MartinLogan Motion 35XT Bookshelf Speakers

Many people know MartinLogan for its svelte, even avant-garde-looking electrostatic floorstanding speakers, which have earned the company a large and dedicated fan base. But, like a good scientist at work, MartinLogan does not rest on their laurels, continuing to experiment with new designs, like the Motion 35XT, that give potential customers great sound for the dollar. These speakers are designed to sound great as a stereo pair or with other speakers in the Motion line as part of a home-theater setup.

Under the Microscope

These mini Martins combine the brand’s Folded Motion Transducer tweeter with a more conventional-looking 6.5-inch woofer sporting an aluminum cone and ported out the back. The 35XT specifications state that the frequency response ranges from 50 Hz all the way up to 25 kHz. Into a 4-ohm load, they can handle amplifiers delivering 20 to 250 watts. Each speaker measures 13.5 inches tall, 7.6 inches wide and 11.8 inches deep, including the length of the binding posts. With solid construction and a substantial magnet for drivers, each weighs in at 18.5 lbs, which is relatively hefty for speakers this size.

Appearance-wise, the speakers don’t command the sculpture-like attention that their big electrostatic brothers do; the XT form factor is nondescript by comparison. ML finishes the cabinets in piano black or black cherrywood gloss. The last visual element to consider is the metal perforated grilles, which lend the speakers a look similar to ML’s electrostats, though they are magnetically attached and can be easily removed if desired. (Sonically, I found little difference with the grilles on or off.) But if you have small children who enjoy pushing elevator buttons and doorbells, the exposed center of a woofer cone can look mighty tempting.


As with ML’s ESL speakers, the XT’s manual offers concise setup instructions. Each speaker comes with four adhesive pads for easy grip on a shelf or a speaker stand. Once the general location is determined, ML suggests toeing in the speakers directly at the listener, which works splendidly in my listening room with the tweeters at ear level. The size of your room will determine how close you place the speakers to the side walls to maximize imaging and bass performance.

The speakers are easily connected to an amp, with ML’s oval-shaped five-way binding posts making light work of torquing down the speaker cables without damaging the cable or binding post. Two sets of binding posts allowing for bi-wiring or bi-amplification, should the listener prefer that configuration. The binding posts are offset on the speaker body, which makes this task even easier, whether you choose bi-wire or single-wire operation.

Testing in Vivo

The MLs immediately impress with their ability to disappear into the soundstage and music drifting in all directions around the speakers. The resulting sound portrayal enables a wide left-to-right stereo image complemented by an equally compelling sense of depth. Depending on the recording, there are some instances where musical elements project well in front of the speakers.

The 35XTs uncover a lot of fine detail and nuance in recordings, which contributes to the sense of ambient sound around them. At the same time, they do not lean toward ear-singing fatigue, a testament to ML’s years of ESL design and voicing. In the context of gear at my disposal, female vocals retain a natural, non-exaggerated musical presence, as demonstrated through Pink Martini’s album Hang On Little Tomato. Cymbal shimmer, horns blasts, harp plucks and piano notes showcase the speakers’ high- and mid-frequency extension.

As with most small-box designs, bass has its limits, so those craving deep and powerful bass might consider alternate or supplemental speaker options. Below 50 Hz, bass loses its growl through the 35XTs and a subwoofer like those offered by ML will pick up the slack. But what bass the 35XTs do reproduce comes in tight and tuneful. Like a seat further back in an auditorium, drum impacts sound quite real, but they lack an up-close level of punch and slam. Electronica tracks from Deadmau5 and Armin Van Buuren offer plenty of snap and excitement.

The balance of all these elements proves delightful during long listening sessions. These speakers do offer some surprises, as guitar strums and background vocals spring forth from the blackness and into the periphery.

Perpetual Motion

Though ML is known better for its more expensive ESL speakers, it’s marvelous to see the company price a set of speakers under $1,200, putting them into the reach of many audio enthusiasts seeking high-quality monitors. The gloss-finished wooden cabinets and metal speaker grilles alone give the outward impression of a more expensive design. And of course, fantastic sonics for their price point reinforce that assessment.

