Issue 38


The Music Never Stopped
By Bob Gendron

Macro: Our New Section Devoted to Desktop Audio
By Jeff Dorgay

Old School: The Ten Best Buys in Vintage Audio
By Jerold O’Brien

Tone Style

The Beer Snob: Three Summer Beers
By Bob Gendron

DEVO’s Vegan Shoes

Monster Clean Touch Pen

Railway Maps of the World

Estes’ Big Daddy Rocket

AQ Binding Post Wrench

Hipgnosis – For the Love of Vinyl


Live Music: The TONE Staff covers Twilight Singers, Keren Ann, Buffalo Springfield and Orange Goblin

Current Releases:
Fresh Releases in the Pop/Rock World
By the TONE Staff

Audiophile Pressings
By Paul Rigby and Jeff Dorgay

Jazz and Blues
Three new releases
By Jim Macnie


Classe CA-M300 Power Amplifiers

AVID Diva II and Diva II SP Turntables

Bryston 10B Electronic Crossover

Reviews:  All Budget Gear!

The Magnepan MMG Loudspeakers
By Jeff Dorgay

The Arcam R-Dac
By Paul Rigby

The Klipsch Heresy III Loudspeakers
By Jeff Dorgay

The Rega Brio-R Integrated Amplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

The Pro-Ject Essential Turntable
By Paul Rigby

The Vienna Acoustics Haydn Loudspeakers
By Jeff Dorgay

The IsoTek EVO3 Serius
By Jeff Dorgay

The GemmeAudio Tonic G5 Loudspeakers
By Jerold O’Brien

Nick Mason discusses the Immersion box sets

“Who Is Interested? Well, I Am”

A Conversation With Pink Floyd Drummer Nick Mason

By Bob Gendron

Pink Floyd’s forthcoming reissue series may represent the final time that a major artist’s full catalog receives the deluxe treatment in the manner of enhanced CDs, multiple box sets, redesigned packaging, and auxiliary analog reissues. In an era where most significant artists already witnessed their output re-released in remastered form, and where record labels are increasingly reluctant to manufacture box sets or invest in fancy physical media, EMI is celebrating the British group’s legacy with an exhaustive project that has few peers.

Going well beyond that of EMI’s excellent Beatles remasters series, Pink Floyd’s rollout features reconfigured sound, artwork, inserts, and more—as well as various multi-disc sets that include scads of unreleased and/or rare audio and visual footage. While the reissues don’t street until late September, drummer Nick Mason—the band’s only contiguous member—recently talked with editor Bob Gendron about various details, memories, and procedures related to the massive campaign. In clarifying truths and recalling history, his insightful comments will likely surprise even the most diehard Floyd fans and committed audiophiles.

B: You’ve heard Pink Floyd’s studio records countless times. What jumps out at you when you listen to the new remasters?

N: The thing that strikes me is not so much the quality, although that is interesting and improved. But [the pleasure] really comes from listening to things that I’ve forgotten about. For all of our career, we never really ever revisited old demos or leftover material. The tendency has always been to put that to one side when the record is finished or when we’ve moved on and started doing other shows. Sometimes, you come across ideas that are still quite fresh or interesting, and while they were superceded by some new idea, they still have validity in their own right.

B: Is there anything specific you heard that you feel the band should have revisited?

N: The one that astonishes me that we didn’t pick up on is a version of “Wish You Were Here” that has [violinist] Stephane Grappelli playing on it. First of all, it was just a delight to hear because I always understood that it had been recorded over and we had no record of it. But also, when I did hear it, I was astonished. And I haven’t done so yet, but I must ask Roger and David if they can remember why on earth we didn’t use it. It’s still incredibly powerful.

B: Having had the chance to survey the catalog again, what is the single piece of music  closest to your heart?

N: A version of “On the Run,” recorded long before we actually put it together on the record with the VCS3 tape loop, where it’s played as sort of a jazz piece. It has a rather uptempo drum thing. I listened to it and thought, ‘Good lord, is that me playing?’ I hardly recognize the band, the style, or anything else. That sort of surprise is terrific.

