A Day of Audio Magic
This was truly a great event. Throughout the full day we spent in the facility, members of our executive team could barely keep up with the effusive declarations of audio joy from the delighted and excited attendees… there were times when members were three deep just waiting to express their thanks. Indeed, this was a rare opportunity to experience the inner workings of a world-class, high-end, high-tech loudspeaker manufacturer, and it was absolutely fascinating!
In the Magico Listening Room, we were treated to a wonderful surprise – Alon Wolf personally dispelled the “mystery” and presented us with an audition of his new creation, a prototype speaker that has not yet been announced to the public. It was set up in the impeccably designed listening room naked, as in, sporting its full unpainted aluminum glory. All I can say is, Wow! This is one incredible speaker, possibly a game-changer. In all my years of audiophilia, I have not heard a better overall presentation of a loudspeaker (which includes the room, the set up, and a full house of warm bodies). A full play by play write-up by Dan Rubin on our magical day at Magico follows below.
SFAS’ First Field Trip – Visiting The New Magico Factory.
Report by Dan Rubin.
Hayward, CA. December 5, 2015. More than 100 members of the San Francisco Audiophile Society descended on Magico headquarters for a private factory tour and product demo. Members came from throughout and beyond the broad Bay Area, driving as much as three hours. One flew in from Seattle. From the many effusively positive reports from attendees, it was totally worth it.
Magico’s Hayward headquarters is 22,000 square feet of office, R&D and manufacturing space. Early next year, they will take over adjacent space and add another 10,000 square feet. The large front room of the Magico facility is lined with framed magazine covers featuring Magico products. Dozens and dozens of them. Although the company is little more than 10 years old, its impact on high-end audio and its obvious success are inescapable.
To keep the visit intimate and manageable, attendees were assigned to one of four start time groups, spaced 90 minutes apart. Each group was further split in half, one half touring the factory while the other half joined Magico’s CEO, Alon Wolf, in the listening room. Halfway through the 90 minutes, the groups switched places. I’m sure everyone wished for more time, but the process flowed seamlessly and without a hitch all day.
Our Magico hosts were Alon Wolf, CEO; Dave Shackleton, VP of Operations, who lead the factory tour; and Peter Mackay, VP Global Sales and Marketing, who was everywhere answering our questions. (I asked him about B stock. He laughed at me.) In addition to these three gentlemen, Magico had three other employees in for the day: the head of the machine shop, who described the process Magico goes through to machine its copper and aluminum, plus two final assembly personnel, who were working on putting together finished products in that part of the facility. Since the factory normally operates M-F only (two shifts/day), I think it was a great and thoughtful gesture to bring those personnel in, giving us some idea of what it’s like when things are cooking.
Engineering and R&D. Let me say up front that I was mighty impressed with the company and its intense engineering and R&D focus on materials, drivers, and crossovers. Alon Wolf said, “We are here to build a better-engineered product…we do real R&D.” And it showed on Saturday.
The factory tour began with a discussion of the $600k/pair Ultimates, of which there was one unit in the main entry, and the S7 speaker, which was shown in various partial-build versions. Of note on the S7 were the new copper rings to which the woofers attach, rather than directly to the aluminum body. This is an expensive change but Magico says the copper is much better at damping the driver-to-cabinet interface. Oh, and there was also a Q-Sub 18 subwoofer, which sports two 18″ woofers and 4000 watts of built-in amplification (6000 watts if run at 220 volts). The woofers bookend a cabinet some of us could comfortably sleep in. It was on casters. You could get by with one of these, but you know you’d want two for stereo sub-bass, and if you really want to resolve room mode problems, get four.
An adjacent anteroom to the factory houses a collection of Magico models from the original Mini up through the M Project and the current “value” S series and reference Q series models.
Our next stop was the QC room, where drivers and finished speakers are measured against a reference to make sure every product meets a very close spec for performance tolerances. Dave said the system they use for this is very costly and typically out of range for a company of Magico’s size. In this room, Dave showed us the two most significant new developments in Magico drivers. First, the midrange driver now features a coating of graphene, which is a very high tech honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. It is extremely stiff and lightweight and, consequently, means the driver is both stiffer and lighter than ever before. These are constant design goals for Magico and graphene is taking them to a new level. Alon Wolf believes that this may be the first commercial product using the much-touted graphene, or it was when they started development a year ago. The second driver advance was a new tweeter, also gaining stiffness and a lighter weight. The Magico tweeter (in some models) has been a 50-µM beryllium dome. The new tweeter is 5 µM of diamond coating on top of 40 µM of beryllium, achieving what Magico’s modeling tells them is the optimum ratio of weight to stiffness.
We then moved onto the machine shop, where the company has 4 milling machines and one lathe. The main cabinets of the Magico S Series speakers are all made from extruded aluminum, which is outsourced (it requires ridiculously large and expensive machinery to do), but all of the internal bracing plates, the top plates and bottom plinths and some other parts (aluminum and copper) are done in-house on these machines. Magico creates designs in SOLIDWORKS, which are fed into CAM software to drive the milling process. We were told that the Q7 model requires about 50 hours of machine time to produce. There are no wood or MDF chips anywhere at Magico, but there are dumpsters full of aluminum shavings ready to be recycled.
The rest of the tour took us through areas where the extruded aluminum cabinets are milled out for drivers and other parts and where final assembly takes place. Magico crossovers are designed entirely in-house but are manufactured for Magico by Mundorf of Germany using all Mundorf parts. The crossovers we saw were very big and hefty.
Listen to the Music. The Magico listening room is both large and gorgeous. Measuring about 21 x 33 x 14 feet and heavily treated with handsome acoustical treatment products, the system was set up on the short wall with speakers placed well into the room but substantially spread apart and toed in. What we heard was the forthcoming S1 MkII, a replacement for the S1 which features the new graphene-coated mid/bass driver and diamond-over- beryllium tweeter. This pair was in naked aluminum, having not been sent out for final cabinet finish. The product will be announced in December and start shipping in January. $16,500. Alon played files (redbook CD and hi-rez) from a PC using JRiver, fed to a ?aetis music server into the Berkeley Audio Reference DAC and then into top of the line tube preamp and monoblocks from Convergent Audio Technology (CAT). Cabling was Transparent Audio throughout. Magico normally demos with solid state, and there were several pieces of Constellation big iron in the room. But Ken Stevens of CAT had been in recently and everyone was delighted with the pairing, so Alon went with the tubes for our sessions.
We heard parts of five excellent music selections, beginning with a solo piano piece and including a male vocal with guitar, a Shostakovich orchestral selection, something from Holly Cole and a piece by bassist Avishai Cohen. Selections were all well recorded, and when played loud in this excellent room, as Alon did, the sound was immersive. Certainly the new S1 MkII exceeded my expectations for what a two-way floorstander of modest size can do (no doubt helped by the fantastic room). The S1 MkII produced a big sound of extremely high resolution. Timbre was spot-on, mid and upper bass and lower midrange seemed present in the system in a surprising way, giving piano a full-throated quality you don’t expect from a modest two-way. Bass was satisfying, as evidenced by someone in every group asking “where’s the sub hidden?” There was no sub in the room. For a small two-way, the bass was quite impressive. When asked about augmenting the bass with subs, Alon Wolf said that he thinks it’s a mistake to pair two-way speakers with a subwoofer. Three-way or more, yes, but not two-way. Interesting.
Please, Sir, May We Have Some More? This was a great event, no question about it. Alon (Wolf), Dave and Peter seemed to be extremely pleased as well (and why not – we are a great group), and said they would be happy to have us back! Anytime, gentlemen… Anytime.