MARTIN­LO­GAN MO­TION 60XT RE­VIEW: REF­ER­ENCE QUAL­ITY

SoundMag - - Re­view / Martin­lo­gan - By David Mart­son (The Ab­so­lute Sound)

Martin­Lo­gan (ML) has long been as­so­ci­ated with the de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of elec­tro­static loud­speak­ers (ESL). And while ML con­sid­ers it­self “a loud­speaker ‘tech­nol­ogy’ com­pany and not just an ‘elec­tro­static’ com­pany,” its hy­brid ESL models con­tinue to be the prod­ucts that mu­sic lovers are most fa­mil­iar with. Nev­er­the­less, fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the De­scent sub­woofer in 2001, the com­pany in­tro­duced the De­sign Se­ries (2003)—its first non-elec­tro­static, full-range speak­ers.

The cur­rent Mo­tion Se­ries of non-ESL (dy­nam­ic­driver) speak­ers from ML en­com­passes some thir­teen models rang­ing from book­shelf to floor­stander, with the 60XT the pre­mium of­fer­ing. In ad­di­tion to three floor­standers, the se­ries in­cludes the ul­tra-slim (less than 2” thick), SLM models, as well as ded­i­cated cen­ter-chan­nel and sound-bar speak­ers tar­geted at home the­ater.

COS­MET­ICS AND SETUP

In size, the Mo­tion 60XT is sub­stan­tial, though not a mon­ster at 48” in height and 66 pounds in weight. (The as­sis­tance of a friend would be a wise pre­cau­tion dur­ing setup, es­pe­cially when un­pack­ing the loud­speak­ers from their ship­ping con­tain­ers and plac­ing them in the room.)

The flaw­less black cher­ry­wood fin­ish (the speaker is also avail­able in pi­ano black) of my re­view sam­ples was vis­ually stun­ning, their rich-grain fin­ish work exquisite. Tak­ing a styling cue from its ESL rel­a­tives, the sat­in­black, per­fo­rated-steel grille cov­ers are mag­net­i­cally at­tached, and flat ex­cept for a se­ries of em­bossed lou­vers phys­i­cally lo­cated over the tweeter. The black, an­odized out­rig­ger feet, pro­vided to min­i­mize the chance of speaker tip-over, are con­structed from solid alu­minum bil­let and come with both rub­ber foot­ers and floor spikes. The rich­ness of the speak­ers’ ap­pear­ance is rounded out by beau­ti­ful, yet functional bind­ing posts that will ac­com­mo­date any­thing from bare wires to spade lugs to banana plugs.

Ini­tially, I used the ex­cel­lent and spe­cific place­ment guide­lines in the user’s man­ual to set up the

60XTs. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing di­a­grams, with both di­men­sional and pic­to­rial overviews of lis­ten­ing rooms and the speak­ers’ place­ment within, were most help­ful. I re­ferred to them fre­quently.

COM­PO­NENTS

Com­pared to its other floor­stand­ing sta­ble­mates, the 60XT and its sib­lings are more than just skin-deep “di­men­sional up­grades” (i.e., big­ger boxes equipped with larger driv­ers). For ex­am­ple, though all Mo­tion Se­ries woofer cones (as well as midranges, in three-way models) are an­odized alu­minum, only the 60XT’s dual 8” woofers are con­structed with ex­tra-rigid cast-alu­minum bas­kets, rather than the cast-poly­mer bas­kets used in lesser models.

The 6½” midrange driver, like the woofer, uti­lizes an an­odized-alu­minum cone with a cast-poly­mer rather than an alu­minum bas­ket. In the 60XT, the midrange is lo­cated on a vir­tual plane with the lis­tener’s ears, max­i­miz­ing its out­put and dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics, while main­tain­ing over­all tonal bal­ance where it bridges the gap be­tween the woofers and the tweeter. (This is very im­por­tant as many of the spa­tial cues present in a record­ing re­side in the midrange.) The midrange driver’s place­ment, com­bined with the tonal bal­ance it shares with the tweeter and woofer, greatly en­hances the speaker’s over­all uni­for­mity of tim­bre.

