Published On: August 6, 2012

MartinLogan Motion Vision Soundbar Reviewed

Published On: August 6, 2012

MartinLogan Motion Vision Soundbar Reviewed

MartinLogan has been venturing into soundbars for the last few years, which may have seemed puzzling at the time. But after listening to the MartinLogan Motion Vision soundbar, Andrew Robinson has no doubt about the results.

MartinLogan_Motion_Vision_Soundbar_review_on_wall.jpgMy love of MartinLogan goes way back, though it has more to do with their history of making hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers than it does their current crop of dynamic driver loudspeakers. Not that there is anything wrong with MartinLogan’s new approach to the loudspeaker market; in fact, I believe it to be a smart move, for electrostatic loudspeakers have unique needs, not to mention that many listeners find their sound to be, shall I say, an acquired taste. Home Theater Review has reviewed more than a few of MartinLogan’s newer dynamic designs, but the Motion Vision Soundbar reviewed here is a first on many levels. The Motion Vision is MartinLogan’s first (and only) soundbar and, though it is a dynamic design, it does have more than a few electrostatic characteristics. Is it any good? Well, that’s what I wanted to find out.

Additional Resources
• Read more soundbar reviews from Home Theater Review’s staff of writers.
• Explore subwoofers to pair with the MartinLogan Motion Vision.
• Find LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs in our review sections.

Retailing for $1,499.95, the Motion Vision isn’t the least expensive soundbar on the market, but it isn’t the most expensive, either. The Motion Vision itself is beautiful in its industrial design, with a sort of compound bow-like shape, finished in a high-gloss piano black. The soundbar itself measures five inches tall by forty inches wide and nearly six inches deep at the roundest part of the Motion Vision’s cabinet. The Motion Vision’s 20.5 pound weight isn’t as much as I expected from such a solidly-built piece.

Behind the Motion Vision’s non-removable grille rest three roughly one-inch Folded Motion transducers, each with a five-and-one-quarter-inch by one-and-three-quarter-inch diaphragm (remember, they’re folded). The tweeters are crossed over with the soundbar’s other dynamic drivers at 3,000Hz. The three Folded Motion tweeters are accompanied by four four-inch fiber cones. The center-mounted Folded Motion tweeter is flanked by two of the four-inch low-frequency drivers, while the outer tweeters each partner with a single low-frequency driver. The Motion Vision’s driver complement and ported cabinet design and its internal 100-watt amplifier are good for a reported frequency response of 43 – 23,000Hz. The frequency response is solid, but definitely able to be improved upon with the use of a subwoofer, which brings me to the Motion Vision’s rear panel.

MartinLogan_Motion_Vision_Soundbar_review_Folded_tweeter.jpgThe Motion Vision’s back panel plays host to a variety of in and outputs. Among these are three digital audio inputs, one coaxial and two optical. There is also a single pair of analog (RCA) audio inputs. As for the output I spoke about, well, that is reserved for an outboard subwoofer. However, you don’t necessarily have to hardwire your sub to the Motion Vision in order to get a little more oomph, for it features MartinLogan’s own SWT-2 wireless subwoofer transmitter built-in. The inclusion of the SWT-2 transmitter means wireless subwoofer integration is possible, so long as you keep your choice of subwoofer within the MartinLogan family, specifically ones already equipped with the SWT-2 system. Still, the inclusion of the SWT-2 system is a nice touch and one I can imagine many will wish to take advantage of, if for no other reason than to cut down on cable clutter.

Getting back to the Motion Vision, it has the ability to decode and play back both Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround sound formats, though you will not find support for Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio. These aren’t deal breakers, as few (if any) soundbars can play back the lossless audio codecs at this time. The Motion Vision’s internal DSP also has the ability to take multi-channel source material and play it back in a simulated surround mode, not to mention an enhanced stereo mode that endeavors to create a stronger center image by using the soundbar’s center channel, if you will.