Used as a stereo pair, the ML 35XT speakers offer a lot of sound for the dollar. Other than limits to bass frequencies, the rest of the audio spectrum proves very enjoyable. The speakers may even beguile a listener toward couch-lock, repeating the phrase, “Okay, I’ll play just one more song.”

For those who want a stereo pair of speakers now, but are considering a home-theater setup in the future, it’s also great to know you are preserving your speaker investment. If budget allows later for the floorstanding version of the XTs, the smaller speakers can always be utilized as surrounds. In that scenario, a user can also rest assured knowing that the common drivers used in the Motion XT series speakers will offer a perfectly synergistic match. Our publisher has also mentioned that the XTs work very well as rear speakers in a multichannel system with MartinLogan ESLs as the front channels.

By simply filling out the warranty card and sending it to ML within 30 days of purchase, an owner receives a five-year insurance policy against problems with the speaker, which underlines the company’s commitment to its customers’ long-term satisfaction—whether an owner chooses the high-end or entry-level models. With that level of confidence behind the speaker, and the marvelous sound they produce, these ML speakers are a great option to consider.

Martin Logan Motion 35XT bookshelf speakers

MSRP: $1,200 per pair


Digital sources Mac Mini    dCS Debussy    JRiver Media Center 20    Tidal music service
Analog source SME 10 turntable with SME 10 tonearm and Dynavector 17D3 cartridge
Amplifiers Burmester 911 MK3    Benchmark AHB2
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Speakers Sonus faber Olympica III
Cables Jena Labs
Power Running Springs Audio Haley     RSA Mongoose power cords
Accessories ASC tube traps    Mapleshade Samson audio racks

MartinLogan Motion 35XT Speakers

MartinLogan continues to expand their phenomenal Motion series of loudspeakers to the new 35XTs you see here, featuring a 6.5” woofer and their incredible folded motion (ribbon) tweeter, all in a solid wood cabinet, available in a variety of colors, including high gloss black.

As with every MartinLogan speaker, these are painstakingly crafted and reveal a level of music that is above and beyond their modest price. Voiced to match the floor standing speakers in the Motion line, these can either function as a high performance/minimal form factor pair of rear surround speakers in an all Motion system (though they do mate very well with MartinLogan electrostatic speakers as well) or a great pair of stand mounted speakers in a dedicated two channel system.

MartinLogan Motion 35XT Speakers


MartinLogan Montis Speakers

Variations on panel-speaker themes are so widespread, they’re enough to make one’s head spin: magnetic planar, ribbon, electrostatic, and hybrid combinations constitute the bevy of options. And woe to the audiophile that doesn’t agree with one approach. For instance, admitting to a Magnepan aficionado that you like MartinLogan speakers can be the equivalent of treason, sparking reactions that will leave you thinking you just argued with a bunch of soccer hooligans in a pub.

Having owned pretty much all panel types over the years—from the Quad 57 to the mighty Magnepan Tympani to the phenomenal MartinLogan CLX—I love ‘em all. However, they all have limitations that, when minimized, allow for captivating musical presentations one will either adore or despise. Much that of like a single driver/SET system, an ESL speaker’s midrange is positively dreamy. Vocals, in particular, sound amazingly lifelike.

Other than its CLX and earlier CLS, all full-range electrostatic designs, MartinLogan hangs its hat on a hybrid design that mates a dynamic (cone) woofer to an ESL panel. The approach looks great on paper, with the cone woofer bringing the necessary punch and the ESL panel providing the trademark finesse. In practice, however, it’s a tough marriage, as the woofer and ESL panel dissipate sound pressure in different ways, making for a slight disconnect in the frequency spectrum.

Critics of the hybrid approach argue that the woofer doesn’t have the necessary speed to keep up with the ESL panel, robbing the otherworldly coherence that draws us to the design in the first place. So, often like that other marriage of convenience, the SUV, it isn’t always as sporty or utilitarian as some might prefer. I’ve always been willing to excuse a bit panel/woofer integration perfection for weight and slam. I can’t play Metallica on Magnepans, but I can on the MartinLogans.

