Fab gear and stylish cars at TOM TOM Audio!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay in the UK a couple of extra days, but here’s what I missed out on at Tom Tom Audio’s latest event, held at the St. Michaels Manor Hotel in St. Albans. In addition to the great HiFi that was set up, including a sneak peak at the new Naim standalone DAC, they had quite a few new and vintage Bentley automobiles on hand for the crowd to enjoy.

And If you will notice, there were women attending this event…

tom tom 2

I just spent some time interviewing James for a forthcoming article in TONEAudio about “Dealers that do it right”, so look forward to hearing more about this shop that offers tremendous service, combined with an equivalent amount of passion for the gear and the music.  Watch issue 23 for the full story.  I won’t miss this one next year!

And if you are anywhere near St. Albans, book an appointment to meet James, even if you don’t need new gear just yet.

Here’s some more pictures from the event:


And a link to TOMTOM Audio:


A Great Day at Meridian Audio

Had a fantastic time at the Meridian factory in Cambridgeshire yesterday with Bob Stuart and his crew.

The full factory tour included every aspect of the company, including their extensive R&D facility along with their anechoic chamber where everything is measured.  Having  just been at the BBC the day before, I probably won’t ever visit two anechoic chambers in the same week again!

I was blown away by the size and scope of the facility as well as the attention to every phase of the construction of Meridian products.

The day ended with a visit to their home theatre room, featuring the outstanding 10k Meridian projector that some of you may have seen at this year’s CES show.  Thanks to new calibration techniques, they’ve taken this system to new heights of performance, and it is by far the most impressive video display system I’ve ever seen.

And, I got to see the Sooloos Music Servers being built and meet everyone involved with Sooloos design and programming.  Watch for some exciting Sooloos news in our next issue.

Hanging out at the BBC!

Yesterday, Alan Shaw of Harbeth Speakers took me to the BBC research centre at Kingswood Warren.  Just outside London, this quiet location is where many significant developments in the world of audio, TV and radio were produced, not the least of which, the legendary BBC monitors like the LS3/5a…

Here you see me in my best spokesmodel pose, holding a large pile of research and measurements that were done on the LS3/5a and other speakers in the range, complete with the engineers notes, photos and measurements.  I even got to see the first LS3/5a prototype!

Very cool stuff and a lot of history here….

Madeleine Peyroux took the stage Thursday night after Allen Toussaint thouroughly warmed up the crowd.   She delivered a very warm and romantic set, not at all unlike what fans have grown accustomed to on her records.

While the performance was excellent, it did not deviate terribly from the set list that I had seen when she stopped in Orgon a few months earlier this year.  The band was tight and did not miss a beat, however the Oregon performance at the beginning of the tour was more lively.

Here in Montreux, Peyroux was playing it safe, perhaps knowing this show was being recorded and filmed?

Regardless, the fans got a nice mixture of her last two albums along with a number of her original compositions from her current record, Bare Bones, which features all original tunes.

John Scofield at Montreux

John Scofield took the stage in Montreaux last night with a very different band than the one he was touring with just a few months ago when he came through town for the Portland Jazz Festival.

Touring to support his recent release, Piety Street, which has much more of a gospel feel, the band consisted of Jon Cleary (vocals, piano, Hammond B3 organ); Donald Ramsey (bass); Ricky Fataar (drums) and Scofield on guitar..

The band played most of the tunes from the album, and the evening had a very laid back feel, in contrast to Scofields usually more free form guitar escapades, with him adding some occasional background vocal tracks.  However, the set was not without a few great Scofield guitar solos, which kept the audience very entertained.

The Miles Davis hall had a perfect ambience for this music and the live mix was excellent.  If you love jazz, Montreux should be on your calendar for next year!

Smoke on the water…

Couldn’t resist, but this is that famous place and it certainly has its charm.  Off tonight to the Miles Davis hall (Below) to see John Scofield and the Piety Street band.  Curious to see how the lineup has changed since the Portland Jazz Festival in March.

Switzerland is awesome and I bought electronics from a very nice French lady.  Nerds always share a universal language!  More pics to follow and tomorrow we are off to the Nagra factory to see their latest offerings!

TONE visits Indy Audio…

Staff writer Todd Sageser took a trip to Indianapolis in early June to visit Indy Audio Labs for a few days.

