An interesting choice, Roy, as those are two VERY different sounding loudspeakers, which excel in very different parameters. I will not tell you what I would buy in your setup, as I think it is less relevant than the following advice:
The audiophile hobby, for me, is about self-discovery, maximizing my personal energy through experiencing the journey, rather than the destination. This is very much like the philosophy of martial arts. As a novice, you won't have a large base of external experiences/journeys to reflect upon, but you still have basic self-knowledge. Meaning this: instead of asking yourself what you are hearing when auditioning these speakers, ask yourself "HOW DO YOU FEEL?" and "WHAT ARE YOUR REACTIONS?" to what you are experiencing. In this way, the choice you make will be true to yourself (what and where you are right now). In time, you'll gain more experience to be able to answer the question "WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO?" and "HOW DO YOU GET THERE?"
Good journeys to you.
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox and resume my morning meditation on the toilet.
Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla? That is what you have with the Maggies and B&W. There is no right or wrong answer, just preference and personal taste. Both speakers offer excellent sonics, therefore, your room may be the limiting factor in your decision. IMO, I would like to have a bit more room than an 18x18 for the 20.1s. Maggies, especially the 20.1, are very sensitive to speaker placement to extract that last bit of performance. The B&W are not as sensitive (relatively) to room placement as the Maggies are and do not need the same amount of "breathing room" as the 20.1s. Nice dilemma though, 20.1s or B&W N801 !!
The first response is great and I agree totally with it. I will also add that when comparing between two items that you do not have a sonic preference for; I would go with the one that has better build quality. I have a local store with both of these speakers and agree that they both do many things very well but are totally different speakers when all is said and done. You will note upon close inspection that the BW speakers have several cheap, or flawed design aspects. One, the cheap plastic grill covers that easily break off and the midrange cover that does not stay on. Two, the cardboard top covered in grill cloth that vibrates and rattles if you knock on it??.Three, Is that a plastic base the speaker sits on?. Four, The wood and wood finish is levels below the standard at this price point. Five,The tweeter mounting is a joke. Now don't get me wrong and think I don't like these speakers, I like them! but they are not perfect. Now to the Maggies, build quality problems, none that I can find. Looks may or may not be a problem but the BW will look more impressive. You will like living with the Maggies-easy to move, the BW will be a pain to do anything with. My advice is to pack up your equipment and go to the stores and listen before you even think about spending that kind of money on a guess of which will sound better in your home.
Unlike the others, I AM opinionated. The speakers worthy of your choice of music and equipment are the Maggies. It is unfortunate that your medium of choice is digital crap (I do not care if it costs a million dollars), even a half way decent turntable, properly set up will sound vastly superior in audio QUALITY (not convenience) to the CD player. A few suggestions:
1) Make sure the Maggies are properly positioned in your room. Start by placing them 60" from the back wall and gradually move them closer to the wall until the image snaps into focus. DO this over a period of several months listening to each position over a period of days/weeks).
2) The build quality of the Maggies is quite flimsy so take care.
3) Use short (the shorter the better) speaker cables and longer interconnects from your preamp to the power amps.
4) Make sure the speaker bottom corners of the two speakers and the top are exactly equidistant (within 1/8") from the back wall.
5) Do yourself a big favor and buy yourself a decent turntable - from a VPI or Basis at the low end to La Verdier Platine or VPI TNT at the high end. You see them often at Audiogon.
6) Keep your audio path simple and straight forward. Avoid the preamp if you can. Whenever confronted with choices, KISS (keep it simple stupid). Do not believe the reviewers or the salespeople - listen with your ears. Don't buy if your can't hear a difference.
7) Be prepared to be emotionally overwhelmed with music.
8) Invite yours truly over frequently for dinner. Send plane tickets if you do not live in Houston.
I have many more opinions to offer but not enough space or time.
Years ago I had the room for my Magnaplanar Tympani 1Ds. Marraige, kids, and no room, now. Lots of room needed for these babies to scream. If I had the room I would go back in a second to those 20.1s. I don't know about your electronics, but assuming they are matched right, I'd go that way. Maggies are addicting. Lightning fast. Soundstage like no other. I get the tingles thinking about them. Placement, as you've heard, is the whole deal. Very important, problematic, and time consuming, to get right. But when you do. Ah baby...you're there.