No manufacturer does a better job of joining a cone woofer to an ESL panel than MartinLogan. It’s for good reason—the company has more seat time with the breed than anyone else. MartinLogan’s constant refinement of woofer and crossover designs (and improvements to the ESL panel) cheats physics rather handily. Enter the $9,995 Montis.

Up and Running

MartinLogan provides some of the best manuals in the business, so you will be rocking out before you can even say “vertical dispersion.” These speakers weigh only 58 pounds each and are easily unpacked by one person. If your room accommodates such a setup, start with the speakers about 8-9 feet apart and with slight toe-in. MartinLogan’s “flashlight” method for setting toe-in works very well and, even though these speakers can nicely when placed close to the side walls of a listening room, the further you can keep them away from side walls results in a larger overall sound field.

When listening to the Montis on both the long and short wall in my 16 x 25 foot listening room, the former gets the nod for producing an expansive stereo image. I suggest moving the speakers apart in 6-inch increments until the stereo image collapses, then back in ever so slightly. The Montis are shipped with hard rubber feet that can be swapped with spikes. The latter results in slightly faster bass transients, but thanks to the great improvements I didn’t hear as much of a difference between spiked and unspiked operation as in past ML models.

The bass control, located on the rear panel, affects the output level of the woofer +/-10db at 100hz. Start at the center (zero) position and optimize speaker placement for the best balance of bass definition and midrange clarity, sparingly using the bass control for best results. Also, the Montis has a lighted “ML” logo on top of the woofer cabinet and a small blue LED on the front face. A three-position switch allows users to choose maximum blue, dim, and off.

Beauty Beneath the Surface

Looking much like the earlier Spire, reviewed very enthusiastically in Issue 20, the Montis uses the same ESL panel as the Summit X and a slightly different 10-inch woofer that crosses over to the panel 10hz higher at 340hz. (It was 330hz in the Spire.)

A new Vojkto-designed 24-0bit DSP crossover enables a far better match between woofer and panel than ever before. With custom slopes on the high- and low-pass frequency segments, the Montis boasts more bass drive than the Spire. Plus, integration improved tremendously. MartinLogan designers never sit still, and as scary as “equalized” sounds in product literature referring to the woofer, the concept works splendidly. According to Devin Zell, MartinLogan product manager, the DSP crossover yields another benefit: consistency. “We were able to achieve much more consistent results within the crossover, holding values to a much tighter tolerance than with passive components. This also provides more consistency from one sample of the product to another.”

Acoustic jazz tracks underscore how far the Montis has come. While the Summit and Spire never struggled in this area, acoustic bass always lacked a bit of texture. No longer. Grant Green’s Idle Moments exemplifies this newfound fluidity. The bass playing here is subtle, seldom taking center stage. Yet the additional texture supplied by the Montis keeps the bass in the center of the pocket, right where it belongs, allowing the listener to forget about it and providing a better foundation for the music.

Whether real or imagined, the increased clarity in the lower register permits more midrange detail to shine through. Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing features a more detached electric bass line that, while great on a pair of Cerwin Vegas, usually sounds somewhat out of place on a high-end system. The Montis nails it, retaining the force albeit tightening up the overall feel.

Tube Friendlier

Many ESL enthusiasts clinging to the notion that tubes are the only way to go with beloved panels forget that hybrid designs are a different animal. Earlier MartinLogan hybrids sport a minimum impedance in the 2-3 ohm range, making them easier to drive than recent models that drop to a .25-ohm impedance at 20khz.

While the Vantage, Summit, and Spire are not amplifier destroyers in the way that my full-range ribbon Apogees are, the high-frequency response nose-dives with practically every tube amplifier, often making for a combination that sounds similar to a traditional dynamic speaker, albeit with a blown tweeter. Happily, the Montis sports a minimum impedance of .56 ohms (with an overall impedance of 4 ohms)—making these speakers much easier to drive with a tube amplifier.

The match with the ARC REF 150 is downright spooky—plenty of high-end sparkle, taut bass response, and a wonderful, airy midrange that one usually associates with the finest vacuum-tube/ESL combinations. This amplifier stands as the one of the best companions for the Montis—the very best I’ve heard yet.