Indy Principal Rick Santiago introduced Todd to his partner Ted Moore and the guys spent a good deal of time listening to many of the classic Aragon and Acurus products, including a 2 channel system with the Aragon 28K pre-amp driving 8008ST and 3002 amps.  Source material included a variety of CDs and downloads from HDtracks, streamed through a Roku M1000 Soundbridge.  Todd was impressed with the openness and sheer dynamic capability of the Aragon product with a variety of speakers.

In a 2.1 studio control room system, the Aragon SoundStage Pre-Amp/Processpr drove a 8008×5 amp for the studio monitors and an Aragon Palladium monoblock easily handled a pair of Shure subwoofers.

Finally, in a home theater system, the new Aragon Stage One Pre/Amp processor fed an Acurus 125×5 5-channel Home Theater Amp.  Even with some modest Klipsch speakers, the image and sound quality blew away anything from the home theater receivers that were sitting on the shelf for comparison.

Ted and Rick in the control room with new Aragon processor.

Ted and Rick in the control room with new Aragon processor.

What’s up next?  Expect to see Aragon and Acurus return to separate branding.  Also, there are some great new remote-control capabilities in development, where Rick and Ted will be getting to use their specialized engineering skills.

Todd plans to make regular visits to hear what develops and Indy Audio Labs will be sending Todd some beta product to listen to.  The guys have promised that Tone will be the first to get their new products for review!

Off to Switzerland, to tour the Nagra factory

Tomorrow morning and it’s on the road again, or rather in the air again!

Headed over to Switzerland to tour the Nagra factory and take in a few evenings of music at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Stay tuned for daily updates, this should be a very interesting trip.

Coldplay, July 10

Here’s a few extra shots from the Coldplay show at the Clark County Ampitheater.  Review and more pics to follow in issue 23.

MartinLogan Summit X Speakers

summit_x_1For a few years, MartinLogan’s Summit was their flagship speaker, and it received worldwide praise. At the beginning of this year, MartinLogan took what they’d learned building the new flagship CLX full-range electrostatic speaker system and the Spire hybrid, and they created the current Summit X.  Just like the Summit, it features a pair of powered 10-inch woofers with one facing toward you and the other firing toward the floor.

Though it looks similar at first glance to the Summit, the Summit X is a completely different product.  MartinLogan’s Devin Zell told me, “We scrapped the CAD drawings for Summit X.  The panel is new, the woofers are new and the crossover is new.”  ML also added some cool light-blue lights that fire from underneath, giving the speakers a glowy feeling in your room.  “We just did that for fun,” Zell laughed on the phone as we discussed the added bling.

For many of you who like to listen in complete darkness, this is probably not going to be your bag.  But put me on the list of people who like it.  If they could only make them glow lime green to match the LEDs on my Naim and Burmester gear, I’d like it even more.  One handy addition to the lighting is the added LED that lights up the 25 and 50hz settings on the woofer modules, and work quite nicely.  This makes fine adjustment on the speaker easier than it was with the standard Summit.  And yes, you can shut it all off, which should keep all the molemen in the audience happy.

The Subtle and Not So Subtle Differences

For those of you not familiar with the MartinLogan product line, the Summit X has a rated frequency response of 24-23,000 hz (+/- 3 db) comprised of an electrostatic panel mated to a pair of  powered 10-inch aluminum coned woofers at a crossover frequency of 270hz.  It also features a pair of bass level controls at 25 and 50hz, which makes the Summit X easy to adapt to your room.  On paper, the specs are essentially identical to the original Summit that it replaces.

MartinLogan finished the production run of the Summit in 2008, and the Summit X became available in spring 2009. The Summit X carried a price increase of $3,000 over the Summit, and despite rumors that the Summit would be upgradeable to X status, this was not the case by the final release of the new speaker.  Quite a few people at MartinLogan anguished over this, but by the time the design on the Summit X was finalized, there were too many physical changes in the new speaker to make the upgrade possible and cost effective for the customer as well as ML.

Where the last version of the Summit started at $10,995, the Summit X’s base price is $13,995.  As in the past, a wide range of custom finishes is available through the MartinLogan custom shop.

Straightforward setup with care

The enclosed manual with the Summit X should get you set up in short order, and there are really two sides to this story.  The legacy MartinLogan owners probably don’t need much input from me, and many of you have your own theory on how you like your Logans set up.  Personally, I like ’em as far away from the side walls as possible.

