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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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