B: Take me through some memories conjured up by the bonus material.

N: It conjures memories of touring in the early to mid 1970s, and putting on those shows. If you looked at the concerts now, you’d just think they were quaint—that’s the word for it. They are so small compared to not what we later did, but to what everyone does now. Virtually every artist today would expect to do quite a lot of staging and music production wherever they are playing. It’s that thing of remembering—the very early cherry pickers, for instance. Hydraulic towers with mounted lights. They are tiny now, but at the time, it was a really groundbreaking idea that you actually carried all of this stage lighting with you and made it part of the show.

B: Would you deem The Wall production “quaint” as well?

N: Quaint is the right word. The Wall came later, but if you look at, for instance, the Ummagumma sleeve: There is a picture of our touring crew and all of our equipment laid out. Well, most people have that in their back room now. It all fits into a small van. But at the time, it seemed like a gigantic amount of stuff. The Wall is interesting because the version that Roger is doing now is a fantastic leap—not so much musically because he’s adhered very rigorously to the original parts played on the record—in terms of the movie parts that have been added to the show. It’s fantastic, and absolutely 30 years further down the line.

B: Speaking of visuals, do you recall being associated with the visual content that’s now included on the box sets?

N: The visuals divide into different periods. There are three major periods: The stuff we originally did for Dark Side of the Moon, which was done by various people. There was an animator named Ian Eames who did a particular series of clocks that have stood the test of time. And then there was a second wave of film done by Hungarian film director Peter Medak. And then, finally, the Gerald Scarfe film that was done for Wish You Were Here. The interesting thing with his stuff is that some of it moved on; it was the forerunner of what got used in The Wall. I’m so used to computer animation now. The actual technology is quite clunky, but the visuals are stunning.

B: To what extent was the band involved in the visual design of the album artwork?

N: There’s no easy answer to that. Not unlike the way the music was put together, it was very different from image to image. The most famous one, the prism, by Storm [Thorgerson], arrived at the studio as five different rough ideas. Within an instant, all of us agreed that the prism was absolutely the right thing, and to go with Storm’s idea. We just rubber-stamped it immediately. There are other visuals where we went backwards and forwards, and in a few cases, there were ideas that initially came from the band and then, Storm developed them. Generally those ideas were less successful—I think Storm would back me up on that. [Laughs]

B: What’s your take on the reissue redesigns?

N: Terrific, because I’m of an age where I really do see physical records disappearing and regret that [trend]—and regret all of the artwork that goes with them. This is maybe not the very last chance, but very late on for Storm to really have another look at things, decide which is best, and add some new bits and pieces. For me, that’s one of the great attractions of the reissue project. We can make sure that every piece of visual art we’ve done, plus a bit more, is made available and there for the record, so to speak.

B: How long has the reissue project been in progress?

N: It’s been in the works for a couple of years. Of course, what happened is that the idea was mentioned two years ago and a lot of the push came from the record company, EMI, which said, ‘You know, you really ought to do this.’ We were initially very lukewarm. We felt that we’d done virtually every version of the catalog that we possibly could. But as the first year went by, we started unearthing more product that could go into it. And then we found ourselves becoming interested in it. It began to make more and more sense. For me, it was the realization that I actually [explore] with other artists. Like with jazz albums; I’ll go out and buy an eight-album John Coltrane box set, which is full of outtakes. And you think, well, ‘Who is interested?’ Well, I am. So if I’m interested in it with an artist, it makes sense to let our fans have access to such material.

B: Is the rare footage coming from personal or record label archives?

N: Most of it has come from EMI’s archives rather than our own. The only things that I’ve turned out have been some very early demos that we made before we were even signed, which contains some very nice Syd Barrett songs. But for the most part, it’s been EMI. The company has very extensive vaults and pretty good cataloging. But what happened this time is that there was a much more concerted effort to look through the archives. The trouble is that, like most archives, there are always a few things that have been miscataloged or haven’t been properly checked. This time, quite a lot of stuff was brought up from the vaults, listened to, and checked. That is how, for instance, the Grappelli version of “Wish You Were Here” got discovered.

