A no-holds-barred assault on what is possible in contemporary loudspeaker design.
every MAGICO speaker is designed against the standard of perfect audio reproduction - live music.

MAGICO was created over a decade ago for the sole purpose of leading a no-holds-barred assault on what is possible in contemporary loudspeaker design. Inspired by the unique vision of industrial designer Alon Wolf, every MAGICO speaker is designed against the standard of perfect audio reproduction - live music. At MAGICO, we strive to lead in the creation, development and manufacture of the most advanced loudspeaker systems in the world. MAGICO uses state-of-the-art computer-graphic modeling, precision real-time analysis and the most sophisticated CAD acoustic simulators and emulators available today. We create industrial "works of art" that simply outperform any custom or commercially available speaker system in the world. MAGICO is located in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California



this is the kind of insane passionate stuff that used to propel HighEnd Audio to excel and stretch.
Srajan Ebaen

With their ultra performance and good looks ascertained, I also found myself satisfied when asking the tough questions about where and how a prospective customer's money has been spent. Having worked in loudspeaker manufacturing, I have some context. After Alon itemized the cost sheet, I can tell you categorically that this speaker is well underpriced. But then, its designer is realistic enough to concede that even so, it still poses quite the perceptional hurdle to most potential buyers - until they actually hear one. 

Extreme. While the subject of this review is a conventionally sized sealed-box two-way, neither the Mini nor its designer Alon Wolf go about things conventionally. To appreciate the design genetics of the Mini's extreme bloodline, a glance at Alon's soon-to-launch 5-way Ultimate hornspeaker and some of its precursors will be, er - as instrumental as the piano and guitar above. Among other things, Alon studied classical guitar and plays to this day. He won the Sharet Scholarship for Gifted Musicians at age 16, six years after building his first Peerless kit speaker.
Recording maestro Paul Stubblebein owns the anthracite 1000 lbs Reference towers above. Jeff Rowland showed with Alon's Minis at CES 2005, ordered a pair and already owns the red Model 3 [above with ribbon tweeter]. Wayne Garcia of The Absolute Sound lives 10 minutes from Alon's Oakland digs yet never knew about it. This is representative of Magico's behind-the-scenes evolution. They've been building colossal machined or cast aluminum enclosures in one-up iterations for a decade now to perfect the art. They take ambitious 3-D renderings and computer simulations to rubber-on-the-road reality testing and subsequent performance in the homes of a few in-the-know 'philes and industry insiders. While certain ecstatic owners thus know about Magico and keep the underground grape vine alive, the industry and press at large neither know nor buzz. Yet. That's about to change. Asia's most prominent HighEnd magazine Stereo Sound will publish a review of Magico's Minis in the next issue. The Japanese connection just established in the wake of Magico's CES 2005 showing. The speed by which our top-ranking Asian colleague purportedly reacted to the landing of the Magico Mini on Nipponese soil -- and put pen to paper nearly instantaneously -- seems indicative. Writers thrive on feeling inspired.
Until Stereo Sound's and our own feature review of the Minis, the major reason why Magico will soon enter the limelight of serious attention? For launching the most ambitious production hornspeaker ever attempted. The above Reference is nearing completion as I write this. In fact, your reporter is scheduled to revisit Oakland in a few month for an on-site feature session on the first pair. It will be installed at Dr. Jim Langham's. Jim graciously set me up in his home while I was testing Alon's Mini in two different systems during a recent weekend visit. I wanted to presample the Mini to determine whether to do the review honors on its formal US debut. Affirmative on the latter. More on this in a bit.
Creativity in extreme action, without accepting inherent compromises -- by cutting corners to reduce costs and evade certain manufacturing complexities -- usually entails one-up custom work. This is reminiscent of the blue-blooded art patrons and benefactors of Europe's 19th century Renaissance courts. Composers, painters, sculptors, poets and architects could pursue their muse because a duke or count shared their artistic vision and financed its manifestations with prepaid commissions.
Alon's prior work has convinced a number of well-off music lovers that his 5-driver 4-horn dream will become the ultimate expression of the art. Commissions for a few pairs have greenlighted the project. It's nearing completion in a few months. This includes a 5-way active digital crossover by way of a heavily modified DEQX and custom 5-channel Benchmark DAC tweaked and hotrodded by Stephen Balliet of Reflection Audio. Stephen delivered a prototype to Alon during my visit. We heard the converter in stereo by paralleling 10 DACs per channel for true 21-bit resolution. Future owner Jim Langham heard it as well - and he uses the most current dCS triple stack (extensively modified with Bybee devices), the Meitner DAC, a Goldmund transport and the Altis digital duo in his personal setup. Stiff standards, those. For now, let's just say that the ears of our test group pricked up in a big way when Balliet's converter fired up.
The scale of the Ultimates becomes appreciable when you consider how the 6' deep and 4' wide solid aluminum Tractrix mid-bass horn dwarfs the custom welder in the left photos. To put raw parts cost of this extreme attempt into perspective, consider that the Ale compression drivers from Japan weigh in at $10,000/pr and there's three per side plus a TAD midbass unit. Last but not least is the massive new 15-inch Aura woofer that will reproduce 100Hz-down bass i a sealed enclosure. I snuck in a CD for scale. Can you say monstrous?  
Dr. Jim Langham has owned Avantgarde Trios and still owns Dunlavy's top model with the expanded time-aligned d'Appollito array terminating in 15" woofers top and bottom. A veteran audiophile with extensive experience over a 40-year career, Jim has concluded that he needs horn-loaded drivers and perfect phase/time behavior to have it all. When Alon demonstrated a jerry-rigged mock-up system [above] to test the concept, Jim and another Bay Area aficionado knew in an instant. The rest will soon be history. 6moons is privileged to have been invited for the scheduled launch at Cape Canaveral/Oakland. Talk about anticipation.  
So, who is Alon Wolf? The short version takes note that he left his native Israel after entering the prestigious air force academy. He'd taken advantage of its Physics and aerodynamics training courses before a deep-seated resistance to taking orders and being shoehorned into a line of command took over. Having visited his Americanized dad during his youth -- getting picked up from the airport in a gleaming black Lincoln with leather seating and automatic everything to discover color television -- had ruined Alon for Israel. "After my first visit to the US, I was depressed for a month coming back home. I nearly didn't get out of bed."