The Montis has no problem being driven by the 25-watt Grant Fidelity SET monoblock amplifiers, which utilize the gigantic 845 output tube. High frequencies don’t roll off; however, a slight midbass hump considerably warms up the sound. Some will welcome the more romantic sound, the pairing sounding more like a pair of Sound Labs or Acoustat 2+2s with more bass drive. Either way, the fact these speakers can be comfortably driven by an SET is remarkable. Listeners whose musical taste leans toward female vocalists should be enraptured by this marriage. Sinead O’Connor’s How About I Be Me (and You Be You?) proves exquisite, yielding the larger-than-life vocals at which ESLs excel.

Equally Adept With Solid-State

These speakers are no slouch with the Burmester 911 mk.3, either. Thanks to the Montis’ resolving abilities, the massive solid-state amplifier brings an equally tasty albeit different flavor to the fore. Whereas the REF 150 has a definite ceiling regarding how loud it can play, the 911 mk. 3 easily drove the efficient (91db/1 watt) Montis to brain-damage levels. Even when cranking the title track from AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock, there’s still plenty of headroom for the parting canon shots.

Fast speed metal, served up via Megadeth, Anthrax, and Motorhead, presents no issue for the Montis when the Burmester amplifier is at the driver’s seat, keeping the sound from the panels clean and controlled. Akin to the Summit, Spire, and Summit X, these ESLs rock—provided your amplifier is up to the task. An amplifier of lesser quality has more trouble driving the panels, a deficit that’s often be mistaken for a woofer/panel coherence issue. The better your power amplifier, the smoother these speakers sound.

Slowing the pace, the acoustic guitar interlude in the middle of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Déjà Vu” from the 25th Annual Bridge School Concerts becomes particularly moving. You can easily discern the sound of each individual guitar in its space and, when the players hit the occasional low string, the additional coherence of the new woofer/crossover keeps you in the groove, never drawing attention to the speakers.

Solid Evolution

Should you trade-in your Vantage, Spire, or Summits for Montis? It depends on your room, system, music, and pocketbook. If you absolutely must have the latest/greatest, snag a pair. Is this speaker a significant upgrade? Unquestionably.

When MartinLogan developed the current Spire and Summit X via crossover advances made on the CLX model, the speakers’ added midrange clarity impressed but the main quibble with the hybrid ESL design still lurked. The Montis makes the biggest jump to date at integrating a cone woofer with an ESL panel. If that’s what you’ve been craving, you will enjoy the Montis.

MartinLogan Montis

MSRP: $9,995/pair


Analog Source AVID Acutus Reference SP/SME V tonearm/Koetsu Urushi Blue Cartridge
Digital Source dCS Paganini    Sooloos Control 15
Preamplifier Burmester 011
Phono Preamplifier ARC REF Phono 2
Power Amplifier ARC REF 5    Burmester 911 mk. 3    Pass Labs XA200.5s
Power Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim power conditioners
Cable Cardas Clear

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

MartinLogan Motion 4

I must admit, I’m almost never impressed with what I hear at audio shows, and it’s not for the manufacturers’ lack of trying. It’s always tough to hear anything decently at a show, even if the room is set up fairly well. But at last year’s CEDIA convention, there was something that really blew me away, the final prototypes of MartinLogan’s new Motion series, especially when I saw how tiny they were.

While MartinLogan is well known for their electrostat speakers, they have been making great strides with their ATF planar tweeters over the past few years, the Motion series uses the same air motion technology for their tweeter that was made famous by ESS in the 1970’s. The air motion driver has made a big comeback in the past ten years, showing up in flagship speakers from Dali and Burmester to name a few. Because of its folded ribbon nature, this tweeter has the speed of a panel speaker, offering the transparency that MartinLogan is famous for, but in a much smaller form factor.
Only about 5 x 5 inches and just over a foot tall, MartinLogan managed to stuff a 4 inch woofer with a folded bass port into this tiny, curvy enclosure along with the new tweeter. The Motion 4 has a rated sensitivity of 90db/1watt, but it is very easy to drive. I used these speakers exclusively in my living room system to see how well they would work in a small environment.


