High End Hi-Fi in Parnell

Occasionally we get the chance to hear something special and this is definitely one of those times. I was aware that some brand new Jeff Rowland Design Group amplification was being run in for a discerning client at Absolute Sound in Parnell. When I heard that a pair of Magico speakers were arriving to be partnered temporarily with the Rowland gear, I had to make a plan to get along for a listen.

Up and running with B&W802D (new version)

The electronics are being set up to match a pair of Avalon Acoustics loudspeakers coming in from overseas but the source and amps are first being given a real workout before being installed. The somewhat high-end components are a Wadia 381 CD player ($13,999), a Jeff Rowland Corus preamplifier ($21,500) and a 300 watt per channel Jeff Rowland stereo 625 power amp ($26,995). The whole lot was cabled up with high-end Audioquest cables and was running into the new B&W802D floorstanders when I arrived.

Not your average standmount speakers

The Magico Mini speakers arrived shortly thereafter. When a set of stand mount speakers is delivered in a van, in four wooden shipping crates that are all a two-man lift, then you know they’re fairly serious standmounts. Let’s agree not to call them bookshelf speakers ok?

These are the original Minis, not the Mini 2 model, so their price is around the $45,000 mark (stands included), while the newer version is priced at a startling $54,999.

The Magicos are easy enough to get set up as long as you’ve got a couple of blokes to lug boxes around and shift the heavy stands (close to 50Kg) into place. Even the box of bits (gloves, balls for the stand/speaker interfaces, spikes etc.) is a laminated wooden number with an aluminium top secured by four hex head screws. Cardboard just won’t do around here.

When a stand mounted speaker has as much (if not more) presence in a room as a set of B&W 802D floorstanders, you know you’re on another level entirely. The Magicos are as tall as the big B&Ws and the cabinet is roughly as wide and deep. The finish as you’d expect, is exceptional and the speakers are as solid as the proverbial (and cliched) rock thanks to the laminated construction.

The Rowland electronics are also stunners, with their unique faceplates and rugged construction. The power amp is a Class A/B model, which explains the heatsinks on the side – each machined from a single block of aluminium. Gorgeous doesn’t do this kind of craftsmanship much justice.

Set up and positioning was relatively simple – many hands make light work after all. I mostly sat around contemplating this weekend’s Lotto draw.

Once the speakers were properly positioned and the Audioquest cables were hooked up to the single binding posts, we settled in for a listening session. It’s a treat to hear how the high-end sounds because it allows one to rethink what hi-fi should actually sound like. If you’re lucky enough to have a seriously capable audio system, then you may merely find the experience different as opposed to shattering. It can of course make you outright miserable and point you aggressively down upgrade road.

Quite subtle, in its own way

This system would definitely have some people wondering what exactly they were hearing. The first question is “where’s the bass?”, the second is “where did all that detail and information come from?”.

The answers are simple….more or less. The bass is there but it’s not in the least boomy or loose thanks to the sealed cabinet. Listening to ‘Hitchhiker’ from Neil Young’s Le Noise CD proved to be a very different cup of tea to what I’ve been hearing at home with my floorstanders in a small room. Where I have bass lines rumbling through the floorboards and into the cupboards and walls, the Magicos just play a deep and solid bass line and they’re probably the more correct interpretation of what’s on the CD. Would this be enough for all audiophiles? Probably not but you have to wonder if what you’re hearing at home is what you’re meant to be hearing or if it’s overblown and exaggerated. Don’t think too deeply on that…

The newer Mini 2 speakers go quite a bit lower in the bass, which would give them more of the depth and weight that most of us like to hear but if you’re not obsessed about the last few Hz and don’t get off on organ music, this could be bliss, assuming you can find the readies to buy them and their required partners.

The second question is about the detail. These things (and the electronics) can really strip back the gauze and let you hear a huge amount of the recording, much more so than even the very good systems I’ve heard around the $10-$20K range. The sound of the guitar on ‘Keith Don’t Go’ from Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live CD had subtleties that are missed on lesser systems, you could literally sense, even feel the movement of his fingers on the strings. This became as much part of the music as the vocals, guitar notes and the acoustic sound of the venue and it’s something I don’t remember hearing as clearly before.

Vanishing from the room and just flat out putting more of the music on show is after all the strength of a mini-monitor speaker placed on a stand, and while you wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination call these speakers mini monitors, they have the same endearing characteristics. For example, my Theophany M5 floorstanders are beaten in my room by the smaller M3b stand mounted model in terms of imaging, sound staging and their ability to vanish but I’ve kept the M5s for the day I have a bigger room. They’ll be at their peak with some space around them, until then, I live with missing the last 10% of the performance.

This is the kind of system reserved for those with deep pockets and a certain amount of dedication. I’d love to hear the electronics set up with the Avalons when they land. Hint hint.

Many thanks to Andrew George from Magico/Jeff Rowland agents PQ Imports and Michael Steven from Absolute Sound for taking the time to host me today.

4 Comments

  1. Tsk, pity I wasn’t able to be there but them’s the breaks I suppose. How would you describe the sonic ‘signature’ Ash – warm & involving, or detailed and accurate?
    I’d expect the Magico’s to sound explicit on acoustic guitar (Nils Lofgren for instance), a hallmark of a good stand-mount – especially ones as bomb proof as these.
    And yes the Rowlands are an exquisite example of audio jewellry aren’t they!

  2. Warm? Pardon my chuckles.

    That’s not exactly ye olde warm romantic combination they have there. The Magico V3 floorstanders I heard a while back are quite mellow and warm running from VTL MB450 monoblocks in triode mode (not so much in tetrode), so I’d say that these speakers are more than neutral enough to be able to convey the signature of the upstream electronics without adding their own contributions.

    This system is very, very clean with hyperactive detail through the entire range. Explicit is a good way to put it. Almost forensic but not uninvolving if that makes any sense. That acoustic guitar you mentioned is almost stark but still a lot of fun and even Led Zep sounded damn nice, when you’d expect it to be too rough to be entirely tolerable.

    There’s a lot to take in but it’s not lean enough to be cold or over analytical although anyone used to a warm system or one that’s bass heavy is going to initially miss what they usually hear, that’s for sure. I liked it a whole lot.

  3. Thanks for sharing Ash. You just have to ensure the lucky owner gets to hear what a great bunch of people the WD bunch are. Then they’ll be wanting to welcome a few of us around for a listen some time!

  4. Pingback: Still Tweaking After All These Years

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