Building a Magnepan System, Please Help...

Hello everyone,

I am going to be shortly building an audio system, my first high end set up ever. I have decided on Magneplanar 1.7 speakers. The reason is that everything I have read seems to indicate that they are the best deal in audiophile speakers and the sound signature appeals to me. But since I have never built a high end sound sytem before, I need some help in picking components that match up well with the Magnepan speakers.

I am on a budget here. I want to get the best quality I can for the lowest price. I will even get the Magnepan speakers used if I can find them. I would like to be up and running for somewhere in the $3000 range but I can stretch that if need be.

I have all but decided on an Emotiva amp as they seem like a good deal and others have said they match up well and have enough power to drive these speakers.

So lets start out with saying that I bought a used but good condition Magneplanar 1.7 speakers for under $1500.

Then I bought an Emotiva XPA2 for around $700.

What else do I need to have a good startin system?

I have no intention of buying a subwoofer at this time. Maybe I'll add that later.

Do I need a pre amp to pair with the XPA2? I don't know too much about high end audio. What is the precise function of a pre amp and do I need one? Please recommend one for this set up.

As for the source, I would like to get into vinyl but I will hold off on that for the present. But bear in mind that I would like to be able to incorporate a record player into this system without much trouble in the future.

Instead of purchasing a high end CD player or SACD player, I though it would make sense to get a high end DAC for a computer source like a laptop so I can store my audio on my computer.

Can you recommend a good DAC that would be not too expensive but good enough to get the most out of the rest of the components I have selected?

So far I have, Magneplanar 1.7 speakers, Emotiva XPA2, maybe a pre amp and a DAC for running digital audio from a computer source. Not counting the cables to hook everything up, this is basically what I need right?

One final question. Should I also get a power conditioner to protect my components from surges and also to "clean" the power from my home outlets? I don't want to spend this much money and have my components damaged. If I should get one, please recommend one that is inexpensive.

Thanks for the help.
treatment,treatment and treatment will give you better sound. Save your money on power conditioning at this time and pay attention to your listening environment. The best to u.
Jrodefeld, Welcome to the society of obsessive compulsive Maggie owners. I started off with a pair of SMGa's driven by a small adcom amp decades ago. Take a look at my system page to see where this all leads.
You can certainly get a start down this road and put together a nice system based on used 1.7s(or 1.6s) for 3K. Think about one of the old McCormack amps- DNA 0.5 or 1.0, or a 125-- as an alternative to the Emotiva. The McCormacks mate well with Magnepans, and have a high input impedance which permits use of a TVC passive, like a Promethius Ref 4. Throw in a used Oppo95 to use as a source, and you probably can squeak in under 3K. I ran a system like that for almost a decade (using MG 1.6QRs) and it delivered very nicely for the limited investment.
You need to ask yourself a couple more questions: Do you want to be able to hook this to a tv or don't care? Do you think you will go high end on a turntable or just a basis one? Is a remote control a must?
1-YES, it is imperative that you protect the equipment with some sort of surge protector or conditioner. A basis PS Audio can run a couple of hundred. However, your deductible on insurance is a lot higher if lighting hits.
2-The Emotiva is a good choice. Maggies like a lot of power.
3-External phono preamps run about $100 to $150 used for something in the range of a Cambridge or similar. You can find a preamp with built in phono if you want to keep things less complicated. But most newer units don't have this.
4-Have you looked at the Emotiva Pre's? The XDA-2 is really cheap and possibly a nice choice. The UMC-200 has way more than you need but is quite flexible for the future and has a nice built in DAC.
Brownsfan, besides being a Browns fan, has a good point about an Oppo. To be able to stream into a 103 is great and you can even plug a hard or flash drive into it as your source.
So, $1500 for the Maggies, $800 for the XPA-2 (buy used?), $300 for a pre, $300 for a line conditioner and then all you need is cabling (yes, you broke $3k).
I would buy an ADCOM GFA 555 amplifier..sells for 300 used.This is the kind of power maggies love.Try and match Pre amps output impedance to your Amps input.These #'s need to be 10 times apart preferably (although I have found great results with Input and output impedances that are only 7 times apart from each other). Then partner that with a Tube preamp from PrimaLuna or another hong kong made unit of your choice. Going with a Tube pre smooths out the solid state sound and will give you a more lush ,rich soulful presentation. you can find these preamps used for under $1000. Going with you own phono pre is the way to go. A used Musical surroundings for a round $300 (600 new). Stay away from the $200 or less ones they dont sound good at all. Ive had the cambridge and the phonobox S. I hope you find what you looking for musically.
jrodefield, this may not be helpful, but if i were you instead of the 1.7s i'd drop $2500 on some used 3.6s, which are on a wholly different level. you can get an emotiva xda2 dac/preamp for 300 (like elevick suggests) and maybe get lucky on a used, mega watt amp (adcom, carver, etc.) and still be near your budget.
Find a used McCormack amp, preferrably a DNA-1 modified by Steve. If you don't start with the right amp, it doesn't matter what else you have in your system.

