One of my early experiences with audio included both the Totem Model 1, and a set of Maggies. I think from looking back that the Maggies may have been Tympani IV-A’s driven by a set of VTL monoblocks. I heard both speakers on the same day in 1994 when I was shopping for 2 channel systems. As a starving student I could not afford either. I ended up buying a set of Totem Rokk, a Sugden integrated AND the Rebecca Pidgeon album that was playing on the Maggies. For the following 20 years, the sound of both speakers haunted me.
I eventually found a set of the Totem Model 1 biwires, and snapped them up. I later bought the Crown XLS-1500 due to the reviews on it, and knowing it would drive the Totems well. The time I spent with the Totem Model 1's was very satisfying. They are punchy beyond what they should be, I LOVE their form factor, and the quality mahogany finish is something I have always loved about Totem's. I spent many days working from home enjoying the Totems and what they delivered. I should have been happy.
I owned the Totems for a year when a set of MMG’s popped up used near me. The sound of those Maggies all those years ago inspired me to try the MMG’s.
Have to say that the experience of hooking up these Magnepan “binding posts” is quite the chore compared to the lovely WBT biwires on my Totems. Using a tiny allen wrench, behind an angled speaker, largely in the dark on these middle aged eyes was not exactly my idea of a good time. If I were looking to repeatedly plug and unplug the MMG’s, I would immediately add proper binding posts. As a guy who infrequently does it, it is just an unpleasant task to get through, before you can sample aural wonders to come.
First and foremost these speakers seem to make more demands on me than others I have owned in the past, in order to extract all their excellence. Plunked down exactly where my Totem Model 1’s had been they sounded good. Very good.
So good in fact that I had to know just what I might be missing given the couch and loveseat close to the speakers as they were. I moved the furniture out of the immediate area. My large basement room is split up into 3 zones of sorts. Putting the MMG’s where they sound their best requires me to shove furniture into at least 1 of my other zones. Fine as a guy who has a dedicated space in the basement, and is willing to move stuff around for those glorious hours of listening. Less so for more normal folks no doubt!
Right out of the gate, I found soundstage depth with the MMG’s that was not as apparent with the Totems. I also noticed that while the MMG’s provide detail, they don’t draw attention to the treble zone as much as the Totems. Visitors in the past have commented that the Totem Model 1’s seemed tipped up to them. I always liked the sound personally, perhaps it’s the cloth ears, age, or an interest in detail that allows me to enjoy them when others do not. The MMG’s seem to offer similar detail, but with less of a flashlight on the highs. This becomes more evident as the volume goes up. Experimentation with levels closing on 95-98 dB peaks (briefly) showcases more issue with the peakier treble from the Totems.
Using the Crown 1500 XLS (525wpc into 4 ohms) seems to give plenty of headroom. As noted I don’t listen loud, roughly mid 80’s for peaks on my iPhone dB application. Almost never more than 90-92 peaks. The MMG’s are less efficient than the Totems as it turns out. Goosing the XLS gain pots from 12 to 1:30 or so restores my levels to where I want them. No issue for me, but perhaps those with less robust amps may want to pay more attention to system matching.
Mids are excellent on the MMG’s no doubt. But the Totems shine there too for me using the same ancillary gear.
Bass? Have to give that to the Totems, even with their 5.5 Dynaudio woofers in my large room the bass is more robust with the Model 1’s. But, I run a sub, and I find that integrating it with either speaker allows for most of that issue to be moot. Mostly. There is still a textural advantage I would give to the Totems. When listening to Ray Brown, or Brian Bomberg the sound/texture of the bass (frets, slaps, pulls, body resonance) all seems more real via the little Totems. However, it is not glaring – ie when listening to the same music without mentally comparing the 2 sets of speakers, the MMG’s sound lovely.
Better question – is it even a fair comparison? The retail on the MMG’s is ballpark $600 or so, the Totems were more around $2000 when new (all in USD). Perhaps all it really does is highlight the excellent value/$ that the MMG’s put on the audio table.
Even better question – will I sell either? I wish I had an answer to that one. I really cannot decide yet. For a period the Totems are sat idle, while I combed through my music collection with the MMG’s. I bet I will get tired of moving the furniture around, but I might not get tired of this interesting musical presentation.
I think that’s the right phrase. Musical presentation. The Totems demand that you pay attention to them. They want me to perk up and groove. The MMG’s seem content to let me be whatever I am, and just flow out music. There is a certain sense of delicacy in the presentation, the MMG’s communicate emotion exceedingly well. Audiogeeks might find themselves wondering what they are missing, or what another speaker might do for them. Music lovers no doubt will simply let the music flow and walk away from speaker shopping.
As a guy that lived with open baffle speakers for 7 years before, I know that I am willing to make the sacrifices required to get the best sound out of them. I enjoyed the DIY aspect in the past, but the MMG’s are a nice simple visual too. Their beigeness even blends perfectly with my bland walls.
So, what’s the score Mcgsxr?