This brings me to the remote. The Motion Vision’s remote is a small, credit card-like piece of plastic that features direct control over functions such as power, menu, mute, night, surround and bass modes, as well as volume and source selection. The remote is functional, but not up to the same design or build quality of the Motion Vision itself – thankfully, its functions can be translated to another, more universal remote, should you fear losing them.

MartinLogan_Motion_Vision_Soundbar_review_living_room.jpgThe Hookup
The Motion Vision arrived neatly packed in a very well-designed and well-constructed box, allowing everything to enter the home safe and sound. The Motion Vision ships with all the necessary accessories and cables needed to get up and running in a flash. To test the Motion Vision’s complete ownership experience, I only used the hardware and/or cables supplied in the box, with the exception of a subwoofer cable, which came from my stash.

I always install soundbars in my reference system first, just to see what they’re made of, though most end up residing in my bedroom, since the sheer size of my reference room often proves to be too much for many soundbars to overcome. This was not the case with the Motion Vision, which I found out very quickly.

I positioned the soundbar in front of my 50-inch Panasonic plasma, with both resting atop my Omni+ Vent cabinet. Ideally, I would have connected the Motion Vision to my Panasonic’s optical audio output, but I wasn’t able to make a secure connection. This had nothing to do with the Motion Vision and everything to do with my Panasonic’s optical output configuration. I therefore ended up connecting my Dish Network DVR to the Motion Vision via the included RCA cables, and my Dune HD Max Blu-ray/media player via the single optical cable provided in the box.

Since I don’t own a compatible MartinLogan subwoofer, I was unable to test the Motion Vision’s wireless subwoofer feature. However, I did test its hardwired subwoofer connectivity with JL Fathom f110s. It should be noted that my JL subwoofers are EQ’ed using a combination Room EQ Wizard/Behringer Feedback Destroyer, which I then simply connected to the rear of the Motion Vision. You can easily connect a single subwoofer to the Motion Vision via more conventional means.

Making my way through the Motion Vision’s setup menus wasn’t difficult, although it wasn’t wholly intuitive, either. It initially required a quick consult with the manual. However, once I understood the menu layout and command methodology, I was able to make changes quickly and easily. Furthermore, once the Motion Vision is properly set up, you’ll rely on the remote for little more than volume control.

Lastly, I should also mention that the Motion Vision does come standard with a bracket, enabling it to be wall-mounted out of the box. While I chose not to permanently mar my walls, it is nice that MartinLogan does include the requisite mount and hardware for a truly slick and modern installation.

Performance
I started things off with producer Luc Besson’s latest, Lockout, starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace on Blu-ray (Sony). Lockout is a bass-head’s dream, for seemingly every word, gesture and action carries with it a satisfying thud. Via the Motion Vision without a subwoofer, the bass track of Lockout didn’t disappoint. In fact, I was impressed, for the Motion Vision not only kept pace, it shone. While the addition of a subwoofer definitely added more weight, the bass coming from the Motion Vision solo was nothing if not completely satisfying. Impact was tremendous, as was texture and detail – hell, there was even organic decay. I will say this: the low-frequency performance was better when seated closer to on-axis as opposed to off, but the optimal sonic window was wide enough to encompass an entire three-seat sofa.

Read more about the performance of the MartinLogan Motion Vision on Page 2.

MartinLogan_Motion_Vision_Soundbar_review_front.jpgAs for the Motion Vision’s midrange, at first I felt it was a little woolly, but that initial conclusion was drawn against the performance of my Panasonic’s stock speakers, which are completely anemic. I reset my ears, came back for a second listen and found that my initial thoughts regarding the Motion Vision’s midrange were unfounded. The midrange was full-bodied, articulate and largely neutral. There was a solid sense of scale and weight throughout, not to mention stellar focus that aided in dialogue intelligibility. There was some very slight audible separation between the dynamic drivers and the Motion Vision’s Folded Motion tweeters, but not too much as to become distracting.

