MartinLogan Summit Loudspeakers Reviewed

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MartinLogan_summit.jpgThe Summit was MartinLogan's top of the line speaker until the new CLX came out at twice the price a few months ago. At approximately $12,000, depending on finishes, the Summits are high-end loudspeakers from your first glance. This speaker was designed for the enthusiast who demands high performance and is willing to pay for it. This said, this is still something of a real-world product, rather than some exorbitantly expensive speaker that requires a ridiculous amount of power and a ballroom-sized listening room. The Summit will of course benefit from better electronics, but works quite well with normal gear in normal-sized rooms.

The industrial design of the Summit signaled a change in the MartinLogan line to a sleek and modern design that highlights the slender electrostatic panel, which rises above the woofer cabinet surrounded by only a thin aluminum frame rather than the wooden support panels of past models. This new frame design is called the "AirFrame" ans is extremely rigid. Other panel improvements include the use of Clearspar XStat CLS panels that use trickle-down technology from the Statement E2. The woofer box itself is much smaller, approximately the size of a case of wine. The 44-inch-tall panel handles the midrange and high frequencies, while a pair of 10-inch aluminum drivers powered by a pair of 200-watt amplifiers takes the low-end extension to 24Hz.

The Summit, in comparison to MartinLogan's past models, is much easier to set up and much more dynamic. Gain controls centered at 25 and 50Hz allow for more freedom with boundary placement. Instead of worrying about boundary bass reinforcement, you can focus placement issues on imaging. In short order, I was listening to clean music with clarity and coherence, the signature characteristics of an electrostatic speaker. The powered woofers provided plenty of tactile impact, yet remained fast enough for a smooth transition to the midrange panel.

High Points
• The Summit has beautiful, modern aesthetics that leave a much smaller visual footprint than prior models, despite the fact it is at heart a rather large audiophile-grade loudspeaker.
• Easy to set up and drive, the Summit is much more forgiving of both room placement and amplification than earlier MartinLogan speakers.
• The sound quality on the MartinLogan Summit is nothing short of excellent. The Summit provides the detailed and coherent midrange and highs we expect from an electrostatic speaker, without the traditional sacrifices that result in weak bass and dynamics.
• Despite its modest footprint, the Summit provides full-range sound. No subwoofer is mandatory for music-only systems. For extremists (aren't we all?) and home theater enthusiasts with 5.1 or 7.1 speaker configurations, MartinLogan offers a host of subwoofers that will get very low when music and soundtracks call for it.

Low Points
• The look and feel of the speaker is really fantastic, but the finish isn't quite as nice as other, more traditional box-type speakers in the market today. I suspect MartinLogan will improve quality control over time, but be sure your pair meets your standards in terms of the finish.
• The placement, while greatly improved over past MartinLogan speakers, is a very big factor when installing MartinLogan Summits. Don't think you can push them against the back wall and have them shine. They still do best when given a little breathing room.

This is a highly revealing and musically compelling full-range audiophile speaker worthy of adult drooling. The Summit has the benefits of electrostatic technology: speed, detail and cohesive mids and highs, while minimizing but not eliminating the typical constraints of the electrostatic design. The tradeoff is that the MartinLogan Summit needs to be carefully positioned and will never be able to match the dynamics of a large box speaker system. The reward for this tradeoff is that the listener is treated to a large, full-range soundstage, full of accurately detailed and placed instruments and vocals while the speaker simply disappears. Every speaker system requires some sort of tradeoff and this is one that I was quite willing to make, because I wrote the check. The MartinLogan Summits are just that good.
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