Greg Handy developed a passion for audio in his early teens when he worked as an installer of car audio systems. This experience taught him about passive and active crossovers, subwoofers, and challenged acoustics, as well as how to troubleshoot persistent bugbears like ground loops and noise.
From there, his interests grew to home audio and home theater systems. Once he bought his own home, he began installing sound systems and theater systems in different rooms, spending much time and money along the way. It wasn't long before he began doing the same for friends and family, then sharing his passion for AV with the HomeTheaterReview.com audience.
Recently, MartinLogan updated several models within the Motion Series product line, including three floorstanding models, the 60XTi, 40i, and 20i; two monitor models, the 35XTi and 15i; two center channels, the 50Xti and 30i; and a dedicated surround channel, the Motion FX. Updates to this lineup included aesthetic refinements, along with some structural cabinet improvements, and modifications to the mid and bass drivers.
If all of this sounds familiar, it's because Dylan Seeger did a thorough audition of three speakers within the revamped line back in January of this year: the 20i, the 15i, and the 30i center speaker, with a focus on both two-channel music and movies in a 5.1 surround setup.
More recently, MartinLogan sent me a pair of Motion 20i ($1,800/pair), the smallest floorstanding model of the lineup, for a purely two-channel evaluation, with alternative electronics, room, and ears, for additional insight into this speaker in and of itself.
MartinLogan is known for its award-winning electrostatic speaker technology, but the Motion 20i (along with all of the rest of the Motion Series) relies on the company's Folded Motion tweeter, a variation on Oscar Heil's Air Motion Transformer. This tweeter gives the Motion Series something of an electrostatic characteristic in its sound, but with a traditional speaker design at a more affordable price point, and in the 20i, a very compact package. The tweeter uses a "low mass diaphragm that squeezes air." This design has more surface area than a typical one-inch dome tweeter, requiring less movement, which leads to a predictable dispersion pattern with ultra-low distortion. The use of this type of tweeter is not exclusive to MartinLogan, and you're likely familiar with it from its use in speakers running the gamut from Dayton to GoldenEar, but MartinLogan has employed (and improved upon) this design for more than a decade now, and has made it its own.
As mentioned above, the 20i is the smallest floorstanding speaker in the Motion Series lineup, but it's also the smallest I have ever had in my home for review. At 36.6 inches tall, 6.8 inches wide, and 11.7 inches deep, its cabinet is genuinely compact, allowing placement where larger speakers would not fit. Its small stature also results in intriguing (and aesthetically pleasing) proportions. My wife commented, "how adorable," as if she were looking at a newborn baby. Perhaps not quite the reaction I was looking for, but as one can imagine, my better half is not fond of large speakers in our home, and I think she was hoping these little towers would replace the Focal Kanta No. 2s positioned nearby.
My samples came in an exquisite high-gloss black finish. And when combined with their svelte dimensions and aesthetic updates, such as the brushed metal MartinLogan badge about a third way down its column, the 20is creates an overall swanky appearance, allowing these mini-towers to blend nicely in even the most formal of rooms. Matte white and real wood walnut veneer finishes are also available. Fit and finish are excellent, with flawless cabinet quality, and other fine details such as a front trim plate that covers the driver mounting hardware.
The Motion 20i is a 2.5-way rear-ported design. Two 5.5-inch aluminum drivers, with one located immediately below the tweeter, perform both midrange and bass duties. In contrast, the second dynamic driver, located lower in the cabinet, handles bass only, with crossover points of 500 and 2600Hz. These cone drivers were part of the update, with a concave dust cap that strengthens the speaker cone, while the fortified suspension improves performance.
The 20i also benefits from what's known as a Vojtko crossover design, named after the company's chief audio technologist, Joe Vojtko, which relies on custom-wound air core coils with high-quality inductors and capacitors.
Within my modestly sized dedicated theater and listening room, I connected the 20i speaker system to my Pass Labs XA60.8 Mono Block Amplifiers and XP12 Preamplifier. My source for this stack is an Oppo BDP-105, which offers streaming from Tidal as well as Blu-ray disc playback. All interconnects and speaker cables are from WireWorld's Eclipse 8 product line.
Attaching the speaker cables was a breeze due to the hefty gold-plated binding posts with oversized screw-down knobs. I usually struggle to achieve a tight connection with larger gauge cables. However, these terminals allowed the correct amount of size and torque to obtain an excellent fit. And there is a second set allowing for a bi-wire or bi-amp configuration.
