In a recent conversation with Home Theater Review's publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, I concluded that in today's economy two thousand dollars is the new twenty thousand. I came to my conclusion following a recent barrage of affordable loudspeakers that I've had in for review these past few months. It started with GoldenEar's Triton Two loudspeaker ($2,500/pair), and then later included Aperion Audio's Grand Verus Tower loudspeaker ($1,798/pair), Zu Audio's OMEN DEF loudspeaker ($3,100/pair) and finally MartinLogan's new ElectroMotion loudspeaker, which retails for $1,995 a pair and is the subject of this review. All of the above mentioned speakers, including the ElectroMotions, are geared towards providing a high-end experience at an affordable price, which sounds like the aim of any budget loudspeaker ever designed. However, unlike previous efforts, I believe these loudspeakers, especially the ElectroMotions, have gotten the mixture of performance and affordability so right, that I honestly question the need to spend more. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
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The ElectroMotion loudspeaker is an all-new design for MartinLogan, one that doesn't fall into their other loudspeaker categories such as the Reserve ESL, ESL and even Motion. In fact, the ElectroMotion loudspeaker exists in a category all its own, for it takes the best of what MartinLogan has to offer across all of its lines and makes that its own. As I mentioned earlier the ElectroMotion retails for $1,995 a pair and is joined by the EM-C2, a center channel loudspeaker for $799.95 and the EM-FX2 surround sound speaker for $649.95 each, both of which are based around MartinLogan's Folded Motion XT tweeter technology. Obviously the ElectroMotion does not employ the Folded Motion technology; instead it utilizes MartinLogan's famous curvilinear XStat electrostatic transducer mated to an eight inch, high excursion woofer - making it the most affordable full-range XStat based loudspeaker MartinLogan has ever produced.
It's been said that ElectroMotion's appearance (and price) harkens back to the days of the original Aerius and Scenario in terms of its compact size and somewhat uniform, no-frills finish. I've owned both the Aerius and Scenario loudspeakers in the past and while I find the comparisons between the two former greats and the ElectroMotion to be somewhat warranted, I must admit the ElectroMotion is far better looking, not to mention far more modern in its design and construction. In fact, at first glance the ElectroMotion looks more like its ESL brethren the Theos ($4,995/pair) than the affordable ESL that it is. I'm not saying the two are equal; I'm just making a point regarding the ElectroMotion's build quality and appearance.
The ElectroMotion measures 52 inches tall by nine inches wide and 16 inches deep. It tips the scales at 35 pounds and comes in two finishes, satin black and gloss black. The ElectroMotion has a reported frequency response of 42 -22,000 Hz thanks to its hybrid design, which uses a 34 by eight and a half inch (292 square inch) XStat CLS electrostatic transducer mated to an eight inch woofer, which is crossed over at 500 Hz. The ElectroMotion has a stated sensitivity of 91dB into a six Ohm load, which makes it surprisingly efficient for an electrostatic design and one that should mate well with a wider variety of components including many of today's mass market home theater receivers or integrated amplifiers.
In terms of connection options the ElectroMotion has a single pair of what at first appear to be five way binding posts but on closer inspection prove to be a very elegant push-pin design - so spade lugs are out. Happily, the ElectroMotion can accept banana terminated speaker cable by removing the rubber tabs on the posts themselves. Like all electrostatic loudspeakers the ElectroMotion needs to be plugged into a wall in order to "charge" the panel and produce sound. Past MartinLogan designs have done this via a standard detachable power cord; however with the ElectroMotion they've pared things down a bit and gone with a power cord reminiscent of, say, a smart phone power cable making it far more manageable. The ElectroMotion ships with spikes already installed, hidden under rubber caps, which are easily removed should you wish to use them on carpeted floors or area rugs.
My review pair of ElectroMotion loudspeakers arrived hot on the heels of their public announcement, which was exciting to say the least for it had been awhile since I'd reviewed a MartinLogan product and even longer since I'd owned one. I should mention before I go any further that I am a bit of a MartinLogan fan. I've owned numerous MartinLogan products over the years including CLS II, CLS IIzs, SL3s, Aerius, Scenarios and Aeons. I'm always excited when MartinLogan brings a new product to market and have followed the rumors of the ElectroMotion's existence for months leading up to its release.
Unpacking the ElectroMotions was easy enough for me to handle solo for it was as simple as opening the side of the box and simply pulling them out. Once out, all that was left was to remove the foam supports and the custom black "sock" that is designed to protect the XStat panel and the ElectroMotion itself from dust and debris when not in use - a nice touch and something few companies, especially at this price point, do.
Placing the ElectroMotion loudspeakers in my room was easy enough for they're not very heavy nor their shape too cumbersome. I placed the ElectroMotions in roughly the same place that I do all my loudspeakers, be they a review pair or my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds, which is approximately four feet from my front wall with three and a half feet between the outer edges of the loudspeakers and my side walls. The ElectroMotions sat roughly seven and a half feet apart and were toed in using MartinLogan's now infamous flashlight technique.
To augment the ElectroMotion's bottom end I employed the use of two JL Audio Fathom F110 subwoofers ($2,100/each), placed in line with the ElectroMotion's woofers and resting along the outside edges of the ElectroMotion's cabinet. For the purposes of the review I started by setting the crossover point between the ElectroMotion and the Fathom subwoofers at 50Hz so that there was some overlap but not a lot. From there I set the crossover point to 80Hz as specified by my AV preamp, Integra's DHC 80.2. I also ran the ElectroMotion's full range too, bypassing my Integra processor and going straight into my Decware tubed line stage.
The ElectroMotion's were powered primarily via Parasound's new 5250v2 multi-channel amp, though I did experiment with using my Decware SE84C single ended triode tube amp just for fun. The rest of my system was comprised of a Sony universal Blu-ray player, Apple TV and Cambridge Audio DACMagic. Since the ElectroMotions can only accept bare wire or banana terminated speaker cables I went ahead and disconnected all my Transparent cable and went with Mapleshade Clearview interconnects and speaker cables throughout, which proved to be a good match.
I didn't engage any of the Integra's Audyssey room correction EQs during my time with the ElectroMotions for I find that for some reason auto EQs and electrostatic loudspeakers don't really mix. My room is treated using GIK Acoustic products so I don't really rely on a lot of EQ anyway, which suits loudspeakers such as the ElectroMotions just fine. I let the speakers play for a good two weeks before beginning any critical evaluation, though I must say that out of the box the ElectroMotions showed clear signs of greatness.
To get things started I began with Dixie Chicks' album Taking the Long Way Home (Columbia Nashville) and the track "Easy Silence." The opening guitar appeared from the darkness as if from nowhere and accompanied the vocals, which hung effortlessly in space, beautifully. To say that MartinLogan loudspeakers have a way with vocals, especially female vocals, is an understatement for there may be no better transducer for conveying the tone and nuance of the human voice than an electrostatic panel - evident in the ElectroMotion's performance on "Easy Silence." Furthermore, the ElectroMotion's ability to resolve the minutest of differences between lead singer, Natalie Maines' vocals and those of sister duo, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, was impressive. The ElectroMotion presented more distinction and separation between the three vocal tracks than even a few, so-called, reference loudspeakers I had on hand. The organic quality that comes from listening to the human voice being reproduced sans a cabinet, no matter how inert, is something not easily lived without once you've experienced it first hand, a feat the MartinLogan ElectroMotions pull off brilliantly.
Read more about the performance of the ElectroMotion loudspeaker on Page 2.
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.
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.
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.
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.