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 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