I used the speakers about 9 feet apart (2 feet from the side walls, 18 inches from the rear wall) on a pair of carbon fiber Whitworth stands, with a tiny bit of blu-tack between the speakers’ base and that of the stands. The Motion 4’s also have a mounting flange for wall mounting, which should prove handy in a compact surround sound system. I also made use of one of their new Dynamo 700 wireless subwoofers that we will feature a detailed review on soon. Suffice to say for now, it’s another home run from MartinLogan, providing outstanding performance, value and perfect integration for the Motion 4’s. I would highly suggest one of these to round out a full range system based around the Motion speakers, whether it is two-channel or multi channel.

The Motion 4’s have some recessed binding posts that are easy to get at if you are stringing something similar to zip cord or the basic upgraded wire that a lot of home installers use. Those wanting to use somewhat higher quality cables need to be sure they are terminated with banana plugs. Spades of any kind will not work, due to the recessed nature of the binding posts. The Motion 4’s only weigh 6 pounds each, so I can’t imagine using mega speaker cables with these speakers anyway.
binding post
The Audioquest Colorado speaker I used for my listening sessions was probably a bit overkill for this application, but it worked great and did provide better sound that later switching to $1/foot Radio Shack speaker wire could offer. The bottom line is that these little speakers are capable of a healthy dose of resolution. The rest of the reference system was rounded out with a Naim Uniti (50w/ch solid state) all in one receiver, which allowed CD’s, FM, Internet radio and my iPod to be used as sources and the Prima Luna Prologue 1 vacuum tube integrated (30w/ch) along with a Denon 3910. For those that will be using the Motion 4’s as the start of a two channel system, rest assured that they are easy to drive with tubes or transistors, making this speaker even more versatile.

The Sound

In a small room with corner placement, the Motion 4’s have a surprising amount of bass on tap, much more than their LF range spec of 75hz would suggest. Adding the slight warmth of the Prima Luna to the mix made me wonder at first if a subwoofer was even necessary, and if you aren’t listening to Pink Floyd at bone crushing levels, you might not either. MartinLogan concentrated on making a great speaker that only goes down to 75hz cleanly rather than a mediocre speaker that goes down to 50hz, sacrificing everything else to get that last bit of ultimate bass. Remember, adding a subwoofer to a speaker with lousy midrange isn’t HiFi.

The key to appreciating and enjoying this speaker is how much quality it offers, and for those of you that have MartinLogan speakers in your main listening room and perhaps need a second system, or would like to build a small home theater system in another room, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much of the core ML sound is on tap here.

I went through a fair share of my classic rock favorites, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, The Doobies, etc. to get a good feel for how these little speakers would perform on music that I know like the back of my hand. Friends and family members were all amazed at the natural sound the Motion 4’s possessed, and a couple of MartinLogan owners were equally impressed.

Again, the key to this speaker is the midrange performance and transparency, they offered. Cymbals sound incredibly right and these speakers do a great job with solo vocals as well. I never really felt like I was listening to a pair of “budget” speakers. Those listening to a steady diet of jazz and classical music will notice a slight bit of grain in the upper mids, but that’s being really fussy. Again, remember, these are entry-level speakers, not a pair of CLX’s.

At the end of the test, my $35 Pioneer receiver from the 70’s was substituted for the Naim, to see how these speakers would perform in an “extreme budget” system, and they passed the test quite handily. While they are capable of high resolution and will shine with better electronics, the Motion 4’s will offer a lot of sound with anything you hook them up to.

The speakers are very robust and even with a 35-watt amplifier at my disposal; I was amazed at how loud they would play in my small room. When I got wacky with Megadeth, Metallica and Korn, I could tell they needed more oomph, but that’s what that Dynamo subwoofer is all about. If you add one of those to the mix, even the most hardcore metal head should be very happy indeed.

