One of the minor dilemmas associated with audio reviewing is the need to keep a number of systems on the go. It's necessary if one cares enough to review products in context: you need to use high-end partnering components for costly gear, mid-price for mid-price and so on. With A/V, you have to multiply things by five...especially speakers. I thought I had it down pat, price-wise, with the reference system I've been using - three Apogee LCRs across the front and two Apogee Ribbon Monitors (LCRs minus one woofer) at the back - because the price was smack in the middle. But then I was reminded at the Hi-Fi Show of their 'unsuitability': they're no longer available, and readers don't want reviews written with obsolete ancillaries.
This created a problem because the Apogees were ideally suited to represent the median level between the rotgut dreck which passes for 'home theatre' (all-in for £699-type swill, or, worse, what comes with a TV) and the Trump-ian extreme represented by wealthy enthusiasts who can dial up a CEDIA member and say, 'Build me a home cinema but keep it under £500,000.' With no apologies whatsoever, I price the minimum decent home theatre, minus the cost of a monitor or projector and suitable for audiophiles as well as normal people, at around £5000-£7500: £500 for a DVD player, £1500-£2000 for one of the better A/V receivers and £3000-£5000 for five matched speakers.
With a bottom-level price of only £600 per speaker/channel, we are not talking about Wilson or Revel or ATC but the kind of speakers which ordinary people can afford. So (believing that I had been a good boy all these years by using sensible, affordable boxes for my A/V system), all I could hear were the moans of the penny-pinchers - those who wouldn't dream of buying anything better than 'Home Theatre In A Six-Pack' garbage even if they had the money - when I was told that I had to assess a complete Martin-Logan set-up. But when I found out that the total package came to £4684, I could only rub my hands with glee. Under £5k for five electrostatics - if you think that's too much then you kiss my psoriatic ass.
Admittedly, I was shocked when the system arrived and the fronts and rears were not the same, having asked specifically that all four be identical and that they be the least expensive models in the M-L line-up. I needn't have worried, though, because the price difference between a pair of Scenarios and a pair of Scripts was only £91. Furthermore, the Script and the Scenario share identical electrostatic panels, so they sound exactly the same above the bass region, the Scenario enjoying, for the extra £91, slightly larger woofers.
Here's how the system breaks down into its constituent parts:
At the centre is the Cinema (£1395), a hybrid which departs from Martin-Logan practice in that the electrostatic element doesn't cover the uppermost frequencies, only the midband. Its elegant, curved enclosure contains a shielded 5.25in woofer at either end, each in its own sealed cabinet. In-between and curving inward is a slice of a CLS electrostatic element, this horizontal, concave strip covering the midband. The crossover point between it and the woofers is 300Hz (12dB/octave), while at 3500Hz, the electrostatic element crosses over with the same slope to a vacuum-formed, 1in soft-dome tweeter. The dome was chosen for its dispersion characteristics, a centre channel speaker requiring a broad sweep with carefully defined horizontal and vertical dispersion voiced for, primarily, what are dialogue duties.
M-L thought very carefully about this design in industrial as well as sonic terms, a speaker which is - remarkably - only slightly larger than the 'norm' amongs conventional centre-channel systems at 860x260x200mm (WDH). To facilitate both its size and its non-cubist form, the company also offers a bracket, allowing it to be wall- or floor-mounted and tilted over a wide arc to direct the sound at the listener. I have my monitor and system on a large, open-shelf unit, so I positioned the Cinema on the top shelf, aimed downward at a 20 degree angle, without having to resort to the swivel bracket; the rear of the speaker rested in the shelving unit's uprights. It is, by the way, the prettiest centre-channel speaker I've ever seen, the unit sporting the see-through sections which are this make's stylistic trademark.
For front left-and-right duties, the company supplied a pair of Scenarios (£1690 per pair), compact floor-standers measuring only 1190x254x381mm (HWD). The footprint accommodates a conventional woofer housing which extends only 660mm upward, so you still get that wonderful see-through effect - like the Cinema - for the speaker's upper half, the primary visual element which makes Martin-Logans so beloved of wives, decorators and the cast of Friends. The electrostatic panel covers 500Hz-22kHz, the 8in high-excursion cone woofer dealing with 45-500Hz. Martin-Logan states that the dispersion of the system is 30 degrees horizontal and with the vertical being a 23in line source. Whatever the maths, this speaker ensured that there were no gaps between it and the Cinema - most impressive on left/right sweeps. Both the Scenario and the Cinema offer 89dB/1W sensitivity and nominal impedance of 6 ohms (1.5 ohm minimum @ 20kHz for the Scenario, 3.7 ohms for the Cinema), so - slight impedance variation aside - it presented a near-ideal situation for the three-channel Acurus 200X3 power amplifier I used across the front.Read more about the MartinLogan speakers on Page 2.