Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceQ: What are those funny-looking speakers in Joey and Chandler’s apartment on Friends?

A: MartinLogans!

It’s fair to say that MartinLogan is at least partially responsible for popularizing the electrostatic speaker.

MartinLogan was founded in 1982 by Gayle Martin Sanders and Ron Logan Sutherland, who’d met in the late ’70s and were convinced they could produce an electrostatic speaker with adequate bass depth, output level, and dispersion without risk to the user (high voltages and all). In the years since introducing the Monolith, in 1983, MartinLogan has launched many electrostatic models across a wide range of prices. Although ML still operates out of their offices in Lawrence, Kansas, in May 2019 the company was purchased -- along with Paradigm Electronics and Anthem Electronics -- by Scott Bagby and John Bagby from the three brands’ previous owner, Shoreview Industries.

The subject of this review is not a MartinLogan electrostatic, but a floorstanding model with conventional cone drivers and an air-motion transformer (AMT) tweeter. The speaker, introduced in September 2019, is the flagship model of the latest iteration of the Motion line, the Motion 60XTi ($3499.98; all speaker prices USD per pair, except as noted). The other Motions introduced last fall are the 15i ($849.98) and 35XTi ($1399.98) minimonitors, the 20i ($1799.98) and 40i ($2399.98) floorstanders, and the 30i ($849.99 each) and 50XTi ($1099.99 each) center-channels.

MartinLogan

I asked marketing manager Devin Zell why MartinLogan was introducing conventional cone speakers. “We’d love for everyone to own and experience electrostatic speakers,” he said, “but the reality is that not everyone has space or budget for them. The Motion series captures much of MartinLogan’s legendary sound, quality, and design philosophy at price points and sizes accessible to a much wider audience.” I include myself in that wider audience -- I’d have a hard time fitting a pair of big ML electrostats in my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H listening room.

Description

All of the Motion models have Folded Motion Transducer (FMT) or FMT XT tweeters. The “i” models have the standard FMT tweeter (1”W x 1.4”H), while the XTi models have an FMT XT (1.2”W x 1.4”H). This large (for a tweeter) transducer is packed into a small space by folding its thin diaphragm of lightweight film into an accordion-like structure, to increase the proportion of effective radiating area to the driver’s overall dimensions -- FMT tweeters have eight to ten times the radiating area of dome tweeters. ML also claims that the FMTs’ ideal combination of low mass and large area results in greater accuracy, wider bandwidth, higher output, and faster, more efficient transient response, all with virtually zero distortion. MartinLogan claims that the FMT and FMT XT can mimic the accuracy and delicacy of a large electrostatic panel within the confines of a conventionally boxy loudspeaker cabinet.

MartinLogan

The midrange and bass drivers used in the latest Motion speakers comprise custom-made aluminum cones driven by high-powered magnets. The Motions’ proprietary Vojtko crossovers use custom-wound inductors and high-quality polypropylene and low-dissipation-factor electrolytic capacitors, and have built-in thermal and current protection. Finally, the Motions’ cabinets -- available in Matte White or Gloss Black paint, or the real-wood red Walnut veneer of my review samples -- have reinforced baffles and internal bracing that, per ML, virtually eliminate sound-distorting cabinet resonances.

The Motion 60XTi measures 48”H x 11.4”W x 14.4”D, weighs 66 pounds, and, along with its FMT XT tweeter, has one 6.5” midrange and two 8” woofers in a three-way configuration. The tweeter hands off to the midrange at 2.2kHz, while the midrange and woofers transition at 400Hz. Near the bottom of the rear panel are two ports, and above these are two pairs of high-quality, five-way binding posts. MartinLogan specifies the Motion 60XTi as having a nominal impedance of 4 ohms “compatible with 4, 6, or 8 ohm rated amplifiers,” a sensitivity of 94dB/2.83V/m, and a frequency response of 35Hz-25kHz, ±3dB. The recommended amplification is 20-400Wpc.