B&W will give you more bass punch but in the long run, Maggies will be much more musically satisfying. If I had the room I would have bought the Maggies.
My gut response for your musical tastes (mostly acoustic it seems) would be the Magnepans, but that doesn't mean the B&W's might not actually work better in your room, although you likely won't go far wrong either way. The B&W's could well have some livability advantages however, depending on your situation. Probably the biggest difference between the two will be be the way they interact with and project sound into the room, so in either case, if you are buying them new from the dealer, you be all means at this level should receive professional installation assistance and a home audition period of at least two weeks with return privileges. Enquiring minds want to know - what other contenders did you audition and reject, and did you consider, or at least listen to, the more expensive Signature 800's?
First of all, I commend you on actually going out and listening, rather than just reading the latest "recommended components list". You're doing it exactly right!
Tafka Steve is spot on - ultimately, one listens with the heart, because that is where music speaks to us.
Let me toss out the idea that it may not be so much a matter of which speaker does the most things right, but rather which does the fewest things wrong. Little colorations that remind you you're not listening to the real thing are often what spoil the illusion.
Unfortunately, I can't predict whether the little glitches I'm especially sensitive to are the ones you are. I would take the Maggies because they have no boxy colorations, of which I seem to be rather intolerant.
I'd suggest you listen to the exact same piece of music on each speaker at the entire range of volume levels you expect to use at your home. Each of these speakers' tonal balance will change with volume level, so you want to make sure they sound good at the volume levels you expect to use. Also try this - turn the volume level up a bit higher than normal and walk into the next room. From the next room, you are checking the reverberant field response and the dynamic contrast. Note that from the next room, a live piano would still sound like a live piano. Realistic sound from the next room is an excellent predictor of long-term fatigue-free listening.
Best of luck in your quest!
For what ever it's worth I prefer the Maggies. If it's truly a toss up, perhaps what will work best in your room should decide. Ideally you could find a dealer that carries both.
Put me down as someone you don't like Diana Krall. Nice recording but no soul.
The B&W 801s will perform much better at lower listening levels and will sound better if you upgrade your amps with BAT tube gear to match your other outstanding BAT equipment, and run the system with balanced cables.
You'e got a great room, get the 801swell out into room and
you'll be blown away by the quality of the bass and the imaging.
Thank you all for a most illuminating series of posts. I found the first poster, Tafka_steve, gave particularly sage advice. It really is all about how our systems make us feel isn't it? While we get bogged down with specs and tests and others opinions, the best test of all is how they make us feel. Oh, sage advice ! (I have a book for you, Tafka_steve, that just hit the stores: "Strangers to Ourselves" that you would enjoy.)
The other advice was all good as well and I am not surprised by the number of posters favoring Magnepan. As to the other speakers I have listened too and eliminated:
JM Lab Utopias (too expensive, even used, but very, very rich sounding; mellowness without being mushy; highly detailed but not as good a sound stage width and depth as the Magnepans. a very nicely integrated base which was never overpowering but alweays tight and transparent. I could listen to these speakers forever. What warmth and clarity. They really moved me.
JM Labs Mezo Utopias (within my price range and excellent sounding speakers but once having listened to the Utopias, I could not chose them. I would constantly sit there and think, "If I could have just stretched a little further and got the Utopias !" The difference was quite evident in favor of the Utopias - again a richness of sound that I have seldom heard.
Martin Logan Prodigy: Lovely speaker, bright clear mids and highs, plenty of base but the base did not seem as well integrated as on the other speakers I listened to.
Magnepan 3.6 R: Lovely, lovely speaker as well. Fantastic soundstage and depth. Pinpoint imaging. Lacked punch in the base on some passages but very close to what I want. These speakers disappeared and I was simply "there" with the music. Addition of a subwoofer gave more base but sounded out of place and disconnected to the rest of the music.
Unfortunately I was not able to locate a set of Alon Circe,Sonus Faber Amati Homage, or Revel Ultima Salons.
Thanks again for all of your suggestions and advice.
I prefer the Maggie's for many reasons. However, your room could be problematic for the immense 20.1's. I think they need even more room to breathe and open up, but it might still be manageable.
You certainly have enough power to drive them, but I would also consider something a bit smaller. I am not a fan of the B&W's at all, so I will make no further comments regarding them.