Like most greenhorn immigrants, Alon's dreams of golden opportunities and steep career developments initially met with the usual reality bites reactions. His time as 4.50/hr car wash attendant in Van Nuys ranks among his most frustrated memories of gloomy defeat, ever. But Alon's a tough nut of significant resourcefulness who held firmly to his dreams. His first turn at advancement occurred by way of a start-up hi-tech company that was in the process of developing a solicitation sales force for its two-way video security interface. Working his way up to becoming the top producer within the first year, he was asked to spearhead the opening of a Santa Barbara branch. His rapid success there made him a lot of money and compelled Alon to start his own securities firm in the Bay Area. Now making serious money as his own boss, he decided to begin integrating his old ambitions at speaker design. He purchased a $50,000 state-of-the-art computer and a $45,000 piece of cutting-edge 3-D software to explore complex cabinet shapes. Teaching himself how to use it, he soon grew into unexpected demand as an industrial design consultant and graphics animation artist. He has worked on movies like the original Shrek and Antz and with companies like Disney, Sony, Lucas Arts, Electronic Arts and DreamWorks. 
Alon began loudspeaker design like most everything else he's ever tackled - as auto didact, reading every book available, asking tough questions, working his way through every single driver extant (including the Japanese Gotos), building one-up enclosures for them, testing them with sophisticated software that presently includes measuring driver behavior under high power (i.e. with 50 watts of RMS input rather than the ubiquitous 2.83 volts). Even most very highly regarded transducers, according to Wolf, display some highly non-linear unacceptable behavior when tested under real-world power inputs rather than the usual test bench protocols of weak test tones.
Initially targeted at US$12,000/pr inclusive of stands, the Magico Mini -- envisioned to becoming a widely sellable ultra-performance monitor for space-challenged 'philes rather than yet another one-up hyper effort at super-heavy, large full-range speakers [above] -- the Mini suffered at the hands of Alon's stern denial to cut corners. When the final bill of goods presented itself, it had grown to US$30,000/pr, with the maker's profit margin less than one third of what is customary.
The reasons for these costs are many. The 7" mid/woofer is the only one in the world to combine Titanium skins with a bonded foam layer for self-damping. There's only one man on the planet willing and capable of making it. Consequently, parts cost is 10 times higher than a really good equivalent Scanspeak. The front baffle is solid aircraft-grade aluminum machined into bowing contours that take 6 hours of CNC time per baffle. The cabinet uses stacked bonded premium-grade Birch ply rather than MDF or HDF and is a bear to finish to the requisite levels.
Lateral full-length bolts connect the aluminum front baffle and the equivalent rear insert under precisely administered torque. Tolerances are excessive to guarantee gas-tight seals for the acoustic suspension.
The 3rd-order crossover nests in an interior well of the bottom panel and uses ultra-expensive German Mundorf capacitors and foil inductors. The tweeter is Scanspeak's top ring radiator. All internal wiring is low-gauge ultra-pure solid-core copper.
The internal cabinet surfaces are lined with very thick hi-tech foam especially formulated for audio applications. Like with everything else he does, Wolf is exceptionally hostile towards voodoo claims, fancy marketing bullshit disguised as white papers, impossible crossovers, unobtainium parts and the like. His ingredients and assembly protocol are an open book. You know exactly what you're getting and how it works. Here it includes solid aluminum stands more than 100 lbs heavy, constrained between bonded Ply stacks and designed to complement the speaker in appearance and construction while providing a precisely angled 2.7-degree, tripod ball-bearing interface pedestal for proper driver alignment.
To demonstrate what the Mini -- unassisted by a subwoofer -- could do in a truly cavernous space, Alon took me to his friend and client Peter who runs 150-watt BAT tube monos and Rockport's famous turntable.
While Alon uses Nelson Pass' new X350.5 and various Jeff Rowland amps in his own setup (fronted by the mighty mbl transport and a Pacific Microsonics professional mastering DAC running into Paul Weitzel's extreme Tube Research Labs triode preamp with an outboard valve power supply the size of Ken Stevens' biggest CAT mono), he was keen to present the Minis in a completely different system so I could hear them in two environments to take their pulse and decide whether to accept the proposed review assignment. (At 6moons, that's part of our upfront "due diligence" process and here became relevant because I had overlooked to visit Alon's CES exhibit prior to the last day. The closed door then reminded me that he'd specifically told me in advance how he'd have to cut his show attendance short by one day due to an unavoidable business meeting that he had to make first thing Monday morning back in the Bay Area.) I don't know about you but   
reviewing a $20,000 Mini does mandate some prior exploration to make the prospect comfortable. Nothing is less pleasant than bitching about performance and price once you've committed to going forward no matter what. For me, this was an opportunity to read the fine print before I signed on the dotted line.
The "stand-in" demo in Peter's neo-gothic wing cast such a capacious soundstage filling a completely counter-intuitive cubic volume -- and at very happy levels -- that if Alon had any reservations about me getting the concept of the mondo monitor, they were gone with the proverbial wind. Frankly my dear, I do give a damn! 
While expensive as sin without apologies or guilty confessions, my first impressions in Oakland have me convinced that even under serious fire -- i.e. John Corigliano's Chaconne for solo violin and orchestra based on his score for The Red Violin -- the Magico Minis don't falter to telegraph the usual limitations of two-way speakers. They act far more like good conventional three-ways except for the lowest bass. Due to their sealed alignment, it attenuates rather rapidly below 40Hz especially when deprived of any room gain as in Peter's space. With their ultra performance and good looks ascertained, I also found myself satisfied when asking the tough questions about where and how a prospective customer's money has been spent. Having worked in loudspeaker manufacturing, I have some context. After Alon itemized the cost sheet, I can tell you categorically that this speaker is well underpriced. But then, its designer is realistic enough to concede that even so, it still poses quite the perceptional hurdle to most potential buyers - until they actually hear one. He's thus resigned himself to marketing an expensive loss leader that should spread the word about Magico's corporate culture of pursuing the extreme. (Corporate culture my ass. Alon's far more the corporate anti Christ).
