MartinLogan Motion 20i, 15i, and 30i Speakers Reviewed

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MartinLogan Motion 20i, 15i, and 30i Speakers Reviewed


MartinLogan_Motion_i_family.jpgMartinLogan is best known for its high-performance hybrid-electrostatic speakers, but those large panels generally command a premium price tag, to say nothing of their real-estate demands. For the past decade, though, the company's Motion lineup has served to deliver something akin to electrostatic performance in more traditional cabinets at a more affordable price. And, if the success of the first-generation Motion speakers is any metric to go by, it would seem that goal has been broadly met. Not a company to rest on its laurels, though, MartinLogan has continued to tinker with driver technology, cabinet design, and crossovers,  resulting in a new Motion Series lineup, set apart from their forebears by the inclusion of an "i" suffix.

For this review, MartinLogan sent me a complete surround sound speaker system, including a pair of Motion 20i floorstanders ($899 each), a Motion 30i center channel ($849), and, for surround channel duties, a pair of Motion 15i bookshelves ($425 each).

MartinLogan offers the new Motion line in three finish options: matte white, gloss black, and red walnut. I'd requested a set finished in gloss black, but no review units were available in that finish for one of the models, so they sent me a set finished in red walnut instead to keep the system visually consistent.  In hindsight, I'm glad this happened. The overall fit and finish of these speakers, especially in red walnut, is well beyond what you would expect for the asking price.

But the beauty of these cabinets is not just skin deep. The cabinets feature reinforced internal bracing, with 1.2-inch thick MDF baffles and 0.7-inch thick MDF walls, which help to reduce cabinet resonances that might otherwise color the sound. Doing the classic knuckle-wrap against the speakers revealed a surprisingly inert thud.

Aesthetically, the new Motion series speakers look much the same as the previous generation. All speakers feature a cabinet that is two-tone in color (matte black fascia and your cabinet finish of choice), a sloping top design, rear bass ports, and five-way toolless binding posts. The floorstanders feature two sets of binding posts for bi-amp or bi-wiring (if that's your thing).

The one obvious design choice that sets this generation apart from the previous one is a silver accent piece that stretches across the front of the cabinet and displays the MartinLogan logo. Subjectively, I think the silver accent piece adds a touch of elegance to the design that the previous generation was lacking. MartinLogan_Motion_i_front_badges.jpg

For drivers, all current generation Motion series speakers feature a 1-inch by 1.4-inch "Folded Motion Transducer," known more commonly as an Air Motion Transformer (AMT). This type of tweeter uses an extremely low-mass piece of Polyamide, which is squeezed like an accordion by powerful magnets to produce high frequency sounds. MartinLogan claims their iteration of this type of tweeter is particularly fast, efficient, easily controlled for low distortion, and offers a high breakup point beyond the frequencies of human hearing. MartinLogan wanted a tweeter that could as closely mimic the type of sound signature their higher end electrostatic speakers produce, and, according to them, this AMT variant tweeter is the next best thing.

To handle the midrange and low frequencies on the floorstanding and center channel speakers, MartinLogan employs a pair of 5.5-inch aluminum cone woofers, while the bookshelves utilize a single 5.25-inch aluminum cone woofer. Aluminum was chosen because of its inherent rigidity, strength, low weight, and high damping factor, which allows their woofers to more seamlessly integrate with the tweeter. On the floorstanders, MartinLogan has placed the secondary woofer close to the ground to help alleviate issues with floor bounce. 

MartinLogan_woofer_cap.jpg

In an effort to reduce distortion, the woofers now use a concave dust cap. MartinLogan claims this reinforces the strength and rigidity of the cone compared to the previous generation woofers. The surround and spider-backing material for the woofers has been further stiffened, which, according to MartinLogan, raises the driver's resonant frequency above the driver's crossover point. This means the output frequencies of the driver remain in its sweet spot.

Speaking of which, MartinLogan's design philosophy for the crossovers used in the Motion line can be classified as straightforward and not overly complex. The company claims this straightforward approach is possible due to their careful selection of drivers. The proprietary Vojtko crossover network used offers high quality capacitors, custom wound inductors, and features both thermal and over-current protection.

The Hookup
MartinLogan_Motion_20i_rear.jpgThe speakers come with rubber feet pre-installed, which means they're ready out of the box if you plan on using them on a hardwood floor. Optional spikes for carpet installations are included in the box and can be easily swapped out during the unboxing process.

MartinLogan suggests at least 72 hours of break-in. All of the speakers sent for review went through a break-in period at the factory, so they were ready to rock out of the box.

I first set up the floorstanding 20is in my living room to see how they handled two-channel music before setting up the entire system in my dedicated theater. In my living room, the 20is replaced a pair of Monitor Audio Gold GX50 speakers, which, coincidentally, are priced the same as the 20is. While these two sets of speakers aren't exactly ideal candidates for comparison purposes (bookshelves vs. floorstanders), they still made for an interesting comparison. Powering the speakers was an Onkyo A-9010 integrated amplifier.