While this is not convenient for everyone, the further you can get these babies from the side wall, the greater reward you will reap in soundstage width.  The Summit X worked much better on the short wall (16 feet) of my studio than my reference CLX’s, when on the long wall (24 feet).  With each speaker about seven feet from the side walls, they really opened up.  If you just can’t achieve this in your listening room, some modest room treatment just behind the panel and about two feet in front of the panel on the side wall will help tremendously.

Again optional, but well worth it if possible, is to get everything out from between your speakers.  Because they radiate from the front and back, the stereo image really suffers with a big rack of gear and giant flat-screen TV between the Summit X. Or any other panel speaker, for that matter.

My final listening position had the speakers just over nine feet apart, with the front surface of the panel 42 inches from the rear wall, slightly toed-in.  This put my ear-to-speaker distance just shy of 10 feet.  I would suggest at least a Radio Shack sound-level meter and a test tone disc to fully adjust the 25hz and 50hz controls on the back.  This along with some careful positioning will help smooth out the bass response of the Summit X and give you their maximum drive.

Identical to the last three MartinLogan Hybrid speakers I’ve used, the Summit X will require about 200-300 hours before sounding its best and achieving the maximum amount of integration between the dynamic woofers and the electrostatic panel.  When you first fire them up out of the shipping cartons, the bass will sound somewhat slow and bloated, no matter where you have the woofer controls set.  The biggest improvement will be in the first 100 hours, with incremental smoothness happening thereafter.

Not as sensitive to placement as the CLX, the Summit will still benefit from careful adjustment.  Once you have the speakers where you feel is the proper place, use your measuring devices of choice to get them identically placed from the rear wall in terms of toe-in and rake.  If you can get each speaker within  one-quarter to one-half inch of the other, this will help the image size and focus.  Thanks to longer spikes than the Summit, the Summit X offers a wider range of adjustment on the speaker rake, making them easier to adapt to your listening position.  If you like your seating position further back, angle the speakers backwards more.  If you like to sit closer, you can now angle these speakers from 11 degrees to -1 degree.

The sound

All of the top-range MartinLogan electrostatic speakers share a similar sound; big, open, airy and very dynamic.  As I said in my review two years ago about the original Summit, this is an electrostat on which you can play Metallica if you have enough clean amplifier power.  They are not as dynamic as a pair of Wilson Maxx 3s or some large horns, but the slice of musical heaven these speakers offer cannot be had by cone speakers either.

The Summit X continues this tradition and improves on all of the Summit’s strengths with no downside (other than the increased price).  Even though the frequency response specs are the same, this is indeed a different speaker.  The big improvement is in the quality of the bass response and the integration of the cone drivers.

summit_x_3MartinLogan calls it “Controlled Dispersion PoweredForceTM Bass” (Say that ten times as fast as you can). You can read the full technical details on their website at:


The bottom line: it works very well.  While the Summit X comes up a bit short in comparison to the flagship CLX in terms of upper bass speed and articulation, I feel that it takes hybrid speaker design to a new plateau.

No matter what kind of music you like to listen to, the Summit X will deliver the goods. The main strength of the Summit X is that it throws a huge soundfield in all directions, giving the listener a very immersive experience.  This is the MartinLogan magic at its best.  These are speakers that you will respond to strongly, or they will not be your cup of tea.

Thanks to that low 270hz crossover point, most of the music is reproduced by the panel, and this coherency is what gives the Summit X most of its appeal.  Male and female vocals are both reproduced exquisitely, and the speaker does an amazing job at disappearing in the room for its size.

When the low-frequency controls are properly adjusted, the Summit X has a substantial amount of deep, controlled bass that should satisfy 98 percent of its owners.  If you listen to a lot of pipe-organ music or club music with a lot of deep bass and the 24hz cutoff of the Summit X is not enough, you can add one or two Descent i subwoofers.  When adding the Descent i to the system and letting the Summit Xs run full range and crossing over the Descent at 35hz, I was getting solid, wall-shaking output when playing the 20hz test tone on the Stereophile Test Disc.

The Burning questions

Analysis paralysis is setting in but people want answers, so I’m going to put my head on the chopping block.  The Summit X is definitely an improvement over the original Summit and in my opinion definitely worth $3,000 more than the earlier model.  Listening to them side by side in the same system, the X model does a better job at bass integration with the panel0 and thanks to the dual woofers, it should not need a subwoofer except for all but the most demanding applications, or for heavy-duty home-theater systems.

Just like the Spire, the midrange in the Summit X is slightly less colored than that in the original Summit, though you don’t notice it until you hear both side by side.  I’ve seen people buy $3,000 worth of wire that didn’t offer anywhere near the improvement in performance that the Summit X does over the original, but I can’t tell you how to spend your money.