After weighing my auditory impressions and perceived real-world implications, I've committed to a formal review and should take receipt of a loaner sample later this month. Anyone pu(ni)shing the envelope like Mr. Wolf has made it his business deserves fair publicity even if the old check book response might be more restrained. Nobody complains when Porsche or Ferrari go to town. Hence, I shall disregard my own far more - er, proletarian roots and mingle with the what-if crowd for this occasion. One, it's fun. Two, it's educational to learn what can be done when the usual constraints of cost have been discarded like rusty prison shackles. Three, this is the kind of insane passionate stuff that used to propel HighEnd Audio to excel and stretch. Four, 6moons is in the audio news business. If this ain't news, my instincts just died a sad and horrible death. So come back to learn more about what taunts us here as being perhaps the most radical two-way two-driver monitor ever stuck into a small box.
the V3 demonstrates that it is one that is here to stay.
John Atkinson

....its combination of low-frequency majesty and definition, its clean, grain-free high frequencies, and the superbly transparent window it opens on the recorded soundstage, all make it a shoe-in for Class A in this magazine's 

The conventional wisdom in publishing is that magazines are dependent on scoops—that getting the news out to the readers first is of primary importance. Yes, being timely with what it has to say is important for any publication. But soon after I joined Stereophile in 1986, a series of negative experiences with review samples that were little better than prototypes led me to rethink the need for scoops. As a result, I decided to impose restrictions on what we chose to review; this would allow us to focus the magazine's review resources on products that were out of beta testing and were ready for prime time, and, most important, would be representative of what our readers could audition for themselves at specialty retailers, confident in the knowledge that what they heard would be what we had reviewed. 
I also didn't want Stereophile to become an intrinsic part of a new company's marketing effort—or, indeed, its only marketing effort. If a company wanted to crack the US market, then they would first have to do the legwork of setting up distribution and signing up dealers before this magazine would review its products. 
The result was what we call, in-house, "The Five Dealer Rule": a product must be available through at least five US retail outlets before it qualifies for a full review in Stereophile. 
Inevitably, this rule, as well-intentioned and effective as it may be, results in the magazine occasionally being scooped on "hot" products that explode onto the scene at hi-fi shows. An example was the Mini, a $20,000 stand-mounted speaker from Magico, a Bay Area manufacturer new to me. At the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, the buzz among audio writers was "Have you heard the Mini?" But CES is so big and so brief that I didn't get to hear the Magico Mini there. A scoop review appeared in the August 2006 issue of The Abso!ute Sound, but, as Magico's founder, Alon Wolf, told me when I finally did get to the company's room at the 2007 CES, it wouldn't have made any difference—at the time, he still didn't have enough dealers to qualify for a review in Stereophile. 
At CES 2007, Magico had three dealers and was well on track to getting more. I found Wolf's honesty refreshing and promised him that, when Magico had reached the magic number of five dealers, I wanted to review not the Mini but the new V3. The V3 had impressed me at CES while playing There Lies the Home, by the male vocal group Cantus, which I had engineered (CD, Cantus CTS-1206). In the meantime, I asked Jason Victor Serinus to work on an interview with Alon Wolf, which appears elsewhere in this issue. 
The V3 
By the time it was officially introduced in summer 2007, the Magico V3 ($25,000/pair) had changed a little from the prototype I had seen and heard at CES the previous January, but its enclosure still featured truly heroic construction. Alon Wolf's intention was to give the drive-units the ultimate stable platform from which to launch sound into the room. The front baffle and the rear panel are CNC-machined from 1"-thick aluminum, this anodized black to give a hard, matte finish. Seen from above, the baffle has a visually pleasing convex curve, and the two aluminum sections are held together under tension by internal rods. Squeezed tightly between the front and rear panels, the side and top panels are formed from hollowed-out, vertical rectangular sheets of 1"-thick plywood (I counted 17 plys), but these are rotated through 90° so that the edges face to the sides. Multiple sheets of plywood (I counted 15) are laminated to give the desired cabinet depth, the edges of the ply sheets giving the sides of the speaker an attractive striped appearance. The top is veneered, as are the front section surrounding the aluminum baffle and the rear section covering most of the aluminum rear panel, these sealed with an attractive satin finish. The enclosure sits on a black plinth that's coupled to the floor with carpet-piercing spikes. 
The drivers are clamped to the rear surface of the front baffle—radiused recesses on the front surface minimize any cavity effects—so there is no danger of the fasteners working loose over time, as can happen with woodscrews and MDF. Unusually for a relatively new company, three of the V3's four drive-units are manufactured in-house. All three were designed by Magico's chief technology officer, Yair Tammam. 
The exception is the tweeter, the top-of-the-line 1" ring-radiator Revelator unit from ScanSpeak. It is actually mounted flush with the baffle at the sides, but the convex curve of the latter does give rise to a small lip above and below the mounting plate. Mounted just below the tweeter is the 6" midrange unit. This has what appears to be a cone formed from a black woven material and is terminated with a half-roll rubber surround. There is no dustcap, the cone smoothly continuing to the center. The cone isn't woven, however, but is made of a sandwich material. A core of Rohacell, a foam/composite material used to make helicopter rotor blades, is coated with layers of carbon nanotubes, which Magico calls Nano-Tec. The whole is said to be extraordinarily stiff yet exceedingly light, allowing the cone to behave as a perfect piston throughout its operating range. 
The twin 7" woofers, mounted one above the other at the base of the baffle, use cones of the same material, but with a larger half-roll surround to allow greater linear excursion. Like its midrange unit, the V3's woofer uses a powerful neodymium magnet and a titanium voice-coil, with an underhung structure to minimize magnetic nonlinearities. 
The V3's crossover is built of high-quality parts manufactured by the German Raimund Mundorf company, including Mcap ultra-low–inductance capacitors, and inductors wound from oxygen-free copper foil. The topology is said to be the world's first Elliptical Symmetry Crossover (ESXO). The internal wiring is "six nines" (99.99997%) solid-core copper in various gauges, and electrical connection is via a single pair of binding posts at the base of the cabinet's rear aluminum panel. There is no grille. 