B: The multichannel options seemingly parallel the unreleased material in that they represent new horizons for the listener. Do you think surround makes for a better experience?

N: I’m fond of the 5.1 and so on. I think it gives an extra depth to the music. But we’re all coming to terms with the fact that the embracing of the digital revolution wasn’t entirely satisfactory. It’s really interesting how many people are talking about going back to vinyl. You know, when I say ‘a lot of people,’ I mean a tiny percentage. I don’t think it’s really going to catch on. But there is still enormous enthusiasm for that warm, particularly odd sound you get from vinyl. And it’s not the cleanest, most accurate sound. But it does have this quality that people really like. To some extent, it will be really interesting to see the feedback. I’m not sure in this day and age how many people still have stereo sets capable of giving them the full effect. I was just talking with some people at breakfast this morning about the technical side of the reissues, and I said, ‘Maybe we should put a sort of health warning and say it is not advised to buy this record unless you have speakers that require at least two men to carry them into the room.’ [Laughs]

B: Regarding sonics, were you conscious when you were recording albums—especially Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall—that they would be, more than 30 years on, be used as references by producers, engineers, and audiophiles?

N: No. It’s astonishing in some ways. I think anyone who went into rock and roll in the 60s or early 70s entered into it with the belief that it was rock and roll and it was ephemeral and that it would be all over. Anything that you produced would last around a year, and in your working life, you’d be lucky to get five years. Of course, it changed. It became a completely different thing. The point I would like to get across is that if the quality of some of this stuff is so good—and I believe it is—it’s a testament to Abbey Road and the people that worked there and the systems they had in place in the 60s, where the kids joined as apprentices and really learned the trade of making records and miking things up and going for the highest standards of loading the tape.

B: It’s shocking to hear you admit that, even in the wake of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd believed it would disappear without a trace within a few years.

N: [Laughs] We’re all very privileged and lucky to have had a 40-odd-year career out of it. Obviously, after the first 10 or 15 years, you realize it’s not likely going to go away. But initially, in the late 60s, when we kicked off and had no idea where this would lead or end up, it’s what we thought.

Emotiva USP-1 Preamplifier and UPA-1 Amplifiers

In an audiophile world where individual components have five (and sometimes six) figure price tags, the concept of being able to get a preamplifier and a pair of 200-watt mono amplifiers that use discrete circuitry instead of just being Class-D for under $1,200 is refreshing. You may have guessed that such components are manufactured offshore and sold direct to you from the manufacturer; both methods are necessary to keep costs down to this level. However, due to the high praise that greets Emotiva products, it appears that the company makes quality control a main priority.

The USP-1 preamplifier fetches $499 while the 200-watt-per-channel UPA-1 monoblocks cost $349 each. Popping the top on both components reveals beefy power transformers, large capacitor banks, and tidy construction throughout. No massive film capacitors, fancy wire, or mega-expensive binding posts—simply well thought-out components that are consistent with their design goals.

Both pieces also sport no-nonsense features. Each has more than adequate inputs and outputs, along with 5-12v. trigger inputs for remote access, etc. The power amplifiers have two sets of reasonable binding posts while the preamplifier boasts a decent headphone amplifier, internal LF crossover for use with a powered subwoofer of your choice, and a phonostage capable of MM and MC operation.

Subwoofer and HT-Ready

The UPA-1s had more than enough power to drive any of the speakers at my disposal, and the USP-1 preamplifier comes with an adjustable low-pass and high-pass filter for those using smaller satellite speakers that have limited LF capability. This can also prove handy for listeners wanting to use a powered subwoofer with a lower-power tube amplifier with their main speakers. I followed that very scenario with the CJ MV-50C1, which I used to power Polk Audio TL-3s and Paradigm Millennia One speakers (both currently in for review). Rolling off the output at 100Hz and passing that to the CJ relieved the tube amplifier of heavy lifting. I passed the LF information to a MartinLogan Grotto i subwoofer, making for an incredible sub/sat system.