ML’s Folded Mo­tion tweet­ers are de­rived from the Os­kar Heil air mo­tion trans­former (AMT) de­sign first patented in 1972. Com­pared to con­ven­tional dome tweet­ers, AMTs typ­i­cally have more ex­tended band­width, faster tran­sient re­sponse, lower dis­tor­tion, and greater out­put ca­pa­bil­ity. Ac­cord­ing to Martin­Lo­gan, a sin­gle ac­cor­dion-like Folded Mo­tion driver is equiv­a­lent in sur­face area to eight (ten, in the case of the Folded Mo­tionXT ver­sion) typ­i­cal 1” dome tweet­ers. The XT vari­ant tweeter (used only in the 60XT and 35XT book­shelf models) has spec­i­fied dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics of 80 de­grees x 30 de­grees (hor­i­zon­tal/ver­ti­cal), giv­ing it a pro­jec­tion closer to that of ML elec­tro­static pan­els rather than to that of a con­ven­tional dome tweeter. The com­bi­na­tion of the XT tweeter’s dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics with its phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion re­sults in ex­cel­lent syn­ergy be­tween it and the midrange, adding life and air to the fre­quen­cies within their com­bined range.

Fol­low­ing un­pack­ing and ini­tial setup, I first con­nected the 60XTs in a sin­gle-wire con­fig­u­ra­tion to the volt­age out­put of my Sun­fire 300~two power am­pli­fier, us­ing the speaker HF in­put ter­mi­nals linked to the LF ter­mi­nals via ML’s sup­plied bars. In this con­fig­u­ra­tion, Linda Ron­stadt’s vo­cals on “A Dif­fer­ent Drum” from the Stone Poneys’ Mel­low Six­ties [CD, Warner] sounded for­ward, with ex­ces­sive tre­ble en­ergy. When I moved the in­put con­nec­tions from the 60XT HF ter­mi­nals to its LF ter­mi­nals, the ex­ces­sive tre­ble en­ergy all but van­ished, as did the for­ward­ness of Ron­stadt’s vo­cals. I then switched to a bi-wire con­fig­u­ra­tion, con­nect­ing the Sun­fire’s volt­age out­put to the loud­speaker LF ter­mi­nals and its cur­rent out­put to the 60XT HF ter­mi­nals. The sonic dif­fer­ences be­tween it and the sin­gle-wire con­fig­u­ra­tion were sub­tle but sig­nif­i­cant; Ms. Ron­stadt’s voice was bet­ter placed in the sound­stage, ex­hibit­ing other in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments over­all.

Af­ter ini­tial break-in, I ad­justed the speaker place­ment to ob­tain the deep­est, smoothest, and most nat­u­ral-sound­ing bass, ob­tain­ing best re­sults with the speaker face ap­prox­i­mately 32” from the rear wall. Re­gard­ing toe-in, the man­ual states that “su­pe­rior stereo imag­ing” is achieved when the speak­ers are aimed to­ward the “pri­mary lis­ten­ing po­si­tion.” Loud­speak­ers uti­liz­ing pla­nar mag­netic driv­ers can some­times be sus­cep­ti­ble to beam­ing or glare, and given the tremen­dous out­put that the AMTs in the 60XT are ca­pa­ble of, I started by grad­u­ally in­creas­ing toe-in out­ward from my ears un­til the sound­stage be­gan to col­lapse, then slightly in­ward un­til I got the best com­pro­mise be­tween tonal bal­ance and sound­stage width and depth.

A fi­nal ques­tion was whether the speak­ers sounded bet­ter with or with­out their grille cov­ers. To that end, I lis­tened to “Brite Night­gown” from Don­ald Fa­gen’s Morph the Cat, and noted that the dif­fer­ences with and with­out grilles were sim­i­lar to those be­tween an air­brushed pho­to­graph and its orig­i­nal—dy­namic tran­si­tions (edges) be­came softer and some­what less dis­tinct with a slightly rounded tex­ture with the cov­ers in­stalled. Pre­fer­ring the naked speak­ers, I lis­tened to the speak­ers sans grilles for the re­main­der of the re­view.

LIS­TEN­ING

Once the break-in pe­riod had elapsed, my cu­rios­ity and in­ter­est whet­ted, I chose Pa­tri­cia Bar­ber’s

“Inch Worm” from Café Blue [HDCD, Pre­mo­ni­tion] for my ini­tial close-lis­ten­ing test. Im­me­di­ately,

I was taken aback; the broad, sharply de­fined sound­stage ex­tended well beyond the width of the speak­ers, the vo­cals sounded eerily life­like, and the in­stru­men­tal tim­bre nat­u­ral, with a depth so pal­pa­ble I could prac­ti­cally reach my hands into it. I fol­lowed that with Leon Rus­sell’s Stop All That Jazz [CD, Shel­ter], a stark mu­si­cal con­trast to Café Blue, and per­haps one of Leon’s great­est al­bums.