Super Sonics 
Although its sealed-box woofer loading means that the rate of low-frequency rolloff is half that of an equivalent ported design, the V3 did require some care in setup so that the bass didn't sound a little lean. In fact, even though the review samples had been broken-in before they were shipped to me, the low frequencies continued to loosen up over the next two weeks of daily use. Not that the V3 will ever sound overripe, but once it had settled in, and with the right choice of amplifier, its low frequencies offered perhaps the best combination of low-frequency extension, bass weight, and overall definition I have experienced in my room. It even surpassed in this respect the KEF Reference 207/2, which I reviewed in February, though that speaker, with its three 10" lower-frequency drive-units, had considerably greater dynamic range in the bass region. 
However, the V3 was fussy when it came to amplification. It definitely worked best with the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks and No.380S preamp, a combination that can sound a bit bloated and slow with some speakers. The Parasound Halo JC 2 preamp and Halo JC 1 monoblocks, which had worked so well with the KEF 207/2s, were just too lean with the Magicos, as was the balance when I tried the Musical Fidelity Superchargers. But with the Levinsons, there was a coupling of bass weight and low-frequency definition that I found addictive. 
I have been playing a lot of late a CD-R that recording engineer Tony Faulkner had pressed into my hands at the 2004 Heathrow Show. It was a live recording he had just done of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes, performing Gustav Holst's The Planets (subsequently released on CD as Warner Classics 61991). The disc had gotten lost among the many piles in my listening room, and I uncovered it while tidying up in mid-December to get the room presentable for Alon Wolf, who was visiting to help set up the V3s. The Planets has long been a favorite of mine, but what was especially compelling about this release was that it includes an eighth movement, Pluto (The Renewer), composed by Colin Matthews, a commission from the UK's venerable Hallé orchestra. I remain unsure of its musical merit, but Pluto is definitely a hi-fi spectacular, with a monstrous organ pedal, a massive gong, a powerful bass drum, and blaring, appropriately blatty brass, all of which were reproduced to perfection by the V3s. 
I have mentioned in previous reviews Trentemøller's 2006 CD of chill-out music, The Last Resort (Pokerflat PFRCD18). While the tracks on this album vary in mood and tone color, a common factor is the use of a synthesized bass line that remains resolutely in the lowest regions. Track 3, for example, "Evil Dub," at one point has a bass riff that repeats B (62Hz, footnote 1), C (66.5Hz), and two Gs (47.6Hz), with almost no higher harmonic content. Differentiating the exact pitch being played with short-lived pure tones below 60Hz (footnote 2) is not as easy as you might think, as it demands that the loudspeaker add nothing of its own. Unfortunately, this is also the frequency region where reflex speakers have their port resonances and room acoustics are least well behaved—and Trentemøller compounds the difficulty by adding a synthesized kick drum that fills in the spectral holes two or four times every measure. Yet the sealed-box Magicos managed to maximally differentiate pitch in this difficult region with this difficult recording—to my surprise, they did better in this respect than the Sennheiser HD580 headphones that are connected to my test-lab computer. And, of course, full-range loudspeakers do a far superior job than headphones of communicating the music's low-frequency power. 
But the ability to convey such power at low frequencies didn't result in fine detail becoming obscured. Toward the end of Saturn, from The Planets, a rising theme creeps in on the double basses under delicately descending broken chords in the harps and woodwinds. The third time it is softly doubled above by the cellos, and below by the organ pedals, the latter then reappearing in the final cadence to add majesty. Yet despite the V3s' 7" woofers working hard on this passage, I could still easily distinguish the organ from the double basses from the cellos—and without any disturbance or obscuring of the overall orchestral picture. 
When Alon Wolf helped me fine-tune the placement of the V3s in my room—something that the Magico dealer should do at this price level—and make small adjustments to the positions I had settled on to bring the mid- and upper-bass regions into better balance, he also experimented with toe-in and rake-back angles. Adjusting the rake-back by increasing the height of the front spikes so that my ears were closer to the midrange axis than to that of the tweeter brought the soundstage into optimal focus. Firing the speakers straight at me gave a balance that was a little tilted-up, tending to brightness. The best treble balance was obtained with the speaker slightly toed-in so that I could see about 5° worth of the inside side panels. The high frequencies were . . . well, I'll quote Jason Victor Serinus in his blog entry from the 2007 CES, referenced earlier: the Magico V3 was "not the least bit afraid" of its highs. "Cymbals sounded as close to real cymbals as I have ever heard them from a sound system. In addition, every teeny little nuance or sound in the studio could be heard, not in analytical or clinical fashion, but with unforced, 'you are there' veracity." 
After eight weeks of using the Magicos, I have little to add to Jason's words. The V3's top two octaves were beyond reproach, and the speaker really did love cymbals. The tweeters of inexpensive speakers dilute the metallic nature of the sound of cymbals, accentuating the swish. In the worst case, with inappropriate miking and cheap tweeters, what should be perceived as the sounds of real percussion instruments descend into nothing more than shaped and textured white noise. When I record a drum kit, I use as overhead mikes an ORTF pair of DPA 4011 cardioids, which, I have found, also are true to the sounds of cymbals. In "Fruit Forward," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), after the opening solo on fretless bass by Chris Jones, drummer Mark Flynn gently taps one of his ride cymbals with brushes. Yes, the swish is well-defined, but so is the fact that the cymbal is made of bronze. And when, at the end of the phrase, he plays around the cymbals, the Magico's Revelator tweeters made their different sizes readily apparent. 
This ability to decode subtle treble details was apparent on Rendezvous, my 1998 recording of the Jerome Harris Quintet (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2). I used the DPA cardioids for these sessions as well, during which drummer Billy Drummond made good use of his collection of antique Zildjian cymbals. Over the years since those sessions, I have come to love "Only Then," a ballad that opens with first vibraphonist Steve Nelson, then trombonist Art Baron playing the melodic line over a simple accompaniment from bassist Harris, while Drummond plays a countermelody on his cymbals and snare. The Magicos maximized the sonic differences between the various cymbals, and the quietness between the notes was quieter than I have been used to. 