I came away highly impressed at the preamplifier’s versatility. In addition, the USP-1 also offers a pair of bypass outputs for use in a multichannel home theater system. So, if you don’t currently operate in the multichannel realm, you won’t have to eliminate the USP-1 to integrate your two-channel system should you expand at a future date.

Easy Listening

Talk about a quick and easy setup. Using AudioQuest Columbia interconnects, Rocket speaker cable, and a set of Shunyata Venom 3 power cords, I was rolling in about 15 minutes. The rear panels of all three components are well labeled, so you should have no trouble hooking everything up sans the assistance of the well-written manual.

While the out-of-the-box sound was good, the system sounded smoother after being powered up for 24 hours. Once power cycled for 48 hours, the UPA-1 required about an hour for the sound to fully stabilize. As it was barely warm to the touch, I kept the trio powered up at all times to net the best sound. Those feeling slightly more environmentally conscious may want to consider leaving the amplifiers off between listening sessions. The preamplifier only requires 30 watts, so it’s worth leaving on.

Aces the Fundamentals

To stack the deck against the Emotiva combination, I began my listening sessions with the B&W 805Ds. These moderately efficient 2-way speakers are heavenly but highly resolving. The diamond tweeter reveals any inadequacies in equipment that drives them. The 805Ds made such a great match with the Emotiva components that, after experimenting with a few other speaker systems, I kept them in the system for the duration of the review. The UPA-1 amplifiers drove all of the other speakers we hand on hand for our budget gear issue (Issue 38), including the power-hungry Magnepan MMGs.

While not the equal of my reference Burmester 911 mk. 3 monoblocks, the UPA-1s did a respectable job driving the $150,000 GamuT S9s—very impressive for a $700 pair of amplifiers. Playing “Baltasaurus” from D.F.A.’s 4th at a fairly high level, as well as “Euthanasia Waltz” from Brand X’s Livestock, I was instantly struck by the Emotiva’s ability to keep the pace intact while playing complex musical passages at moderately high listening levels. When pushed too hard, the UPA-1’s quickly soundstage collapsed. Still, the volume was quite high, and the GamuTs only have 88db sensitivity. With more efficient speakers, you should be able to rock out to your heart’s content before running out of amplifier power. Those needing brain damage levels would be wise to consider Emotiva’s 500-watt monoblocks.

Taking a Spin

The USP-1 offers an onboard MM and MC phonostage, which is somewhat unbelievable given its price. Remember, these days, $500 will get you a mid-grade power cord at many other places. Doing some quick comparisons with the Rega RP1 turntable and its associated performance pack upgrade yielded great synergy. And as switching to my Cambridge 640P and NAD PP3i revealed, the USP-1’s onboard stage is easily the equivalent (and perhaps slightly more resolving) of these $200 standalone counterparts.

While most vinyl enthusiasts will probably opt for a MM cartridge that stays within the parameters of a budget system, the USP-1’s MC performance ranks above average. The somewhat low output (.25mv) Denon DL-103R proved an excellent match.  There is only one loading option (240 ohms) and gain is fixed (no level specified), but it should work just fine for most available entry-level MC cartridges. Both inputs offered a quiet background and enough dimension that one could still hear a meaningful difference between analog and digital with comparably priced source components.

More Comparisons

My experience with acoustic and vocal music found it fairly well reproduced, yet these are areas where big-bucks gear leaves budget stuff in the dust. Listening to TONEAudio cover girl Keren Ann’s latest record, 101, it became obvious that there were textures and that prized third dimension that the Emotiva gear couldn’t bring to the table. These shortcomings were the combination’s only real limitations and, again, at this price level, tradeoffs are a reality. A PrimaLuna ProLogue integrated will give you more midrange depth and texture, and the Rega Brio-R possesses more resolution, but these amplifiers are 40 and 50 watts per channel, respectively. Obviously, 200-watts-per-channel allows for a much wider range of speaker choices.

