There’s no shortage of high-end loudspeaker companies whose products few people can afford. Five- and six-figure speakers from these companies line the halls of almost every hi-fi show I go to, with an occasional seven-figure model showing up from time to time. That’s all well and good, but when I see these loudspeakers I can’t help but ask, how many actually get sold? After all, that’s a lot of money for just loudspeakers.
Until this month, Magico, a Hayward, California, company that’s been in business for 15 years, could be included in that exclusive crew, with a speaker-product range that started at $16,500 USD per pair for the two-way, two-driver S1 Mk.II and ended at $229,000 per pair for the five-driver, four-way Q7 Mk.II. With a staff of 35 and a spacious factory, the company has carved out a good-sized niche in the high end. Still, you know Magico would sell a lot more units if the prices weren’t so high.
Alon Wolf examining an S1 Mk.II midrange-woofer
Thankfully, Magico’s founder, Alon Wolf, knows that as much as he likes to make loudspeakers with only the best parts and finish quality and commensurate high prices, he’s leaving a huge number of potential buyers out of his club -- buyers I’m sure he would really, really like to have. The problem is that, until now, he didn’t know how to create a much-lower-priced speaker and have it, in his words, “still be a Magico,” which is something I’ll come back to.
I met with Alon at his factory on December 13 to discuss his company’s new loudspeaker, the A3, priced at $9800 USD per pair. It’s Magico’s foray into the four-figure-per-pair loudspeaker world and, most likely, into the pocketbooks of many more customers than in the past. That day, Alon was candid about the issue of price, saying that, from his experience building and selling expensive loudspeakers, he sees $10,000 as a really important price point, because he considers it a “financial hurdle” that’s difficult for some people to get over -- not just audiophiles, but buyers of many goods. “That’s why you see so many expensive watches priced up to $10,000, but not nearly as many priced over,” he said.
The A3 unveiled
I agree -- there’s something about that $10,000 price point, particularly in hi-fi, that elevates a luxury-type purchase from somewhat reasonable to, in Alon’s words, “an unreasonable amount to invest.” Obviously, a lot has to do with what people can afford to spend. In Canada, where I live, and the United States, where most of our writers live, average annual incomes are well under $100,000, even for those with university educations. That’s before taxes. So think about it: who in the world can pay $50,000, or even $30,000 or $20,000, for a pair of loudspeakers? Either a member of the small group with incomes well above the norm, or someone who’s so dedicated to audio that they’re willing to skip a lot of meals to afford the speakers of their dreams.
To me, a $10,000 price tag, while not cheap or even affordable, is attainable for someone with a good job and income. To well-heeled individuals for whom hi-fi is a passion, it’s also a reasonable purchase to make -- reasonable in the sense that someone with a good salary can realistically pay that much without starving or skipping mortgage payments.
That said, a $10,000 price tag was also a hurdle for Alon. “There was no point in doing something like this if it were more than $10,000,” he said. Yet that challenge intrigued him, because he wanted to prove his company could make something less expensive and be competitive.
As I said before, this new sub-$10,000 speaker had to “still be a Magico,” which was a sticking point for Alon in achieving this goal, so I asked him exactly what he meant by that and why that made it so difficult. This is what he said in rapid succession:
It had to have a stiff and rigid enclosure, which is not possible to do with MDF or resin. It had to have a beryllium tweeter; after all, after achieving the level of high-frequency performance in the M- and S-series speakers, we could not go back to a silk-dome tweeter like we had before. It had to be a sealed-box enclosure, since we have always done acoustic-suspension speakers -- and we believe that this is the proper bass alignment. The cone had to be stiff and damped, so a carbon-fibre sandwich with a graphene layer was necessary. It needed our Elliptical crossover, which produces a 24dB-per-octave acoustical slope with a 12dB-per-octave electrical crossover. It also had to have Mundorf parts in the crossover, like our other speakers.