MartinLogan provides excellent setup tips in the user manual for these speakers and I suggest those new to speaker setup read the manual. In my case, I found that the 20is had a slightly narrower sweet spot than the GX50s, so I went back and adjusted the speaker's toe-in to get them to sound their best.

In the theater, all five Motion speakers were set up in a typical five-channel surround sound configuration. As in my living room, I adjusted the left and right channel 20is for toe-in, to get them to sound their best. MartinLogan was nice enough to send over a pair of their Dynamo X1100 subwoofers to serve bass frequencies in my theater. A review for these subwoofers will be coming soon, so I'll wait to make any comments on them. Powering the Motion speakers in my theater was Denon's AVR-X4500H.

Before doing any critical listening, I ran a pass of Audyssey MultEQ XT32 via my receiver. However, during the editing process for this review, Dennis Burger let me in on a little secret. There is a mobile app, MultEQ Editor, available for both Android and iOS meant to supplement Audyssey, which gives owners more granular control over the EQ and filtering process. From here on out, for best results, I'll be using this supplemental software and we advise our readers who own receivers supporting this software to do the same.

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

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HTR Product Rating for MartinLogan Motion 20i, 15i, and 30i Speakers

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

4

Overall

4

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Performance
Let's get this out of the way: MartinLogan's "Folded Motion" AMT tweeter really stands out to me as the defining reason one should consider these speakers. I'm a sucker for these tweeters, so I may be a bit biased. All of the AMT tweeters I've come across share the same seemingly inherent sonic qualities. I'd argue that these qualities are a distinctly natural, organic, and smooth presentation of sound. It's the type of tweeter that doesn't generally throw attention to itself and tends to blend in well with the rest of a speaker's overall sonic signature.

For this same reason, some people argue it's this type of tweeter's biggest flaw. Because it doesn't overtly draw attention to the top end, something many audiophiles are looking for in a speaker, it doesn't appeal to them. I'd argue that the tweeter's sonic qualities explain the rest of the speaker as well. Sound was consistently smooth and natural, and the 20is were never fatiguing, making them a great choice for those who like to listen for long periods of time. If you're after something more distinctive sounding, I don't think these speakers are for you. But, if you value a more effortless, natural sounding presentation, you've come to the right place.

MartinLogan describes its new Motion Series speakers as possessing a "broad soundstage" by design and, after spending some time with these speakers, I have to agree with that assessment. Especially compared to the GX50s that the 20is replaced, these MartinLogans create a soundstage noticeably larger, despite being set up in the same spot the GX50s once stood, and despite having a slightly narrower sweet spot.

Live recorded music consistently sounded excellent through the 20is. I found they had a tendency to make live recordings sound truly live. Listening to Dave Matthews Band's now-infamous Central Park Concert through the 20is was a real treat. In particular, the band's rendition of "Two Step" caught my attention.

About seven minutes into the track, the band's pianist, Butch Taylor, takes the lead, with bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford adding in their part to balance out the jam. Through the 20is, bass and percussion notes had plenty of presence, while the piano sounded distinctly sweet and buttery smooth, and never harsh as some speakers can make this instrument sound.

Switching over to jazz, I cued up Cannonball Adderly's Somethin' Else. On this album's eponymous track, saxophones sounded pleasantly rich, detailed, and tonally satisfying. Sam Jones on the double bass and Art Blakey on the drums, while definitely not the focal point of this track, never got lost in the mix, adding a good sense of timing and rhythm.

Bernstein's Mahler Symphony No. 5 was portrayed with excellent weight and scale, with the New York Symphony Orchestra portrayed with a pleasing level of grandeur for such small floorstanding speakers. Despite the relative lack of low frequency response (-3dB at 46 Hz), something generally important for this type of music, bass was still satisfyingly full on this piece.

In that same vein, I suspect those who listen to the more bass heavy genres of music, such as hip-hop or electronic dance music, may want to add a subwoofer for two-channel listening or go with the larger Motion series floorstanders. There isn't an issue with the amount of bass these speakers produce, but rather how low they go. Just keep in mind these are the smallest floorstanding speakers in the Motion line, so it's not really a knock against them, but rather a limitation due to their size.

If I have one criticism for the 20is, it's that they don't always possess the type of clarity and definition in the midrange to create an accurate stereo image. When compared to the GX50's, this stood out to me as the biggest deficiency these speakers have. Whether this was an intentional choice in terms of voicing, I don't know. But, because of this, I often found it hard to place instruments and vocals in easily recognizable places within the soundfield.