MartinLogan

Except for its top panel, which gently slopes down toward the rear, the Motion 60XTi looks like a fairly conventional box speaker. The cabinets of my review samples were finished to a high standard that belied the relatively modest price. The real-wood veneer was immaculate and beautiful, with no visible joins. The black MDF front baffle has a “plastic” feel when you’re up close and personal, but from a distance it looks nice. The outcurving metal trim piece on the baffle, adorned with “MartinLogan” silk-screened in black, I thought was a nice touch. Each speaker has an upper and a lower magnetically attached grille.

Setup

Because each Motion 60XTi is 4’ tall, I wasn’t able to follow MartinLogan’s instructions and lift their cartons up and away from the speakers in my listening room, whose ceiling is only 8’H. Luckily, each speaker weighs a manageable 66 pounds -- with some elbow grease, I was able to unpack them on my own by laying the boxes flat on the floor.

Inside each carton is an instruction manual, the two grilles, and the metal hardware for the speaker’s feet. I installed the hardware, then spikes to reach my room’s concrete slab through my carpet and pad, and placed the speakers in the usual positions for speakers in this room: with their rear panels about 17” from the long wall behind them, the speakers toed in 18° and describing a 9’ equilateral triangle with my high-backed recliner. Though my room is relatively small (15’L x 12’W x 8’H), it has good broadband absorption on the sidewalls at the first-reflection points, and on the wall between the speakers.

MartinLogan

I connected the Motion 60XTi’s to the 4-ohm output taps of my McIntosh Laboratory MC302 power amp. Upstream, I used a Bluesound Node streamer as a source, connected via optical interconnect (TosLink) to a miniDSP DDRC-22D processor, its built-in Dirac Live 2.0 room-correction software deactivated. The miniDSP’s digital output was connected via TosLink to the DAC of a McIntosh C47 preamplifier, which in turn fed the MC302 via balanced (XLR) interconnects. I used the Bluesound Node as a Roon endpoint, controlled via Roon’s Remote app installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S smartphone to serve up tunes streamed from Tidal -- or, via my home network, FLAC rips of CDs I’ve stored on a Western Digital NAS device.

Because in my reference system I run Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 minimonitors high-passed at 120Hz to two SVS SB-4000 subwoofers, whenever I review a floorstander I need to decide how to configure my reference gear to yield the most level playing field. In this case, the retail prices dictated the decision. The Motion 60XTi costs $3499.98/pair, and my B&W 705 S2s, with stands, $3000/pair -- so I pitted the MLs vs. the B&Ws run full-range, without subs or EQ. I matched the sound-pressure levels of the two speaker pairs using pink noise.

Sound

After breaking in the Motion 60XTi’s by playing some tunes at a decent volume for a few days, I sat down for my first session of serious listening.

I really liked what I heard. The MartinLogans produced a quality of sound worthy of more expensive designs, and their sound signature was just up my alley. I began with a track that’s great for evaluating a speaker’s reproduction of bass: “Hotel California,” from the Eagles’ live album Hell Freezes Over (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Geffen). From the opening plucked acoustic guitar at hard right, which imaged just to the left of the right speaker, I could tell that the Motions didn’t lack midrange transparency, detail, and presence. The leading edges of the guitar notes had bite and sparkle, followed by long, delicate decays. When the bass drops 32 seconds into the track, I was again not disappointed, assailed by generous amounts of chest and even leg slam. The bass filled my room without bloat -- it didn’t overwhelm the space. Using my UMIK-1 calibrated microphone, I measured the -3dB point at 22Hz -- nearly full-range sound.

MartinLogan

But bass wasn’t the only thing. It was when Don Henley’s voice entered that I knew these speakers had the type of sound I really enjoy: His voice was convincingly reproduced, floating high above the speaker plane, with forward presence and good palpability. There was also an effortless ease to the sound that compelled me to raise the volume. So when the track ended I played it again -- LOUD. I measured peaks of around 100dB SPL at my listening seat, and the needles on my MC302’s wattmeters seemed to be bouncing into the 100W area. Even at those volumes -- which I don’t recommend listening to for long periods -- the Motion 60XTi’s sounded not only composed but smooth, even when, three minutes in, Henley pushes his voice to the limit in the chorus.

