Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
This summer I spent a good deal of time in my backyard, enjoying the Southern California climate. Whether I was alone with a libation or entertaining guests, I almost always had music playing. About halfway through the summer, I received a call from my MartinLogan PR rep to discuss a review I was working on (the Illusion ESL C34A center-channel speaker), and he offered to send me the company's new Outdoor Living Series speaker system to audition. At first glance, the system looked very similar to the Episode Landscape speakers I reviewed about three years ago, but the company rep assured me that MartinLogan's Outdoor Living Series was different--so I decided to give the system a try.
The Outdoor Living Series is comprised of four speakers. The two satellite speaker options are the Outdoor SAT 40 ($299.95) and Outdoor SAT 60 (shown right, $549.95), both of which are two-way speakers with 0.75-inch aluminum dome ferro-fluid cooled tweeters and either a four- or six-inch mineral-filled poly cone midwoofer. The subwoofer options are the Dynamo Outdoor SUB 100 ($1,699.95) or SUB 120 ($2,399.95). The first one has a (you guessed it) 10-inch driver, and the second has a 12-inch driver. Both are subterranean designs that produce bass through a port with a mushroom-shaped cap. I gave MartinLogan the approximate dimensions of my backyard, and the company supplied me with five of the Outdoor SAT 60 satellites, a Dynamo Outdoor SUB 120 sub, a Crown CDi 1000 amplifier ($1,099), and the appropriate mounting hardware. The total system cost with mounting hardware was slightly less than $6,500.
I hired MartinLogan's local dealer, Evolution Audio & Video in Agoura Hills, to help me install the system--since I would be placing the speakers in different locations around the backyard and did not feel like running the wires myself. They sent two experienced installers who were able to get the system set up in a little over two hours (the subwoofer hole was mostly excavated before they arrived).
The Outdoor SAT 60's shape is the now ubiquitous shape of a landscape spotlight speaker--although at 8.3 inches in diameter and 11.3 inches deep, it's significantly larger than many of its kind. The back of each speaker has a removable cap that lets you access settings to choose between eight-ohm, 70-volt, or 100-volt setup. The frequency response of the Outdoor SAT 60 is specified as 90 to 20,000 Hz +/-3dB with an outdoor sensitivity rating of 92 dB (88 dB anechoic). A threaded post interfaces with either surface or spike mounts.
I installed three of the five satellites on the outer edge of my patio cover and aimed them back at the seating area under the cover. The entire area under cover is approximately 50 feet by 12 feet. The speaker's dark bronze color provided a lot of visual contrast against my white patio cover, but I still felt it blended nicely into the background decor. The dealer placed the last two satellites at the back corners of the yard and aimed them inward across the pool.
The enclosure for the SUB 120 measures 15.8 inches in diameter and 20.1 inches long (not including the port) and is made out of HDPE. The 12-inch mineral-filled poly woofer has a 2.5-inch, four-layer voice coil on a fiberglass bobbin. The entire subwoofer weighs in at 62 pounds, which is relatively light for its size--that's because it is a passive unit, designed to be driven by an external amplifier like the Crown amplifier.
The Crown CDi 1000 amplifier can be configured for both eight-ohm and 70-volt systems and has a programmable DSP. This flexibility makes it the go-to amplification for higher-performance outdoor systems. When ordered from MartinLogan, the amplifier comes preconfigured with MartinLogan's custom DSP settings. If you buy the amplifier separately, you can download the settings from MartinLogan's website. The configuration recommended for my setup was this: one channel configured for eight-ohm to drive the subwoofer, with the satellite channel configured to 70-volt. My only real gripe with this amplifier is that it lacks a trigger or signal-sensing capability to automatically turn it on when music is being played. I used a switched power conditioner that was triggered by my source component, a Russound MCA-88X (review coming).
MartinLogan recommended that the satellites be configured as a 70-volt system, which is easily scalable should you choose to add more speakers later. Another benefit of running the satellites in 70-volt mode is that the transformer on each satellite allows for individual volume adjustment.
The song "Believer" from the Imagine Dragons album Evolve (CD, Interscope) has been in heavy rotation, as it was my son's favorite song this summer. Through the Outdoor Living System, the bass was substantial, solid, and well blended with the satellites on the patio. Since a mono setup like this one doesn't provide any imaging (which is not really needed in a backyard system, in my opinion), I focused purely on the sound quality of each speaker and found that the MartinLogan Outdoor SAT 60 performs significantly better than other outdoor speakers I have heard. The sound was full, with a smooth transition between the midrange/woofer and tweeter. The crossover did not leave any significant gaps and provided cohesive sound throughout the speaker's performance range. The high frequencies rolled off when I listened from significantly off-axis, but the midrange remained solid.
• The satellite speaker's flexibility allows for an easily scalable and volume-matched system.
• The Crown CDi 1000 amplifier provides flexibility and equalization to maximize the speakers' performance.
• The sound quality of the system is extremely good: vocals and instruments were full bodied, clean, and clear.
• In its 70-volt configuration, the system has limited volume capabilities when compared with the eight-ohm setting. That said, the 70-volt volume was more than enough to provide comfortable listening throughout my backyard, even with a group of noisy children playing in the pool.
• The lack of aesthetic options in the lineup may limit placement. An above-ground subwoofer option and a lighter color option for satellites would provide greater placement flexibility.
Comparison and Competition
The two closest competitors come from Sonance and Episode. The comparable Sonance system with eight LS68 six-inch satellites, one LS12 E below-ground subwoofer, and amplification retails for about $11,500. The comparable system from Episode does not have a published price, as it is only available through Episode dealers. I have heard a previous version of the Sonance system and have spent a good deal of time with the Episode system. While my experience with the Sonance system was very limited, I'd say its performance was a lot closer to that of the MartinLogan system than the Episode system.
My family, guests, and I have been enjoying the MartinLogan Outdoor Living Series system for the past few months. The system provides good sound quality and even volume coverage throughout the backyard listening areas. The subwoofer provides real bass without a large, intrusive enclosure. Due to its subterranean design, the installation location options were limited by my hardscape, but we found a location that provided good coverage for the areas in which we listen.
The Outdoor Living System provided a musical, full, warm sound with good clarity. The vocals were solid and accurate rather than thin and veiled, as many 70-volt outdoor systems tend to sound. Stringed instruments were reproduced with not only good tonal balance but also enough detail to provide texture. No, you won't hear the same amount of detail as you get from one of MartinLogan's legendary ESL systems, but the outdoor background noise would likely overshadow most of that additional detail anyhow. While other outdoor eight-ohm systems can provide similar sound quality, the MartinLogan system can do this in its 70-volt configuration, which provides easy scalability and level matching.
In summary, the MartinLogan Outdoor Living System provides a flexible system that can be scaled to fit a wide variety of outdoor spaces while providing high-quality sound. Being lucky enough to live in Southern California where outdoor living is available the majority of the year, I am a big proponent of increasing the quality of your outdoor sound system--and the MartinLogan Outdoor Living System does just that.
• Visit the MartinLogan website for more product informtion.
• Check out our In-wall and Architectural Speaker Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• MartinLogan Adds New Speaker Models to Its Motion Series at HomeTheaterReview.com.