Review by Myles B. Astor
Senior Assistant Editor
Yesterday, Joshua Cintron’s Ears Nova, the newest high-end audio store in New York City, hosted a three day event featuring the new 20 K Magico Q1 “mini” speakers. (for the record, also ran into Kal there!) Joshua, for non-NY audiophiles, opened the original Ears Nova store many years ago out in LI; he later relocated the store to a space on 84th St. in the UES and now has finally opened a new store in the upper reaches of Chelsea. Ears Nova features some extremely nice high-end audio lines that have not previously been distributed in New York City including Rockport and Magico speakers, Boulder and Viva electronics, Basis tables and cables, etc. The heart of the store consists of three very nicely furnished listening rooms including the largest and "reference room" where the Magicos were set up.
Now mind that I don't have much, if any experience, with the sound of the electronics used with the Magicos. That said, the system consisted of the dimunitive stand mounted Magico Q1s driven by either the 28 wpc Viva Verona XL SE or roughly 1200 wpc (600 into 8 and the Magicos are 5 ohm nominal, 4 ohm minimal impedance) Boulder 2060 amplifier. Records ( I brought along the Classic reissues of Alan Parsons I Robot and Ella Fitzgerald Let No Man Write my Epitaph, the new QRP release Ben Webster Gentle Ben (cut by Kevin Gray) and the Super Analogue pressing of Percussion Spectacular) were spun on the Basis Inspiration table outfitted with the Basis Vector arm holding the Basis distributed My Sonic Labs Ex cartridge; digital playback was capably handled by DCS Paganini DAC and transport. Cabling consisted of Basis IC and speaker cables and the preamp/digital/turntable sat in an HRS equipment stand. The main listening room was a rather large room with estimated measurements of around 40 (l) x 30 (w) x 15 (h?).
So what did I think of the speakers?
To begin with, two caveats. First, I'm taken back ten or so years ago to my NOLA Adrianna speaker review. The Adriannas were a beautifully made and very nice sounding stand mounted speaker listing for 10K; the new Q1s are priced at 20 K. Undoubtedly, there are probably some audiophiles who will balk at paying that much money for a mini-monitor that say in the case of the Q1s, go down, according to Alon Wolf, flat to 40 Hz, but don’t get the bottom octave. Nor does it seem that Alon feels that subs will add to the Q1s sound.
Two, there is a market in New York for instance, because of the small size of apts., WAF, etc. for speakers that don't dominate the room, fit into the homeowners haute couture designer living room, yet are real high-end audio transducers. Clearly the Q1s, if they are to your taste, fill that need. And I think those who can afford the Magicos, will like their sound.
Punch line first: I'd certainly like to hear these speakers in my room with the cj electronics.
So what did the system sound like? First of all, the Q1s are not your typical mini-monitors. They do not sound muffled like the protypical UK minis. They don't sound small like minis eg. no image above the top of the speakers. They don't have a midbass hump, and have satisfying bass. And like the best minis, they totally disappear and get out of the way of the music.
In this large reference room, the Q1s threw a huge, airy and very open sounding soundstage, esp. with the Boulder amps. In fact, preferred the Boulders to the Viva amplifier. Now whether it’s the 1200 or so watts of the Boulder or the design, the Boulder amplifiers were far more revealing, effortless, transparent, less colored and particularly extended in the upper octaves than the Vivas. (the majority of the hour or so listening time was done with the Boulders.) Does that mean that Q1s need a lot of power? I'd postulate that they can be driven by a high quality, lower wattage amplifier—but to get the most out of the speakers—one needs a larger, beef cake type amplifier. On I Robot, the height of the soundstage was limitless as well as the sense depth and width. Two areas that I could never get to lock in however, were a rock solid 3D sense of the performers as well as a well focused, realistic center image. (maybe a slightly different speaker set up?)
Super Percussion serves as a good test for low end dynamics, imaging and extension. And the Q1s were clearly up to the task, falling short essentially in the ability to move air as well as impact. On the other side of the coin, the Q1s were very quick and uncolored in the lower lower octaves. No they'll won't be as satisfying as a big speaker, if that's one reference. As a result, the different types of drums, their individual timbres as well as the rattles, rolls and resonance of the drum heads were cleanly reproduced.
Another area that felt the Magicos excelled in was their transparency and tonal neutrality (much more with the Boulder than Viva!). On the Ben Webster, all the instruments were in the room and one could make out the sense of space surrounding and between each instrument. One item that is clear about the new Analogue Productions QRP recordings is that their pressings are far quieter than other co’s, thus allowing the mastering engineer among other things to expand dynamics, not having to worry as much about getting into the noise floor. And one can really hear that increased information on the record as well as dynamic range.
On the Ella and the Black Coffee cut, the Q1s simply cut to the chaste. Her affectations, intonations, and unique interpretation of this song, are revealed with the Q1s. Is it like my MLs? Of course not, but I just don’t find any/many dynamic speakers that can resolve information like a well designed stat panel.
Finally, one area that many two way designs fall short of ultimate is in the area of dynamics. Many two ways, have a tendency to compress dynamics. In the case of the Magicos, the Q1s had no problem playing loud without breaking up. Dynamics were probably better than other two ways, but I always felt a nagging sense of the speakers being slightly overdamped and not being able to totally break loose.
So in the end, I’d imagine the Q1s are a speaker to fit a particular environment—and to transcend and break the mold of the sound of the typical mini-monitor. And they are very successful at meeting those criteria.