“Dammit!” No sooner had I praised small loudspeakers while dismissing large speakers as potentially having “large problems,” in my review of the Crystal Arabesque Minissimo Diamond in the www.stereophile.com/content/crystal-cable-arabesque-minissimo-diamond-loudspeaker “>October issue, than I had to eat my words. Only days after that issue had gone to press, Magico’s VP for Global Sales & Marketing, Peter Mackay, and CTO Yair Tammam, arrived at my place to set up a pair of the Bay Area company’s floorstanding—and very large—S5 Mk.II loudspeakers.The S5 Mk.II
Like the original S5, the S5 Mk.II is a three-way, floorstanding design, 4′ tall. The twin, sealed-box–loaded, 10″ aluminum-cone woofers with substantial rubber roll surrounds, 6″ midrange unit with a graphene-coated Nano-Tec cone, and 1.1″ diamond-coated, beryllium-dome tweeter are mounted vertically in line on its black front baffle. (Nano-Tec is Magico’s name for a sandwich of Rohacell, a foam composite material extensively used in the aerospace industry, and external layers of carbon fiber coated with layers of carbon nanotubes.)The Magico’s internally braced enclosure is constructed from an aluminum extrusion 1?2″ thick and 16″ in diameter, with the midrange unit loaded by a subenclosure made of a proprietary polymer. The top cap is machined into complex shapes, both over and under, to minimize external diffraction and internal standing waves, while the bottom plate includes outriggers at its four corners into which can be screwed heavy-duty spikes. (As supplied, sturdy wheels are screwed into the outriggers to make handling easier.) Electrical connection is via a pair of binding posts at the bottom of the rear panel.The S5 Mk.II is available in two different finishes. With the first, called by Magico M-Cast, the speaker costs $38,000/pair. In the handsome high-gloss M-Coat finish of the review samples, the price is $42,750/pair.Diamond–Nano-Tec–Graphene
It is its drive-units that distinguish the Mk.II S5 from its predecessor. As Yair Tammam lives and breathes drive-units, I asked him about the changes, particularly that new 26mm-diameter tweeter, which has a 40µm-thick beryllium dome coated with a 5µm-thick layer of pure diamond, and was developed from the 28mm dome first seen in Magico’s statement M-Project speaker.

The first Magico speaker reviewed in Stereophile, the V3, in May 2008, used a high-performance ring-radiator tweeter, but Tammam was bothered by the fact that such a tweeter’s diaphragm operates in breakup mode in the upper region of its passband—he wanted a diaphragm that operated as a perfect piston throughout its operating bandwidth. A beryllium dome is both light enough and stiff enough to behave pistonically, and was used in the Magico Q5, which Michael Fremer reviewed in November 2012. Applying a layer of diamond to the metal, Tammam explained, results in a dome with a more homogeneous surface, which both reduces intermodulation distortion and results in a more benign harmonic-distortion signature that is less like that of a metal dome. I asked why they hadn’t gone all the way and used an all-diamond diaphragm. It turned out that, yes, diamond would produce a very stiff diaphragm, but the required suspension would raise the tweeter’s low-frequency resonance from the desired 500Hz or so to about 1.3kHz. This, in turn, would mean that the tweeter would have to be crossed over to the midrange drive-unit at too high a frequency. Beryllium’s lower mass ensures that the resonance frequency is close to 500Hz, but the diamond layer raises the dome’s stiffness to extend the high frequencies.

 

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I asked about the Nano-Tec cone used in the midrange unit. Tammam explained that in the earlier versions of this sandwich cone, the inner layer was stiffer than the outer layers, to match the voice-coil former. There followed changes in the former material and the thicknesses of the layers, guided by finite element analysis (FEA), until, in 2014, a Japanese corporation developed a way of laying down the carbon fibers in the weave that resulted in a more even flow of the resin before the material was cured in an oven. This seventh-generation version of Magico’s driver has a cone that contains 30% less resin in the carbon-fiber layers, but one that is 300% stiffer.

In Magico’s prior midrange cone the front layer of carbon fibers was overlaid with carbon nanotubes, but the US company that produced the nanotubes came up with a way of coating the front of the carbon-fiber layer with a skin of graphene, a superstiff sheet of carbon just one atom thick.