A Breakthrough

When I heard the Motion 4’s in front of a pair of CLX’s (playing through some very nice gear from McIntosh) at CEDIA, I was really impressed. While many of the people in the room exclaimed, “are those the big speakers?” I knew they weren’t the CLX’s, because I own a pair, but they certainly didn’t sound like, are you ready…
A $500 pair of speakers. That’s right. A pair of Motion 4’s will only set you back $500. Though my head is usually up in the clouds listening to five figure speaker systems, this is truly a breakthrough in budget speaker performance. No one on the staff guessed the price on the Motion 4’s; the closest bid was $800 a pair. Having just recently reviewed a number of small monitor speakers in the $1,500 – $3,000 a pair range, these speakers have got to be one of the best buys in high end audio today. Add that Dynamo 700, which is wireless ready, and you’ve got an amazing speaker system for under $1,200, and a great foundation to a system in the $2,000 – $3,000 range.

If we are going to get more people excited about the world of HiFi, this is definitely what we need a lot more of. I am very happy to award MartinLogan one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2010. Don’t let the price fool you; the Motion 4’s are worthy of the MartinLogan name on the box.

-Jeff Dorgay

The MartinLogan Motion 4

MSRP: $499/pair


Amplification Naim Uniti, Prima Luna ProLogue 1

Digital Sources Denon 3910, Oppo BDP 83

Cable Audioquest Colorado

Power Shunyata Hydra 2, Shunyata Venom power cords

MartinLogan Purity: HiFi with ease!

Purity_Dark_Chery_Lifestyle_2In the last few years, MartinLogan has received a lot of praise for their hybrid electrostatic designs, mating their legendary electrostatic panel to a dynamic woofer. In the case of the Purity, it’s a pair of 6.5-inch woofers in a very compact package that will only take a 10 x 15 inch patch of your living area.

What makes the Purity special though, is the fact that these are powered speakers, so you only need a source component and a pair of fairly long interconnects to build a complete system! These speakers feature a 200-watt, high resolution, switching amplifier built in, so if you want high quality HiFi, but don’t want a rack full of gear to go along with it, the Purity is for you. You can even run them with an iPod or Squeezebox and have the ultimate minimalist system. The Purity can be customized for different color options, at a base price of $3,295.

Small sources

That’s exactly where I started my journey with the Purity. In my small (11 x 17 foot) living room with my iPod full of Apple Lossless files and a pair of 8 foot Radio Shack interconnects. Worth noting when you set the Purity up for the first time, there is a hard plastic base on the bottom of the speakers that will tilt the speakers’ electrostatic panel back somewhat or keep it straight up.

Pay careful attention to this adjustment, because tilting them back gives the speaker a better overall tonal balance if you are going to be listening to the speakers primarily walking around the room or mostly standing. If you are going to be more of a traditional audiophile, listening in your chair, stand them straight up. Note, that with either of these positions, you will lose some of the high frequency and focus when you are not in the optimum listening position.

Tech info

If you’ve got a high quality source, you will be floored at how good the Purity sounds and how much music comes out of these relatively small speakers. I’m guessing you will be in one of two camps: A legacy MartinLogan owner that needs another pair for a different room in your home or office or someone new to the MartinLogan way of doing things.

If you are new to the electrostatic speaker experience, you’ll be surprised at how open and airy these speakers sound compared to a lot of box speakers, and that’s MartinLogan’s trademark. The diaphragm inside the panel assembly weighs close to nothing, so it can accelerate instantly. Thanks to the crossover frequency being so low (450hz) this panel handles most of the critical musical information and the two small woofers give you the same amount of bass you would get with a larger woofer, but in a smaller space. Those two small woofers also move faster, to keep up with the panel, adding to the overall transparency of the sound.
If you’re already a MartinLogan owner, you know all this stuff and you probably want to know how the Purity compares to the larger speakers you already own. The actual panel in the Purity uses the same materials and construction as the rest of the MartinLogan line (all the way up to the flagship CLX, which is one of my reference speakers), featuring their 2nd generation electrostat panel technology.


Even using my iPod as a source, I was very impressed with the sound of the Purity. Think of the Purity as a bite-sized serving of what the CLX has to offer. When sitting in the sweet spot, it’s easy to be fooled at first listen that you aren’t hearing something much more expensive than the Purity and that’s it’s best attribute.

