Certainly Uncertain: When Measurement Results Don’t Match Part Two

Another of the greatest misconceptions in all of Audiophiledom is the notion that the interpretation of measurements are objective.

As we learned in Certainly Uncertain, measurements of like-devices can differ, leading to wildly different conclusions. In Part 1, we looked at similar products, Audiophile Ethernet Switches, as measured by two different reviewers. Here in Part 2, we’ll be looking at the same product as measured and reviewed by different reviewers.

The product under review is the Magnepan LRS (Little Ribbon Speaker) loudspeaker, which are described by the company as a quasi-ribbon, a true ribbon on a mylar film, dipole speaker. In brief, a thin film diaphragm — the LSR measures just 1.25″ deep — is used to produce sound, as opposed to the drivers found in traditional speakers. A dipole speaker radiates sound from both the front and rear of the speaker, unlike a box speaker that shoots sound straight ahead. The LRS is the company’s entry level floor-standing speaker, costing $650/pair, and comes with a 60-day, money-back, home-trial program.

Here’s what Herb Reichert concluded in his review of the Magnepan LRS in Stereophile:

Does Magnepan’s new LRS loudspeaker “make everything else sound like it is coming out of a cereal box”? Maybe. It definitely sounds boxless. And surely its levels of microscopic detail, accurate timbre, and pure-water transparency are unprecedented at anywhere near $650/pair.

Here are some additional comments from other reviews of the Magnepan LRS:

Magnepan’s latest entry level speaker can be demanding, but it delivers compelling performance when set up properly and matched with the right gear.  Sound&Vision

The LRS does transients spectacularly; its timing puts it amongst the best I have heard for a long while in this respect. It’s like sitting in the front row of a smoky jazz club and hearing three great musicians freely converse. You simply don’t get this from conventional box loudspeakers, until you start spending silly money.  StereoNET

At $650 for the pair, the Magnepan LRS are a fantastic bargain.  Dagogo

The Magnepan LRS is the most transparent, high-definition sounding speaker you can buy for $650 a pair.  C|NET

…a slam-dunk winner of TAS’ Budget Loudspeaker of the Year Award for 2020—or for any year. The Absolute Sound

Then I played something with bass and it was as if the speaker was drowned under water again. It wasn’t just absence of deep bass but rather, quietness on top of that…I was kind of happy until I played the soundtrack you see at the bottom. Man did it sound horrid. Bland and some of the worse bass I have heard. AudioScienceReview

It’s worth noting that Magnepan has been making their dipole speakers for 49 years and have sold more than 200,000 pair. Of course, a dipole planar speaker could not differ more from a traditional box speaker, making it somewhat difficult to measure.  John Atkinson, who has over 30 years of experience measuring hifi gear cautions, Interpreting the measured performance of a panel loudspeaker such as the Magnepan LRS is far from straightforward.

Here’s what John Atkinson wrote in the conclusion to his measurements of the Magnepan LRS loudspeaker in Stereophile [footnote 1]:

Overall, however, the LRS appears to be capable of well-balanced sound, provided its owner takes care in optimizing such matters as placement and toe-in.

Now let’s compare John’s findings to Amir Majidimehr’s conclusion in his review of the Magnepan LRS loudspeaker in AudioScienceReview (ASR was founded by Amir in February 2016):

The Magnepan LRS is a hugely flawed speaker with moments of delight. If I could control what you listen to, e.g. in an audio show or dealer room, I could convince you it is much better speaker than it is. The best way I can explain this is that the designers solved 30% of the physics of building a speaker, and threw you in there to solve the rest! You take on the job of spending what must be a lifetime messing with location, tilt, EQ, etc. to get sound that is good for more than a few select tracks.
Needless to say, I can’t recommend the Magnepan LRS.

Unlike the above listening impressions which are largely in agreement, with Amir’s findings being the outlier, we have wildly different conclusions drawn from the measurements. While your guess is as good as mine as to the reasons behind these near opposite conclusions, is it the experience of the reviewer?, the methods and measurement equipment used?, one thing is certain — measurements, and their interpretation, can be anything but objective.

  1. Herb Reichert’s review is followed by John Atkinson’s measurements. At Stereophile, reviewers only see John Atkinson’s measurements after they’ve submitted their completed reviews. The reason for this approach is based on the idea that being privy to measurement results beforehand can influence listening impressions. At Audio Science Review, Amir performs his measurements before he listens.