After that, find a pre-amp with little or no color such as a passive pre from Lightspeed. $500 new.

Lastly, reduce jitter. Look up Empirical Audio -- many good recommendations for computer set up and DAC.

Welcome to the insanity that we all know and love. Maggies are great, but make sure you have room to pull them away from the wall a few feet as they don't sound right unless you do. They need space.

--Tom in Sacramento
After reading your post, I can give you 1 piece of advice. If you start buying a system like this without listening to any of the equipment, you're crazy. Especially the Magnepans. People either love them or hate them. I know this sounds negative, but its true. This is exactly why so many people get frustrated with audio and just walk away after they spend a lot of money.
You're doomed. Although Maggies aren't expensive, they are very good...they need very good equipment to get them to sound good. You must listen with the stuff you want to connect them to
I would strongly encourage you to try and hear the Maggie's driven by a decent tube amp. I lived with Maggie's for many years and I am convinced that Maggie's sound best driven by tubes; according to my sound priorities. Maggies', as already mentioned, love power; if you want to play them very loud. If your tastes in music and listening habits mean moderate volumes a decent 100 tube watts (or less depending on the amp) will give you dimensionality of images, soundstaging, tonality, and sense of aliveness that only the very top, and very expensive, ss amps will give you. Good luck.
I appreciate the responses. I am curious about those that encourage me to listen to all these components before buying them.

There are two things about this. First, I don't know how it is feasible to be able to test this equipment before buying it. If I buy some products new, certainly I could have a window where I could return them if I didn't like them. But for a novide audiophile, how would I even have the experience to be able to tell how "good" something is in relation to other high end products? And I would think in many cases it would take longer than the traditional return period to really "break in" the speakers and get accustomed to the sound.

I really don't know of a good way to listen to the Magnepan speakers without buying them. Could you tell me why some people "hate" them? They sound quite appealing to me and I can't imagine not being happy with them.

I mean, my budget is pretty tight so its not like I have a TON of options regarding the components I can buy.

I think it might be reasonable to get a basic system up and running, become comfortable with it, and then in six months to a year or more, I could easily trade the DAC or Amp for something else if I wanted to tweak the sound signature.

As to the person recommending I go for used 3.6's, I can't do that at this time. I don't have the ability to stretch to $2500 to $3000 for speakers at this time.

I would like some more suggestions on the best DAC to get. I will probably get this first. I have some headphones (Hifiman HE-400) which don't have any good source to listen from, so I would like to be able to use them with a good quality DAC in the meantime.

I would prefer not to spend much more than $500. And of course I want it to be good enough to power the 1.7's to their full potential. I wouldn't want it to be the weak link in the system.

