Building a System around Magnepan Speakers...

Hello everyone,

I am creating a separate thread here from my resent question I posed about building a decent system for around $2000. I have decided that I want to build a system around Magnepan speakers. My budget is the same, $2000 or so. I am a bit flexible but I don't want to spend a great deal more than that.

My questions are:

1. Which Magnepan Speakers should I get? In my budget I could get the MMG, the MG 12 or a used 1.6. Could you advise on what the differences are between these three models? At the moment, there is a listing on Audiogon for a 1.6 that is going for $900 and that seems extremely reasonable for these speakers.

2. What amp should I use to drive the Magnepan speakers? I am looking at integrated amps only. I have heard that tube amps don't usually have enough current to drive these speakers well, so I guess I am really looking at solid state integrated amplifiers. What is the best solid state amplifier I can get for under $1000 used? A review I read suggested that a Rotel RA-1062 would be a good bet for driving these speakers. I have heard that the RA-1062 has a reputation for being one of the most reasonably priced "high end" amplifiers that can be bought. However, some would indicate that it does not have enough power to really drive the Magnepan speakers to their potential.

So, can you advise me one what type of amplifiers I should use to drive the Magnepan speakers that can be had for less than $1000 used?

3. Do you think that I should get a subwoofer to use with these speakers? I am sure this would be out of my budget, but perhaps as a future upgrade. I just want to know as I have heard that Magnepan speakers have a reputation for lacking a bit on the low end. If you think they would benefit significantly, what subs do you think would be a good match for these speakers?

4. Finally, are Magnepan speakers a good match for playing vinyl? Are there certain types of music that they do better with? My plan would probably be to start with a digital source, probably a computer or hard drive unit with a high quality dac playing lossless flac files. Then later I will buy a record player and get into the vinyl realm.

Those are all the questions I have at the moment. I do believe that Magnepan's have a reputation as some of the best values in high end speakers, so I was naturally drawn to them. I didn't think of them initially because I always thought they were out of my budget, but I have learned that all three of the models I referred to can be had for under a grand.

I hope some of you might be able to answer my questions about these speakers and designing a budget conscious system around them. Thanks for helping to make this site such a valuable resource for people like me.
The amp basically needs to play well into a 4 ohm load.
If it does that, then it will be good.
With small Maggies.. 100 to 200 watts per channel at 4 ohms is fine

The strength of Magnepan is in chamber Classical, small group Jazz, acoustic Rock.
If you want full Orchestral Classical, or Metal rock at concert levels, skip the Maggies (at your price point.)
I have a pair of 1.7's, very similar to 1.6's.....

Quick thoughts....

Forget the sub woofer idea...sub woofers with 1.6's is like putting to much seasoning on food. Sometimes less is better. If you have the extra money for a good sub-woofer, spend it on a better amp or cables. Just my opinion here... These speakers are best with jazz vocals...not so hot with rock/pop music. Speakers are like cars, no one car does everything the best. Jeep Wrangler's don't corner, and Porsche's don't do mountain trails. Accept this concept with your Maggies.

Google "JRiver"...this will open your door to the digital world...

For the integrated amp...
they are on sale and a very, very solid value. Call him and discuss the Maggie requirements. He will answer the phone and be honest with you.

Maggies (like most speakers) are best with vinyl, still great with digital.
Interesting problem. I approach budget systems by focusing on 1 good piece that I can hold for awhile, then building around it with high value components that I can gradually add as more money becomes available. I recommend the MG 1.6's. as that piece that you can buy and hold. You can be satisfied for a long time without adding a sub, although down the road that would be a good addition. I would stay away from the Rotel. Instead, I would suggest you look for a McCormack DNA 0.5, or perhaps a 0.5 deluxe edition. You should be able to find one for 600-700, so that would put you at about $1500. For volume attenuation, I'd suggest Endler volume attenuators, which will cost you $140 new for 2 channels. Check these out at the following site. These will be a lot better than you can get for anything close to the money, and works well with the McCormack. So now you are in for about $1650, leaving you about $350 for a DAC and IC's. I ran this exact rig for about 2 years and was very satisfied with it. It is insanely good for 2K, and will allow you to replace pieces very gradually over time. This is what I did, and my ~2K rig evolved into a 20K rig before I felt the need to replace the Maggies. In all, I held them 12 years, and never felt the need for a sub.
1. Get the biggest Maggie you can afford (1.6 in this case).

