Brent has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has reviewed thousands of audio products over the years. He has served as editor-in-chief of Home Theater and Home Entertainment magazines, contributing technical editor for Sound & Vision magazine, senior editor of Video magazine, and reviews editor of Windows Sources magazine, and he also worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He's now on staff at Wirecutter.
MartinLogan deserves a lot more respect. Of course, any audiophile knows that MartinLogan already gets a ton of respect, but the company gets props mainly for its big electrostatic speakers, which don't require the volume of engineering grunt work that conventional speakers with multiple drivers and complex crossovers demand. Based on my listening and what my Clio 10 audio analyzer tells me, MartinLogan does a pretty amazing job with plain ol' multi-way dynamic speakers, too--like the new $2,999/pair Motion 60XT tower I'm reviewing here.
Want proof? I got it. The company's engineers got the Feature on-wall speaker--a bizarre combination of cone woofers, an open-back electrostatic midrange, and a dome tweeter--to sound amazing and measure almost perfectly. The least expensive speaker the company makes, the $398/pair Motion 2, sounds great and measures as perfectly as any speaker I can recall encountering.
The XT in Motion 60XT stands for "extreme," or perhaps more accurately "XTREEM!" as seen on packages of gum and tortilla chips. What's xtreem about the 60XT is mainly its tweeter, a larger version of the Heil-type folded ribbon tweeter popularized in the other Motion Series speakers and in models from GoldenEar Technology, Adam Audio, and others. The 60XT's Folded Motion tweeter measures 2.4 inches high by 1.25 inches wide, compared with 1.4 by one inches for the tweeters in the smaller Motion 40 and 20 tower speakers.
According to MartinLogan, the larger tweeter doesn't necessarily sound different from a tonal standpoint, but it will allow the Motion 60XT to play louder with less distortion. It also permits the use of a lower crossover point of 2,200 Hz, compared with 2,600 Hz for the Motion 20 and Motion 40. This allows the use of a large, 6.5-inch midrange driver, which also helps the speaker play louder.
The 60XT's woofer complement is also more xtreem: dual eight-inch woofers, compared with dual 6.5-inchers on the Motion 40 and dual 5.25-inchers on the Motion 20. A 6.5-inch midrange bridges the gap between the XT60's woofers and its Folded Motion tweeter. Sensitivity is rated at a very high 94 dB at one meter with a one-watt signal, compared with 92 dB for the Motion 40 and 90 dB for the Motion 20.
So what we should have here is a speaker that sounds as good as the other Motion Series towers, but plays louder and delivers deeper, cleaner bass. Who wouldn't want that?
Unpacking and assembling the pair of Motion 60XTs was easy, despite the speaker's 66-pound bulk. The only step between unboxing and connecting was attaching a pair of small metal outriggers that help keep the four-foot-tall speaker from tipping over. The speaker cable binding posts are beautiful, made with large plastic "wings" that make it easy to clamp down the posts very tightly on the cables using nothing more than your bare hands. A rather heavy metal grille attaches magnetically; I didn't bother using it, but I later ran measurements with and without the grille to gauge its effects.
I started out by placing the Motion 60XTs in the same position I use for my usual Revel F206 speakers: front baffles 38 inches from the wall behind the speakers, with the speakers placed eight feet apart and nine feet from my head when I sit in my usual listening chair. (This is just what works for these Revels in my room for my taste, not a general prescription for speaker placement.) With the Motion 60XT, this sounded good but left me wanting a little more upper bass, so I pushed the speakers six inches closer to the wall behind them. Later, during my listening tests, I experimented with other speaker-to-back-wall distances in an attempt to better tune the Motion 60XT's bass to my room.
I didn't experiment with toe-in, the degree to which the speakers are angled to or away from the listener. I started out with the 60XTs pointed straight at my chair and the treble sounded just right there, so I left them in place.
