Photos from Magneplanar website
Hi guys, I recently picked up a pair of Maggie 1.7s for my second system. However, prior to purchasing them, I was actually offered a pair of used 3.6Rs for "just" 800 more and decided to investigate the differences. I have a friend who has a pair of 3.6Rs in his main system and I managed to borrow a pair of 1.7s from another audiophile for a week (in exchange for a week with my LCD-3 Headphones) so I brought the 1.7s over to my friend's place and started the comparisons.
Firstly, the room dimensions were rectangular with about a 8 meter long front wall and about 10 meter depth. Height was roughly 3-3.5 meters. So, anyway, there was quite a lot of space. His standard set up for the 3.6r which we agreed sounds best consists of the speakers about 2 meters from the front wall, about 1.5 meters from each side wall and toed in about 10 degrees. The listening position was centered, about 6 meters from the speakers. For the 1.7s we experimented a bit but interestingly, found that placing them in a similar spot to the vacated 3.6rs provided the best sound. The source equipment we used were my friends Audio Research CD5, my Moon 750D and my NAD M51. Amplification was his Audio Research DSi200 integrated which pumps 300 watts into 4ohms so power was there aplenty. So as not to make the comparison too complicated, I refrained from bringing my Moon 700i into the test. After experimenting with both speakers , we came to the conclusion that the Moon 750D uses as a full CD player had the best sound (kinda expected from the price) with the most detail and most holographic soundstage. Have to say the AR CD5 and NAD M51 were no slouches either and both were very satisfying too. So, anyway, all impressions from here on are based on the Moon 750D>Audio Research DSi200>Magneplanar 1.7/3.6R. Cables used were all audioquest, not sure about the models as they were my friends though I do remember that the XLR interconnects between DAC and amp were the Columbia model.
The music we used to test the two speakers was from a wide range of sources including pop, rock, jazz, blues, electronic, modern folk, country, classical and some choral music. We listened to some great tracks from various artists like Diana Krall, U2, Crystal Castles, Swimming with Dolphins, Louis Armstrong, Steely Dan, etc etc. Anyway, lots of great music from a swathe of genres. Some stand out tracks were the ones from Jason Mraz's new album, Love is a four letter word as well as the tracks from the explorations in space and time album from a laptop as this was a high res 24/176 track download.
Now, finally moving on to the comparisons. I won't be doing a track by track breakdown as both speakers are actually not too different and their inherent strengths and weaknesses against each other seemed to be replicated across most tracks. The first stand out difference between the two speakers and I mean really stand out is that the 1.7s are a lot more coherent. This might not seem like a huge thing to most but it really stands out, the 1.7s almost sound like good point source monitors while the 3.6rs though not bad sound like conventional loudspeakers and are about average in this regard. This leads me to the next point, that the 3.6rs as some others have pointed out, utilize full ribbon tweeters and quasi ribbon mid and bass modules. This causes the crossover points to stand out more and make the transistion between the treble to the midrange stand out more. This was especially evident on vocal tracks as the 3.6rs just lacked the brilliant coherency and smoothness of the 1.7s. Moving on to the next point, the 3.6rs just have better bass thump and this is very evident too, probably the most evident difference apart from the difference in coherency. In this respect, the 3.6rs are just better, having better bass impact and reaching deeper, helping them reproduce bass notes more realistically from drums, bass guitars, etc. Furthermore, the 3.6rs also seem to be able to better retain their bass reproduction at various listening positions throughout the room. Do note, that the 1.7s bass is not poor and is actually very fast, tight and detailed down to about 40-45 hz.
A very pertinent point that people might question is whether the significantly more expensive (when available) 3.6rs are more detailed. I'd have to honestly say yes and no. They do have slightly more treble detail which is especially appreciable from female vocal tracks. However, something interesting we found out is that through the heart of the midrange, the 1.7s are actually more detailed and helped uncover more layers of musical information. This was really quite interesting and though the 3.6rs seemd more detailed upon first listen due to their slightly protruded treble response and better treble detail, after more listening, the 1.7s midrange dos indeed offer more insight into the music. We surmised that this is probably due to the newly designed quasi ribbon panels that the 1.7s use.
The next interesting thing that we found out is that when configure with spacers installed to tilt the 1.7s backwards slightly, they actually have greater soundstage height than the 3.6rs though they sacrifice a touch of detail when set up like that. All in all though, my friend and I came to the conclusion that it sounded better with the spacers installed to tilt the speakers backwards as the increased sound stage height was beneficial in more accurately conveying the the stage and scale of large orchestral pieces and most live music. This configuration also helped the speakers sound better when we listened while standing up.
All in all, we came to the decision that the 1.7s are indeed the superior speakers on balance. The 3.6rs do indeed live up to their reputation as better bass performers and their full ribbon tweeters do produce slightly more airy and detailed treble. However, the 1.7s impressive midrange performance, significantly better coherency as well as their unexpected triumph in the soundstage department (very small difference though) lead us to crown them the unexpected winners of this shootout. My friend has decided to try and sell his 3.6rs now and pick up a pair of 1.7s as he found them better too. He's also thinking of adding some subs or maggie dwm bass module panels to augment the 1.7s bass performance. I happily decided to get a pair of 1.7s for my second system, passing up the chance to pick up the used 3.6rs. I am very happy that I made this descision now as the 1.7s are really enjoyable and I can always head down to my B and W 802Ds for bass when I miss some thump.
Final notes. I would really strongly recommend anyone in a similar situation to me (deciding between the 3.6r and the 1.7) to try and get a chance to A-B them. However, if you do not have the opportunity to compare them, trust me and get the 1.7s, you won't regret it. One last thing is that being the curious person I am, I headed down to my local dealer to try the 3.7s (and mini maggies) just for fun. I have to say I was very impressed. They largely combined the strengths of both the 1.7s and 3.6rs and notched up the detail a bit more compared to the 1.7s from memory. However, this was in the dealer's room so not exactly a fair comparison but the 3.7s did indeed seem to have all the strengths of the 1.7s and 3.6rs with none of the weaknesses. The mini maggies were pretty good too, sounding slightly more detailed than the 1.7s but I didn't like them as they had so so sound stage width and poor soundstage depth. I actually preferred the cheaper (due to built in amp) focal studio 6BE monitors for desk/nearfield use. On the whole, I am extremely satisfied with my 1.7s and can honestly say I feel no urge to upgrade to the 3.7s, which really says a lot about just how brilliant the 1.7s are. Absolutely fantastic value for the money!