Perhaps more impressive than the quality of the V3's treble playing these two jazz recordings was that the speakers seemed to entirely disappear, leaving the images of the instruments hanging in space in the acoustics of Manhattan's Merkin Hall and Salina, Kansas's Blue Heaven Studios, like the disembodied smiles of so many Cheshire Cats. This ability to acoustically remove themselves from the listening room is why I am a fan of good minimonitors, such as the AAD Reference Silver-1, which I reviewed in July 2007, and the Harbeth HL-P3ES2, which I wrote about in April 2007. The Magico V3 slipped easily into the company of those soundstaging highfliers—and of course can play very much louder and has pretty much full-range bass performance. 
But oh, how I appreciated the ability of this speaker to retrieve low-level details: the subtle texture of Jerome Harris's acoustic bass guitar, the subtle but unambiguous hints of the church acoustic surrounding his solos on Rendezvous that arose from the leakage of his amplifier's sound into the drum and vibes mikes, the slightly different character of the Lexicon-sourced reverb I used on his direct-injected intro to the final track, "Hand by Hand." 
I could say that listening to my own multimiked recordings through the Magico V3s flattered my abilities as a recording engineer. But comparing Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall with the recordings I've made of the band in various Manhattan jazz clubs using just two mikes, the essential honesty of those "purist" recordings was also very evident through the Magicos, despite the less-than-perfect instrumental balances and the often wayward club acoustics. 
I haven't mentioned issues of obvious coloration, and indeed, the V3 didn't suffer from such problems. Richard Lehnert's speaking voice on the channel-identification tracks on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) sounded as natural as I have heard. But the V3's balance was somewhat on the polite side. If the PSB Synchrony One, which I reviewed last month, had a balance that was occasionally too forward in the mid-treble, the Magico V3 was the opposite, being a bit too laid-back in absolute terms. This was less of an issue with well-engineered classical recordings, such as the Academy of Ancient Music's recent performance of Handel's Op.3 Concerti Grossi (CD, Harmonia Mundi USA 907415)—the V3's stable, spacious imaging enhanced the richness of the musical event. On the other hand, some rock recordings, such as the 96kHz-sampled version of Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II (DVD/CD, Reprise 340220-2), needed to be played back at a higher level than usual to generate the expected visceral excitement. 
That aside, I found the Magico's presentation addictive. Toward the end of the review period I received finished pressings of Stereophile's latest CD release, a reissue of Robert Silverman performing the two Rachmaninoff piano sonatas (STPH019-2). Although during the remastering I had auditioned this recording more times than I cared to count, when I put the CD in the Ayre C-5xe universal player's tray and pressed Play, hearing Bob's glorious performances through the Levinson-driven Magico V3s was like hearing them anew. 
Summing up 
My recent series of reviews of floorstanding speakers has uncovered three outstanding performers, two of them from Europe—the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa (US$20,800/pair, December 2007), and the KEF Reference 207/2 (US$20,000/pair, February 2008)—and one from Canada: the PSB Synchrony One (US$4500/pair, April 2008). I could happily live with any of the three. 
I can say the same about this home-grown contender. Yes, the Magico V3's sealed-box woofer loading will need careful matching to both amplifier and room, and its somewhat laid-back mid-treble might not be to the taste of some listeners. But its combination of low-frequency majesty and definition, its clean, grain-free high frequencies, and the superbly transparent window it opens on the recorded soundstage, all make it a shoe-in for Class A in this magazine's "Recommended Components" listing. 
Three more pairs of floorstanding loudspeakers and one pair of minimonitors are waiting in the on-deck circle outside my listening-room door; mere days after submitting this review for publication, I will have to wrangle the V3s back into their crates to be shipped back to Magico. I have high expectations of the next speakers to take up residence in my listening room, but I will certainly miss the V3s. Magico may be a relatively new loudspeaker manufacturer, but the V3 demonstrates that it is one that is here to stay. 
........ John Atkinson
the V3 absolutely bowled me over from the first seconds it began reproducing music in my home, and maintained this grip up to the minute I had to pack it up
Robert Harley

The V3’s special qualities are instantly obvious, and immediately identify the V3 as not just another loudspeaker. The V3 has three characteristics that are, in my experience, state of the art, and which combine synergistically to make this such a musically compelling and rewarding loudspeaker. Those three qualities are the richness, density, and truthfulness of tone color; the palpability and tangibility of instrumental images; and the resolution and separation of individual instrumental lines. Any one of these qualities would have made the V3 a great loudspeaker, but with all three present simultaneously, the effect is jaw-dropping.

Magico founder Alon Wolf made an off-hand comment to me that cut to the core of how he approaches loudspeaker design. We were setting up the V3 in my listening room when he remarked that he had hoped the V3 would cost less than $20,000, but “we couldn’t get the level of performance we wanted at that price.” Rather than compromise the sound quality to hit a price point, he designed the speaker to deliver certain performance criteria and set the price after the speaker met his goals.
It’s simply not in Wolf ’s nature to accept compromised performance. High-end audio is filled with perfectionists, but Wolf takes perfectionism to an extreme. As you’ll see in the Technology sidebar to this review, and in Jonathan Valin’s accompanying review of the Magico Mini II, Wolf builds loudspeakers to an uncompromising vision.
The V3 is the first Magico loudspeaker that is truly a commercially viable product. The company’s previous efforts have been ultra-exotic (the US$329,000 Ultimate that I profiled in Issue 160), extremely limited in production (the $120,000 Reference used in mastering studios), or have appealed to a very small pool of potential buyers (the $29,600 Mini II mini-monitor). The V3 is an attempt to bring the exotic technologies employed in these previous products to a loudspeaker that makes sense to a larger audience of music lovers. Although US$25,000 is hardly chicken feed, it is nonetheless a price breakthrough for a full-range, floorstanding loudspeaker from Magico.
As described in the sidebar comparing and contrasting the V3 with the similarly priced Revel Salon2 I reviewed last issue, this new Magico represents minimalist design in its purist form. There’s no grille to cover the drivers, no glossy veneers, and no fancy brochure. What you get instead is a product that’s entirely performance driven, with the external appearance reflecting the loudspeaker’s core technologies.
The V3 is a three-way, floorstanding speaker employing dual 7" drivers coupled to a 6" midrange and a 1" ScanSpeak Super Revelator tweeter. The woofers and midrange driver are all custom made by Magico, and feature exotic materials and construction (see Jonathan Valin’s sidebar on “Nano-Tec” technology in this issue). The midrange and tweeter are similar to those used in the Mini II. In essence, the V3 is a Mini II in a floorstanding enclosure augmented by the dual 7" woofers.