Lis­ten­ing to “If I were a Car­pen­ter,” Leon’s tex­tured, raspy voice pos­sessed a re­al­ism, pres­ence, and sonic tex­ture rem­i­nis­cent of a re­cent, live con­cert per­for­mance. “Span­ish Har­lem,” an in­stru­men­tal track, be­gins with bongo-like per­cus­sion deep in the left chan­nel, se­quen­tially adding in­di­vid­ual per­cus­sive in­stru­ments, lay­ered on top of one an­other and al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the right and left chan­nels. With the 60XT, this lay­er­ing was phe­nom­e­nal. Trans­par­ent and deep, each per­cus­sive ad­di­tion over­laid its pre­de­ces­sor cleanly with­out smoth­er­ing it, with the place­ment of ev­ery in­stru­ment pin­pointed in the sound­stage.

The AMT tweeter’s fast tran­sient re­sponse and dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics, cou­pled with its pre­cise crossover with the midrange, re­minded me of an ESL, though with a tad less del­i­cacy. Per­haps the best ex­am­ple of the tweeter’s tran­sient re­sponse was “Un­square Dance” from Dave Brubeck’s

Time Fur­ther Out [CD, Columbia/Le­gacy], with the 60XT cap­tur­ing the crisp, near-live, stick-on-steel of Joe Morello’s drum­stick rimshots as few speak­ers can. The si­mul­ta­ne­ous jux­ta­po­si­tion of Eu­gene Wright’s up­right bass in the low­er­midrange/up­per-bass re­gion was co­her­ent and solid—pro­duc­ing a re­al­is­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all but the deep­est oc­taves. From top to bot­tom, the match­ing of the driv­ers and crossover was ex­cel­lent, re­sult­ing in a very live and life­like-sound­ing per­for­mance.

Ac­cord­ing to the man­u­fac­turer, the min­i­miza­tion of floor bounce was a de­sign goal for the Mo­tion Se­ries models, with the dual 8” woofers of the 60XT ver­ti­cally po­si­tioned to “fill in the 200Hz– 300Hz area.” An­other ben­e­fit of the woofers’ po­si­tion­ing (their cen­ter­line is ap­prox­i­mately at ab­domen level when seated), com­bined with the rear ports, is en­hanced vis­ceral and dy­namic mid­bass im­pact, be­ly­ing the speaker’s fre­quency roll-off in the bot­tom oc­taves.

Cu­ri­ous how the loud­speak­ers han­dled more en­er­getic con­tent, I lis­tened to Rare Earth’s Ma [CD, Mo­town]. The in­stru­men­tal “Hum and Dance Along” ab­so­lutely rocked! On “Big John Is My Name,” the vo­cals were au­da­cious, re­al­is­tic, and mov­ing, and the bass quite good though not earth­shak­ing. Crank­ing up the vol­ume, how­ever, I sud­denly be­came aware of how much tre­ble en­ergy the tweet­ers were able to pro­duce.

As men­tioned ear­lier, the owner’s man­ual makes no spe­cific men­tion dur­ing setup of the wall be­hind the lis­tener, but the air mo­tion trans­former tweet­ers used in the Mo­tion 60XT are ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing such sig­nif­i­cant out­put lev­els that the pres­ence of a nearby and/or un­damped wall can cause re­flec­tions, mak­ing the speaker sound overly hot, and dis­tort­ing its true tonal char­ac­ter. Choos­ing a bet­ter seat­ing po­si­tion or us­ing ap­pro­pri­ate sound-ab­sorp­tion ma­te­rial on that wall can min­i­mize, if not al­le­vi­ate, the im­pact of this ef­fect.

Shift­ing source ma­te­rial, this time to clas­si­cal mu­sic, I lis­tened to Erich Kun­zel and the Cincin­nati Sym­phony’s ren­di­tion of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Over­ture [CD, Te­larc]. Per­haps one of the most dy­namic record­ings of this (or any) sym­phonic work, with lev­els rang­ing from the del­i­cate ring­ing of a tri­an­gle to the ex­plo­sive melee of ar­tillery at the work’s con­clu­sion, the record­ing is a test of any loud­speaker’s abil­ity to re­pro­duce ex­treme dy­nam­ics. Dur­ing the work’s cli­max, the 60XT fell short of mak­ing the earth move, but it was nonethe­less en­joy­able.