Even when using the Klipsch Heresy IIIs, the difference in sound quality between the Emotiva triplets and Simaudio Moon 600i (reviewed last issue) wasn’t subtle; the Moon gear claimed a clarity that the budget separates could not match. But a quick comparison to a $1,200 Yamaha integrated amplifier purchased from Best Buy proved the opposite. The Emotiva gear won out on all levels, providing a much more lifelike perspective of the music than the comparably priced mass-market box.

The UPA-1s always mustered a lot of grunt on the low end as well. The amplifiers admirably captured the weight and texture of the bass lines in “Dragonaut” from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, as well as some of my favorite Snoop Dogg tracks, controlling the woofers in whatever speakers I employed. Such music really demands extra amplifier power, and the UPA-1s did not disappoint.

Musically Engaging

After putting the Emotiva USP-1 and UPA-1 through rigorous listening sessions, I have to admit that the set comprises some of the most musically engaging amplification I’ve heard for around a thousand dollars. And if you aren’t as impressed with it as me, Emotiva offers a 30-day return policy. It’s impossible to go wrong.

Okay, you’ll either love or hate the blue glow, but beyond that, there’s nothing to complain about. This gear offers up neutral tonality, great dynamic range, plenty of power, and an abundance of truly useful features. If I were starting again from the beginning, the USP-1 and UPA-1 would serve as my system’s core. Add your favorite $500-$1,500 pair of speakers, a $500 turntable, a DAC, and you’ve got a system that rocks for a few thousand bucks. (I’m really looking forward to listening to Emotiva’s flagship monoblocks; if the company can turn out a product of this caliber for $350, what they can do for $1,000?)

I can’t stress it enough: This combination does not make a single misstep. Sound quality is excellent, and the pricing is amazing. Ten years ago, Chinese-made audio carried a stigma of poor build quality, shoddy finish, and subpar sound. About eight years ago, PrimaLuna came on the scene and set the gold standard for Chinese manufacturing with its line of vacuum-tube amplifiers. After listening to these components, it’s safe to say that Emotiva is well on the way to doing the same with solid-state electronics.

No, $1,200 won’t get you a $60,000 Burmester amplifier and preamplifier. But what you do get is solid build quality and great sound. Just as I was ready to award the USP-1/UPA-1 combo one of TONEAudio’s Exceptional Value Awards for 2011, a glance at the company’s Web site yielded yet another pleasant surprise in the form of a temporary price drop: The USP-1 currently sells for $399 and the UPA-1 monoblocks for $299. Factor free shipping into the equation, and there’s not a better entry point into high-end audio.

Emotiva USP-1 Preamplifier and UPA-1 Amplifiers

MSRP:  USP-1, $499 (currently $399); UPA-1, $349 each (currently $299)



Analog Source            Dual 1219 w/Grado Red cartridge, Rega P3-24 w/Denon DL-103 cartridge

Digital Source                        BelCanto CD2

Speakers            Klipsch Heresy III, Magnepan MMG, Magnepan 1.6, MartinLogan ElectroMotion, B&W 805D, GamuT S9

Cable            AudioQuest Columbia I/Cs, AudioQuest Rocket Speaker Cables, Shunyata Venom 3 power cords

Accessories                        Running Springs Elgar Power Line Conditioner

Spin Clean II Record Cleaner

Yeah, yeah, we are pretty much the last ones to the party to discover the Spin Clean Record cleaner.  But in case you haven’t heard of this incredibly reasonably priced record cleaning system that’s been around since 1975 and still made in the USA, it’s definitely worth your time.  Dirt is the enemy of your records, it’s pretty much the enemy of the whole vinyl playback chain – it’s what makes for most of those nasty clicks and pops that the mainstream likes to tell us is “the romance of vinyl.”

