Home Theater Review

 

MartinLogan ElectroMotion Loudspeaker Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
4 Stars
Value
4.5 Stars
Overall
4.5 Stars

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Now it's been said over the years that electrostatic loudspeakers can't play as loud or with the same vigor as the traditional loudspeakers. I know this is NOT true but to go ahead and test it anyway I cued up Audioslave's' "Show Me How to Live" from their self-titled album (Epic) and let 'er rip. With peaks in excess of 100dB, the opening drum kit had all the dynamics, snap and kick one could ask for from a sub-$2,000 a pair loudspeaker. In fact, the ElectroMotions had more on tap than any other affordable loudspeaker I've had come through my system in the past six months, save maybe one, the Triton Twos from GoldenEar Technology. Keep in mind that I was utilizing two JL Audio Fathom F110 subwoofers at $2,100 apiece during this demo; still the combo between the ElectroMotion loudspeakers and JL Audio Fathom subs at $6,195 retail is one that I'd put up against any challenger, even ones costing twice if not three times as much. More impressive still was the fact that at even insane volume levels the ElectroMotions didn't become all wobbly or compress, they simply played louder and despite my best efforts I couldn't get them to flex, even when I resorted to using ear protection. So to anyone who would suggest that electrostatics can't rock I say, you simply weren't trying hard enough.

I ended my two-channel evaluation of the ElectroMotion loudspeakers with Sister Hazel's debut album ...Somewhere More Familiar (Universal) and the track "Starfish." Starfish has one of the best opening drum solos I've ever heard in terms of recording quality followed by vocals and bass guitar that put you up close and personal with the performers in a way few pop albums manage to do. The snare hits resonated throughout the room with amazing attack and decay, that few speakers get right the way the ElectroMotion's did. A lot of speakers put more zing on cymbal crashes and other high-end sounds in an effort to seem more detailed and focused, when in reality a cymbal crash is a decidedly textured affair, one that isn't really sharp but instead a myriad of high frequency sounds peppered together - it's a delicate balance and one I'm pleased, and a little surprised, the ElectroMotions got largely right. While I believe more expensive MartinLogan models are a bit more open and capable of resolving that nth degree, the ElectroMotion's high frequency performance and dynamic capability is no slouch. Likewise for the ElectroMotion's midrange, which like my demo with the Dixie Chicks, was lifelike in its intonation as well as scale and weight. Speaking of weight, the ElectroMotion's bottom end sounds and feels a lot deeper than its specs would have you believe, leading me to think that consumers with smaller rooms or a propensity to listen at more reasonable volumes may not require a subwoofer. The ElectroMotion's bass performance, specifically the bass guitar track in "Starfish," was far from one dimensional, in fact it was downright plucky with a richness to it that, when aided by my JL Audio subwoofers made for a downright convincing performance.

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To evaluate the ElectroMotion's cinematic capabilities I cued up Moulin Rouge on Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox). During the Roxanne tango scene the ElectroMotions recreated the spaciousness of the cluttered rehearsal hall brilliantly, extending the soundstage out well beyond the boundaries of the loudspeakers themselves both forward and backwards as well as horizontally. Even with no center channel present the ElectroMotion's center image was rock solid and its dialog prowess was on full display, possessing an in-room presence you simply don't get with traditional box or cone-n-dome loudspeakers. Dynamically the ElectroMotions didn't disappoint for they possessed all the snap and reflexes needed for the passionate and emotionally violent sequence - in fact it was the ElectroMotion's ability to go from explosive to positively subdued that impressed me most.

Again, if you haven't experienced the speed and agility afforded to you by MartinLogan's XStat panel, you're missing out for it's addictive and makes even the most agile of dynamic loudspeakers sound sluggish in comparison. Aware that I was using two JL Audio subs to augment the ElectroMotion's bottom end I was unable to tell where the ElectroMotions ended and the JL Audio subs began, which has been an issue with MartinLogans of yore, but not so much with the ElectroMotions. In order to see how much of the seamless integration was the result of the ElectroMotion's low end prowess and how much was JL Audio's ability to make a kick ass subwoofer, I swapped the JL subs out for a single, more affordable, GoldenEar ForceField 4 subwoofer and achieved similar, though obviously not identical results.

Next, I cued up The Mechanic starring Jason Statham on Blu-ray (Sony). I'm convinced that Statham can only make one film and it always involves driving fast, kicking ass, having sex with at least one hot chick and racking up a Rambo-like body count - to which I say, yay! In this regard The Mechanic doesn't disappoint for it has all of the above-mentioned elements and thanks to the ElectroMotions not a single one of them went unnoticed. There are a few sequences in which Statham plays his own audiophile system in the film that is then intercut with various tasks leading up to or following a hit. It was during these sequences that the ElectroMotions exhibited their ability to balance the film's score with the various other elements happening on screen without the two getting in the way or sounding muddy. Again dialog sounded natural and uncolored with tremendous presence, not to mention air and weight. At no point did any of the actors, be they Statham, Ben Foster or the venerable Donald Sutherland sound as if they were confined or worse, the same person, for the ElectroMotions reproduced each of their unique timbres faithfully. During the film's more intense and action oriented moments the ElectroMotions showcased their ability to not only play loud (okay - really loud) but do so and still retain their articulation, accuracy and tonal quality without becoming one dimensional or fatiguing.