2. Tube or SS, they both work. You will prefer one more than the other. More important, how loud do you want to be able to play your system? Contrary to what you read, Maggies only need a lot of power if you want to really crank it. You only NEED an amp that is "happy" with a 4 ohm load. Hopefully, for your ears and pocketbook, you don't need to crank it but that's your call.

3. Don't get ahead of yourself. Get the Mags, enjoy them for awhile and then decide. For me, they have enough bass that I could live with them w/o a sub.

4. Maggies are excellent with vinyl.

Enjoy the journey.
Mags require a certain 'room'. Check if your intended room will work, otherwise you will be very disappointed. Check out Jim Smith's writings, he was the best person to know what kind of room and setup is required.
It would seem from your post that you have decided that Maggies are for you without having listened to them. I firmly believe that you should audition a set in your room to determine if these are really the speakers you want.

Putting together a system based upon speakers you have never heard in your room would be very foolish...

What Rlwainwright and Buconero117 said. Although I normally buy used, but because Magnepans represent such a good value at new prices, I demoed a pair from a dealer with the intention of buying from him. Man was I glad I went that route. Magnepans did not work for me so the dealer took them back.
I agree with Brownsfan as the 1.6 is a worthwhile piece that will bring years of enjoyment (of course they need to be out in the room to sound their best).

I have alwys felt that the need for a sub with Maggie 1.6 is way over exaggerated, mine were perfectly well balanced once I got the right amp.

I can not see a Rotel amp as suitable with Maggies as my impression of Rotel is a bit bright (I could be wrong with this model).

I would recommend an NAD integrated as they are usually a bit warm and the high end is very smooth.

good luck and enjoy
My best friend just upgraded from the MMGs to the 1.6s. Fuller sound, and obviously better bottom end.
They do like power. He purchased a factory direct Emotiva ??? big amp for about $800 shipped.
Sounds very nice - detailed, musical..... tight bass... and the Emotiva amp hardly gets warms running the 1.6s for hours on end. A B&K Pro 10 Sonata with balanced inputs fills in the spot for preamp. He got that for $200 here on Agon. One could certainly do much worse for that price.

I'm actually considering 1.6s, or 1.7s sometime this year.
Good luck
Buconero117, et al, nailed it. The dispersion charateristics of Maggies demand special room/placment considerations. Tread carefully.
my current budget system is mmgs with inexpensive diy modifications. emotiva xpa-2 for power because i like louder spls and magnepans will suck up all the power you have.. velodyne deq 10 sub. in my 12 x 18 room the speakers need to be over 6 feet into the room. sound quality is really good. all this for under 2000 dollars. did i say budget on a audiophile site? haha i have all this hooked up with well over 3000 dollars in ac/room treatment, isolation devices, ac cords, ics, and speaker cables. some people will disagree with my allocation of budget but have been buying these good accessories for several years and they work. good luck with the search and listening. if they don,t work for you they can be sold fast. john. and as always a great source does wonders...
In answer to your post point by point
1. I think the 1.6's will be a good buy
2. Your statement about tubes is not true. I drive my 3.6's with a VTL-ST85 and they sound great at 85w per channel. I would recommend VTL, VAC, ARC for tubes and Odyssey, Emotiva, Parasound and Pass for solid state among others
3.You will eventually want a sub. Plenty of good subs always available on Audiogon
4. I have a lot of vinyl and my lps sound great on my Maggies. So do cd's, sacd's and downloads. Speakers do not discriminate among the type of source
Good luck and enjoy
Remember setup is very important to getting great sound out of Maggies
i own the 1.6's. i have powered it with a tube amp and several solid state amps.

i have found that i prefer the sound of the mids and highs with tubes, but the bass has more impact and greater extension with a ss amp.