Any more specifics on DAC recommendations?
Jrodefeld, You are correct. Listening to equipment prior to purchase is always good advise but it isn't always possible. There are people who don't like Maggies. If you are just getting started and haven't formed a strong set of preferences, it may be low risk for you to give the 1.7;s a try. If you are buying used, you should be able to bring a pair in, use them for a period, then resell without too much loss. The same is true of other pieces. So, you may want to stick with used and think about resale value.
Frogman's idea about tube amps is good, but may be hard to pull off with your budget. Take a look at some of the virtual systems built around 1.6s and 1.7s. You may get some ideas there.
Jrodefeld, a little more information about what you like in the sound of stereo system and your music preferences would go a long way as far as helping others offer truly helpful advise. Being that this is your first high-end system, to a degree, you are jumping in with both feet with your choice of Maggies. I have a suggestion: why don't you try MMG's on home trial as offered by Magnepan. They are smaller than the 1.7's (easier to position) and would be an easier and less expensive way to experience the Maggie sound. You may find that the MMG's are enough speaker for you; they may not be quite like the 1.7's but are very very good for a few hundred$. Good luck
The biggest problem with Maggies is that they often require a lot of distance from rear wall, often towards the middle of many rooms, to sound best. That's not practical for many. It depends. It worked well in my old townhouse, but I could never get it to work in my current home, so I had to move on.

The second most problematic thing about Maggies for many is the large scale dynamics at higher volumes. They require a lot of power though not much current to sing at higher volumes and in larger rooms. Higher power tube amps may be the best choice in general. High power tube amps require more care and maintenance though, and replacing tubes when needed can be expensive.

Even with the best amp, you will likely not physically feel the sound from any planar speaker like you can from a more conventional design. That may not matter to some or be of any concern for certain types of music, but I find it is, usually more so for pop/rock genres say than classical or jazz. FOr classical and jazz, and acoustic music in general, Maggies set up well can be the bomb.

Most any Maggie is hard to beat at low or even moderate listening volumes.

So no one speaker design can be all things to all people. But used for the right reasons, Maggies can be hard to beat when set up and done well.
Good luck finding a high power tube amp. in your price range it is not feasible. Go with a SS amp and a Tube preamp. youll love it.

I am going to play contrarian on this issue. I believe that the issue of Maggies needing tons and tons of power is overblown. If one prizes natural timbres, dimensionality, and is willing to live with moderate volumes and less than plaster cracking bass something like this will sound fantastic driving a pair of MMG's (no affiliation with sellers):

For even less money, and taking into account the issue of reliability due to age this is even better. I have heard this amp with smaller Maggies and the difference between it and something like a high powered Adcom is laughable. Tubes and Maggies with this budget is possible.:
Under the contraints that Frog describes, which I agree with, I have heard Rogue Cronus Magnum tube integrated sound quite good with mmgs. Even better and pretty top notch all around with rel sub or two added.
What Frogman is saying should not be dismissed. However, The difference between a McCormack DNA 0.5 deluxe and a high powered Adcom is also laughable. Forget Adcom. It is not necessary to have 1000 WPC to get decent sound from Maggies. I drove my 1.6's for a long time with the 100 WPC McCormack DNA 0.5. They sounded a lot better with 300 WPC McCormack DNA 1.0 monoblocks.
Also not to be dismissed is the room placement issues to get the best sound. But---- Maggies not optimally placed, not optimally driven, maybe doing 85% of what they are capable of, can still sound better than most other speakers in a comparable price range.

All speakers, planars or not, dipoles or not, boxes or not, rear vented, bottom vented, transmission line, accoustic suspension, horns, you name it--- respond favorably to careful system matching and room placement. Things get blown way out of proportion with maggies.

Start somewhere then tweak, adjust, experiment-- it's what we all do, and what can make this hobby rewarding. My current set up with my MG 3.7R's is heavenly. But it didn't happen in a day.
I used 360 w/ch Carver m4.0t (SS amp with tube amp voicing, not particularly high current)for many years with very good results with my late 80's vintage Maggies.

