Back in the early
eighties, there waIt's funny how your ears get attuned to things. My formative hi-fi years were spent listening to conventional box loudspeakers. Very good ones, as it happens, but even they didn't prepare me for when I heard my first pair of 'panels'.
After years of living with moving coil woofers and tweeters, in wooden cabinets full of woolly wadding, the sheer oddness of auditioning Quad ESL-57 electrostatics was (and still is) hard to put in to words. It was music Jim, but not as I knew it!
In some ways, it was better. Everything came from a single 'point source' and had a lovely cohesion and delicate detail. Still, there was a downside; I wasn't overly impressed with that mild mannered and meek bass, even if it did go lower than it seemed, and the treble wasn't the world's most finely etched either...
Then I went back to my standard speakers, and all I could hear was 'boof-boof-boof'! Bass that I'd thought to be tight seemed as wobbly as a waterbed and, although powerful, was only apparently coming out at one frequency. I had been 'panelled'!
So it's true that once you've taken a walk on the loudspeaker wild side, it's hard to go back. Rather like Earl Grey compared to builder's tea, or fine Japanese sashimi against canned tuna chunks, one instinctively knows when something is right, and when the other is wrong...
Hearing the Magneplanar MG12s [p12] reminded me of this; here's a £1900 pair of panel speakers that - whilst obviously not brilliant all round - do the basics better than almost any box. They're fast, delicate, expansive, natural and engaging - although you'll yearn for more physicality and heft.
The art of hi-fi is to find out what floats your boat. Expose yourself to as much variety as you can; in the long run, just settling with one type of speaker or amp or source won't take you where you want to go. The Maggies throw this into sharp relief; even if you don't buy them you'll learn more about your existing system.
Then again, they might just satiate a desire in you to be different, ushering in the wonderful world of Quads, Martin Logans, Eminents, Apogees, Kingsounds and of course bigger and better Magneplanars for the rest of your life. You'll kick yourself if you don't at least hear for yourself the difference a panel speaker makes!
David Price, editor
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