But how can a three-way, four-driver floorstanding speaker be less expensive than a stand-mounted two-way that employs the same drivers? First, the Mini’s stands, which are an essential component of the speaker and account for three fifths of the product’s total weight, are extremely expensive to manufacture. That money was spent on the V3’s larger cabinet and additional drivers. Second, the Mini’s cabinet construction is over-the-top; sheets of birch ply are machined into a shape that includes the internal ribs, and then glued together into a solid block to produce a structure of unparalleled rigidity—and unparalleled expense. The V3’s cabinet is still made from birch ply (Wolf rejects MDF as a cabinet material—see the accompanying interview), but is built differently. The sheets of birch ply are cut into 1.5"-thick strips which are glued together to create the enclosure.1 Between the cost savings of this technique and cutting out the expense of stands, Magico was able to deliver a three-way, floorstanding loudspeaker with same drivers as the Mini for less money. Although the V3 lacks the cost-no-object cabinet construction of the Mini, it has in its favor the three-way design, which keeps low frequencies out of the midrange driver, not to mention extending bass response. (See “Technology” sidebar for more details on the V3’s drivers and construction.)
The V3 is’t one of those products that I listened to for a long period, cataloging its strengths and shortcomings with intellectual detachment and then dispassionately judging its sonic trade-offs relative to similarly priced competitors. Instead, the V3 absolutely bowled me over from the first seconds it began reproducing music in my home, and maintained this grip up to the minute I had to pack it up for shipment for this issue’s cover photography. (The V3s are, however, coming back to me after the photo shoot.)
The V3’s special qualities are instantly obvious, and immediately identify the V3 as not just another loudspeaker. The V3 has three characteristics that are, in my experience, state of the art, and which combine synergistically to make this such a musically compelling and rewarding loudspeaker. Those three qualities are the richness, density, and truthfulness of tone color; the palpability and tangibility of instrumental images; and the resolution and separation of individual instrumental lines. Any one of these qualities would have made the V3 a great loudspeaker, but with all three present simultaneously, the effect is jaw-dropping.
Let’s explore these areas individually. In its ability to make reproduced instruments sound like the instruments themselves, the V3 was unparalleled, in my experience. Timbres had the depth, density, intensity, and richness that one hears in life. The V3’s low coloration allowed tone colors to be reproduced naturally, rather than being overlaid with a synthetic patina. In addition to this low coloration, the V3 had a startling transparency that allowed timbres to emerge in their full glory. Reviewers often draw an analogy between system transparency and washing a window; listening through the V3 wasn’t like washing a window—it was like removing the glass entirely. Another contributing factor to this truthfulness in timbre was undoubtedly the V3’s spectacular resolution of low-level information, in this case the fine harmonic and dynamic structures that underpin timbre. This micro-detail contains a wealth of information about how the sound was created, infusing timbres with a vividness and palpability that was striking. I could name just about any instrument on any album I listened to as an example of this, but two instruments stood out as preternaturally realistic. The first was Hubert Laws’ flute on the Victor Feldman LP Secret of the Andes (available on JVC XRCD as Audiophile). This album, recorded by the great Alan Sides with tubed microphones live to an Ampex ATR-100, is terrific-sounding to begin with. Through the V3, however, the unaccompanied flute passage was startling in its sense of the instrument actually being in my listening room. I could hear the slight puff of breath at the beginning of notes as the air entered the flute’s embouchure, the subtle amplitude modulation of the air vibrating inside the tube, and the sound of air escaping from the open valves. On the track “Pound for a Brown” from Zappa’s magnificent orchestral album The Yellow Shark, there’s an ostinato figure played by a bass clarinet that struck me with its startling realism. I had a vivid impression of the instrument, of the reed moving back and forth and of the richness of that instrument’s unique timbre. I describe these impressions not because I’m a detail freak who points to such resolution as desirable for its own sake, but to convey the idea that these details added up to a reproduction of instrumental tone colors that was a significant step closer to what one hears from live instruments. These examples are purely for illustration; the gestalt of the V3 is that every time I sat down to listen, I heard the most natural reproduction of instruments and voices I’ve experienced from a hi-fi system.
The V3’s next quality, the palpability of images, is closely related to the timbral realism just described. Images were presented in space with a tangibility and solidity that were breathtaking. Here’s an anecdote that suggests just how palpable and tangible the V3’s imaging is. I have parallel systems in my listening room—a stereo system and a multichannel system for music and film. The twochannel signal path is completely independent of the multichannel signal path, and the video is provided by a ceiling-mount projector and retractable screen. The first full day I had the V3, I went in the listening room in the morning, put on a CD, and when I sat down, immediately thought that the center-channel speaker (a Wilson WATCH) was active. (It is possible to play a CD in my system and hear music from the multichannel system, although I never use it for that purpose.) The sense of palpability and solidity of the images between the pair of V3s was so powerful that I got up out of my chair, convinced that I had inadvertently engaged the center-channel speaker. Images thrown by the V3 have a right there quality, both in the precision of their placement on the soundstage and in their vividness and immediacy.
The third remarkable quality about the V3 is its ability to present music as a group of separate musical lines interwoven into a whole. Individual instrumental voices were clearly resolved, rather than congealed into one big image. The V3 was simply revelatory when reproducing dense, complex music; I could hear the musical contributions of even the quietest instruments in the arrangement. Rather than being obscured or thickened into a monolithic presentation, every instrumental line was its own entity.
The musical effect of this sonic virtue cannot be overstated; music had more meaning when every element the composer wrote or the musician played was clearly revealed. This was particularly apparent on orchestral works, but was meaningful across all types of music. Listening to a straight-ahead jazz CD I engineered (Confirmation by the Chiz Harris Quartet, recorded live in the studio to two-track), the unison phrases between Conti Candoli on flugelhorn and Jay Migliore on tenor sax revealed the V3’s startling ability to convey the two instruments’ individual tone colors.
