Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
Soundbars are ubiquitous these days; soundbars that don't suck are not. In my experience, I've come into contact with a whopping three soundbars that didn't sound like something I engineered myself in the garage. Thankfully, the MartinLogan Cadence ($1,299.95) is a shining example of how a soundbar should be engineered, both in its sonic aptitude and its immense feature set.
A member of MartinLogan's Wireless Ensemble product line, the Cadence supports both Bluetooth and network audio streaming via AirPlay and DTS Play-Fi, and it allows you to wirelessly connect a subwoofer and surrounds to create a complete multichannel system. In terms of drivers, the soundbar features nine 2.5-inch high excursion composite cones, each full range and each with its own amplifier (135 watts total). It has a robust connection panel, including three HDMI inputs and one output with ARC (Audio Return Channel) capability, as well as two optical digital ins, two stereo RCA analog ins, and a subwoofer output. Anthem Room Correction is also included. Dolby Digital and DTS are supported, while lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are not. Designed for TVs 50 inches and above, it weighs 12.7 pounds and measures 3.5 inches high by 46.1 wide by five deep, and it comes stand- or wall-mount-ready.
For my review, MartinLogan also sent along the Dynamo 700w subwoofer ($695) and two of the wireless Bravado speakers ($699.95 each) to use as surrounds. (I also auditioned them as standalone music speakers.) The Bravado features dual Folded Motion tweeters and a five-inch aluminum woofer, and this powered speaker has a 200-watt Class D amp, broken down as 100 watts for the woofer and 50 watts for each of the tweeters. It has convenient side-mounted controls, plus a subwoofer output. The Bravado measures a manageable 3.22 inches high by 7.95 inches wide by 8.36 inches deep and weighs three pounds.
The aptly named Dynamo 700w subwoofer is a lot of sub for $695 and features a 10-inch woofer driven by a 300-watt RMS (600 watts peak) amplifier. Out of the box, it's a down-firing design, but MartinLogan gives you the option to easily change it to front-firing if need be. It measures 11.69 inches wide by 12.53 inches deep by 12.54 inches high and weighs 26.5 pounds. The Dynamo 700w comes with a wireless receiver, but I didn't need to use it--since MartinLogan also includes one with the Cadence soundbar.
I think it's fair to say that your typical soundbar buyer, even one who is more audiophile-inclined, does not expect to spend a great deal of time and effort on setup. MartinLogan has kept this in mind. Setting up the Cadence didn't require the dropping of any F-bombs, nor did it require a glass (or three) of Cab. It's a plug-and-play deal, especially if you choose to dispense with the Anthem Room Correction--although I wouldn't recommend doing that, as it will help tailor the Cadence system's performance to your specific room.
A soundbar that lacks HDMI switching is simply dead to me. As such, I was grateful for the three HDMI inputs and Audio Return Channel capability, to get audio back from a smart TV. The HDMI inputs are 2.0a and support UHD/HDR pass-through and HDCP 2.2. I quickly filled each of the inputs with an Xbox One (for Blu-ray discs and the occasional video game), a DirecTV receiver, and an Apple TV.
After spending less than 10 minutes connecting the soundbar, I moved on to the Dynamo sub. In what turned out to be yet another wise engineering decision on MartinLogan's part, the sub can be wireless--and pairing it with the Cadence proved quick and painless with the supplied wireless receiver. It's important to note that wireless capability is a boon to bass junkies who've had their hopes crushed by significant others who eschew bass in favor of clean aesthetics (oh the humanity).
Adding the Bravado speakers as surrounds is accomplished through the DTS Play-Fi app (something the Bravado instruction manual should be more clear about). During the speaker setup process within the app, you're given the option to set them up as surround sound speakers to be used in conjunction with the Cadence soundbar. After selecting which speaker is rear left and which is rear right, it then asks the distance from the listener to each speaker, runs a quick calculation on its own, and boom--absolutely seamless surround sound. It also gives you the option to tweak the sound level for each of the surrounds within the app.
It's been been a few years since I've used the Anthem Room Correction software, but one thing hasn't changed--no love for Macs. Since I didn't feel like borrowing my wife's Dell, I used the iPhone-compatible iOS app instead. This turned out to be a seamless, intuitive, and fairly brief process. I've used many a junk app that was rushed to market and/or poorly coded, but that's not the case with the ARC app. It was truly a painless process that could only have been aided by the inclusion of an onscreen display. I simply held my iPhone with the microphone pointed toward the speaker, then started in the sweet spot and moved around the room while ARC handled sound calculations. Sweet.
I'll start by saying I had a ton of fun with the Cadence system, and what better compliment can you pay a home theater setup? That's the goal ... well, that and maybe some escapism. But I digress. I began with Straight Outta Compton (Universal), as I knew it would give me a sense of both the system's movie prowess and its musicality. I was rewarded in spades with coherence, highly intelligible dialog, and a ton of truly deep, palpable bass. Not to brag, but my listening room is of ample size, so I did have some concern over the Dynamo sub's ability to provide ample low frequency. My first critical listening test assuaged this concern and then some. I'm not sure if this sub has won any awards, but it should.