An assembly technician working on the A3 back panel
Alon told me that from an engineering perspective, the most challenging part of the A3 project was the drivers. “When you need to make a stiff cone for $20 instead of $60, it’s very hard,” he explained, reinforcing the fact that when it comes to meeting a price point, every part must be looked at carefully.
Insofar as keeping the cost per pair to below $10,000 at retail, he said that had mostly to do with the cabinet, the speaker’s most expensive part. As a result, the A3’s cabinet is still made using aircraft-grade T-6061 aluminum, like with all the Magico speakers, but the company went with a rectangular enclosure instead of a curved one, like it uses in its S-series speakers. Doing so is less expensive. Alon also said that they “had to use a high-volume contractor to do the heft of the machining.” In other words, they outsourced it to a company having great economies of scale. However, Alon said there was one unforeseen benefit of doing so -- the quality of the brushed-aluminum finish ended up being better than what the company could produce in its in-house machine shop. I looked closely at every A3 panel on the pair there and couldn’t see a flaw. Flawless finishes are hallmarks of the Magico name, and the A3 is no exception.
The outcome with the A3 is an impressively finished floorstander with an all-aluminum enclosure that measures 44"H x 11"D x 9.25"W and weighs a hefty 110 pounds. From what I could tell, the walls are about 1/2" thick -- so sturdy -- plus it’s braced inside with more aluminum pieces.
The A3’s twin woofers
The drivers the company developed are also noteworthy for their quality and quantity. Unlike the S1 Mk.II, with only two drivers, the A3 is a three-way design with a 1.1" beryllium-dome tweeter and a 6" Nano-Tec midrange near the top part of the front baffle, and two 7" Nano-Tec woofers also on the front baffle, but closer to the floor. The midrange and woofers both have carbon-fiber-based cones, with a swipe of graphene that Alon wanted for added strength and rigidity.
To those who know Magico’s history well, the driver sizes, configuration, and placements should be familiar -- they are similar to the V3 model ($27,000/pr.), which the company produced from 2007 to 2011, and which was the starting point for this one. The speakers aren’t the same, however -- the V3’s enclosure was wood and aluminum, while the A3’s is all-aluminum. The drivers are all different, of course, though the midrange and woofers look alike. Still, using the V3 as a platform gave them a head start, which helped to keep development costs down and allowed them to aspire to or even surpass the performance of the V3 at a fraction of the price.
Alon pointing out the nameplate
What’s also apparent on this speaker is that, despite the lower price, corners haven’t been cut. You can kick and punch that cabinet, and you’re likely to wind up with broken bones -- it’s as solid as can be. The supplied floorspikes aren’t the cheap, throwaway 1"-tall threaded ones you get with so many speakers; instead, the A3’s spikes are about 2.5" long and 3/8" thick. Its front nameplate isn’t black paint on thin metal or foil: “Magico” is engraved onto a thick plate. With its rectangular shape and black color (the only color), the A3 is not a thing of beauty; it looks more like a lab instrument than a piece of fine furniture. Yet there’s still a spare-no-expense feel to the way this speaker has been crafted -- again, something common to all Magico designs. Finally, there’s the care in assembly, which takes place at Magico’s factory. When I was there to see the A3, I also noticed M3, M6, S7, S5 Mk.II, S3 Mk.II, and S1 Mk.II speakers in various stages of production. The A3 is the smallest and least curvy Magico family member, but it still looked right at home with the rest.
Alon examining a finished M3
When Alon was giving me his shopping list of what the A3 had to have for it to “still be a Magico,” he added one thing at the end that I haven’t mentioned yet -- that it had to sound better than any speaker at that price from any manufacturer, no matter if that manufacturer happened to be five, ten, or 100 times Magico’s size. In many ways, this is a brand-new world for Magico, because the company isn’t just up against boutique speaker makers anymore -- it’s competing against the world’s speaker-manufacturing powerhouses, many of which have been making sub-$10,000 speakers for decades and know how to make them sound good. Can the A3 hold up to that? That’s really why I went to California in the first place -- so I could hear the A3. That’s in the next article . . .