Surround Sound Speaker Systems

MartinLogan 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System

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MartinLogan Home Theater System

Now that the hard work was done it was time to put on some music. First up was the multichannel SACD Whites Off Earth Now by The Cowboy Junkies. This is a pristine recording by the crew at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. I was immediately struck by a massive and enveloping sound-stage The placement of instruments and their tonal quality was intensely realistic. There was depth to this recording that was previously unresolved with my reference speakers (Raw Acoustic OB3X). The top end of this disc can be too hot with speakers that rise up in the treble, and none of that was found with the Summit X's. As the volume was increased the dynamics did not compress, and the speakers seemingly grew in size, filling my room from comer to corner with clear undistorted sound.

MartinLogan Home Theater System

Switching over to Blu-Ray, I put on David Gilmours Remember That Night. The crowd is lightly mixed into the rear speakers, with the musicians up front. Again the sound-stage and imaging was incredible, and at all volume levels. The panning from front to back was seamless; however across the front stage there was some tonal mismatch between the Summit X and the Stage, with the stage having a slight bump in the upper mid-range this was affected noticeably by the vertical position of the center channel. With other speakers, especially ones that rise in the treble, the crowd's applause can be grating and intrusive. I found no such faults with this 5.1 speaker system.

MartinLogan Home Theater System

On to some 2ch music. To get me in the mood I started with the only album by the now defunct eclectic trio from Canada called Okgiraffe. The band consists of Rosa Smedley on vocals, upright bass and guitar, Kevin Bertram on vocals and upright bass, and Brandon Goodwin on percussion and trumpets. The vocal pairing of these singers intertwined with guitar, upright-bass and percussive instruments on this intimate recording is a great test for dynamics, clarity and separation of instruments. As this album was recorded analog live-off-the-floor, it is also a great test for a systems ability to recreate depth and sound-stage. On the opening track "Black Blood Famine" the upright-bass is what I am listening for. The pluck and release of the strings should be clear and detailed without being lost behind the vocals and the Summit X's nails it. As the upper fundamental frequency of this instrument is very close to the cross-over point I was listening for the cohesion and integration of the woofer and panel. If there was any speed or distortion imbalance it would be present with this instrument, and I heard none. It was seamless and the instrument had full body with great detail. The music on this track comes through with pristine clarity which served to sharply define the notes without any unnatural grain. The small amount of hiss present on this the recording was well resolved with the Summit X's, it was not intrusive or detrimental to the overall presentation.

MartinLogan Home Theater System

For my next 2ch disc I decided on something completely different. It became apparent early on that these speakers could do well-recorded acoustic guitar and female vocals with ease. So what would they do with some sludge-rock done by the original grunge band, The Melvins? Cueing up the 2006 release a Senile Animal I prepared myself for some Electrostatic meltdowns. Seriously, how could a speaker that reproduces excellent recordings so well even begin to do justice to a metal band that made Nirvana look and sound like Easy Listening? I am happy to report they survived. This album features two drummers playing two drum kits on either sides of the sound-stage they play tight, so tight in fact that you would think there was only one drummer. Until I heard them through the Summit X's I had never heard the tonal differences in their percussive instruments. There is ever so slight difference between the two kits and it is clear and well reproduced with these speakers. This is not the cleanest recording and at high volumes it is apparent. However these speakers can and do rock, and while they lack some of the dynamic punch provided by cone drivers they get plenty loud and very satisfying without any fatigue.

MartinLogan Home Theater System

Throwing the extended cut of The Watchmen in DTS-HD 5.1 into the Blu-Ray player I was not prepared for just how well these speakers could do movie playback. When Dr. Manhattan teleports the resulting shock wave put the Descent i into action. The bass was clean, and unlocalizable. Thanks in part to the low cross over setting afforded by the truly full-range Summit X's, and also in part to the excellent cabinet design. It was not possible to locate the source of this low frequency and instead the entire listening room seemed to will with bass. The sound was clean and flat without any nasty resonance. You could feel the bass from ten feet away through the couch. In the past I had employed bass shakers to move the seats. With the Descent i I found no need to augment anything. The panning of sounds across the front stage was more balanced with movies than music, and there were no issues from front to back. The glass breaking and gun shots (of which there is plenty in this movie) was startling realistic. Pleasantly I heard no audible compression or distortion.

Just for fun I took the Bryston out of the chain and used the amplifiers in the Denon 4308 receiver. I expected one, or both of the following. Thermal shutdown of the Denon under the load, and mediocre sound reproduction. Many a pixel has been spent talking about how hard MartinLogan's are to drive. How you need high-quality gear and power to make them shine. Maybe something has change with the new line, but I had no problem with just a receiver powering the set. And I did not go easy on the Denon. I went back and revisited the tracks and movies I used with the Bryston. What I found was that at low to mid volume the Bryston seemed to better control and excite the panels. While the Denon sounded it best at higher volumes. As well when I really pushed the speakers loud the Denon started to break-up and add some grain to complex percussion passages.

All was not perfect though. There is one issue with line-source, and electrostatic speakers in general that may deter some listeners. And that is the tight sweet spot. Everywhere outside of the sweet spot sound great, just lacked imaging and sound-staging cues. If you are off to one side the image pulls to that speaker. But what a sweet spot. With my usual speakers (ribbon tweeters paired with an open-baffle cone mid-range) the sweet spot is generous, maybe two and a half seats wide. With both the Summit X's and the Vistas I found the sweet spot to be about one and a half seats wide. Yet it was phenomenal in that spot. Keep this in mind when you audition MartinLogan speakers. For me it was a non issue as I am the only one in my home who even cares about such things. And with movie playback the Stage does a great job of locking the voices dead center, even when you are off-axis.