The notion that high-end audio can’t offer strong value propositions is ridiculous. If you choose your components wisely, you can assemble and own an incredible-sounding music-reproducing system that will virtually transport you to the best clubs, concert halls, and recording studios in history—a system that will last for decades as it provides thousands of hours of listening enjoyment to you and your family.
You can do this for less than the base price of a Porsche 911, which is $102,200—still very expensive, but I’m talking car money here, not house money—and you won’t have to do any regular maintenance other than to dust off the tops of the components and occasionally clean their contacts.
Here’s one strategy for choosing that system’s components.
Start with great speakers
It’s been my M.O. for two decades, and it’s always worked well: Choose speakers first, then assemble everything around them. Speakers contribute more to a system’s sound than does any other component. (A good room is important, of course, but usually you can’t just go out and buy one of those.)
If you haven’t already, please read my review of Magico’s A5 loudspeaker. At $24,800/pair (all prices USD), the A5 is today’s best value in a high-end loudspeaker. It’s so good that, unless you simply want bigger speakers equipped with giant cones enclosed in cabinets of refrigerator-size internal volume, I’m not sure there’s a good reason to spend any more on speakers.
A pair of Magico A5s gives you a crystal-clear view into the music. The A5 is a very high-resolution machine that reproduces recorded sound with extreme linearity, and it’s full range—a pair of them could reproduce bass down to 20Hz in my room. The A5s are so good that they’ve redefined what I think we audiophiles should expect for our upgrade expenditures.
Here’s an example of paying more and potentially getting less: Let’s say you buy a pair of huge, 500-pound speakers with six or seven drive units, including 12ʺ or 15″ woofers. Let’s say they cost over $100,000/pair. You would have a heck of a pair of conversation pieces sitting in your room. However, should you assume that that speaker is better engineered than the Magico A5 just because it costs more? Would you get a deeper view into your recorded music collection than the A5 could provide? There is no guarantee that paying more buys you more. After hearing the A5s in my room for over a month, my 24 years of reviewing high-end speakers tell me that there’s a very good chance that in paying more I’d end up with less. Sure, I’d probably get speakers that can play louder—more and bigger drivers in a much bigger cabinet can easily do that—but would it be more transparent to the source? My experience tells me that you’ll have a hard time getting more resolution than a pair of A5s can provide.
Wanting to learn more about how the A5 and the other models in Magico’s A series, their newest, were developed, I had a short chat with Magico’s founder, Alon Wolf:
Jeff Fritz: When you conceived the A-series models, what was your goal?
Alon Wolf: I wanted to create a real Magico in the most efficient, cost-effective package possible.
JF: The A models seem to share much DNA with the older Q models. Was that a conscious decision, or simply where designing the A speakers took you?
AW: With the A-series speakers we developed the most cost-effective way to build an enclosure that encapsulates all the basic parameters we at Magico require for the level of performance we needed. Although they resemble the Q series, they are not built to the same level. They do possess the same DNA, indeed, but with cost efficiency in mind.
JF: It was a bold move to trickle down technology, such as aluminum-honeycomb driver cores, from your flagship M9 model ($750,000/pair) to an entry-level model such as the A5 ($24,800/pair). Tell me about that.
AW: It was an easy decision, actually. Once we heard (and measured) these new cones, we knew they would become a part of any new model we introduced. Again, the new drivers’ core is aluminum honeycomb, but the rest of the elements are built to maximize performance while remaining price conscious. These are not the same drivers that are in the M9.
JF: The A5 sounds like a much bigger speaker than it actually is. Was that a goal?
AW: The A5 has three 9″ drivers. In terms of moving mass, these three woofers combine to play quite large. Additionally, the quality of all the parts involved in the A5 allows maximum sound quality in a reasonable-size package.
JF: The A models, and specifically the A5, must be putting upward pressure on the current S series. What plans do you have to address that?
AW: The Magico team has been hard at work. Soon you will find out!
If you buy a pair of Magico A5s, you can then go in many directions in building out your system with electronics—but my current recommendation would be to go all MSB Technology. I wrote last month about a pairing of MSB’s Discrete digital-to-analog converter ($21,425 as configured for my system) with their new S202 power amplifier ($29,500). Add interconnects, speaker cables, and a source component such as an Apple MacBook Pro computer, and your total system cost, including the A5s, will still be under six figures. Expensive? Yes. A great value? Most emphatically yes.
I’ve grown very fond of the audible synergy of the MSB Technology electronics and Magico A5s. The sound of that combo, linked with Shunyata Research wires and power conditioning and fed by an Apple MacBook Pro, was magical in my room. These components also comprised a system that anyone would be thrilled to display in a living or listening space—the build qualities are fantastic, and the components’ sizes make them easy to fit into a room: though by no means insubstantial, they don’t dominate a space. Think sports-car proportions, not the one-ton pickups of many supersystems.
A second opinion
As I mentioned above, running concurrently with my audition of the Magico A5 was an evaluation of MSB Technology’s S202 stereo power amplifier and Discrete digital-to-analog converter. I also had on hand a review sample of MSB’s Premier DAC ($24,950), which sits one step up from the Discrete. A conversation with MSB sales manager Vince Galbo revealed that he, too, was listening to the S202 and Premier with a newly acquired pair of Magico A5s. After I’d finished writing the review of the Magicos, I asked Galbo what he’d heard; to a great degree, his experiences mirrored mine.
MSB’s DACs are often described by users as producing none of the sonic artifacts often associated with digital sources. Galbo said that “We [at MSB] believe the sonic character of digital artifacts are the main reason for the concept of matching—endlessly trying components and accessories that complement each other. In fact, we may just be adjusting for the annoyance of digital artifacts, to achieve some satisfactory balance between detail and a natural presentation.”
Galbo believes that MSB has eradicated these digital gremlins. (You’ll read my own opinion on this next month, when my review of the Premier DAC appears.) “These artifacts are a large part of the brightness, harshness, forward sound . . . whatever you want to call it. Further confusing, our auditory perception judges these artifacts as tipped-up frequency response (brightness) . . . an uncomfortable feeling that something isn’t quite right.” Galbo surmises that when they don’t have to reproduce digital artifacts, “Well-engineered speakers like the new Magico A5s I use in my system are further known for their ability to reveal surprising amounts of information faithful to the recorded space.” I agree—the synergy of the Magicos and MSBs is quite something.
If a supersystem is your goal, blast off the starting blocks with a pair of Magico A5 speakers and some MSB Technology electronics. It’s a solid investment in every respect.
. . . Jeff Fritz