These three characteristics—timbral realism, image palpability, and separation of musical lines—combined in a way that elevated the listening experience to a new level of involvement and connection. An analogy that embodies these three qualities is high-quality analog playback compared with mediocre digital. The mediocre digital is somewhat flat, with a synthetic character overlaying timbres, a congealing of individual instruments, and a lack of immediacy. The V3 is more like analog playback, even with digital sources (albeit great digital like the Esoteric P-03/D-03 combination with the G-0Rb rubidium clock). That said, LPs played on the fully loaded Basis 2800 Signature turntable and Vector 4 tonearm through the V3 took the system to yet another level. This is a speaker that will reveal everything about what’s upstream of it, and one whose resolution limits must be explored with first-rate analog gear. Put on the direct-to-disc LP Michael Newman, Guitarist on Sheffield, close your eyes, and the sense of hearing a classical guitar right before you is spooky-real. This record, on this system, is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing a live instrument in my listening room.
Part and parcel of this transparency was the V3’s open, extended, and airy treble. The top end was highly resolved, with clean rendering of transient information. The treble balance was on the lively side, although the amount of treble at the listening position could be changed with fine adjustment of toe-in. As great a tweeter as the Super Revelator is, I thought that it wasn’t quite as smooth as the tweeter in the Revel Salon2 reviewed last issue, and didn’t quite integrate as well with the upper midrange. The Salon2 is the best dynamic speaker I’ve heard in this regard, and a tough act to follow.
The V3’s soundstaging was no less impressive than the rest of the product’s performance. The pair of Magico’s painted a vast space in front of me, with extraordinary resolution of spatial detail. For my money, no one captures a sense of space on a recording like Keith Johnson, and his latest effort, Crown Imperial, was simply staggering through the V3. (Crown Imperial is “festive music for organ, winds, brass, and percussion” performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony under Jerry Junkin on the Reference Recordings label.) Each instrument is laid out in a threedimensional diorama occupying a specific point in space with a palpable sense of air between the images. The soundstage replaces the acoustic of the listening room, with the stage rear apparently across the street. In addition, the V3 had a “wrap-around” effect that was eerily similar to what I hear from good multichannel recordings that have just a hint of ambience encoded in the rear channels. Those multichannel recordings, and the V3 in stereo, seem to extend the soundstage’s lateral boundaries around to the sides of the listening position. This quality contributed greatly to the sense of immersion in the performance.
The V3’s bass presentation was different from what I’m used to—it’s been quite a long time since I had a loudspeaker with a sealed enclosure in my listening room. The V3’s midbass and bass were well balanced with the rest of the spectrum, with a solid sense of weight and bottom-end impact. The resolution of pitch in the lower octaves was outstanding, as was the transient performance. This was particularly apparent (and welcome) on acoustic bass in jazz, where I could hear a wealth of tonal and dynamic nuances in a way that brought the instrument to life. The midbass was exceptionally quick, clean, and dynamic, giving the entire presentation a feeling of agility and rhythmic drive. The V3’s bass doesn’t pack the punch of, for example, the Revel Salon2 or Wilson MAXX 2, but it has a refinement, smoothness, and extension that were fully satisfying on a wide range of music.
The V3’s drivers and cabinet construction are unlike those used in other loudspeakers. As described in the body of the review, the enclosure is made from stacked slices of 1.5"-thick birch ply, which gives the V3’s side panels their distinctive striations. The baffle on which the drivers are mounted is a curved slab of 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum. The slab begins as a rectangle and spends eight hours in a CNC machine to create the curved shape and to machine the driver openings and driver-mounting system. The baffle is bead-blasted to give it a lustrous sheen, and then anodized black to strengthen the metal. This expensive technique was employed not only because aluminum is more rigid and less resonant than MDF, but also because it provides a much more secure platform for mounting the drivers. The maximum amount of torque that can be applied to a bolt holding a driver in MDF is 3 Newton/meters (after which the MDF strips). The V3’s drivers are mounted with a force of 11 Newton/meters. According to Magico, drivers mounted to MDF loosen over time; drivers mounted to aluminum do not. Incidentally, an early prototype (shown at the 2007 CES) used a much less expensive flat aluminum baffle, but that solution was rejected in favor of the better-sounding curved baffle (the baffle’s curvature reduces diffraction). The baffle is attached to the cabinet by a unique method that avoids bolts penetrating the birch cabinet. Six 1"-square solid-aluminum rods are spaced horizontally at intervals behind the baffle. The 12 Allen bolts you see on the baffle go into these rods, in effect squeezing the birch front panel between the aluminum baffle and anchors at the back of each rod. The crossovers were designed using computer modeling, with much of the modeling software written in-house. They are so-called “elliptical” crossovers in that they can create steeper slopes with fewer components. A drawback to elliptical crossovers is that they are very finicky, and must be fine-tuned to high precision. The parts quality throughout the crossover is over-the-top. For example, one of the crossover inductors costs $126; most loudspeakers use an inductor (of the same electrical value) that costs $8. As described in detail by Jonathan Valin in his review of Magico’s Mini II this issue, the drivers are custom-made from scratch. The Mini II uses the same midrange and tweeter as the V3, but the floorstanding speaker augments this array with two 7" woofers of similar construction (and cone material).
A Tale of Two Loudspeakers: The Magico V3 and Revel Salon2
The $21,998 Revel Ultima Salon2 reviewed last issue left my listening room (for cover photography) the same day that the V3 arrived. Given this timing, and the loudspeakers’ similar prices, it makes sense to compare and contrast these products, particularly considering the Salon2’s terrific performance.
First, the companies building these great loudspeakers couldn’t be more different from one another. Revel is part of the huge Harman International conglomerate, and consequently, the Salon2 represents the effort of perhaps a dozen or more engineers. From driver designers to crossover experts to production engineers who have an interest in making the design practical to build on a relatively large scale, the Salon2 is a team effort. By contrast, Magico is a tiny company and its products reflect its founder’s single-minded vision. The V3 is very much the work of an auteur. Outside companies are contracted to build certain components, but under tight control.
Which approach theoretically produces a superior product? One could argue that a single person can’t possibly possess the combined expertise of a team of engineers. One could also posit that “design by committee” inevitably results in compromise. (I’m reminded of the Stanley Kubrick quote: “One man writes a novel. One man composes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a movie.”)