Speaking of the Motion Vision’s tweeters, they proved to be smoother than many Folded Motion tweeters I’ve encountered, as they didn’t sound shrill or two-dimensional at higher volumes. The added textural and high-frequency detail the Folded Motion tweeters provided was superb, and shown off brilliantly in the film’s many bullet ricochets, as well as body hits.

Dynamics were excellent, as was the Motion Vision’s ability to create a nearly three-dimensional soundstage from the Dolby Digital soundtrack. While I was never able to get the Motion Vision’s faux surrounds to completely envelop me (this has more to do with my room’s side walls being more than eighteen feet apart than anything), it came very close, and at no point was I ever dissatisfied with the soundbar’s surround sound presentation.

Next up was Poseidon, the Warner Bros. remake of the Poseidon Adventure, on Blu-ray disc (Warner Bros.). I chaptered ahead to the scene involving the rogue wave that ultimately capsizes the Poseidon and gave the Motion Vision a little more to chew on in terms of volume. In my larger reference room, the Motion Vision was easily able to hit peaks of 100dB and maintain volumes in the high 80s and low 90s in terms of SPL without breaking a sweat. Again, the bass was wholly satisfying and the scale and breadth of the performance overall were intoxicating, not to mention completely surprising from a soundbar. The high frequencies were smooth and fatigue-free, and nested nicely with the soundbar’s dynamic drivers, even better than with my demo of Lockout. The few lines of dialogue uttered during the chaotic scene were clearly and cleanly rendered via the Motion Vision, as were all of the surrounding sound effects that existed alongside each syllable. I was amazed by the Motion Vision’s performance during this sequence, even more so when I realized I had left my JL subwoofers disengaged. Oops.

I went ahead and popped a CD into my Dune player just to see how the Motion Vision handled music, you know, with MartinLogan being an audiophile company and all. I went with Moby’s Play (V2) and the track “Everloving,” which has been a longstanding demo of mine for many, many years. I had to make a few adjustments to the Motion Vision’s settings from how I had it set for movies, on account of it being a strict two-channel signal versus a multi-channel one. I actually lowered the Motion Vision’s bass by -4dB and added surround processing, as well as stereo “voice” processing. These changes allowed the Motion Vision to sound more like a discrete pair of stereo loudspeakers than with leaving all DSP enhancements off. With the adjustments made, the resulting sound was pleasing, though I would say that the Motion Vision excels at being a cinema speaker, whereas as a strictly audiophile loudspeaker, it’s merely good. In a pinch or for background listening, the Motion Vision is more than adequate, but it won’t replace a dedicated two-channel rig for diehard music lovers any time soon. Then again, if you’re contemplating a soundbar, I have to imagine it’s because you watch and listen to a lot more television and movies than you do music, making you the target listener for the Motion Vision.

Still, for two-channel listening, the Motion Vision proved once again surprising in many respects, the biggest being its ability to recreate a rather convincing soundstage. With a width narrower than my 50-inch HDTV, the Motion Vision managed to sound as if it was comprised of speakers placed near the edge of where my Tekton Design Pendragon reference speakers stood. Impressive. I had to tailor the bass a touch, for it was a little “boomy” in my movie-time configuration, but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with on the fly. With the bass reigned in a bit, the sound was largely seamless from top to bottom. I was again impressed with the Folded Motion tweeters. In the past, I’ve criticized them as being harsh, which wasn’t the case here. The midrange, with music, did have a little more resonance than what I noticed with movies but, again, nothing too bad.

Like I said, I don’t consider the Motion Vision to be an audiophile speaker as much as it is a home theater one, which is why I’m not holding its minor stereo foibles against it, for if you want true high-end two-channel sound, then you should buy a two-channel system.