I actually watched the film in its entirety before running Anthem Room Correction, then watched some it again after running ARC. While the difference wasn't earth shattering, ARC most certainly improved coherence, bass response, and the overall presentation. After running ARC, I spent much less time changing the bass level on the sub; actually, I only changed it once while watching my seven-year-old son's favorite cartoon, the aptly named Loud House (I blame this on the bass-happy Loud House sound engineer, not the room correction).
Next, I cued up a film rife with action: Lionsgate's Deepwater Horizon. It's pretty far into the film when the rig starts to tragically come apart, and the sound was so visceral, with so much low-frequency thump and well-engineered surround sound action, that I called my wife into the room to sit with me for a few minutes. Admittedly, I typically save critical-listening sessions for those times when she and my son are out of the house, but I was happy to share my enthusiasm with someone. Anyway, this sequence is an absolute audible assault on a speaker system, yet the Cadence, the Dynamo, and the Bravados held up exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that I commented to my wife that it was outperforming dedicated 5.1 and 7.1 systems I've heard. In several scenes, the soundstage was so enveloping, it sounded like the characters were in the room with me. It truly was a jaw-dropping moment, as I realized how quickly I'd gone from the speakers being in their boxes to epic surround sound with so little hassle.
Moving on to some Pandora music streamed through the DTS Play-Fi app--which I found to be well designed, simple to use, and truly flexible in terms of playback options. I played Timmy Curran's "Comatose" from his album Word of Mouth (Adeline Records) and was struck by the resolution. I'm speaking both of the vocals and the instrumentation, as I could close my eyes and hear the decay. This is a highly musical soundbar and would most certainly fit the bill as your music playback system, should your budget and or living space not allow for a dedicated music system.
Sticking with the Play-Fi app but moving on to SiriusXM's Alt Nation, I played Cold War Kids' "Love is Mystical" from their album La Divine (Capitol Records). Instrumentally speaking, this is a busy track, yet the MartinLogan system maintained coherence, resolution, and transparency. Just as it had been in previous listening sessions, the bass was fantastic. With The Man's wildly popular "Feel It Still" from their album Woodstock (produced by Beastie Boy Mike D), I noted that, while the midrange was a tad muddy, the high-pitched vocals were simply stunning.
For my last listening session, I played the concert film Fleetwood Mac: Live from Boston (Warner Bros.), a 2004 release not to be confused with the 1970 album of the same name. The song "Never Going Back Again" was an audible treat. From the brilliant guitar play to the lyrics of Buckingham and Nicks, it was something I ended up playing three or four times. I've heard soundbars that cost twice what the Cadence does that didn't provide this level of detail and resolve vocals this well. It made me feel bad for anyone watching this concert using a subpar system or, God forbid, his or her television speakers.
Some years go, I remember using Anthem Room Correction software to configure an Anthem receiver and cursing the fact that I had to dust off my old, rickety Dell laptop in order to use it, since it doesn't play nice with Mac. Fast-forward to today, and ARC still doesn't play nice with Mac, despite the popularity of Macs amongst audiophiles. I can't complain too much, though, since MartinLogan has bridged the gap quite well by building an iPhone-friendly app.
Another gripe--and this is something I'd say to all high-end soundbar manufacturers--is that the omission of an onscreen display is a glaring one. As soundbars become more sophisticated and their feature sets expand, trying to configure them, tweak the sound, switch to different sound modes, etc., is cumbersome without an OSD. I had to get up multiple times to check settings and figure out what mode I was in. I'm lazy, I don't want to get up. In all seriousness, though, soundbars need onscreen menus, period.
Beyond those two quibbles, I'll say it's fairly difficult to find fault with this system.
Comparison and Competition
One of the main competitors to the Cadence system comes from MartinLogan's sister company, Paradigm. The PW Soundbar carries the same $1,299 price tag and has a very similar feature set. You can read Dennis Burger's recent review here.
French manufacturer Focal brings some heat with regard to sound quality and price point with its Focal Dimension ($1,399), which I reviewed back in 2015. While I'd give a slight edge to the Focal sonically, its feature set and frustratingly small input bay make for a difficult setup.
Integra's $1,200 DLB-5 is a 3.1.2 soundbar system that offers two up-firing speakers and supports both Atmos and DTS:X through a discreet slim-line receiver. A subwoofer is also included.
If these soundbars are simply too far out of your budget, then I'd suggest taking a look at the Sonos PLAYBAR. While it is most certainly not the sonic equal of the Cadence, it can be had for a more modest $699 and does have flexible playback and connection options.
Is the Cadence worth $1,299 as a standalone soundbar? Yes. Should you also get the wireless sub? Yes, unequivocally. If budgetary requirements force you to opt out of one element, I'd say to get the Cadence and Dynamo sub now, then save for the Bravado surrounds. The complete system performs exceedingly well and has a bleeding-edge feature set, and thus it is priced appropriately. Yes, $3,100 is a lot of money and can buy you a lot of things. But in my opinion, this is a high-end product that is well engineered and performs exceedingly well. It's a no-brainer for someone who wants to take their home theater to the next level without adding the hassle of a dedicated surround sound system. The bottom line is that this is an epic, game-changing home theater solution that's simple to set up, will play back just about anything you want, and will do so brilliantly.
• Visit MartinLogan's website for more product information.
• Check out our Soundbar category page to read similar reviews.
• MartinLogan Bravado Wireless Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.