I started turning away from the whole notion of declaring something “the best” about the time I shut down my column, “The World’s Best Audio System.” Don’t get me wrong: The writings and events that made up the TWBAS series were enlightening -- I was able to learn from lots of talented industry folks, and assembled several state-of-the-art audio systems in my listening room, the Music Vault. In terms of establishing a personal audio reference, this was invaluable, and no doubt made me a better reviewer. But there’s a futility in searching for the universal “best” -- at least, in high-end audio. It’s an argument that’s never settled, by me or by anyone else.
That may seem an odd way to start a review of Magico’s Q7 Mk II ($229,000 USD per pair), a technological tour de force of a loudspeaker from the imagination of the company’s chief executive officer, Alon Wolf, and the intellect of chief technical officer Yair Tammam. Instead of proclaiming the Q7 Mk II “the best” in some universal sense, I’m going to tell you how it differs from the original Q7 -- a speaker I did call “the best” -- as well as what separates it from other speakers I’ve heard.
Q7 Mk II
For a complete description of the Magico Q7’s design and construction, see my June 2012 review, “Inevitable: Magico Q7 Loudspeakers.” Most of the Q7’s design characteristics are unchanged in the Mk II: It’s still a four-way design comprising two 12” woofers, a 10” midbass, and a 6” midrange; but the Mk II’s tweeter is a 28mm dome, compared to the original’s 26mm dome. These drivers are all housed in a 59.25"H x 14.8"W x 31.6"D cabinet weighing 750 pounds and made of machined aluminum, copper, and stainless steel. The crossover components are still made by Mundorf, of Germany.
Three basic elements have been changed for the Mk II. First, and perhaps most important, is the tweeter. The Q7’s 26mm dome was made of beryllium, and while that tweeter was Magico’s own design from the ground up -- including the motor system, voice coil, and surround -- the dome itself was limited by what was then possible in the processing and working of beryllium, a toxic element that’s notoriously difficult to work with. That’s why you see so many speaker companies using lookalike 26mm beryllium domes, including Scan-Speak, the company that sells more OEM beryllium tweeters than anyone. For the Q7 Mk II, though, Magico has taken advantage of new cutting-edge techniques of working with beryllium. The new, 28mm dome is made of diamond-coated beryllium: a 5µm-thick layer of diamond deposited on a 40µm-thick layer of beryllium. This marrying of disparate materials increases stiffness but avoids the weight of a dome of pure diamond. The resulting tweeter is stiffer and better damped than the old 26mm model, and can produce a linear response higher in frequency -- there are no nasty breakup modes anywhere near the audioband. Also, the 28mm dome’s wider diameter provides enough space to improve the underlying motor structure: a larger-diameter voice coil is used to better dissipate heat, which in turn means higher power handling and lower distortion. And lower distortion, all else being equal, is always a good thing.
Perhaps the most easily overlooked improvement in the tweeter is the profile of the dome itself. According to Magico, the larger diameter made it possible for them to better optimize the dome’s shape, which led to better dispersion characteristics. Yair Tammam explained:
Let’s start with the [Q7] Mk I tweeter: the shape of the tweeter was optimized for pure beryllium. It was the best shape we could design with a pure beryllium [dome] 50µm thick. While designing the M Project tweeter [Magico’s 10th-anniversary model; $129,000/pair, no longer available], the process of diamond coating became available. During design and simulation it was found that by enlarging the diameter, and making the cone higher, and going down to 40µm thick, everything got better. The outcome of the new design is lower distortion at lower frequencies, thus enabling a lower crossover point, which automatically improved the dispersion characteristics and reduced the IMD (intermodulation distortion); this makes the transition between the drivers smoother. The effect on the sound is a smoother, more relaxed tonal balance.
The second element changed for the Q7 Mk II is the cone of its midrange driver. Although the underlying motor system is the same, the cone is now made from graphene. A Google-search definition states that graphene is “a fullerene consisting of bonded carbon atoms in sheet form one atom thick.” This wonder material is said to be 200 times stronger than steel, harder than diamond, and the best conductor of electricity known. No doubt it can also walk and chew gum at the same time. Magico claims that its graphene cone is 30% lighter and 300% stiffer than its Nano-Tec predecessor. As with the new tweeter, these qualities ensure pistonic operation far beyond the driver’s operating bandwidth.