My test rig was the usual: a Krell S-300i integrated amp, a ProJect RM-1.3 turntable with an NAD PP-3 phono preamp, and a Sony PHA-2 DAC/headphone amp connected to the Toshiba laptop that holds my music collection.
"This is HAPPENING," I noted when I first sat down to listen to the Motion 60XTs after breaking them in for about 10 hours with pink noise. What I was listening to was bassist Ron Carter's LP Piccolo, a 1977 recording done live at the now sadly defunct Sweet Basil jazz club in Manhattan. So many things just struck me as right about the sound. First was the way I could tell, when listening to one of the tunes on Piccolo, that drummer Ben Riley was playing a fairly large ride cymbal and striking it close to the bell. I'm not used to hearing this level of clarity and neutrality in a speaker; even many high-end models don't convey the subtleties of cymbals. Another tough-to-reproduce instrument--piano--sounded so natural and so real that I couldn't spot any coloration, other than the unnatural width of the piano's sonic image due to the way the microphones were placed. Even the rendition of Carter's small, somewhat weird-sounding piccolo bass, which was the lead instrument in this quartet, was satisfying, with all the nuances of Carter's awesome technique easily audible without any unnatural edge or emphasis.
The spatial presentation was intimate, as if I were sitting 10 or 12 feet from the band (which I did a few times at Sweet Basil). "What could be better about this?" I thought to myself...and what I came up with was that a larger, more expensive, very well-engineered speaker might give me a bigger sense of scale. Not that the soundstaging in a live recording in a Manhattan club should be huge, but I didn't get that much sense of the sound reverberating off the walls and ceiling.
Wanting to keep the mood in a jazzy vein but eager to hear how the Motion 60XT handles vocals, I put on "New Frontier" from Donald Fagen's LP The Firefly. Once again, I got beautifully defined imaging between the speakers, and every bass note sounded perfectly defined and even, which I can tell is exactly what Fagen was always going for, both on his solo records and in Steely Dan. Fagen's voice didn't take on the harsh, edgy quality it does with many speakers, although I felt it could have used a touch more body. The lush background vocals didn't sound as huge and room-filling as they often do, but they did break out past the speakers toward the side walls. If there was any roughness in the transition from the tweeter to the midrange--so often the Achilles' heel of conventional cone'n'dome speakers--I couldn't hear it. Overall, I'd call the presentation "tight," as in precise, punchy, and accurate.
When I switched to Art Blakey's Indestructible, I actually yelled a profanity I can't document here as the drums came in on "Calling Miss Khadija." That reaction's not out of line when you're listening to a jazz group whose front line at the time comprised Lee Morgan on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, and Wayne Shorter on tenor sax. But still, I just couldn't believe the amount of detail I heard in Blakey's drums. Indestructible is not really even a good recording, but the Motion 60XT pulled every little sonic detail out of it. I especially enjoyed being able to appreciate the subtleties of the then-young Shorter's developing tone. The stereo images of Morgan and Fuller popping riffs behind Shorter's solo were spectacular, but spectacular in a totally natural way. And then, again, the detail in Blakey's cymbals completely blew me away.
"These are just really easy speakers to listen to," I noted when listening to a 256-kbps MP3 download of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" from the Oscar Peterson Trio's We Get Requests. Nothing seemed artificial. Nothing seemed colored. Nothing was distracting. Most of all, the tweeter didn't sound like a certain type of tweeter; it didn't have the typical mellowness of a soft dome, nor the occasional hyped-up detail of a metal dome. It just sounded natural.
Click over to Page Two for The Downside, Measurements, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
Notice that most of the music I cited above is jazz? Well, that's mostly what I like to listen to, but I like metal and pop, too. With these genres, the Motion 60XT is sometimes a little out of its element.