In a similar fashion, I found it hard to get a phantom center channel when listening in stereo, something easily obtained through the GX50s. It's an interesting find, because the AMT tweeter MartinLogan is using has excellent definition and clarity, offering a similar level of performance to the GX50's ribbon tweeter. I just wish this level of performance carried through into the midrange.

Moving over to surround use, listening to all five Motion speakers in my theater, I feel that I have to eat my own words a bit. What I just criticized the 20is for in their two-channel performance actually works quite well for surround sound use. The Motion speakers' large soundstage, combined with excellent timbre matching across the line, create a surround sound system that blends and integrates well. You still get a sense of where sound is supposed to be coming from, but not so distinct to say that the sound is coming from a speaker setup in a specific spot. In my opinion, this is exactly what you want: a field of sound, not individual spotlights of sound around you.

A scene that really showed these qualities off was the Mines of Moria battle sequence from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. As the cave troll is attacking the fellowship, the sound mix leans heavily on the surround channels. These surround effects were convincing and seamless, integrating well with the front channels to create a full circle sound effect as the troll whips his club and chain around. I ended up playing this scene close to reference sound levels, but the speakers didn't care. They remained composed, showing no obvious signs of compression.

After the battle, the fellowship must quickly escape Moria. In this scene, we hear my favorite piece composer Howard Shore created for this film: "Khazad-dûm." The MartinLogan's rendered the score, as well as the action elements happening on screen, with excellent scale, adding to the tension and emotional weight of this scene.

With all of this said, not every film or television show is heavy-handed on bass and surround effects. A guilty pleasure of mine is the television drama Downton Abbey. This show epitomizes a center channel-focused surround mix. With the show's feature-film being released on Blu-ray soon, I spent a lot of time re-watching old seasons in my theater to refresh my memory.

Noting that this was a good opportunity to judge how the 30i center channel handled dialogue, I was sure to pay attention. As I found with the 20is, the inclusion of an AMT tweeter, with a smooth and tonally rich sound signature overall, makes the 30i an excellent choice for center channel duties. Dialogue was consistently clean, intelligible, and had no issues over-emphasizing sibilance, even with the volume up high. Because the 30i uses a symmetrical midrange-tweeter-midrange configuration, a design choice that is known to cause issues with "picket fence" lobing artifacts, I didn't know what to expect from the 30i. Despite this design choice, I never hear any telltale signs of this artifact.

The Downside
Looking specifically at the 20is, bass extension isn't particularly competitive. Going by the size of the cabinets and woofers, bass extension is admirable, but at their price point there are better options with greater bass extension. If you listen to a lot of bass-heavy genres of music, this may pose a problem. However, supplementing these speakers with a subwoofer is an easy fix.

Personally, I prefer speakers that image well for stereo music, and this is the only other major area where I found the new Motion speakers came up lacking. Others may not find this particularly important, especially those who only care about surround sound performance. But, if you're simply looking for a two-speaker setup, or if you use your surround sound system for stereo listening, you may want to look elsewhere.

Comparisons and Competition
Within the last year, I've had the opportunity to review two other similarly priced surround sound speaker systems: Paradigm's Premier series speakers and Aperion Audio's Novus series speakers. All three of these sets of speakers have their relative strengths and weaknesses.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I think the Premier speakers look the best. I'm a sucker for modern design, and these speakers have that quality in spades. Looks are purely subjective, so I'll leave this one up to you.

Build quality has to go to the Motion series speakers. They really are a step above the others. That's not to say the others speakers are poorly constructed; it's just that the Motion series speakers have the most inert cabinets out of the three.

For sound, I think the Premier speakers are the best suited for surround sound use. They have a very big, dynamic sound that is well-suited for movie soundtracks. For music, it's a bit more complicated. As I noted in my review, the Novus speakers are fairly forgiving, making pretty much anything you throw at them sound good; but then again, forgiving speakers tend to make exceptionally well recorded music sound less exceptional, so that caveat should be taken into consideration.

The Motion and Premier speakers clearly prefer certain types of music more than others, but can still make well recorded music stand out as such. The Motion speakers are a good choice for those who listen to a lot of live recorded music, rock, and jazz, while the Premier speakers sound better for more dynamic genres such as pop, hip-hop, and electronic dance.

Conclusion
Build quality is excellent for this price range and is a standout feature for these speakers. The AMT tweeter MartinLogan utilizes is another huge plus. It sounds immensely smooth, natural, and articulate. The other drivers contribute to what would have to be described as a warm tonal balance overall. I found it easy to listen to these speakers for hours on end without a hint of listener fatigue.

Configured for surround sound use, the Motion speakers offer excellent performance that blend and integrate well with each other. The surround experience is satisfyingly seamless. If you're shopping in the price segment where the Motion series sits, I recommend giving them serious consideration.

Additional Resources
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• MartinLogan Announces Updated Motion Series Lineup at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the MartinLogan website for more product information.


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