Overall, with regards to movies - the ElectroMotions proved as adept with cinematic source material as they did with two channel fare. In fact, few budget loudspeakers have been as consistent across both spectrums, music and movies, as the ElectroMotions were, for many often favor one over the other, especially those geared toward home theater use. What I love most about using electrostatics in a home theater environment is their ability to disappear and present the viewer with a well defined wall of sound that is more or less seamless top to bottom (when properly set up), much the same as the sound you get at your local theater or when placing speakers behind a large, perforated screen. At no point during my film demos was I aware of the ElectroMotion's physical dimensions, construction and/or space, for even when staring directly at them it was near impossible to discern if the sound was emanating from the speakers themselves or from the surrounding area.

Competition and Comparisons
There's not another electrostatic loudspeaker at or near the ElectroMotion's asking price that isn't also made by MartinLogan. MartinLogan makes the Source ESL loudspeaker, which retails for $2,195 a pair and is a part of the ESL lineup of products - though with the introduction of the ElectroMotion I can't imagine the Source hanging around too much longer.

Magnepan recently released their new 1.7 loudspeaker, which employs a full-range, quasi midrange driver throughout to achieve ElectroMotion-like performance figures, though the 1.7 is larger and not as sexy from an industrial design standpoint as the ElectroMotion. That being said, the two are identical in price at $1,995 a pair.

Other affordable high-end values to consider include Golden Ear's Triton Two loudspeaker, Aperion Audio's Grand Verus Tower loudspeaker and Zu Audio's OMEN DEF. For more information on these loudspeakers and others like them please visit Home Theater Review's Floorstanding Loudspeaker page.

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The Downside
The ElectroMotions come with a few caveats one must consider before purchasing. First, because of their electrostatic design you have to place them near an outlet or two in order to plug in the required AC power cord to charge the ESL panel. This may not sound like an issue but you'd be surprised, for there never seems to be enough outlets nearby when it comes to proper speaker placement.

While the ElectroMotions are some of the more efficient MartinLogan designs they still require a fair amount of power to come alive and sound their best. Sure, I was able to power them to ambient levels using a mere two Watts. But the truth remains that they didn't really get up and dance until I threw 250-Watts at them. Higher powered receivers should get the job done nicely though my recommendation would be to get a cheaper receiver, one with preamp outs, and spend your money on a more robust and capable five or seven channel power amp from say Emotiva or Outlaw.

The ElectroMotions can play loud but they can't go as loud as some traditional, dynamic loudspeakers can. I'm sure this is going to be less of an issue, for most for their output is more than adequate for your favorite Hollywood action movie, but I have to put it out there for the few of you who insist on damaging your hearing each time you hit play on your Blu-ray player.

Lastly, the ElectroMotions do require a subwoofer or two for truly full-range sound reproduction, which means that you need to be willing to shell out a bit more money than their scant $1,995 a pair asking price. Do you need to spend $2,000 on a sub such as the JL Audio Fathom F110? You won't be sorry you did but it's not a requirement and MartinLogan does make some fine subwoofers that are both powerful and affordable: a good starting point would be their Dynamo 700 subwoofer at $695 retail.

Conclusion
For just under $2,000 retail the MartinLogan ElectroMotion loudspeakers are not only an incredible value but an incredible loudspeaker system. I've encountered no speaker at or even a few ticks above the ElectroMotion's asking price that possess the same transparency, articulation, speed and natural tone. When adequately powered, the breadth in which the ElectroMotions render a soundstage is stunning and their dynamic capabilities all but crush previous, affordable MartinLogan designs.

Sure they need a subwoofer for full-range playback but so do a lot of loudspeakers nowadays, including many that compete (with regards to price) with the ElectroMotions. While some may say the ElectroMotions aren't as open or possess the same top end sweetness as their more expensive counterparts - I say, try again. While the ElectroMotions will never be mistaken for CLXs or Summits, they possess more than their fair share of the ELS pie that with careful equipment matching and proper setup will make many question the need to upgrade.

For me the ElectroMotions represent not only a solid foundation from which to build a truly great system on a budget but also a love affair with the breed, for while things do get better as you progress up the food chain, you'll be able to understand why and if its worth it to you by starting with the ElectroMotions. The ElectoMotions are no doubt a favorite among my list of value for dollar loudspeakers and have also joined the ranks of my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds as one of my favorite loudspeakers overall. I know there's still a lot of time left between now and the end of the year but if voting were to commence today I think the ElectroMotions might just be my loudspeaker of the year.

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding speaker reviews from Home Theater Review's staff.
• Explore subwoofer options in our Subwoofer Review section.

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