I just went to my stereo dealer - ready to purchase the B&W 802d or the Maggie 20.1 (close to same in price).

I've been a Maggie fan all my life - but need to try new things.

And I found the B&W's sounded really great, I was surprised.
And I was also surprised the Maggie's sounded just terrible.
They were at once muffled and too brilliant (hard to get all that wrong).

So I went home and listened to my old Maggies (3.5) and thought they sounded really good, too. And I know in my heart that my moderately priced Maggies cannot really sound better than the big ones.

My electronics are inferior (although not bad) to what I heard in the store (though my room is a lot larger).

So what gives?
Does Magnepan make a great speaker through the 3 series and then they don't know what they're doing?
There was something about the B&W's that didn't thrill me - although they are fine speakers and I can't define what that is.

Why should the 20.1 sound so horrible?

I'd planned to purchase the big Maggies and even had my new amps picked out - but I was horrified with what I heard.

Maybe I'm going crazy. Maybe there is too much stress in my life.
Maybe the dealer's room is poor. Or there was something wrong with his setup. Regardless, can you get a loan or either or both pairs of speakers and do an in-home audition? That's really the only way you'll be able to answer your question satisfactorily.
I do not know what could have been going on at the dealer.
Were they as ready to sell you the Maggies as the B&W? Or were they trying to get you to buy the B&Ws.
i am a lttle paranoid about dealers.. The salesman may have a pair of the B&W sitting around, and have to order the Maggies.. Or many other reasons to (possibly)sabotage the Maggie audition.
One way is to bring your own electronics to the store and audition both speakers with your stuff. They certainly should allow that if you ask.
i would go back with my own stuff and try again.
Another thought is how well broken in are the maggies at the store?
And then was the equipment on for a long enough time?
When I auditioned my Maggie 3.6s (at a dealer with the Magnepan and B&W linnes too) I first listened for a few hours. Then another time I brought a power conditioner i use to listen again.. (I was going to buy the Bryston amp they used, so that was the one they had.
The Maggies are better than the B&W's. ...period. I am suspicious of the dealer, and/or his equipment.
You can't judge a speaker by the price or the size. In subjective listening tests a good $2k pair can beat a $12k pair. Do yourself a favor. Listen to more speakers without any limits on price or type—listen to what you can't afford and what you might not even consider worth your time. Then, some months from now, let us know your observations.
Did you hear both speakers on the same equipment?
I've heard some very expensive equipment sound really bad.
And I knew that the equipment was capable of sounding incredable.
Sometimes it just the synergy thang.
It was probably just the room, set up or amplification. If you liked the 3s at home, you will most likely like the 20s.
As always, the only way to determine if any speakers 'work' for you is to have them in your room, connected to your gear. If a dealer will not accommodate that, move on, and consider all the comments Elizabeth made.

In home audition for 3 days. The first day will be bad to ok, second, better, third reflective of what you can expect long term. (Generalizing)
Don't spend any money until you hear them in your room, with your electronics, cables etc.
My dislike of the 'house sound' of B&W makes me very suspicious of them being able to sound anything like as good as the big Maggies.
Maggies are more neutral, and more musical, faster--better in virtually every way...IMHO.

Good luck.

n, did the salesman play both speakers with the same wires and electronics? amps and wires that would make the b&w sound good would make the maggies sound wrong. they have a very different chacter.
listening to both at home on your system would be more indicative if you still have the maggies at home. your present system is a given on maggies.
best, b
*There was something about the B&W's that didn't thrill me - although they are fine speakers and I can't define what that is.*

I've owned a 1/2 dozen diff. B&W's over many years. I liked some of them, for awhile, but always gave up in frustration & sold them. And went on to Totems, or Spendors, or Merlins, & liked them much better.

I know Maggies only from reading about them. By all accounts they are very serious speakers. And even the best B&W's are still mass-market speakers.......
Thank you for your responses.

The dealer played the speakers on the same electronics (Ayre monoblock amp, preamp and CD player - I brought my own CD's).

I don't think he is trying to cheat me - I've been dealing with him for so many years and he has always been kind to me and their service has been excellent.

He did tell me that he personally loved Maggies and realized the room I was listening to them in was too small for them. He told me he would love to have a larger room for these speakers but that is not the economics of the time. I don't have the impression that it is easy to be a dealer of good stereo equipment in even good times.

I've now talked with him and he is going to stop by my house and look over my room (it is a huge finished basement with only 7' ceilings but perhaps 25' x 35' and quite dead with thick carpeting and a sound-deadening ceiling).

Then he's suggested leaving the speakers with me for a while. So in case I first try them out on a day that I haven't slept well or am feeling irritated with life, then I can keep listening.

I know in my heart I'm not going to buy the B&W's. The best option for me might not to purchase anything at all - (or perhaps just extend the bass of the Maggie 3.5 with a couple woofers). The money I wouldn't spend I could take my wife to Greece (if they're not rioting). Or perhaps I will buy the 20.1's and we can view Greece on the internet.

Anyway I now know what I need to do to come to a rational decision.
"Another thought is how well broken in are the maggies at the store?”

That was my first thought. When I was brand new to the high end, and unaware of break-in, a salesman unpacked a brand new pair of Thiels right in front of me for a demo. I listened in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine how these speakers could be receiving raves.
You haven't told us anything about your amplification. I think the 20.1s are a wonderful speaker, but they are very demanding of amplification. Ideally they should be bi-amped. Consider going with 3.7s, upgrading your amps and going on vacation to at least Greektown (Chicago).
Hello ,

I have always found 20.1's ... well .. horrible , not just bad , but horrible, the smaller maggies especially the 1.6/1.7 are their best speakers IMO and very good value.

I'm not surprised you found the B&W's better ....

Wow sounds like you've got yourself a great dealer there.
Maggies dont suffer from a low celing. The B&W might benefit from a high one.
What's bugging you about your current system? Maybe start from there, & post a new thread describing your whole system, what you want to improve, etc.

Those new speakers, will still be at that dealer in a year or two, what's the rush? Greece, I've heard, is beautiful, with great food & wine, beaches, etc.

Take your wife to Greece. So what if they riot occasionally, they're a spirited bunch.....those memories will last you a long, long time......
Surprised to hear you say that the 20.1's sound horrible.
I'm thinking that when I've heard them, they're excellent.
(In the limits of each audition experience).
Horrible isn't something that described what I heard.
What was it that you didn't like?