The Downside
The biggest downside that I see with the Motion Vision has to do with its size. While it’s capable of sonic output befitting today’s larger HDTVs, including those in excess of 80 inches, it doesn’t exactly match visually. Not that it looks bad, but for those a little more anal retentive, the Motion Vision’s lack of width may be visually problematic. Even with my 50-inch display, the Motion Vision failed to span the entire bottom edge of the HDTV.

The Motion Vision doesn’t require a subwoofer, though it isn’t going to turn one away should it be available to help out here and there. That being said, pairing a subwoofer with the Motion Vision does increase the cost of ownership a bit beyond its near-$1,500 starting price. If you wish to take more advantage of the Motion Vision’s feature set by going with one of MartinLogan’s already configured wireless subwoofers, then the total system price will jump to as much as $2,500, thanks to the Dynamo 1000’s $995 retail price. The lesser Dynamo 700 retails for $695. Of course, you can easily use a less expensive subwoofer like the Dynamo 300 ($295) and simply connect it to the Motion Vision via a single subwoofer cable.

Lastly, the Motion Vision’s menu layout and setup procedure isn’t entirely straightforward or intuitive. Thankfully, the factory default settings are going to be good enough for most users and, if they’re not, the learning curve isn’t too difficult to overcome.

Competition and Comparisons
When it comes to higher-end soundbars, there are few to choose from, though two that immediately come to mind are Bowers & Wilkins’ Panorama Soundbar and Yamaha’s YSP-4000. Both come sans subwoofer, which makes the comparison all the more fair, though the Panorama retails for $2,200, whereas the Yamaha comes in at $1,800; making the Motion Vision a relative bargain. All three sound amazing, though I would argue that, based on price ad performance, the Motion Vision could be viewed as the victor, for it possesses a very similar, if not the same, level of performance afforded you by the more expensive Yamaha and Bowers & Wilkins soundbars.

Of course, there are less expensive options, even ones that include a subwoofer. These options include Aperion’s SLIMstage30 by Soundmatters Soundbar, Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 and ZVOX Z-Base 580.

For more on these soundbars, as well as others like them, please visit Home Theater Review’s Soundbar page.

MartinLogan_Motion_Vision_Soundbar_review_living_room_close_up.jpgConclusion
Ten years ago, if you had said that MartinLogan was going to build anything other than an electrostatic speaker, I would have called you crazy. But they did. Five years ago, had you said they would begin building soundbars, I would’ve proclaimed you insane. And yet MartinLogan did. Not only has MartinLogan built a soundbar in the form of the Motion Vision, they’ve arguably built the best soundbar I have heard yet. While the Motion Vision isn’t cheap at just a hair under $1,500, it more than packs the sonic goods to back up its premium price.

The Motion Vision’s build quality is superb, looking every bit as high-end a product as anything MartinLogan has made to date. Its sonic capability is also unparalleled, as it possesses the scale and definition of a set of discrete loudspeakers, yet manages to confine that sound to a single cabinet. Its bass prowess without a subwoofer is staggering, though the ability to add one makes the Motion Vision all the more versatile in larger rooms. The Motion Vision is definitely a soundbar that doesn’t have to be confined to bedroom or secondary system status. Even its ability to trick the mind into believing there are surround channels present is impressive. Does it equal the overall performance of a true, 5.1 channel system? No, but it comes closer than anything I’ve heard to date and when you factor in its single-chassis form factor, I wonder if I, like many others, wouldn’t some days prefer its simplicity.

I like soundbars a lot and, because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to spend considerable time with some of the greats. I’ve even hung onto a few of them for long-term reference purposes, though all have eventually been returned to the manufacturer. I can say that the Motion Vision from MartinLogan is the first soundbar that I would personally consider buying. At the very least, it represents my new benchmark by which all others will be judged.

Additional Resources
• Read more soundbar reviews from Home Theater Review’s staff of writers.
• Explore subwoofers to pair with the MartinLogan Motion Vision.
• Find LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs in our review sections.

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