Last, the Q7’s crossover components have been improved with the addition of Mundorf MCap Supreme Evo capacitors. I asked Tammam how these components enhanced the new design, and specifically if the crossover slopes or points had changed:
The new crossover components enabled us to achieve a further step up in transparency, which enabled us to notice the differences achieved by the new drivers’ technologies. The whole upper section of the speaker improved both in measurements and in sound, though it is very hard to isolate what contribution the crossover components made. Although the crossover is a completely new design, the acoustic targets are the same as in any Magico speaker, yet reaching those targets was more precise than ever.
The Q7’s woofers have not changed. Tammam was quick to point out their continued superiority, even to the woofers in Magico’s newer M Project speaker: “The woofer on the Q7 is the best bass driver we ever made.”
If you own Q7s and want to upgrade them to Mk II spec, it will cost you $44,000/pair, plus shipping to and from Magico’s factory, in Hayward, California. The upgrade necessitates a new faceplate to accommodate the new tweeter diameter, and a new rear plate that indicates the Mk II status and houses the single set of binding posts (the Q7 had two pairs of posts, to permit biwiring). Most of this information can be found elsewhere and isn’t really news; I include it here only for the sake of completeness.
But I’m also paid to give my opinion: If you value extreme build quality, exquisite fit’n’finish, and completeness of overall design, nothing else in my experience compares with the Magico Q7 Mk II. For instance, its aluminum cabinet: I’ve seen many, many components made from aluminum over the years, most of them very nicely finished. But not one has been as free of physically visible flaws as the Q7 Mk II. It’s a different animal. Its large, smooth, hard-anodized side panels are pictures of perfection, completely smooth and free from any physical defects -- including the kind a brushed-aluminum finish can hide. The joins, too, are almost impossibly precise. I have never seen this level of build quality in a small electronic component, never mind a loudspeaker, let alone one as huge as the Q7 Mk II. Magico’s level of quality control is something to behold.
Q7 vs. Q7 Mk II
Many people have heard Magico’s Q7s over the last few years -- they’ve been demonstrated at audio shows and at dealers around the world. That can’t be said of the Q7 Mk II, at least not yet. Listeners’ experiences of them will trickle in over time, but for many audiophiles, any difference in sound between the original and updated models remains a mystery. So I thought that what would be most helpful to readers would be to pull exactly the same tracks I listened to for my review of the Q7, and listen to them again through the Q7 Mk II.
From that review: “The Allegro of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.4 in D Major, K.218, performed by Marianne Thorsen and the Trondheim Soloists on the 2L-TWBAS 2012 Sampler (24/176.4 FLAC, 2L/SoundStageRecordings.com), sounded as if a hazy film had been wiped away, leaving only the crystal-clear music behind.” Listening to that track through the Q7 Mk II was a somewhat different experience. Although I’d still describe the sound as “crystal-clear,” in the sense that every instrument’s sound was reproduced with no apparent coloration or distortion, I could also more closely follow the violin’s playful give and take with the chamber orchestra -- it was more obvious, and thus more enjoyable. This might have been due to Magico’s claimed improvement of the driver integration, but that’s conjecture. What I know for sure is that I found myself relaxing into the music more than I had with the Q7s. Although this might make some assume that the Q7 Mk II was tonally just a touch more laid-back or more subdued in the treble than the Q7, I can dispel that notion here: The treble just floated in space more effortlessly now, as opposed to feeling pushed out of the speakers. If anything, the Q7 Mk II’s 28mm tweeter seemed capable of even greater finesse than the Q7’s 26mm dome, but made its presence known in the least obtrusive way. In that regard it was the best of both worlds: extreme detail, but with none of the baggage that can come with the pursuit of extreme detail.
Through the Q7s, “The hi-rez version of Rebecca Pidgeon’s Four Marys (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Chesky/HDtracks) brought the singer closer to sounding live in my room than I’d ever heard, precisely because I could almost see her before me as never before.” Now, through the Q7 Mk IIs, this album sounded better in every way. Pidgeon’s voice was flat-out more tangible, more dense. Although I could still “see” her in my room as before, I now felt as if I were also hearing the entire recording session -- as if I’d been present in the studio as Pidgeon sang and played. The way her voice interacted with the acoustic of her surroundings was fully displayed. For instance, it seemed easier to estimate her distance from the vocal mike, and to hear the reflections of her voice off the venue’s boundaries. I could also more easily hear her work to hit the highest notes -- all laid bare by the Q7 Mk IIs.