You talk about a 10 foot peak in the ceiling, but what is the shortest part of it? Where you envision the speaker placement, do you really have enough height?
Your music preferences certainly lean toward the Maggie's. What did you like most about the B&W's? What did you not care for with them? I also would ask you to answer the same questions with regards to the 20.1's.
I agree with a lot of comments here but have to say I do have personal experience from the perspective of the same sized room (approx). I've owned the 801N's and Maggie 3.5's. I'd like to urge you to listen to these both before you purchase them IN YOUR ROOM. I know this may be difficult but I can tell you my experience with that size room, especially with the B&W's are that you will be encountering some standing wave/room reinforcement issues. 801's need a large room to breathe, maybe even more so than the Maggies. I had mine for about 6 months, tried everything to get the room to sound better, then sold them at a huge loss. The bass was so overwhelming that it smeared the midrange and the imaging.
IN retrospect I would have purchased the 802N, which I compared very closely side by side with the 801. It simply would have worked better in my room due to quicker, tighter bass. I ended up with Wilson Sophia's which I think compared very favorably to either : )
BTW, I miss the Maggies more than any other of the dozens of speakers I've owned over the past few years : ) As the reviews say, in some ways the best out there, even the 3.6's. I had them dialed in a "trick" room which opened to another room with part walls on outside of the speakers and managed a soundstage depth more than I've heard ANYWHERE (50 ft+) with NO room treatments. Rowland amps and pre, and accuphase and Goldmund digital. The only thing about the maggies is you need to get a good sub to integrate, and they don't do weight and body like good dynamic speakers. And slightly blunt leading edge transients. Everywhere else they rule though. Going to the 801's after the Maggies was a major disappointment. They sounded closed in/boxy? and lacked detail, transparency, soundstage, believability. Just my experience/opinion, may have been supporting equipment had something to do with also.
The Wilson Sophias are like a hybrid between the 801 and the Maggies. Very musical, imaging from hell, dynamics well beyond the 801, and sweet, forgiving sound like the 801. As others have posted, what counts is your opinion, your listening preferences, equipment and room. Either speaker would be terrific. It's a lot of money, so listen to everything you can in rooms as similar to yours with your equipment. I've trucked 200 pounds of amps into dealer showrooms so I could hear them on my own rig>
I was not able to demo the 20,1 but am making inferences from the MG 3.6R
clarity of highs from the ribbon tweeter
very smooth midrange with good transistion to highs and base
apparently less dynamic range, perhaps a problem on sympnonic music which I don't listen to a great deal of.
Lack of bass punch and extension on some passages (hence the 20.1's instead of 3.6's)
Enough bass capacity for anyone and plenty of bass extension.No subwoffer needed here !
Dynamic range out the wahzoo - a sonic cannon
Excellent imaging for cone speakers but not as good as Maggie.
Clear midrange and highs and smooth transition between them.
Good soundstage - not as good as the Maggies, however.
Sounded better than Maggies on the demo pieces that emphasized the extremes in dynamics and bass, brass,
Speaker gives less realism of "being there". Speakers did not "dissapear".
Much smaller soundstage
Very little else.
Concerning my 18 X 18 room with the "A" frame ceiling, I have an 18 ft flat wall and the ceiling connects at the 7 foot level and then rises to its cnter peak of 10 feet. This is where I would put the speakers. My listening position is near the opposite wall where the ceiling comes down to four feet at a 60 degree angle. Listenning chair is out about three feet from the wall giving 6 foot headroom and 15 feet from the opposite wall.
Roy3- take a look at hiend dealer-Jtinn's system and you'll see he's now got a pair of Talon Khorus X speakers in his stable of mega buck equipment.
If you're not lock into Maggies or B&Ws, the Talon X or Ravens will give you all the things you like about the B&Ws plus a larger soundstage and would be a great match
to a BAT tube amp. Talon's build quality and customer support are also excellent.
Thank you all for your input and advice. I decided on the Magnepan 20.1's and placed the order today.
Best regards -- Roy3
That's wonderful - I wish *I* was getting a pair of those! Let us know how everything works out.
Congrats, Roy! Best of luck with your big Maggies! Keep us posted.
Your room might require some significant acoustical treatment to bring out the best low-end and detail. Mine sure did, a consult by a local acoustical engineer and several RPG pieces later, the sound is much more life like, detailed and the low-end has improved.