Prices for speakers are listed in USD per pair.
In a recent column, I spoke of how I stumbled into what would become a lifelong obsession with flat panel Magneplanar loudspeakers. The reason I became so smitten with them is simple: they present music with a greater degree of realism than I’ve heard with any other speakers anywhere near their respective price range. I’ve spent the greater portion of my otherwise inconsequential life on this spinning rock of a planet in pursuit of that illusion of reality; I want to close my eyes and believe in the unbelievable— that Tom Waits or Thelonious Monk, or even Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, are live and that we’re actually together sharing the same listening environment.
That’s not to say that “Maggies” (as they’re affectionately nicknamed) offer the only path to audio nirvana; many choices exist for those of us who love music above just about everything else. For certain listeners, flat panel designs present an aberration of reality; those folks crave the pinpoint imaging that traditional dynamic (“box”) speakers tend to offer in glorious gobs. I don’t mean to disparage that speaker approach; I’ve heard countless dynamic designs I could easily live with. I have a pair of Zu Audio Omens I keep on hand for when I feel the need to play music whose dynamics exceed the capabilities of my latest flat panel obsession, the Magneplanar LRS+. As great as it is, the LRS just can’t deliver the kind of sound pressure levels (SPLs) that a good horn-based dynamic design (like the Zu Omen) can. And sometimes, you just want your music to flat-out rock!
My niche in the audio world focuses mostly on equipment that offers superb performance at very reasonable prices, and that includes both the LRS and the Omen. The LRS ($650) is Magneplanar’s entry-level offering, and the Omen ($1,299) is mischievously referred to on Zu’s website as the company’s “entry level drug.” The LRS and the Omen each possess particular strengths that help connect me big-time with the music. I would describe the LRS as a speaker that lends itself more to focused listening, whereas the Omen’s fun factor is off the charts!
The Omen is a very high-efficiency design, meaning that it’ll play very loudly with an input of very few watts. Driven by my 44Wpc PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amp, the pair casts a seductively well laid out stereo image, and will literally shake my home’s foundation. The speaker uses a single 10-inch driver based on a design created by RCA’s Harry Olson in the mid-1930s, that covers the entire frequency range — there’s no crossover network inside the cabinets. Music playing through this setup is reproduced with a level of transparency and clarity not typically found in a loudspeaker under four figures.
The Zu’s do have their detractors; among the naysayers, they’ve developed something of a reputation as being a “one-note” loudspeaker, implying they’ll play loudly and that’s about it. It’s a slight typically delivered by someone with no practical experience with them, and it’s simply not true: the Omens play with both power and finesse. And I’ve never heard them overdriven by any amplifier or with any amount of input wattage. The Zu Omen is an incredibly dynamic loudspeaker, and one of the best bargains in high-end audio.
The Magneplanar LRS+ (LRS stands for “Little Ribbon Speaker”) is a very different animal; To me, it’s the very best bargain currently available in high end audio. It’s capable of delivering a level of world-class performance that few similarly-priced speakers — if any — can approach. It is a speaker for the ages, as nearly two years of my constantly listening to them has proved to me. But here’s the rub: despite their ridiculously low price, getting world-class performance from the LRS is completely dependent on your associated electronics. You’ll need a great amplifier to get the LRS to perform to its full potential and really sing. Fortunately, there are a multitude of amps that fit that bill that aren’t prohibitively priced. I use a pair of PS Audio 700Wpc M700 Class D monoblocks ($1499.00 / each).
Magneplanar describes the LRS as a “quasi-ribbon” design, which uses rows of aluminum foil ribbons and magnets to excite the speaker’s mylar panel to create sound. Maggies tend to be taller than conventional speakers, but also significantly thinner — the LRS is 48” tall but only 1” thick! It’s an unconventional design that helps cast an alluring soundstage both wide and deep, and it’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever heard from a conventional speaker.
The LRS was the first new Maggie to occupy my listening space in over fifteen years. Previous iterations of entry level Magneplanars (the MMG, for example) were designed to work well with mid-fi electronics, but the LRS was engineered to perform with higher-end equipment. And I have been consistently stunned by its goodness! I had to return my pair to Magneplanar for a minor warranty issue in April, and not having the LRSs for six weeks pretty much sucked the life out of most of my focused listening experiences.
The Zu Omens are typically only made available every three months through special sales and, depending on the wood finish and other possible add-ons, could go somewhat higher in price than their baseline MSRP. Chances are, however, that you have an amp on hand that’ll drive them to your satisfaction. With regard to the LRSs, they cost much less, but you’ll need to pair them with a suitable amp to get the most from them. The LRS has created quite a sensation, so expect a two-month waiting period from the time your order is placed.
The Omen and LRS are incredible. For not much money, they feed you a big slice of high-end heaven.