A char­ac­ter­is­tic noted re­peat­edly through­out my lis­ten­ing, re­gard­less of source ma­te­rial, was the res­o­lu­tion of these speak­ers, both in def­i­ni­tion and am­pli­tude, and the re­sul­tant width and depth of the sound­stage it con­veyed. What­ever the record­ing, the sense of depth—in some cases pre­vi­ously un­no­ticed even on very fa­mil­iar record­ings—was star­tlingly re­al­is­tic.

AM­PLI­FIER RE­QUIRE­MENTS

A loud­speaker is a trans­ducer, con­vert­ing ap­plied elec­tri­cal en­ergy into acous­tic en­ergy, and when it comes to eval­u­at­ing a trans­ducer, per­haps no sin­gle com­po­nent can af­fect that con­ver­sion, and ul­ti­mately, the loud­speaker’s per­for­mance, more than the power am­pli­fier that drives it. Loud­speak­ers present com­plex and some­times dif­fi­cult de­mands on am­pli­fiers, due to many fac­tors, such as in­put-im­ped­ance and crossover anom­alies. To eval­u­ate the im­pact the 60XT’s nom­i­nal 4-ohm in­put im­ped­ance on dif­fer­ent am­pli­fiers, I lis­tened to it with sev­eral power am­pli­fiers of var­i­ous con­struc­tion, qual­ity, and out­put power.

I first re­placed my ref­er­ence (solid-state) Sun­fire am­pli­fier with a Bob Carver Sil­ver Seven 700 tube am­pli­fier (cur­rent pro­duc­tion, not to be con­fused with the le­gacy Carver model with a sim­i­lar name). While cer­tainly not re­quir­ing the mas­sive power (700Wpc) that this tour-de-force, four-chas­sis tube am­pli­fier can pro­duce, es­pe­cially in light of the 60XT’s 94dB/2.83V/1m (91dB/1W/1m) sen­si­tiv­ity, the Martin­Lo­gan nonethe­less re­sponded beau­ti­fully to the am­pli­fier’s sonic char­ac­ter, ex­cel­lent dy­namic range, and low noise floor.

The Sil­ver Seven 700 has ded­i­cated out­put taps for 8, 4, and 2-ohm loads. Given the Mo­tion

60XT’s nom­i­nal 4-ohm in­put im­ped­ance, I ini­tially con­nected the speak­ers to the am­pli­fiers’ 4-ohm taps. Lis­ten­ing again to the Stone Poneys’ A Dif­fer­ent Drum, I found Linda Ron­stadt’s vo­cals sound­ing easy and life­like. When I switched to the am­pli­fier’s 8-ohm tap and re­played the same song, the per­for­mance seemed thin and lack­ing in dy­nam­ics. Re­peat­ing the se­quence once more, this time with the 2-ohm taps, re­sulted in a dull sound and a muddy per­for­mance. I used the 4-ohm tap for the re­main­der of my lis­ten­ing ses­sion.

With the pre­req­ui­sites out of the way, I be­gan as­sess­ing the com­bined per­for­mance of the Sil­ver Seven 700 am­pli­fier and the Mo­tion 60XT. Though the speak­ers al­ready sounded exceptional driven by the Sun­fire amp, it didn’t take long to hear dif­fer­ences in the pre­sen­ta­tion with the Sil­ver Seven. The ESL-like del­i­cacy of the tre­ble that, when us­ing the Sun­fire, some­times be­came slightly edgy when played loud, was soft­ened, re­main­ing light and del­i­cate even at higher vol­umes, un­til the AMT tweeter out­put fi­nally be­gan to beam a bit. The bass, al­ready well pre­sented with the Sun­fire, took on a char­ac­ter and depth pre­vi­ously un­heard, with 3-D spa­tial­ity per­haps the most im­proved sonic char­ac­ter­is­tics I noted. Although the Sun­fire am­pli­fier had pre­vi­ously raised the bar for Fleet­wood Mac’s “Woman of a Thou­sand Years” from Fu­ture Games [CD, Warner] to the high­est level in my ex­pe­ri­ence, the Sil­ver Seven 700 re­vealed a never-be­fore-ex­pe­ri­enced depth and dreami­ness in the record­ing.