Soundstage depth – MMG’s
Treble smoothness – MMG
Value – MMG
Airy smoothness – MMG
Bass (on their own, or integrated with a sub) – Totem Model 1’s
Placement simplicity – Totem Model 1’s
Looks – Totem Model 1’s
WAF – Totem Model 1’s – but really neither – my wife thinks this is all just nuts anyway, so get all those speakers out of my house you freak – oh wait, inside voice!
Soundstage width - tie
Treble detail – tie
Mids – tie
So you can see why for me, it is hard to name a winner. Either of these speakers provide me with hours of musical enjoyment. Both bring home the soul of the musical presentation that I treasure. Both require an amp capable of delivering power and lots of drive. If I was more of a rocker, the Totems would be the ones to go with.
Ultimately there is only one measure for a guy like me. Which speakers hit the Classifieds? Totem Model 1’s. I will miss them, no doubt, but the open, spacious sound of the MMG’s captures me more.
If you are wondering about planars, I cannot imagine a better gateway drug, errr entre!
Enter the bigger Maggies…
Speaking of gateway drugs, not long after buying the MMG’s and deciding to sell off the Totem Model 1’s, a set of Magnepan 1.6QR’s with Mye stands became available locally. With the $ from selling the Totems burning a hole in my pocket, and my experience with the MMG’s insidiously controlling me, I went for it.
Wow, the 1.6’s are MUCH larger. They sounded good where the MMG’s had been, but took me weeks to nail the placement for. Turns out it was close, just about 6 inches wider than the MMG’s had been, though with tweeters out for the 1.6’s.
The MMG’s and the 1.6’s are similar in amp load, so no tweaks to the gain pots on the Crown were required. I did end up buying a preamp at this point though. I had been warned that the MMG’s were much easier to satisfy with respect to ancillary equipment. I found that trying to use my modded Grant Fidelity DAC was more difficult than biting the bullet and sourcing a preamp.
I found an older NuForce AVP-16. Before you totally barf in your mouth about using a pre/pro as a pre in a 2 channel setup, some research might prove useful. I noted with interest that reviews of the AVP unit (remember this is a piece from around 2005 or so) all compared it well with the then dedicated NuForce preamp the P8. No one wanted to come right out and say that it sounded the same, but many referenced how close it sounded. The AVP used in bypass mode via the XLR outputs drives the Crown into the Maggies in a lovely fashion. The switched resister ladder type volume control used in the AVP is a very clean volume control indeed, and with 0.5dB steps available, it nails exactly how loud I want to listen to every time. I notice that a similar design volume control is still used today on many of the NuPrime units.
I find the 1.6’s deliver a ton more vs the MMG’s. More treble detail, more bass (legit down to 40Hz in my room which makes integrating my sub duck soup) and to my ears they give up nothing vs the MMG’s. Other than the imposing size, and similar spacing requirements. Interestingly, my best friend continues to suggest that the 1.6’s do give something up. He fully agrees that the 1.6’s deliver a more hifi experience, and that they have better bass and treble, and maintain the excellent mids. It is in musical presentation that he argues the MMG’s did something better. To his ears the MMG’s had a truly magical presentation – they brought the sound of that venue with that music directly to my room. He feels that the 1.6’s fail to live up to that magic. To my ears, in the present location, the 1.6’s do what he claims the MMG’s did. I guess that explains why I sold the MMG’s and kept the 1.6’s.
I do tend to vary my listening distance some when enjoying the 1.6’s. For certain music I shift a little further away. For others I love to move in a little closer. We’re talking about a foot or so, so my listening distance varies from 7-8 feet away from the plane of the speakers – serious listening I mean. When I play pool I am roughly 12-17 feet away, and when standing this is another area that the 1.6’s are better to my ears. The MMG’s delivered excellence when seated, but when I stood up the magic was lost. I recognize that many out there mod their MMG’s and I considered that. Having built OB speakers in the past, I am familiar with investing some sweat equity and ending up with excellent sound. In this case, for the ~$600 difference in cost between the MMG’s and 1.6’s I just went with buying the bigger brothers.
In reflecting on what I like about the 1.6’s I find myself absolutely entranced with how these deliver percussion, and delineation among instruments. As a trained musician I am familiar with the experience of performing inside an orchestra. I played a lot by ear in my youth, and I recall well playing my own part (1st violinist) while adjusting my playing to fit the sound of the rest of the players. These 1.6’s allow me to isolate any instrument in a piece and listen to it in isolation, or combine it with the others in a way that no other speaker I have ever owned has done. Additionally, the reproduction of cymbals and drum heads has never, ever been this good.
Is it perfect? No. Is it the best I have ever owned? Oh yes, no doubt. Audio nervosa never sleeps. At times I find myself wondering what joy a high end tubed preamp could bring, or a different amp – but then I also find myself lost in 4-5 hour listening sessions, lights out, eyes closed, unable to sit still as exceptional music flows.
It has been a long and interesting journey so far (somewhere around 20 years in the pursuit of excellent affordable musical reproduction) and I am very happy to have found these Maggies.