i have yet to find an ss amp whose upper mids and treble i can tolerate.
When reading the above advise concerning the room and power requirements of Maggies, remember that (IMO) much of if is for achieving the best sound that they are capable of. Maggies are capable of spectacular sound with ideal placement and with ideal amplification. They can also sound very very good with less than perfect placement and with less than perfect amplification. They don't necessarily NEED to be six feet from the back wall, although they do need a decent amount of breathing room all the way around. Power requirements depend a great deal on how loud you like your music and what type of music you listen to. Planars have unique sonic traits that are definitely worth experiencing if you are
the type of audiophile that values "the journey". If you don't have a clear sense of what planars are about and are looking for your last system then stay away. If you like the process then go for it; you may fall in love as I did. With that in mind remember:

-if you like listening at low levels, beware. Maggies like to be played fairly loud especially if your amplification is less than SOTA.
-if you value and are familiar with the sound of acoustic instruments, and listen to classical music and acoustic jazz, tube amplification is the way to go. IMO, Maggies tend to sound leaner/thinner than life with most solid
state gear. They are capable of stunning dimensionality with decent tube amps (100w +).

Good luck.
I have always heard great things about Mangnepan speakers but never actually got to demo a pair. They really were not that expensive so I went out and got a new pair of 1.6's. I have to say that after living with them for over a year, they did not produce the reselts I expected. I have a midrange system with Vandersteen 2's that are almost exactly the same price as the 1.6 so I used that system to compare. After switching back and forth between the 2 pairs, this is what I came up with. The 1.6 is an overall good sounding, cost effective, fairly well made speaker. You can certainly do far worse. Comparing them to the model 2's I can honestly say that there is not 1 single thing the 1.6's can do as well or better than the Vandersteen. I was very surprised because so many people like the Magnepan, I thought they would sound a little better. I would definitely recommend listening to them first before making a commitment. I do have a good variety of electronics that I tried with the speaker just to make sure it was not an equipment mismatch but my findings were consistent. I also had several people listen to them as well just to make sure I wasn't going wrong somewhere. In the end, we all came up with the same opinion. I just want to restate that I do not think that they are bad speakers; they're not. Just not as good as I expected. If I had to guess, I would say that a lot of people formed their opinions about these speakers in the 70's and 80's when traditional speakers were not as good as they are now. Please remember, though, that this is my own opinion. If you like them then that is all that matters. I just wanted to give an alternate opinion based on my own experience. What I likes best: Bass (quality, not quantity). What I liked least: Upper frequencies (The tweeter is a long strip of thin aluminum and that is exactly what it sounded like). If you have any questions about anything specific, post it and I will try to answer it as best I can.
thats interesting R1g,

when I bought my 1.6s, years ago, I compared them, on the same system (Rogue gear) to Vandy 2c sig and my immediate impression was that the Maggie was way more open so I bought them. The Vandy did nothing significantly better IMO.

different strokes...
Mrtennis, if you haven't heard a SS amp that you like in the mid and upper frequencies you have the wrong speakers.
hi timorosk:

i have heard other panel speakers using ss amps, i did not like what i heard.

i have heard ss amps with cones speakers that worked well, e.g., rowland amps with avalon speakers.

i guess i am not a fan of ss amps.
Jrode - First of all, you have made an excellent decision by going with Magnepan. I use them and think they are special. Don't worry about the room placement for now. They will sound great.

Since you are on a pretty tight budget, I would urge you to plan on using a passive preamp, which is a very good value (the Creek OBH-12 can be had for $300 new, to take one example). To accommodate the passives, you should select a power amp with input impedance >50k ohms generally and with a reasonable input voltage (below 2.25 or so).
Maggies are a good choice if you can be a slave to their requirements. Placement and power is everything. If you can't place them well out from the front wall you will never hear what they have to offer. It may take quite some time to find the best place, a weekend demo won't do it.
Once you have good placement and have tried a mega power amp or two, then you can start playing with tube amps and higher quality equipment. If that is something you can do, then go ahead and get the 1.6/1.7s.