Magnepan20.1 And Soundlab A-1

Can anyone give the pro's and con's when comparing these 2 speakers
Hello Snook2,

I like your taste in speakers!

First off, just so everyone knows, I peddle the Sound Labs, though I've owned many a Maggie and respect the line a great deal. My experiences are with the Maggie 20 instead of the 20.1, and I'm sure the new push-pull midrange of the 20.1 is a worthwhile improvement.

Note that the Maggie 20.1 retails for 12 grand ballpark, while the A-1 retails for 18 grand ballpark (with options). The sonically indentical M-1 is about 1.5 grand less than the A-1.

The good news is, I don't think there's a wrong choice between the two speakers.

Okay, let's do the Maggies first. The 20.1 may well have better bass than the Sound Labs, though I can't be sure of this (not having heard 'em side-by-side). But planar magnetic technology allows for longer excursion capability than electrostatic technology does, so despite their smaller size the Maggies can probably move more air. I'm also under the impression that the Maggies have a higher maximum SPL capability. Maggies are a much easier load to drive, as their impedance curve is a nice flat 4 ohm load.

Sound Labs are a bit more coherent and give you a wider sweet spot - in particular, the tonal balance is correct throughout the room. The tonal balance also remains the same whether you listen at low or high volume levels. Sound Labs are especially good at reproducing natural timbres and textures - something the Maggies also do a very good job with. Sound Labs are noted for their world-class inner harmonic detail and articulation.

I'm talking about differences here, but these two speakers probably have more in common than not, and represent the best of full-range planar technology.

When I had Maggie 3.6's in my system side-by-side with the Sound Labs, I did notice that I kept wanting to turn the Maggies up louder to hear the details that were so readily apparent on the Sound Labs. I think the push-pull midrange driver on the 20.1 will go a long way towards giving the big Maggies articulation closer to the Sound Labs, but ultimately I think electrostatic technology has greater resolving capability because the moving mass of the diaphragm is much lower (thinner diaphragm and no attached metal conductor).

Just for the record, a couple of years ago when there were no Maggie dealers with 20.1's on display, I called Magnepan and offered to display the 20.1's in my showroom. I would offer big Maggie customers the same free B&B stay (plus airfare reimbursement with purchase) that I offer Sound Lab customers. Well, unfortunately Magnepan was not the least bit interested. But I'd love to have the big Maggies and Sound Labs essentially side-by-side in the same showroom! That would be the ultimate in planar madness. Oh well, not in my lifetime it looks like...

I think the big Maggies and Sound Labs far surpass their box-speaker competition at the things that matter most - namely, making the magic happen without interjecting little colorations and artifacts that ruin the illusion.

Hopefully many non-dealers will offer their comments as well.

Best of luck in your quest,


I have to applaud your candid comments! My local Pass dealer is a custom speaker builder. They also tried to carry Magnepan. There is only 1 Maggie dealer in Arizona,
Wilson Audio in Tucson.
Here in Phoenix we've been waiting for a Maggie dealer. When my Pass dealer called about carrying the line, they were told they can't have it, they're not devoted enough to surround sound.... Unbelieveable!
They have Pass, YBA (Signature!), Cary, Electrocompaniet, Fosgate, Sherbourn, Audio Refinement, Arcam, Sony & Cambridge.
Panel lovers like their panels. I've owned Magnepan & now own Apogee. I've heard the Sound Labs at a friend's, they do have their strong pounts........
It's too bad that Magnepan won't let willing dealers floor their speakers. It's really a shame...
You are overly kind (as usual); the Sound Labs are IMHO superior to the Magnepans in almost every area...low level resolution, harmonic textures, space within space. That overall sense of realism. As far as bass, I will take textures and and tonality over slap every time.
Having said that, the Magnepans are excellent. Now if only they could remove their marketing head from their you know what's and sell some products. Someone like me, with a stong sense of marketing and sales could double their sales within one calendar year, simply by beginning with the signing of dealers just like the one you mentioned. One must assume from their actions, that they are happy with their current volume. This haughty marketing approach has been their hallmark since I can remember. (I personally had to tell Jim Winey that his turntable was turning too fast, at the CES 1984, just to get their attention enough to get the line for my store.) Prior to that incident I was treated like a leper. To each his/her own.
PS Snook, if you would like more, email me directly.
Although I haven't owned Magnepans (I own and sell Sound Labs), I've heard them on enough occasions that I have a pretty good idea of their characteristics. Their radiating pattern gives a different tonal characteristic and feel, the former being somewhat variable depending upon listening position. When pushed hard, Magnepans can probably reach higher SPLs than Sound Labs, although one should consider what your listening satisfaction levels are at various SPLs. Keep in mind that your ears tend to protect themselves from loud sounds, that as SPL increases you may likely hear less detail. A loudspeaker which excels at low to medium volumes in terms of detail doesn't necessarily need to be played loud to be satisfying, although having the headroom for producing momentary loud sounds can make things more realistic. Conversely, a speaker that needs to be played at medium to high SPLs to sound more satisfying probably lacks some detail.

As for radiating pattern, the faceted curve of Sound Labs enables them to deliver a wider listening sweet spot, with more accurate tonal balance in the room, as pointed out. A speaker with a flat planar diaphragm may reach higher perceptible SPLs since the sound is coming more directly at you instead of being radiated in a more radial pattern that a line source produces, which my seem to have more impact. Magnepans do seem to exhibit a bit more 'thwack' of a bass drum, but the overall presentation including ambient information is quite different. Tympani, string basses, and pianos all produce lots of bass in all different directions. Ask yourself the next time you play a record or CD with those instruments, am I experiencing the sound of the instruments in the performance venue? The human voice also reveals a great deal. It all has to do with getting the reverberant field right.

Brian Walsh