. 2Pac – Thugz Mansion
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Into My Arms

 

Reviewed: July 2021 | Published: August 2021

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