It’s desirable that a speaker cone be of varying thickness: thickest at the center and the boundary with the voice-coil former, thinnest at the junction with the surround. However, Magico used to use a sandwich core of constant thickness, because the foam material would fracture if the thickness varied. For their new generation of midrange units they developed a process in which the foam is carefully injected between the front and back carbon-fiber, to permit the overall thickness to vary in the desired manner.

Tammam told me that they made much use of the Klippel analysis system in the development of the S5 Mk.II’s drive-units, particularly regarding the spider, to get a significantly greater linear cone excursion. Computer simulation of the driver as a complete system—cone, surround, spider, motor, and magnetic circuit—allowed them to produce a drive-unit that combined the best technologies currently available to give performance that doesn’t significantly change with the rise in temperature that typically occurs after a couple of hours of operation.

Yair Tammam summed up his goals in drive-unit design as achieving linearity not just with large excursions but with very small movements, so that the speaker’s character remains the same at low sound-pressure levels as it does at high SPLs.

Listening
After Mackay and Tammam had used the excellent Dayton OmniMic v2 system to position the S5 Mk.IIs in my room and declared themselves content, they left for home. The speakers’ front baffles were about 80″ from the wall behind them and 98″ from my listening position; the left speaker was 38″ from the closest sidewall, the right 48″ from its sidewall. I settled down for some critical listening, beginning with the PS Audio DirectStream DAC (Yale operating system, which I prefer to the earlier Pikes Peak) directly feeding my Pass Labs XA60.5 monoblocks, and the Magicos hooked up to the Passes with Kubala-Sosna Elation! cables.

The low-frequency, 1/3-octave warble tones on my Editor’s Choice (ALAC file ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) played cleanly down to 25Hz, with the 32Hz tone not exciting the lowest-frequency mode in my room as is usually the case. Although the 20Hz tone seemed quieter than those immediately above it, the Studio Six SPL meter app on my iPhone, used with Studio Six’s iTestMic, registered it as being equally loud. That it seemed quieter was due not only to my reduced hearing sensitivity in the very low bass, but also to the fact that distortion, which would produce harmonics that would be more audible, must be low in level.

The bass guitar on Editor’s Choice had nice weight, but without the blurring of attacks that can happen with high-Q reflex speakers. However, over time I felt that the Magicos’ bass was a little too fat with the Pass Labs amps. Substituting MBL Corona C15 monoblocks gave better control of the low frequencies. With “Another Brick in the Wall Parts 1 & 2,” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall (24-bit/96kHz FLAC files, Columbia), the MBL amps kept superb control of the Magicos’ woofers without sacrificing low-frequency power. The speakers’ clarity in this region made it possible for me to maximally differentiate between the sounds of the bass guitar and the kick drum—they didn’t seem to be competing with one another. The deep-pitched, low-F purr from Dave Holland’s double bass that leads into the entrance of Norah Jones’s unmistakable voice in “Court and Spark,” from Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters (24/96 Apple Lossless files, Verve/HDtracks) was viscerally satisfying in a way that some say you can’t get from sealed-box speakers. The sub-40Hz notes in my 2014 recording of Jonas Nordwall performing the Toccata of Widor’s Organ Symphony 5 at Portland’s First United Methodist Church (24/88.2 AIFF file) literally shook the walls of my listening room without sounding bloated or boomy.The dual-mono pink-noise track on Editor’s Choice was reproduced by the S5 Mk.IIs with a very narrow, stable central image, and none of the splashing toward the speaker positions at some frequencies that would imply the existence of resonances. However, while the Magicos sounded hollow and nasal when I stood up, as expected from the speaker’s measured vertical dispersion (see “Measurements” sidebar), I found I needed to sit on the tweeter axis (42″ above the floor) to get sufficient mid-treble—an experience that conflicts with the measurements. The top octave also sounded shelved down if I sat in my chair in my customary slouch.