The man­u­fac­turer spec­i­fies that the 60XTs are “com­pat­i­ble with 4-, 6-, or 8-ohm rated am­pli­fiers.” To test that claim, I re­placed the Sil­ver Seven 700 in my sys­tem with an avail­able Ken­wood KM-209 stereo power am­pli­fier (150Wpc into 8 ohms)—a mass-mar­ket model from a few years back—us­ing the pre­vi­ously de­scribed bi-wire con­nec­tions. It be­came read­ily ap­par­ent that the nec­es­sary drive cur­rent for the 60XT’s 4-ohm load was not avail­able from this am­pli­fier, which sounded weak and flat no mat­ter the source ma­te­rial. Given the speaker’s ef­fi­ciency, a suit­able am­pli­fier need not be ex­cep­tion­ally pow­er­ful, but must be able to pro­vide ad­e­quate drive cur­rent into lower-im­ped­ance loads, and have a slew rate fast enough to sat­isfy the tran­sient-re­sponse char­ac­ter­is­tics of its AMT tweeter. If one has any con­cerns about an am­pli­fier’s abil­ity to sat­isfy such de­mands with this or any other loud­speaker, it is a good idea to ar­range a demo us­ing the am­pli­fier in ques­tion prior to pur­chase.

Fi­nally, re­turn­ing to the Sun­fire am­pli­fier, I in­te­grated my Sun­fire TSEQ-10 sub­woofer into the sys­tem, ad­just­ing it to com­ple­ment the 60XT’s re­sponse. On the 1812 Over­ture, this time with the sub­woofer con­nected, the can­non fire left me blown away! Lis­ten­ing to “Flight of the Cos­mic Hippo” from Bela Fleck’s al­bum of the same name [CD, Warner Bros.], Vic­tor Wooten’s low, low bass was amaz­ingly matched, both tonally and in out­put, with Fleck’s elec­tric banjo, sound­ing al­most as if they were in my lis­ten­ing room. Round­ing (or per­haps I should say, bot­tom­ing) out the al­ready superb sound of the speak­ers with an ap­pro­pri­ate sub­woofer makes these speak­ers out­stand­ing per­form­ers over­all, re­gard­less of cost.

SUM­MING UP

The Mo­tion 60XT does many things not only right, but mag­nif­i­cently, pro­vided a suit­able am­pli­fier is used to drive them. I can’t re­mem­ber when I en­joyed lis­ten­ing to a speaker as much as I did these. As they were de­signed in Lawrence, Kansas, by the same team that cre­ates the com­pany’s elec­tro­static models, it should be no sur­prise that the up­per midrange and tre­ble are sim­i­larly voiced to ML’s ESL models, though with slightly less fi­nesse in the up­per fre­quen­cies. Vo­cals are life­like, en­gag­ing, and cap­ti­vat­ing, whether you’re lis­ten­ing to the silky sound of your fa­vorite chanteuse or the grav­elly voice of a scream­ing rock star. An added ben­e­fit of the ex­cel­lent driver and crossover match­ing is the re­al­is­tic lower-midrange/up­per-bass per­for­mance, fur­ther en­hanced by the woofers’ ver­ti­cal lo­ca­tion in the cabi­net. The 60XT pro­duces a broad sound­stage that ex­ceeds the width of the loud­speak­ers’ place­ment, with pin­point imag­ing and amaz­ing, three-di­men­sional depth, even when the source ma­te­rial is of av­er­age sonic qual­ity. The twin 8” woofers pro­duce bass ex­ten­sion that will sat­isfy all but hard-core pipe or­gan and elec­tric-bass afi­ciona­dos (or lovers of the 1812 Over­ture’s ar­tillery fire). If these heavy­weight gen­res of mu­sic are your thing, the ad­di­tion of a sub­woofer of your choice (Martin­Lo­gan of­fers sev­eral) can eas­ily sat­isfy you, too.

To en­joy the full per­for­mance that these speak­ers can pro­duce, you have to be pa­tient; the 60XT ap­pears to re­quire ev­ery bit of the spec­i­fied 72-hour break-in pe­riod to re­ally sing. Nev­er­the­less, the wait is well worth­while, re­ward­ing the lis­tener with sonic per­for­mance that is noth­ing short of un­be­liev­ably re­al­is­tic com­pared with other speak­ers in this price range, as well as more ex­pen­sive models.

At the out­set, my ex­pec­ta­tions for a “con­ven­tional” loud­speaker de­signed and pro­duced by a man­u­fac­turer whose prod­ucts have his­tor­i­cally been elec­tro­static de­signs were un­de­fined. Af­ter liv­ing with these speak­ers, how­ever, I no longer have any doubts; the 60XTs are so im­pres­sive I could eas­ily adopt them as my ref­er­ence. Lis­ten­ing to the them was tan­ta­mount to a phys­i­cal ad­dic­tion for me! They are a “must au­di­tion” for any­one in­ter­ested in nat­u­ral and re­al­is­tic sound that will con­tinue to sat­isfy and im­press for a very long time. Highly rec­om­mended.

Price: $5,499.

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