Forget that.  If you want to truly get the analog experience, you need clean records. Chances are if you’ve been into vinyl for any length of time, you’re buying at least some of your records used and if you’re a newcomer to the vinyl scene, you’re finding records in any number of off the beaten path places – and chances they sound pretty awful.  Perhaps your audiophile buddies have told you about their elaborate record cleaning machines that can get your records CD clean, free of those dreaded pops, but you freaked out when you heard the price.  A decent RCM can run anywhere from $500 – $5,000.

A Record Cleaner for the Regular Guy

Enter the Spin Clean II.  The complete kit, with enough cleaning solution to clean hundreds of records costs $129. It’s not as technically complex as a VPI, ClearAudio or Loricraft machine, but it’s damn good and it actually does a better job at ground in fingerprints than my Loricraft does.  The Spin Clean II is the ultimate in simplicity; there is no electric motor to burn out and no vacuum hoses to loosen.  Just mix up some cleaning solution, dump it in the tank and you are ready to begin. Once the Spin Clean solution is mixed, a tank full will clean 20-50 records, depending on how dirty they happen to be.  Fluid is cheap in comparison to styli, so I say err on the side of cleanliness and stick to the 10-20 figure. A bottle of their concentrate is only $9.99! The manual suggests batch cleaning, as the mixed fluid only has a shelf life of about a week.

The best feature of the Spin Clean is that it cleans both sides of your record at the same time. Simply spin the record gently by its edge (hence the name) until you’ve made a few revolutions.  The brushes are bathed in the solution, so the dirt will be suspended when you remove the record.  Easy!  The Spin Clean kit includes some soft, diaper like cloths that are intended to blot your records dry after they’ve been cleaned, but I highly suggest a plastic dish rack from Target (another $8 expense) to use for letting your records air dry all the way, before you can play them.  This should hold about 10 records comfortably.

Say Hello to Quiet

If you’ve never used a record cleaning machine, you’ll be amazed at how much quieter your records sound after a pass through the Spin Clean. Like any other aspect of audiophilia, you can get as obsessed as you’d like to with record cleaning, but if you never do more than use a Spin Clean, you’re way ahead of the game.  As I mentioned, the Spin Clean does an exceptional job at removing deep seated fingerprints. I found that letting the area of the record with the fingerprint just soak for 3-10 minutes in the solution, giving it a quick spin and then moving on to final clean on my Loricraft brought most albums back to like new condition.

Even if you have a high zoot RCM, the Spin Clean can be a valuable addition to your cleaning regimen when sorting out used records, because it works so much faster.  You can at least perform an initial clean in a very short period of time to be assured that your stylus won’t snag on an LP from the bargain bin and then decide how much further to pursue cleaning later.

If you have a turntable and you don’t have a Spin Clean, you need one. If you’re a maniacal LP collector with a top of the line RCM and you don’t have a Spin Clean, you need one too.  This is an accessory that no vinyl lover should be without.

You can buy one from our friends at Music Direct here.

Newport Beach Show Off To A Strong Start

For those that attended T.H.E. Show’s Newport Beach event at the Orange County Hilton this past weekend, you know they are off to a great start. With attendance reaching over 5000, this was highly impressive for the first year. It’s important to give credit where credit is due and the Los Angeles Audio Society did a great job (albeit somewhat pushy nearer opening day) of promoting the event as did Richard Beers, the show’s producer – with ads in most of the major hifi magazines well in advance.

The show featured an excellent mix of gear from all price ranges and the majority of the rooms had good sound. A few brought speakers that were somewhat large for their rooms, but that is often the norm, wherever a hifi show is held, so no penalty points here. As an attempt to reach out to associated luxury pursuits, there were wine and cigar vendors as well as a car show out back. Unfortunately, the car show was relatively uneventful (this is Southern California) and for most of the show, the excitement was in the parking lot, with numerous Ferraris, Porsches and a few Lamborghinis to peruse on your way in.