When I played one of my all-time-favorite rock recordings--a WAV file of the live version of "Highway Star" from Deep Purple's Live in Japan--I noticed that Ian Gillan's vocals lacked body, and the bass needed more slam and punch. The bass had a "high-Q" sound; I heard a big resonant peak but not much groove. Moving on to "Smoke on the Water," I loved the way I could hear Richie Blackmore's guitar reverberating in the concert hall in the intro. I loved the clarity of the organ and drums. But I didn't like the thuddy sound of the bass. I tried moving the speakers closer to and farther from the wall behind, and I tried moving my listening chair a couple of feet forward and backward, but I couldn't get the bass to smooth out.
The same thing happened when I played Miles Davis' "What It Is" from Decoy. Darryl Jones' slapped bass line makes this one of Miles' hardest-grooving tunes, but through the Motion 60XT, "What It Is" sounded thin. I got a good sense of the kick drum and the deep fundamental tones of the bass, but the harmonics of the bass and the fundamentals of the snare drum seemed to be attenuated.
After I had a chance to measure the Motion 60XT, I found out why. According to my measurements, the speaker's woofer section has a resonant peak at 80 Hz. As it happens, my room's deepest axial mode (the deepest frequency at which the room resonates) is at 20 Hz. This means I'm getting a boost at all the harmonics of 20 Hz, including 40, 60, and 80 Hz. Fortunately, it's a broad boost, so it tends to have a subjectively positive effect; it tends to make the bass sound a little more kick-ass, rather than colored or boomy. But it's right where the Motion 60XT has its big resonant peak, so it only makes the speaker's idiosyncrasy more apparent. My guess is that the resonant peak may also obscure the upper bass and lower midrange, which is why I found that voices sometimes sounded thin.
(BTW, anyone who wants to criticize my listening room as substandard should first consider that every room has axial modes. And consider that innumerable audio experts have visited this room and found it to sound not only good, but well above average...which is why I bought this house in the first place.)
I was much happier with the sound when I connected my Outlaw Model 975 surround sound processor and ran the Motion 60XT with a Hsu Research VTF-15H Mk2 subwoofer, with the crossover point set to 80 Hz. This let me tame the bass peak, in the process smoothing out the sound and filling in the upper bass and lower mids better.
Note that this is not just a room issue. I've tested hundreds of speakers in this room and only rarely encountered a situation like this. Most top speakers are not so room-sensitive. If one of your room's dimensions is 14 or 28 feet, you might have the same issue with the Motion 60XT.
Here are the measurements for the Motion 60XT speaker (click on the chart to view in a larger window).
On-axis: ±2.4 dB from 44 Hz to 20 kHz
Average: ±4.0 dB from 44 Hz to 20 kHz
Minimum 2.1 ohms/250 Hz/-18 degrees, nominal four ohms
Sensitivity (2.83 volts/one meter, anechoic):
The first chart shows the frequency response of the Motion 60XT; the second shows the impedance. For frequency response, two measurements are shown: at 0° on-axis (blue trace) and an average of responses at 0°, ±10°, ±20°, and ±30° (green trace), all measured on the horizontal axis.
Three things are striking about this response plot. First is that the on-axis response throughout most of the audio band is extremely flat. The only deviation occurs with a peak at 300 Hz and a dip at 600 Hz, but it's minor, and it's possible it could be a measurement-related artifact (although nothing I tried could eliminate it). So that's great.
Second is that big hump in the bass response, centered at 80 Hz. I confirmed my ground plane bass response measurement by close-miking the woofers and ports, scaling the port response, and adding the woofer and port response together, and the resulting curve was very similar in shape.
Third is an artifact that's only hinted at in the chart: that big folded-ribbon tweeter's response off-axis is weak. At 30 degrees off axis, the response is down -4.2 dB at 10 kHz, -29.7 dB at 20 kHz. For the sake of comparison, the response of the Revel F208 (which has a conventional dome tweeter) is down -2.4 dB at 10 kHz, -4.8 dB at 20 kHz. This sharp roll-off in the off-axis treble response is likely to reduce the sense of space and "air" that the speaker delivers.