Granted, a switching amplifier has some limitations and because of the two 6.5 inch woofers, these speakers will reproduce solid bass down to about 40hz, where MartinLogans’ larger speakers will go all the way down to the mid 20’s, the overall balance is excellent.

As a MartinLogan owner, I was excited at just how much sound I could coax out of these speakers. After quite a bit of iPod listening, my next task was to investigate the limits of performance these speakers were capable of, so my next task was to drag out some better interconnects, power cords and source components to find out if this was a serious HiFi speaker after all.

Upping the ante

Again, the Purity passed with flying colors. Now, my “budget” system consisted of the Audio Research SP-17 preamplifier that we had in for review along with the Marantz K-A1 Pearl CD/SACD player. Both of these components cost almost as much as the Purity, and I did upgrade from Radio Shack interconnects to two pair of ED422 interconnects from Empirical Design, valued at about $500 each. I swapped the stock power cords from the Purities for a pair of Shunyata Venom cables ($125 each) and plugged the whole system into a Running Springs Haley power conditioner.Purity_Front_3Quarter

Bottom line, the Purity is up to the task of being the cornerstone of a real “audiophile” system too, so even if you start out just using the Purity with an iPod, you can rest assured that if the upgrade bug bites, you can grow with these speakers.

The Sound

The sound is pure MartinLogan. Open, airy highs, walk through midrange and tight punchy bass. I kept going back and forth between my dedicated listening room where the CLX’s make up a six-figure system and the Purity in my living room with the ARC/Marantz combination, playing the same CD’s on each.

The Purity did a fantastic job with everything I played. My favorite rock records had plenty of body and of course, vocal records really let these speakers shine. At times, you could definitely hear the limitations of the switching amplifiers present in the Purity, but that was only when comparing the system to my reference system. I think MartinLogan has done a great job with integrating the amp and speakers.

When playing musical selections that did not possess huge dynamic swings or subterranean bass notes, it was easy to be fooled when going between rooms. I was surprised at how good the speakers’ bass response was, considering the printed spec lists the LF response at 41hz. Yep, the driving bass line in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” came through loud and clear. Speaking of loud, these babies did a great job with my favorite Mastodon, Tool and Metallica cuts, so they should be able to play anything else that interests you after this torture test.

While the Purity does not have the full scale of dynamic range that the more expensive Vantage or Spire possess, it does one thing better than most of the speakers in the MartinLogan line; top to bottom coherency. Those small woofers are fast and articulate. So much so, that you might be fooled into thinking this is a full range electrostat!

The only real limitation to the Purity is that the sweet spot for critical listening is small. If you have them angled back, the sound is very good all over the room, but the best sound will only be in one spot. Same thing if you have them optimized for your chair; that will be the only place you get all of the magic. Keep in mind you would have the same limitations with a small pair of mini monitors in this kind of space too, so I don’t see this as a limitation.

I also made it a point to run some fairly long interconnects to these speakers, as they only have RCA line-levelinputs. While I didn’t have any trouble with 20 foot interconnects, it might be a good idea for the next version of these to have balanced XLR inputs as well. Those with a budget source only possessing speaker level outputs can connect via the speaker level inputs as well.

In the end, convenience

Thanks to the internal power of the MartinLogan Purity, they make a great place to put a high quality sound system, where you might not have in the past. In five minutes you can have them set up and playing music and that’s what it’s all about. Though some of you might get grumpy that a powered speaker doesn’t give you the flexibility to choose amplifiers, speakers, etc., you’re missing the point; the Purity is the perfect speaker for someone who doesn’t want to bother with all of that! Plug em in and enjoy.

Because the Purity offers this level of performance, style and simplicity in one package at such a great price, we are awarding it one of our Publishers’ Choice awards for 2009.

The MartinLogan Purity
MSRP: $3,295


Sources: iPod Touch, Audio Research SP-17 preamplifier, Marantz K1 Pearl SACD player

Cable: Empirical Design ED 422 interconnects, Shunyata Venom Power Cables

Accessories: Running Springs Haley power conditioner

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