If you are looking for room by room, rack by rack coverage, I suggest blasting over to Stereophile’s website. Michael Lavorgna worked around the clock to provide what I feel is some of the best show coverage I’ve read in years; insightful and to the point, yet giving you ample feel for the vibe. I know if I hadn’t attended, this report would have made me want to make the pilgrimage next year.

The high point of this show for me was the diversity of music being played. For a change it wasn’t all female vocal dreck. As always, the guys in the Zu Audio room were doing a killer job, spinning plenty of records with a pair of their latest modded SL-1200’s featuring Rega tonearms, and of course, Zus Denon cartridges. Played through an Audion 300B amplifier and a pair of their Soul Superfly speakers, these guys really had it going on. And in the picture you see above, they were joined by no less than Bes Nievera from Music Direct, playing DJ. Always nice to see both sides of the industry playing well together!

But the room that gave me goosebumps was the Meridian room on the main floor featuring their 810 Video Projector. If you haven’t seen the 810 in action, it’s staggering. Imagine having an IMAX theater in your home. Yeah, it’s that good. For upwards of $200k for the system, you probably could spend the summer in style at Cannes next year, but you’d still have to go home to your boring 50-inch television. Once you’ve experienced the 810, your life will never be the same, it is by far the best video presentation I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

Though this event didn’t quite hit the promised mark of being “The Best HiFi Show in The World,” it’s certainly an outstanding first effort. Here’s to their continued growth and success.

MartinLogan’s ElectroMotion ESL

If you happen to be a music lover who adores electrostatic speakers, you no doubt have your favorites. And if MartinLogan is on your radar, its Aerius is definitely at the top of your list. Considering what an amazing value the Aerius offered back in 1992 for about $2000, the fact that MartinLogan has hit nearly the same price with its ElectroMotion is nothing less than a major miracle in 2011.

When discussions about the ElectroMotion ESL began last fall, MartinLogan’s product manager Devin Zell couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. When he started telling me about the driver complement and fact that the company was trying to bring the speaker to market close to $2,000, I immediately thought of the Aerius. Zell, pleased that I picked up on the strategy, commented, “Exactly. We’ve had a number of product focus meetings and we’ve never quite been able to create a speaker like the Aerius for $2,000. Until now.” They came damn close – the EM-ESLs retail for $2,195

Of course that’s what marketing guys are supposed to say, but Zell put his money where his mouth is. “To prove just how amazing these speakers are, I’m going to send you a pair of Aerius i’s so you can compare them side by side.” Nothing like a man who walks it like he talks it.

Speaker Basics

The $2,195 ElectroMotion utilizes an 8-inch unamplified woofer and an ESL panel that uses the same “XStat MicroPerf” technology that is featured in MartinLogan’s top-of-the-line speakers. Thanks to such a design, the EM-ESL has about 40% more panel area than the Aerius, yet has a smaller footprint. The crossover uses ML’s latest technology, all trickled down from its flagship CLX speakers and a downward firing port.

The EM-ESL has a rated sensitivity of 91db and nominal impedance of 6 ohms, which dips to 1.6 ohms at 20khz, making the EM-ESL fairly tube-amplifier friendly. Switching from the Aerius i to the EM-ESL speakers with the PrimaLuna Dialog 4 power amplifier (EL34 output tubes, 40wpc), there wasn’t much perceived increase in output level even though the EM-ESL’s are allegedly 3db more sensitive. The additional bass control and HF extension became immediately apparent. Swapping back and forth between the two revealed the Aerius i to have a warmer, darker (richer to some) sound.

Save for binding posts, build quality is top-notch and worthy of a decent set of speaker cables. But those posts. Sourced from MartinLogan’s Motion 4 speakers, the only option is bare wire and banana plugs. Sure, MartinLogan had to sharpen the pencil to hit its price target, but most would happily pay an extra $100 to get proper binding posts.