Of the Q7s, I’d said: “I remember thinking, as I listened to the solo-piano tracks by Ola Gjeilo on the 2L-TWBAS 2012 Sampler, how absolutely balanced and seamless the sound was. The Q7s’ drivers seemed to operate as a single, giant, full-bandwidth driver -- the kind that doesn’t exist. Gjeilo’s piano sounded tonally dense and weighty through the Q7s, yet lithe when called for, just as a piano should.” There’s no question in my mind that the Q7 Mk II built on the strengths so amply displayed by the Q7. This time around, the sound of Gjeilo’s piano was more than merely seamless -- it was also warm and beautiful in ways I’d never heard from any other speaker, including the Q7. What impressed me most with these tracks was how the Q7 Mk IIs could reproduce all the fine detail available in a recording while also giving me a more inviting listening experience. The whole was much greater than the sum of its parts -- even when those parts are as exalted as those used in the Q7 Mk II.
Summing up the differences between the Q7 and the Q7 Mk II is pretty easy: The new version sounded less forced, more accessible -- in short, more enjoyable to listen to. And it accomplished this feat with absolutely no loss of transparency; in fact, I heard more detail in the highs than I had with the Q7. The midrange was also more revealing than the Q7 could manage, while the transition from the midrange to the highs was less obtrusive. The treble was, surprisingly enough, even more airy and delicate.
Do I think the Q7 and the Q7 Mk II have different overall tonal balances? Yes and no. Although I believe the new tweeter sounded less forced, I didn’t hear it as shelved down at all in comparison with what I remember of the sound of the Q7’s tweeter. With some tracks, that less-forced nature made the Q7 Mk II sound less tweeter-centric. But to put one Internet rumor to rest: In my listening, at least, the Q7 Mk II did not have “more bass” or anything of the sort. It was just as neutral, just as electrostatic-like in the bass as the Q7 had been.
Setting it apart
Why the Magico Q7 Mk II and not something else? In general, Magico speakers have several attributes -- a house sound, if you will -- that attracts listeners more than other speakers do. The first is transparency; specifically, the transparency that remains audible as frequencies descend. Does Magico bass sound different from other brands’ bass? Yes, no question. For lack of a better term, it’s electrostatic-like. Other writers have described Magico bass as “electrostatic-like,” and I think it fits: Magico’s woofers never plod along, you never hear one-note bass when there’s more than one note to hear, and they don’t boom. Ever. The Q7 Mk II builds on this Magico strength.
Another way to sum up the Q7 Mk II’s bass: I heard all the precision of a great tweeter -- all the way down to 20Hz. Until you hear the Q7 Mk II, you simply haven’t heard bass speed and bass agility at this level of perfection.
However, the sound of the Q7 Mk II isn’t only about the bass. With the transition from the tweeter to the midrange driver being made even smoother, and the reproduction of the midrange more dense and more clear, the bass might seem a touch more prominent than before. It’s not. Instead, I think it’s the other way around -- that the Q7 Mk II’s tweeter and midrange drivers have only just now caught up with the quality of the woofer and midbass. Just as the Q7’s bass never called attention to itself unless there was real low bass in the recording, the Q7 Mk II’s mids and highs were just as unobtrusive, which made the bass seem a touch more there -- but what was really being revealed was a greater balance throughout the audioband. The Q7 Mk IIs could sound mellow when they needed to, but could also pin me back in my chair when that was called for. No other speaker I’ve heard can accomplish both as well as could the Magico Q7 Mk II.
Maybe, after reviewing audio gear for almost 20 years, I’m a touch jaded -- there can be great disappointment in high-end audio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed in high-end audio products, for one thing or another. Be it sound, fit’n’finish, or build integrity, the promises made by audio manufacturers are almost always greater than the reality you unbox. The difference is called marketing.
But that’s precisely what sets the Magico Q7 Mk II apart from everything else I’ve experienced. Here, finally, is a product that, in sound and build, delivers everything promised by its maker. Whether that makes it “the best” in some universal sense is infinitely debatable. What’s not debatable is that, in every area I value as an audiophile and music lover, the Q7 Mk II comes closer to perfection than anything else I’ve ever experienced.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- Magico Q7, Bryston Middle T
- Amplifier -- Soulution 711
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Air running OS 10.9.4, iTunes, Amarra 3.0.2, DSDPlayer for Mac, Tidal streaming service, Exogal Comet DAC with external power supply
- Cables -- Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
Magico Q7 Mk II Loudspeakers
Price: $229,000 USD per pair (upgrade from Q7: $44,000/pair).
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
3170 Corporate Place
Hayward, CA 94545
Phone: (510) 649-9700