Same amp did not fair nearly as well with similarly inefficient box designs with good bass extension that tend to like a lot of current as well. The Maggies were a much better match.

ALso the best sound with Maggies I have heard in recent years has all been off tube amps typically 80 w or more. Soft clipping with tube amps may buy you more per watt than typical hard clipping SS amps, but better to stay away from clipping altogether.

You need a lot more power with a SS amp in general to do that and avoid serious effects of hard clipping on sound quality.

So for Maggies, I would go for as much power as needed to avoid clipping at target listening levels.

Budget may limit options, but you may well get more than your moneys worth out of an otherwise lesser amp with the Maggies.

After reading your response, I understand what you are saying. I'm not surprised, though. I could have guessed to about 80-90% of what you wrote, almost word for word. Its not that I know so much, but that I've made many of the same mistakes myself, and have watched countless others do the same.

Right now, you are putting your system together. You haven't bought anything yet so its all in your head. You're trying to get an idea as to what all this is going to sound like when you are done. Knowing your situation from reading your 2 posts, there is only 1 fact that I can tell you. I guarantee it. And that is, the system that you've put together in your head is not going to sound like the system that ends up in your listening room. It can't. You have absolutely no reference to compare anything to. You may love it or hate it.

"Could you tell me why some people "hate" them? They sound quite appealing to me and I can't imagine not being happy with them."

That's exactly what I'm talking about. Using your imagination can be a very costly thing in audio. Its best to imagine as little as possible. lol. (I put the lol in there because people don't always get my humour.). To answer your question is difficult, though. I can tell you what I didn't like about my 1.7's, but it really wouldn't do you any good. But to give some perspective, think of it this way. There's only a small handful of companies that make ribbon speakers. Magnepan is the biggest, by far. All total, the market share for these speakers is very low. I guess maybe 1 or 2%; possibly less. That means that the vast majority of high end speaker owners go with other designs. Looking at it that way, you start to see why I highly recommend you demo the speakers first. Also, don't think I'm putting Magnepan down. I'm not. Magnepan owners are some of the most loyal customers in all of audio. It wouldn't surprise me at all if you end up loving them. I just say use caution.

If you really want to get into high end audio, you may want to going a different route to start off. Maybe just get an entry level receiver or integrated amp ($300-400) and pair it with a decent small speaker in the same price range. It doesn't have to be expensive gear. Use that system to learn. Get to know things like setup, imaging and all the rest of the qualities that you read about in reviews. From there, you will be able to make much better decisions as to where you want the system to go. If you want to be successful, there's no easy way. You are going to have to learn as much as you can from your own experiences.
I use:

WD Caviar Black HDD in a Thermaltake Max5G enclosure-->laptop-->Stello U3-->Benchmark DAC-1-->Crown XLS 2500-->Magnepan 1.7.
Jrode - You're getting a lot of questioning here so let me support you. You are going to LOVE your 1.7s - awesome speakers. They're going to shock you with how good they sound. The preamp I consider to be a more important piece of equipment than the amp. I would suggest a passive preamp but the XPA-2 isn't a good candidate for this so look into a tube preamp and buy USED, not to save money, but to allow you to sell it and try another unit if it doesn't please you. Same comment about the DAC - buy used. The variability between DACs I find to be much less. Budget $400-500 for a DAC and go with it.

And welcome to Maggie-world. You are going to love them.
Try finding a used Centrance DACmini, which has a nice 10W Class A amp built in for your Hifiman HE-400. Should be able to pick one up for less than $500 used.

I also second Jult52 that you'll be surprised at how nice the 1.7 sound.
Jrodfeld-I would look for a Yamaha MX-1 power amp. The matching CX-1 preamp is a solid sounding unit. For under $1k you cannot find a better sounding pre/power set up with near limitless power. It may take some time to find these older amps but it will be time well spent if sound quality is paramount!