But when I sat at attention, I was impressed not only with the solidity of the Magicos’ stereo images but with the sheer believability of the sound. The delicate fragility of the late Radka Toneff’s voice in her reading of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” from her Fairytales (24/192 AIFF needle drop from LP, Odin LP03), was fully preserved. I’d made a number of needle drops of this track using Linn Linto, Channel D Seta L, and Liberty Audio B2B-1 phono preamplifiers, with Ayre Acoustics QA-9 and Benchmark ADC-1 A/D converters. As I listened to the files through the Magicos with peak levels equalized, the differences between the various phono preamps and converters was more apparent than I remembered hearing when I made them.

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Returning to Editor’s Choice: The half-step spaced tonebursts on this CD sounded very even at the listening position. However, listening to the speaker enclosures with a stethoscope, I could hear, on the sidewalls level with midrange unit, some liveliness between 450 and 500Hz and between 600 and 800Hz. This behavior was at a low level and didn’t color the sound of Wayne Shorter’s soprano saxophone in “Court and Spark,” which has a lot of energy in these regions. Joni Mitchell’s husky contralto in “The Tea Leaf Prophecy,” also from River, was presented by the Magicos with maximal pitch differentiation—what Linnies back in the 1980s used to call “playing tunes.” And the haunting high-register piano intro that leads into the late Leonard Cohen’s resigned spoken basso in River‘s “The Jungle Line” sounded perfectly natural, as did the parallel-fifths figure between the verses.

As well as offering full-range envelopment, uncolored vocal and instrumental sounds, and a spacious, stable soundstage, the Magicos could play loud without low-level details becoming obscured. In Benjamin Zander’s recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra (24/192 Apple Lossless file, Linn CKD 452), captured by the old Telarc team of engineer Michael Bishop and producer Elaine Martone, the climaxes seemed more climactic without the quiet passages sounding in any way exaggerated or given short shrift. And again, the Magicos loved the sound of the solo women’s voices in this recording: mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and soprano Miah Persson.

The 1958 recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade by Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra (16/44.1 rip from CD, Decca) has a rather close-sounding balance, but the Magico S5 Mk.IIs handled with aplomb this work’s big dynamic sweeps, such as the one three minutes into The Story of the Kalendar Prince, and the drumstrokes and cymbal crashes in Festival at Baghdad lit up the recording acoustic. Nevertheless, such small details as the sound of the snare wires in the drum pattern in The Young Prince and the Young Princess were readily apparent without being thrust forward at me. On the 1963 recording of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Sinfonia of London and the Allegri Quartet (16/44.1, Apple Lossless rip from CD, EMI Classics CDM 5 67240 2), the fragile images of the string quartet were set forward in the soundstage, with the rich, warm string orchestra behind them. The wonderful reprise of the big tune with the full orchestra after the fugue, and then the joyous coda three minutes before the work’s conclusion, were presented by the MBL-driven Magicos with maximum dynamic fervor.

Those last two recordings are 59 and 54 years old, respectively, but the Magico S5 Mk.II’s full-range transparency and resolution maximized the ability of my audio system to act as a time machine, allowing me to disregard the obsolete technology with which these recordings were made to focus on the music.

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Time machine? Years ago, I’d transferred to digital a cassette recording of a 1981 chamber-music concert in which I performed my own transcription for bass recorder of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, with Hi-Fi News & Record Review‘s then editorial assistant, Felicity Mulgan, accompanying me on piano. The Magicos plunged me 35 years back into the dry acoustic of that London hall—there I was, onstage, playing this most Romantic of music on a decidedly non-Romantic instrument: a large-bore Renaissance recorder from which I’d removed the top cap so that I could blow straight onto the fipple to better control the intonation.

Yes, the higher the quality of the system, the better it can transport the listener back in time—even when, in the case of my Rachmaninoff recording, the curtains on the machine’s windows might have been better left closed.

Summing Up
My congratulations to Magico’s Alon Wolf and Yair Tammam for producing a speaker that offers full-range, uncolored, low-distortion sound coupled with superbly stable and accurate stereo imaging. At $38,000–$42,750/pair, the S5 Mk.II is not too dissimilar in price to the Wilson Audio Alexia ($48,500/pair) and Vivid G3 Giya ($39,990/pair), which I reviewed in December 2013 and March 2014, respectively (footnote 1). The Magico S5 Mk.II joins those speakers as ones I could live with when I’m done with this reviewing business. It may indeed be large, but, as I found out, it had no problems, large or otherwise.