I also listened to “One Light Left in Heaven,” from Blue Rodeo’s The Things We Left Behind (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros.). Through transparent-sounding speakers, this beautifully recorded track can convey a sense of reach-out-and-touch-it realism. Jim Cuddy’s lead vocal had very good presence, palpability, and realism. His voice through the Motion 60XTi’s sounded just right to me, with body, weight, and no trace of excess sibilance -- something that, unfortunately, my B&Ws call attention to on this cut. The acoustic guitars -- one mixed just to the left of Cuddy, the other well to the right and behind him -- were reproduced with a perfect combination of leading-edge bite and delicate nuance. The 60XTi’s hid no detail from me, making it easy to hear the subtle backing vocal of singer-songwriter Oh Susanna (aka Suzie Ungerleider), which first appears about 45 seconds in.

As I listened over several days, the Motion 60XTi’s kept singing the same song: taut, extended bass; a present, detailed, lively midrange; and a smooth, delicately extended top end that seemed just about perfectly balanced, neither muted nor over-emphasized. Sure enough, when I then reviewed the measurements I’d taken, I saw just about the flattest -- i.e., the most accurate -- frequency-response plot above 300Hz that I’ve measured in this room. (As in most rooms, there were significant peaks and nulls below 300Hz.) And from the handoff of midrange to tweeter at 2.2kHz up to about 16kHz, the plot was almost ruler-flat.

MartinLogan

In terms of imaging specificity, the Motion 60XTi’s were very good for a pair of floorstanders, approaching what I’m accustomed to hearing from my reference minimonitors -- high praise indeed. The sizes of aural images carved out by the imposing MartinLogans -- e.g., at 1:08, the violin that appears halfway between the left speaker and the center of the soundstage, behind Cuddy’s voice and the acoustic guitars -- were just about as small, precise, and well delineated as those I’m used to hearing from my B&Ws, which are the most precisely imaging speakers I’ve heard. The icing on the cake were the gentle but deep bass notes at 3:01. Thanks to the Motion 60XTi’s’ superb low-end extension, the overall fullness of the sound made for exhilarating listening.

MartinLogan Motion 60XTi vs. Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2

For this comparison I first played some hard rock courtesy Guns N’ Roses -- “14 Years,” from their Use Your Illusion II (16/44.1 FLAC, Geffen). The song, about lead singer Axl Rose’s friendship with Izzy Stradlin, who was then the band’s rhythm guitarist (they’ve since fallen out), begins with some impressive drumming. The 60XTi’s let me feel, in equal measure, the punch from the kick drum and the subtleties of the recording venue in the reverberations following each drumstroke. The MLs’ reproduction of the kick drum’s sound was fuller -- I could feel it more in my body than I can with the 705 S2s. No surprise -- I was comparing a fairly large tower speaker with a much smaller minimonitor.

But above the bass range, the overall sonic signatures of the MLs and B&Ws were quite similar -- which explains why I so liked the MartinLogans. Their midrange presence was close, but not quite as predominant as through the 705 S2s. By midrange presence I mean, in this case, my perception of Stradlin’s lead vocal leaping from the mix, distinct and separate from the underlying rhythm guitars. The B&Ws’ fairly significant 3-4dB rise in the presence region (500Hz-1kHz) is, I concede, not accurate; nonetheless, I prefer and enjoy it. Another brand whose speakers consistently exhibit such a frequency response is Focal, and I absolutely love their speakers, too. (I recently reviewed Focal’s Spectral 40th, and currently in for review are their Chora 806 and Sopra No1 minimonitors.) The main disadvantage of the B&W is the “hotness” of its tweeter, which the Focal models I’ve heard don’t suffer from to nearly the same degree.