Another question is whether relatively large-scalemanufactured speakers such as Revel’s can match the quality of small-scale, hand-built speakers such as Magico’s—or vice versa. Magico can employ tweaky build techniques that are simply impractical on a larger scale. On the other hand, higher-volume manufacturing confers an economy of scale that allows the larger company to deliver greater value. By creating greater efficiency, the larger company can put that money saved into the product itself. In addition, Magico could never spend a fraction of the money Revel spent on tooling for the Salon2, but conversely, Magico can employ build techniques that are impractical for large-scale manufacturing.
Much effort was put into making the Salon2 elegant and attractive. The V3, by contrast, is very much a “form follows function” product. There’s no sonically superfluous patina of elegance in the V3; its visual beauty flows from the underlying design principles. In fact, the V3 is supplied without a grille. The V3 is like a sports car that comes without air conditioning, a stereo, or heated and powered seats. This is minimalist design in its purist form.
In terms of sound quality, the two speakers shared some important attributes. Both have extremely low levels of tonal and dynamic colorations, terrific soundstaging, and wonderful clarity. The coherence and clarity I found so appealing in the Salon2 was evident in the V3, but the Magico speaker, surprisingly, took this quality to another level. The V3 had greater transparency, richer, more vivid, and more saturated tone colors, greater palpability, a bigger soundstage, and more precise imaging. In its favor, however, the Salon2’s treble was smoother and better integrated with the upper midrange. The V3’s top two octaves were brighter than the Salon2’s, resulting in a more open and airy presentation, but one that lacked the Salon2’s silky smoothness. It is possible, however, to fine-tune the V3’s treble balance through toe-in. The Salon2 and the V3 are the two best loudspeakers I’ve had in my home in terms of clarity, palpability of tone color, image tangibility, midrange resolution, and just the general sense of the speaker getting out of the way and conveying musical expression. The V3, however, crosses a threshold and enters a realm in which instruments and voices are reproduced with such lifelike precision that they sometimes sound spooky-real.
The two loudspeakers had very different bass performances. Two 7" drivers in a sealed cabinet are bound to deliver a different presentation than three 8" units in a large ported enclosure. Not surprisingly, the Revel goes deeper and plays louder, and manages to avoid the obvious problems of ported speakers (chuffing and overhang—see the sidebar on sealed vs. reflex loading). The V3’s bass tended to be more subtle, but no less rewarding. The Salon2 packed a wallop in the midbass; the V3’s bass was less dramatic, but nonetheless formed a satisfying tonal underpinning to the music. The V3’s bottom end seemed to pressurize the room at the lowest frequencies (the organ pedal tones on Rutter’s Requiem on Reference Recordings, for example), much as one hears from the instrument in a large space. The Salon2 would play louder and delivered a more “robust” presentation at high playback levels; the V3’s bass was tighter, leaner, and a bit more refined.
Finally, the V3 was considerably easier to drive than the Salon2. For example, the Audio Research Reference 110 (110Wpc of tube power) drove the V3 to satisfying levels, but I could hear it get into trouble driving the less sensitive Salon2.
Ported vs. Sealed Enclosures
Loudspeaker designers over the past 30 years have increasingly abandoned sealed enclosures (so-called “air suspension,” “acoustic suspension,” or “infinite baffle”) in favor of ported ones (“bass-reflex,” or “vented”). Virtually all modern high-end loudspeakers are ported; the V3 is an interesting exception. But what are the technical virtues and tradeoffs of ported enclosures, and how do these tradeoffs affect the musical presentation? In a sealed enclosure, the cabinet wraps around the woofer and traps a volume of air inside the cabinet. The air inside the cabinet acts as a spring, compressing when the woofer moves in and creating some resistance to woofer motion. This is why the technique is known as “air suspension.”
In a ported enclosure, the acoustic energy inside the enclosure created by the woofer’s motion is channeled to the outside—there’s just as much sound inside the cabinet as outside it. This technique confers three advantages. First, it increases the speaker’s maximum acoustic output— it will play louder. Second, it can make a loudspeaker more sensitive—it needs less amplifier power to achieve the same volume. Third, reflex-loading lowers a speaker’s cutoff frequency—it will go lower in the bass. (Note that these benefits are not available simultaneously. Reflex loading can be used either to increase a loudspeaker’s sensitivity or extend its cutoff frequency, but not both.)
The sealed enclosure’s woofer and air in the box form a resonant system—that is, the woofer moves most easily at a certain frequency. Below that frequency, the woofer’s output decreases at the rather gentle rate of 12dB per octave. For example, if the resonant frequency is 40Hz, the woofer begins rolling off below this frequency with the response attenuated by 12dB at 20Hz. Reflex loading lowers this cutoff frequency, effectively extending the speaker’s bass response. But the reflex-loaded woofer’s output decreases at the relatively steep rate of 24 dB per octave. If all other factors are equal, the reflex-loaded system maintains flat bass response down to a lower frequency, but then the bass output drops off more quickly than it does in a sealed system. A comparison of lowfrequency cutoff points and rolloff slopes is illustrated in the top diagram.
Sealed and reflex loading exhibit very different behaviors with transient signals. A transient signal (think of a kick drum) driving a sealed system causes the woofer to move in response to the signal, but then the woofer stops moving relatively quickly after the drive signal’s decay. By contrast, the woofer in a ported system continues to move back and forth long after the drive signal has stopped (called “overhang”).
 This phenomenon, shown in the bottom diagram, gives rise to the term “slow” to describe the bass performance of some ported speakers. The term is technically a misnomer, but has entered the common usage as “bass with overhang.”
Subjectively, a sealed system has a tighter, more defined, and leaner sound, particularly through the midbass.Transient performance is also better from a sealed system. A ported speaker has greater impact and a “bigger” bottom-end, but with less sense of true deep extension. The reduction in apparent extension is objective because the reflex-loaded system rolls off faster than a sealed system, and subjective because the increased bass energy tends to mask the sound of the bottom half-octave below it.
Note that these observations are very broad generalizations; the best bass performance I’ve heard (including transient fidelity) was delivered by the Wilson MAXX 2, a ported loudspeaker. The MAXX 2 exhibited none of the problems associated with reflex-loaded systems, which proves that with careful design it’s possible to create a reflex-loaded system with state-of-the-art bass.

..............Robert Harley