These measurements were done without grilles. Surprisingly, the big perforated-metal grille has less effect on response than most of the fabric grilles I've measured, with just a few minor deviations in response above 3.5 kHz, maxing out with a narrow, probably inaudible -1.1dB dip at 4.8 kHz.
Sensitivity of this speaker, measured quasi-anechoically from 300 Hz to 3 kHz, is comfortably high at 90.6 dB. You should get about +3 dB more output in-room, so the 94dB rating seems reasonable. Nominal impedance is four ohms, and the speaker drops to a low of 2.1 ohms; so, even though this speaker will play loud from just a few watts of power, you need an amp with plenty of current to drive it. Use a separate amp, a high-quality integrated amp, or a top-of-the-line A/V receiver.
Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency responses using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone, and the speaker driven with an Outlaw Model 2200 amplifier. I used quasi-anechoic technique to remove the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. The Motion 60XT was placed atop a 28-inch (67-cm) stand. The mic was placed at a distance of two meters, and a pile of attic insulation was placed on the ground between the speaker and the mic to help absorb ground reflections and improve accuracy of the measurement at low frequencies. Bass response was measured using ground plane technique, with the microphone on the ground two meters in front of the speaker. Bass response results were spliced to the quasi-anechoic curves at 200 Hz. Quasi-anechoic results were smoothed to 1/12th octave, ground plane results to 1/3rd octave. Post-processing was done using LinearX LMS analyzer software.
Comparison and Competition
I hated comparing the Motion 60XT with my usual Revel F206 tower speakers, because the duel only made both speakers' weaknesses more apparent. Even though the F206 has a little resonant bass bump of its own, it sounded much more even and full than the Motion 60XT because the upper bass and lower mids were more in balance with everything else. Yet the Motion 60XT's big folded ribbon tweeter sounded substantially smoother and more natural than the F206's aluminum dome tweeter. Hearing my favorite speakers outclassed like this made me feel as sad as I did when my old Labrador retriever Buddy came in fourth in the Friendliest Dog contest at the Nuts 4 Mutts festival. (He's long gone, but I still have the ribbon, which just says "Participant.")
Considering that the F206 is $3,500, it's a potential competitor to the Motion 60XT, even though its 6.5-inch woofers won't pack as much punch. Other potential competitors are the $2,998/pair GoldenEar Triton Two tower, which has a smaller folded ribbon tweeter but an internally powered bass section with dual five- by nine-inch woofers; the $3,498/pair PSB Imagine T2 tower with three 5.25-inch woofers; and the $2,500/pair Monitor Audio Silver Series 10 with two eight-inch woofers. (There are more competitors, too, but these are among the best in their price range.)
All of these speakers are excellent; I'd be happy with any of them. I don't think any of them would give me that magical midrange and treble imaging and transparency I heard from the Motion 60XT. But the Triton Two and Imagine T2 sounded fuller and more balanced in my room, and I expect the Silver Series 10 would, too. (I haven't heard it, but I have tested many of Monitor Audio's recent speakers.) I expect they'd all deliver a more enveloping soundstage, too.
For the jazz listening I do (which is most of my listening), the Motion 60XT is easily one of the best speakers I've tested, delivering incredibly lifelike tonality and imaging. When the material gets heavier, the Motion 60XT's low-frequency idiosyncrasies make it less enjoyable to listen to, at least for my tastes and in my room. Another option, and probably the one I'd take, is the Motion 35XT, a bookshelf speaker with the same tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer. Mate that with a good subwoofer, and you should have a pretty incredible system, with the flexibility to get the bass response tailored to perfection.
Every speaker has pros and cons, and only you can decide which mix of pros and cons works best for you. Fortunately, Magnolia carries the Motion 60XT and Motion 35XT, so hearing them for yourself shouldn't be difficult. I'd recommend you do, because the Motion 60XT definitely delivers the magic that audiophiles always seek but too often fail to achieve.
• MartinLogan Motion SLM-XL Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• MartinLogan Crescendo Premium Wireless Speaker System Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page for reviews of similar products.