Using Tidal to stream through the Oppo BDP-105, I started by listening to some favorites from Tracy Chapman's self-titled album. On the track "Fast Car," an impressive panoramic image projected from nine to three o'clock extending far beyond the physical locations of the right and left speakers. The large image was far more extensive than I would have expected and was pleasantly satisfying. Forward imaging was just right. I never experienced fatigue during long listening sessions, nor did I find myself pushed back into my chair or compelled to lean forward to compensate for something lacking.
Higher frequencies had a precise quality, without being over-analytical. Chapman's voice took on a natural immediacy, adding to a realistic presentation. A surprising amount of mid and upper bass weight and detail was apparent on this track, adding to an overall authenticity of a live performance. I did notice a mild deficit in image depth, compared to my current setup. So I connected the nearby Focal Kanta No. 2 speakers, to test my observations. On the same song, image depth reached a tad further back when compared to the Motion 20i. Additionally, the Kanta No. 2s presented more bass and midrange, as well as overall image size, due to the substantially larger overall speaker cabinet size (not to mention their much more substantial price point).
Overachieving upper-frequency character existed on both the MartinLogan and Focal towers. As I compared the two models on various tracks, it was hard to choose a tweeter preference. The Kanta No. 2s have Focal's famed Beryllium inverted dome tweeter, which performs exceptionally, yet I felt that the MartinLogan's Folded Motion tweeter had merits of its own. Although there was a clear difference in overall performance with the Focal Kantas leading the way, it was astonishing that the Motion 20i, at one-sixth the price, could come as close as it did, and with the upper-frequency range, it was a dead heat.
My bass torture test for the Motion 20i was AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." The 20i's 40 Hz low-frequency extension was apparent, especially when compared to the Kanta No. 2. The Motion 20is do bass well within their frequency response limitations, though, even without the benefit of a subwoofer. Depending on the music you prefer, they may be all you ever need. The low bass that does exist has weight and authenticity that was immediately noticeable. Adding Focal's Sub 1000 F, by using the home theater bypass feature on the preamplifier plumbed in by a NAD M17 V2 surround sound processor, offered an opportunity to see how far I could push the Motion 20i experience. I experimented with crossover settings of 80Hz and 60Hz and settled on the latter. The subwoofer certainly eliminated the bass deficiency and lifted overall performance, getting closer to the Kanta No. 2s.
Comparison and Competition
GoldenEar Technology's Triton Seven is the smallest floor-standing speaker in that company's Triton line of speakers and uses a similar folded ribbon tweeter design. At $1,538 per pair, pricing is in line with the Motion 20i, making them directly comparable. From a size perspective, the Triton Seven is a few inches taller and wider overall. Additionally, the Triton Seven uses a fabric sock to cover a majority of the cabinet, allowing some cost savings on a luxurious finish. Based on manufacturer specifications, the Triton Seven has a deeper bass response down to 29Hz. While I have not had the opportunity to listen to this particular model, the GoldenEar reputation warrants an audition.
Emotiva's Airmotiv T1+ is another smallish floor-standing speaker that uses a folded tweeter. At an astonishing $699, a pair, this one is a tremendous value, and while I have not listened to this recently updated version, I did hear the Airmotiv T1 at CES and recalled being somewhat perplexed since the performance-price ratio is downright shocking. While the appearance of the T1+ is nice, it is not as refined as the Motion 20i, though. Regardless, this speaker deserves your consideration.
While not technically comparable given their disparate designs, if I were shopping around for a MartinLogan speaker in this price range, I would be tempted to bump up my budget and clear a little extra floorspace for the MartinLogan Electro Motion ESL electrostatic speaker at $2,500/pair.
Given the presence of two matching center speakers and a dedicated surround speaker in the MartinLogan Motion lineup, it's probably a safe bet that most people shopping the line are in the market for a complete surround sound system. At least, that's the way MartinLogan is positioning it. But the Motion Series 20i deserves your attention even if you're merely looking for a two-channel floorstanding setup that punches way above its weight class. The Folded Motion tweeter provides first-rate high-frequency performance, and mid -bass and upper bass are both authentic, while a panoramic sonic image adds realism that isn't a given at this price point. Additionally, the attractive styling with its sexy proportions creates a small tower speaker that can fit in the most formal environments without overwhelming the room, making the Motion 20i a versatile product that gets my vote.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• MartinLogan Motion 20i, 15i, and 30i Speakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the MartinLogan website for more product information.