Magnepan vs B&W: Same specs, different bass?

Hey everyone,

I recently acquired a set of Magnepan 3.7 speakers which are rated down to 35 Hz, and I've been comparing them to my B&W 803S speakers (also rated to 35 Hz).  While I enjoy the big sound and clarity of the Magnepans, the B&W's blow the Magnepans away in the bass department in an A-B comparison test.

I figured this would be the case, but I can't explain why there's such a big difference in bass when the speakers have the same specs.  Can anyone explain?

B&W 803S specs:
35Hz – 22kHz ±3dB

Magnepan 3.7 specs:
35Hz- 40 kHz

I've also A-B'd the Magnepan 3.7's to my of Thiel CS-2.4's which have these specs:
Frequency response: 36Hz–25kHz, ±2dB.

Thiels are similar to the B&W's and blow the Magnepans away with regards to bass, trying to figure out why when the specs are so similar.
There might be other reasons, but isn’t Magnepan’s 35Hz-40kHz a -6dB range, related to 1kHz (I assume)?

±3dB is frequency response (flatness) while -6dB is frequency range (related to something, usually 1kHz)

Also Magnepans should be pulled many feet from the wall, due to their dipolar nature, to avoid bass cancellation.  The difference you're hearing might be the room response.

I have owned and listened to the 6 foot Magnepans every day since 1977.

The .7 series designed under Mark, son of the founder Jim Winey, simply does not go as low in the bass as the previous 3 series.  That is my experience having heard the new .7 and .7i 6 footers in stores and in homes.

The .7 spec is a frequency range without any +/- dB listed.

The actual bass response is determined by the quality of the power amp, room setup and size of room.

The IIIa has the largest bass panel, and had a claimed spec of 32 to 40Kz +/- 4 dB.

I have heard all the 6 foot 3 series, and the IIIa goes noticeably lower than the others.

I have measured flat response down to 30 Hz with my IIIa, and 33 Hz with my 3.6 in various rooms.

I use the 3.6 in my living room and IIIa in my home theater currently.
As Kijanki said, speaker placement is responsible for the aparant differences you hear.

Maggie’s require lots of space compared to more conventional speaker types. The placement from the back wall and sidewalls is critical for optimal performance

I agree with Kijanki and Williewonka, that its probably placement of the speakers in relation to the size of the room. Maggies can get low and punchy sounding when set up in the right room correctly.

Matt M
Besides placement, I wonder if the amp is having trouble with the low impedance? They are rated at 4 ohm, but I suspect they might dip lower.

OP, are you using tube or SS?
Thanks for the input guys, sounds like everyone thinks with the similar specs they should perform similarly.  I thought maybe conventional woofers with more throw might have more punch than electrostatics or some other explanation like that.

I'll try moving the Maggie's around the room a bit to see if I can get more bass out of them, but it's such a big difference I doubt I'll be able to.  I'll try to take some measurements this weekend and post them.

I'm using a Levinson 433 amp rated at 400wpc at 4 ohms which should have plenty of power, right?  =)
Also, "conventional" speakers sounds as though they have more bass if they have a rear port and postioned close to a corner - it reflects off the wall/corner.

My current speakers were quite good in a smaller room, but now they are in a larger room their bass has "normalized" and those lower frequencies that were present all the time are now only there when actually present in the music.

Last time I heard excellent sounding Maggie’s they were in a room with 4 ft behind them and around 5ft in from the side walls and 7 ft between them.

Hope you have a large enough room

Regards - Steve
Speaker specifications are meaningless. 
@markalarsen I think I'd agree, I moved the Maggie's all over the room and can't get near the amount of bass out of them...
Hey guys, I took some measurements today with a calibrated microphone and as suspected the Magnepan 3.7’s are not performing nearly as well as the B&W 803S’s below about 75 Hz. I pulled the Magnepans out about 4 feet from the rear wall hoping that it would help but didn’t make much of a difference.

Measurement Picture:

Setup Pictures:

Check the Cardas website for instructions on setting up Magnepans. I agree the do not produce the same level of bass as box speakers, but they are extremely sensitive to set up. Mine were set up five feet from the back wall. 

its all in the setup. For two years I struggled with setup of Maggie’s from the 1.7i’s to the 3.7l’s and then with the 20.7’s. I was able just a few months ago to dial them in and the bass is amazing. Sonically amazing! Follow the Limage methodology for placement and you will get the results you desire. Air, openness and deep hit you in the chest bass.

Those speakers seem awfully close to the walls, in my opinion.
Is there any way to move the chair backwards?
I agree with gdnrbob.

They definitely should come out from the from wall more. They should be out about 40% of the length of your room and about 6-9 inches from you side wall. 

I just followed the setup instructions from the Cardas website, here are my room measurements:

Here's the Maggie's in their 'optimal' position, something tells me my wife won't allow this... =)

Here's the B&W's in a similar position:

Here's the measurement comparison:

Looks like moving the Maggie's definitely helped in the 40-80 Hz range, but now I've got a significant room mode around 100 Hz.  Also they still don't have the low end punch of the B&W's, maybe it's that sub-40 Hz performance of the B&W that I'm feeling?
They’re way too close together and did you move them out 40 percent of the overall length of your room?
Moved them out 40% of the room width per the instruction, seems crazy to me that these speakers need to basically be in the middle of the room to sound good?

What are your room dimensions? Remember every room is different so you may have to tweak it a little. The Limage placement methodology for Planar have yielded great success. Please read this post

Interesting article on placements, I'd love to mess around with it but I'm afraid I don't have the space to have the speakers 40% out into the room.  My room is also not a rectangle but more L shaped with a large opening to a dining room off to the right of the speakers which may be throwing things off.

For now I'm thinking I may have to live with the sub-optimal placement and supplement the bass with a subwoofer.
I can sympathize.
I have my speakers essentially in the middle of the room, but luckily it is the boundary of the living room and dining room. It works pretty good.
Can you show the opposite side of the room?
Maybe you need to reorient your room.
Also, I see a lot of bare wall and metal blinds. I think you can use either some more furnishings (bookshelves, pictures, etc) or sound traps. I think it would eliminate any resonance issues.