MartinLogan Theater and Ascent Loudspeaker Review

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Let's start with the name: in its transition from manufacturer of tweaky (yet utterly gorgeous) full-range electrostatics, to being the purveyor of the most successful hybrids ever, Martin-Logan has become 'company with a logo'. Yup, there's a squiggle on everything, a little flick of some designer's wrist which could be a stylised 'M', an attempt at conveying an artist at work.

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It's engraved into the tiny bit of framework visible at the top of the Scenario, in silver on the bottom of the Ascent's electrostatic panel, in raised silver below the Theater's tweeters and it's actually cut right through the base plate of the Theater's swivel frame. I bet there's even a key-fob, a polo shirt and a baseball cap. The company has made the leap to 'brand'...but I do wish they'd decide if it's Martin Logan or MartinLogan without the space. Either way, the hyphen has gone and the company is now worshipped by custom installers and interior designers. It's even part of the set on .

So what's that all about? Trivia at its worst? Uh-uh. While utterly eliminating the Bitch Wife From Hell factor, and while turning expensive hi-fi into something worth drooling over - in stark contrast to Lamm, for example - Martin Logan has also defied a specific law of high-end audio. It's the one which states that: With Success And Better Looks Comes A Mandatory, Inevitable Drop In Sound Quality. Not only have the ML products gotten prettier, they're sounding better than ever. And that is an achievement repeated nowhere else in the entire audio pantheon.

Example: the new Martin Logan Ascent and Theater are so utterly room-friendly that, despite being vastly larger than the Scenario and Cinema they replaced, my wife hasn't noticed the change. You could argue that it's because she is so indifferent to hi-fi. (Despite the audio riches to which she has access, she listens to a small Sony portable cassette radio which she schleps from room to room.) Or maybe she's in denial. Either way, they won me over, too, when I argued that I didn't anything larger in a 14x22ft lounge. The Scripts/Scenarios/Cinema worked nicely, thank you, and what could I possibly gain with something bigger? How quickly I pre-judged.

Immediately prior to the arrival of the Theater and Ascents reviewed here, Martin Logan's Gayle Sanders happened to be in the UK. He wanted to hear the Script/Scenario/Cinema package sounded in my room, and impressed as he was: full credit to Pedro at Absolute Sounds for being the finest set-up guy in Europe. Gayle suggested, when I balked at something larger, that 'the sound would open up a bit more without changing the character', the latter being something I cherish. Why? Because a Full Martin is one of those rare systems which is just as good at two-channel as it is at 5.1, .

Re-read that, because it touches on something underlining every anti-multi-channel debate heard since surround sound reared its head. It's one thing to have Brand X's main speakers in a stereo-only set-up with no other speakers in the room. But it's something else entirely to have them acting in stereo . Those of you familiar with my scribbles know that I have always felt that the 'second pair of speakers in the room causes brain damage' argument is pure bullshit, but I'm giving it lip service here because it's being used by the anti-home theatre brigade to prove this sorry-ass point: that you can't possibly have a surround system which works well for two-channel, simply because there are 'extra' speakers in the room.

Well, gang, maybe that just doesn't apply to panels or electrostatics, but to crappy box-type speakers manufactured by cynics who know that an A/B demo will destroy their chances. Think about it before you carry on fighting the future.

Whatever, I spent a lot of time listening just to the Ascents in stereo, even though they have taken over from the Scenarios in a 5.1 system. The Scripts went back to Absolute Sounds, the Scenarios became the new rear channel speakers, and - at the same time - it was felt that the Cinema centre-channel speaker should be replaced with the larger Theater. [See sidebar] The Ascent, coming in above the Aerius but below the new Odyssey, is smack dab in the middle of the ML range, and it only just qualifies as 'manageable' if you happen to be saddled with a BWFH: despite a small footprint of only 13x22in - and that 13in is the width - the Ascent is an imposing 64in tall. (Which further beggars belief that Mrs. K. failed to notice them...)

Derived from the Prodigy, which in turn is the offspring of the Statement E2, the Ascent is very much a part of the third ML generation. The first was the full-range line, still alive via the CLS IIz. The second, evolutionary range? Models like the still-current Aerius and ReQuest. But the Statement's babies are taking over, and the Ascent, by virtue of size and price, looks set to be the best-seller in the line, and virtually a replacement for the SL3. And it's a perfect example of current ML thinking.

Within the Ascent's upper frame is a true curved electrostatic panel measuring 4ft tall, with dispersion of 30 degrees. It operates above 280Hz, which some might argue is a high crossover point for a hybrid, but that is to undervalue ML's expertise in this area. (Until someone corrects me, I firmly believe that the Kansas-based company has sold more ESL hybrids than any other make on the planet.) Augmenting the ESL element, in the base/bass unit which acts as a stand on adjustable spiked feet, is a forward-firing 10in long-throw/high-excursion woofer with a high-rigidity cone. It operates down to 35Hz, and combines with the ESL to provide the Ascent with a sensitivity of 90dB/1W, with an impedance of 4 ohms.

As is the wont of a certain breed of audiophile, the Ascent - unlike the Script and Scenario - can be bi-amped or bi-wired. The back of the non-resonant chamber is fitted with two pairs of the most sane binding posts I've ever seen, but the review sample didn't come with bridging links and I wanted to use them single-wired. This has nothing to do with ML meanness; it's forbidden in CE territories for whatever moronic reason the Belgian-based scum cooked up to torment speaker makers. Thus, I inserted Transparent's bridging links, which have ML approval. f they didn't, Karen Sumner would beat up Gayle Sanders. Also found on the back of the Ascent is a rotary marked 'Bass Control', which attenuates the bass by 3dB if the user feels there's too much low level energy in the room; I used them in the 'flat' position.

Read more about the performance of the MartinLogan speakers on Page 2.

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