The Summit X also edges out the Summit in terms of low-level detail retrieval and microdynamics.  Cymbals and percussion instruments fade out with longer gradations than they did before, and very dense musical pieces are unraveled more easily.  Listening to both speakers side by side, each seemed to be able to play equally loud without fatigue. So this is definitely an evolutionary upgrade.

This builds on the strength of the original Summit – the Summit X is a resolving speaker that can be used to judge source components costing considerably more.  While $13,995 is by no means a budget loudspeaker, the Summit X holds its own in a six-figure system.

The dilemma facing the small group of Summit owners who want to make the step up is the cost of the upgrade.  They’re looking at about a $7,500 investment to make the leap from Summit to Summit X because the current used pricing of Summits is hovering around $6,000.  That’s the tough call and some feathers have been ruffled, but no one said playing the HiFi game at this level was going to be easy.

Tubes or transistors?

The other big question with the Summit X is what to drive them with, and there is a fairly wide range of discussion on this topic.  Many people swear by “tubes and stats,” and I used to use my CLS’s with the legendary Audio Research D-79.  But the current MartinLogan speakers dip to .7 ohms at 20khz, so if you have a tube power amplifier, I might suggest an audition with your amplifier before buying the Summit X, even if it means lugging your amp to your MartinLogan dealer.

The tube amplifiers with which I’ve achieved the best results with current MartinLogan speakers have been the BAT VK-55SE and PrimaLuna Dialog Monoblocks.  Even though these are medium-powered amplifiers in the 50-60 watt per channel range, they offer low-output impedance taps, offering a better transfer of power to these speakers.  I’ve also had excellent results with the Manley 250 monoblocks.

I feel that mating tubes with the Summit X is a case-by-case situation. You’ll know when it’s wrong immediately.  If your favorite tube amp doesn’t have the juice, the speakers that sounded great at the dealer will sound like they have blankets over them in your listening room.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Though these speakers have a fairly high efficiency rating of 91db, the more clean power you can throw at them, the better.  I did not get the same level of dynamic contrast with 70-100 watt amplifiers as I did with 300- 400 watts per channel.

summit_x_2A worthy successor

I’d call the Summit X the Charles Barkley of loudspeakers.  It plays better than it will probably ever get credit for and it would have been a superstar if Michael Jordan (the CLX) hadn’t come along at about the same time.  But it’s still able to mop up everyone else on the court. Well, I can’t compare speakers to cars all the time, can I?

The good news is that the Summit X is about $10,000 less than the CLX, it has a lot more flexibility and it doesn’t require a pair of subwoofers to really give its all.  So perhaps it is a better value for all but the most demanding listener.  The Summit was one of my favorite speakers of all time, and the new Summit X is even better.  Properly setup with electronics to match, these speakers will paint a huge musical canvas for you to enjoy.

If you currently have the Summit, I’m guessing you will probably pass on the upgrade unless you can easily absorb the price difference. For those new to MartinLogan or trading up from further down the range, it is truly a fantastic speaker and a very worthy competitor in its price range.

Manufacturer’s Information

The MartinLogan Summit X

MSRP:  $13,995 (base finish)

2101 Delaware
Lawrence, KS 66046



Digital Sources    Naim CD555, Wadia 781i, Sooloos Music Server

Analog Sources    Spiral Groove SG-2 w/Triplanar Arm and Lyra Skala cartridge, TK Acoustics Raven 2 w/SME iV.Vi arm and Dynavector XV-1s

Preamplifiers      Burmester 011, Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Power Amplifiers     Burmester 911 mk. 3, Conrad Johnson Premier 350, Nagra PSA, BAT VK-55SE,  Moscode 402au, Sanders Magnatech

Interconnects        Shunyata Aurora Speaker Cable     Shunyata Stratos SP

Power Conditioning      Running Springs Jaco and Dmitri, Shunyata Hydra 2, Shunyata Anaconda power cords and RSA Mongoose power cords

Vibration Control    Burmester V2 and V4 racks, Finite Elemente Cerapucs, Ceraballs

Room Treatment       GIK 242, GIK Tri traps, Sonex Classic

Accessories        Shunyata Dark Field Cable Elevators, Furutech DeMag, Clearaudio Simple Matrix record cleaner, VPI 16.5 record cleaner, MoFi record cleaning fluids