MartinLogan

Thanks to the B&W 705 S2’s midrange, I could pick out Stradlin’s lead vocal and Rose’s backing vocal with a bit more ease than through the Motion 60XTi’s. The 705 S2s also had a bit more bite, placing the plucked guitar’s leading edges hard right; the piano somewhat subtly layered into the mix just right of center, behind the lead singer, was also better delineated and easier to identify through the B&Ws. For this reason -- and this track’s lack of brightness, which kept at bay the aggression in the B&Ws’ tweeters -- I slightly preferred the 705 S2s to the 60XTi’s.

I then listened to a well-recorded woman’s voice: Natalie Merchant’s in “Carnival,” from her Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings (24/48 FLAC unfolded to 24/96 MQA, Nonesuch/Tidal). The song begins with double bass and cymbals, then acoustic guitar, all to right of center, before Merchant’s intimately miked voice enters at center soundstage, floating above the speaker plane. Both pairs of speakers conveyed the subtle reverberation of bass sounds in the recording venue (The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, New York), the delicate shimmer of the cymbals, the space around Merchant’s voice, and all the detail within, including all the little inflections. Again, I marginally preferred the B&Ws’ reproduction of her voice, for the greater amounts of presence and air -- but I also preferred the MLs’ greater body and bass extension, and their more evenhanded top end. Two speakers, two preferences!

Last, I cued up “Find My Home,” from Colin James’s Rooftops and Satellites (16/44.1 FLAC, Maple Music). I preferred James’s voice through the 60XTi’s -- it had more weight and body than through the 705 S2s, with a presence and liveliness that approached the B&Ws’ while still offering singer-in-the-room transparency. This track has good bass punch, weight, and extension, and the 60XTi’s easily outclassed the 705 S2s in this regard -- the B&Ws’ bass seemed almost one-note by comparison.

MartinLogan

As they did James’s voice, the 60XTi’s reproduced Steve Hilliam’s saxophone -- which makes a clear appearance at center stage 2:02 in -- with more body and richer tonality than the B&Ws. This track is also a good test for treble extension -- e.g., the cymbal crashes at hard right at 1:08. Both speakers reproduced these crashes with delicacy and long decays, and imaged them beyond the speaker cabinets. Predictably by this point, the MartinLogans reproduced the cymbals with less treble energy -- at first this was less impressive, but ultimately sounded better balanced and more neutral.

Conclusion

At $3499.98/pair, the MartinLogan Motion 60XTi is an exceptional value. I really enjoyed my time with the pair, and found their sound signature to be just the kind I lust after: The midrange had lots of presence, palpability, detail, and transparency without compromising smoothness, and the top end was delicate, extended, and neutral. With many speakers I feel the urge to tame the top end by 1 or 2dB, but the Motion 60XTi’s sounded to me just about perfect in this area, and that’s how their frequency response in my room measured from 2 to 16kHz: ruler-flat. Their bass was ample, tight, and went down low, without overloading my relatively small room. For a pair of fairly large tower speakers they imaged well enough to almost equal my reference minimonitors, which excel in this regard. And if you like to bask in loud, immersive sound, the Motion 60XTi’s can deliver the goods, their sound remaining composed, unstrained, and smooth even when reproducing SPL peaks of 100dB at the listening position.

And, sound aside, the Motion 60XTi looks more expensive than it is, with a fit and finish that exude “high end.”

I can easily recommend the MartinLogan Motion 60XTi. Were I in the market for a pair of floorstanding speakers, I’d definitely look to buy a pair. This conventional tower speaker might lack the large, thin electrostatic panels that MartinLogan is famous for, but my review pair of Motion 60XTi’s looked and sounded nothing short of fabulous in my room.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
  • Subwoofers -- SVS SB-4000 (2)
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A high-pass filter (between preamp and amp)
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Room-correction EQ -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live 2.0 (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital Sources -- Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node streamer, laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon
  • Analog sources -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- 12AWG oxygen-free copper (generic, locking banana plugs)
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics unbalanced (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

MartinLogan Motion 60XTi
Price: $3499.98 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

MartinLogan, Ltd.
2101 Delaware Street
Lawrence, KS 66046
Phone: (785) 749-0133
Fax: (785) 749-5320

E-mail: info@martinlogan.com
Website: www.martinlogan.com