Thanks to their smaller size and lighter weight (I’ve been using MartinLogan’s CLXs for some time, and they are much larger) the EM-ESL is easy to set up and can be easily accomplished with one person. They work well in a small-to-medium- sized room, but did an amazingly good job filling up my main 16 x 24 feet listening room. As with any panel speaker, the further you can keep them away from the sidewalls, the better, as doing so results in a wider stereo image. Fortunately, the EM-ESL’s small footprint allowed them to seamlessly integrate into my room better than any other panels I’ve tried since the MartinLogan Vantage.

Final placement ended up being about seven feet apart, slightly toed in with the ESL panels about 50 inches from the rear wall. While I spent a fair amount of time listening through PrimaLuna, CJ, and Octave power amplifiers I had on hand, the speakers’ limits were explored via the Burmester 011 preamplifier/911 mk. 3 power amplifier—the same combination through which I’ve auditioned MartinLogan’s CLX, Summit, and Summit X for nearly a year.

No, the average EM-ESL owner isn’t going to hook them up to a $60k power amplifier/preamplifier setup. But rest assured that these speakers weren’t embarrassed in the company of the Burmester gear, and yielded stellar performance. Finally, the EM-ESL’s spent the bulk of the review paired with Simaudio’s new 600i integrated amplifier. Yes, the tubes were great fun, and while the romance of the vacuum tubes appeal to some, a high-current solid-state amplifier coaxes maximum performance.

Comparing Old and New

I began comparison between the Aerius i and EM-ESL by playing “The Breeze,” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helping. Hardcore audiophiles might scoff, yet Skynyrd albums actually reveal tons of information due to the band’s triple lead-guitar format. Not only did they impress with excellent imaging of each of the three guitarists, the speakers also dynamically portrayed the grungy guitar intro to “Sugar Buzz” off kd lang’s new Sing it Loud. While a fairly dense recording, the ElectroMotions had no difficulty keeping Lang front and center without ever losing the bite of the instruments.

Switching between the Aerius i’s and EM-ESL’s repeatedly revealed the latter’s tremendous refinement. Regardless of musical choice, the current model possessed an increased level of resolution that its predecessor couldn’t touch. When listening to primarily acoustic fare, the EM-ESL’s presented instruments with a more lifelike timbre and provided extra low-level detail. Craving exquisite? Experience the cymbal decay on the title track of Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue via these cost-defying loudspeakers. I constantly had the illusion that I was listening to significantly more expensive speakers.

What’s more, the EM-ESL really pulls ahead of its predecessor when playing rock. Where the Aerius always struggled, running out of dynamic punch at higher levels, the MicroPerf panel in the ElectroMotion plays much louder without hitting its limit. I first noticed this ability in MartinLogan’s Summit (the original as well as the Summit X); I could actually play Metallica at a level loud enough to qualify as immersive. While the EM-ESL can’t play as loud as the Summit, all but the most crazed metalheads should find satisfaction. I was never disappointed when going through a fair share of classic Led Zeppelin or prog-minded Tool.

ESLs aren’t famous for having a huge sweet spot, yet that of the EM-ESL is on par with ML’s much more expensive Vantage. Amazing. The other surprise? Bass performance. The EM-ESL’s go down solidly to the mid-40hz range and still have useable output below 40hz, although, it should noted, they are rolling off at this point.

Exceeds Expectations

The Aerius was an amazing speaker in its day and still holds up well, but the MartinLogan team has learned a lot in the last 15 years. I’m still stunned that a company can manufacture a speaker this good for $1,995 in 2011. Granted, an ESL is slightly more finicky than your average pair of cone speakers, but if there’s a more exciting loudspeaker out there at this price, I certainly haven’t heard it. While the year isn’t yet half over, the EM-ESL’s are on our short list for a Product of the Year award.

MartinLogan EM-ESL Speakers

MSRP: $2,195

Manufacturer Info:


Amplifier Simaudio 600i

Digital Source Simaudio 750D

Analog Source Rega P9 w/RB1000 arm and Denon DL-103 cartridge, Parasound JC- phono preamp

Cable ED 411 ICs and 432 speaker cable

Power Running Springs Elgar