Mart­inLo­gan Mo­tion 4i Book­shelf Speaker Re­viewed

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Mart­inLo­gan’s Mo­tion 4i is a diminu­tive, mul­tipur­pose loud­speaker with some­thing spe­cial that makes it more than ca­pa­ble of han­dling the right and left du­ties of a two chan­nel, 2.1 chan­nel, or even a sur­round sound sys­tem. This is au­dio­phile qual­ity loud­speaker at a very rea­son­able price. To get to what makes it spe­cial, though, we need to dis­cover what Mart­inLo­gan as a brand is all about.

Mart­inLo­gan is cel­e­brat­ing its 35th an­niver­sary in 2018.

Gayle Martin San­ders met Ron Lo­gan Suther­land at the high-end au­dio shop that San­ders man­aged in Lawrence, Kansas. Suther­land is a pro­fes­sional elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, while San­ders’ back­ground in­cluded ar­chi­tec­ture and ad­ver­tis­ing.

What they had in com­mon was a love of mu­sic and specif­i­cally elec­tro­static loud­speak­ers. It wasn’t long be­fore they built their own elec­tro­static speaker but the first ver­sions, as leg­end tells the story, suf­fered from un­sat­is­fac­tory high-fre­quency dis­per­sion. The prob­lem with the speaker was that the beam was too tight. The team solved the prob­lem by us­ing a hor­i­zon­tally curved panel re­sult­ing in the curvi­lin­ear line-source, which is the hallmark of ev­ery Mart­inLo­gan elec­tro­static loud­speaker built since then.

So, what is it about elec­tro­static speaker that made them worth the trou­ble? Elec­tro­stat­ics have very low dis­tor­tion, for one thing, and are rel­a­tively res­o­nance free across an ex­tremely wide fre­quency range, of­fer­ing a very mu­si­cal over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. On the down­side, they are in­her­ently short on bass re­sponse, and so are al­most al­ways mated with a con­ven­tional woofer or pow­ered sub­woofer in a hy­brid de­sign.

Of course, there are other types of trans­duc­ers that de­liver many of the qual­i­ties for which elec­trostats are known, in­clud­ing pla­nar and rib­bons. Pla­nars are very di­rec­tional, which re­sults in ex­cel­lent imag­ing qual­i­ties. Rib­bon speak­ers have ex­tremely low mass and there­fore re­spond to tran­sients very quickly, mak­ing them very ac­cu­rate, but they also tend to re­veal any flaws of the record­ing and mas­ter­ing process.

Mart­inLo­gan’s Mo­tion Se­ries, on the other hand, em­ploy an Air Mo­tion Trans­former very sim­i­lar in de­sign to that em­ployed in the highly lauded ESS Se­ries from the 1970s, and more re­cently in all of Gold­enEar Tech­nol­ogy’s speaker. This de­sign uses

a folded rib­bon tweeter, which achieves very sim­i­lar re­sults to the elec­tro­static prin­ci­ple, while al­low­ing for a much smaller form fac­tor.

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to the Mo­tion 4i, I can at­test that this is a very cool lit­tle speaker. There are sev­eral fea­tures the wiz­ards at Mart­inLo­gan packed into the speaker that in­flu­ences its ul­ti­mate fi­nal sonic sig­na­ture, but be­fore we dig into that, it’s worth ask­ing: what is this speaker, any­way? Is it a near-field monitors for mu­si­cians and record­ing engi­neers? Is it a good right and left op­tion in an au­dio­phile 2.1 sys­tem? Is it good for the right, left, and sur­round du­ties of a sur­round sound sys­tem? Is it an op­tion for a com­puter play­back sys­tem? The an­swer to all of the above: yes, yes, yes, and yes!

If you’re fa­mil­iar with Mart­inLo­gan’s orig­i­nal Mo­tion 4, re­leased back in 2010, none of this is a rev­e­la­tion, of course. If you’re new to the line, though, it’s worth point­ing out just how small this newly up­dated of­fer­ing is. The Mart­inLo­gan Mo­tion 4i is pos­i­tively diminu­tive (by Mart­inLo­gan stan­dards) at 13.1 inches high by 5.6 inches wide by 5.5 inches deep and a weigh of six pounds. It comes with re­mov­able grills and a clever mount­ing block that al­lows it to be mounted on a wall with the folded rib­bon tweeter high­fre­quency de­vices aimed pre­cisely where you like. It can also be sim­ply placed on any flat sur­face and is fin­ished in a high-gloss black that was flaw­less on the sam­ples I re­ceived for this re­view. The four­inch woofer is ac­com­pa­nied by a folded bass port, and while you will not get any sig­nif­i­cant lowfre­quency punch with­out adding a sub­woofer, you will get ex­tremely nice res­o­lu­tion in both the mids and the highs. Fre­quency re­sponse is re­port­edly 70 to 23,000 Hz with an 80-de­gree by 80-de­gree dis­per­sion, sen­si­tiv­ity is rated at 90dB (2.83 volts/me­ter), and nom­i­nal im­ped­ance is rated at 4Ω (com­pat­i­ble with 4, 6, or 8Ω am­pli­fiers).

For those that may be won­der­ing about the dif­fer­ences be­tween the new Mo­tion i up­date and the orig­i­nal Mo­tion se­ries, they are both aes­thetic and sonic. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, the new Mo­tion i se­ries speak­ers now have re­mov­able grills. They also sport cleaner lines on the out­side and tweaked crossovers within, de­signed for clearer and more well-de­fined up­per mid to high fre­quency re­sponse.

The Dy­namo se­ries subs in­tended to com­ple­ment the new Mo­tion i line-up en­com­pass sev­eral op­tions, in­clud­ing the Dy­namo 600X that was sent for eval­u­a­tion along with the speak­ers.

While I did com­pare the 4i with and with­out the sub, this re­view fo­cuses pre­dom­i­nantly on the

4i’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties on its own. If you are build­ing a sur­round sound sys­tem, Mart­inLo­gan of­fer the Mo­tion 6i ($279.95 each) and Mo­tion 8i ($399.95 each) cen­tre chan­nel speak­ers. The 4i can be used for rear surrounds as well as front left and right, or you could go even smaller and use the Mo­tion 2i for surrounds, if you wish, depend­ing on room size.

The Hook-up

I au­di­tioned the Mo­tion 4i separately with both my Glow Au­dio Amp Two tube am­pli­fier, as well as my SMSL AD18 Class D am­pli­fier us­ing my Mac­Book Pro as a FLAC file mu­sic server, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the in­ter­nal DAC and the DAC built into the SMSL amp. All in­ter­con­nects are by Kim­ber. I al­most al­ways have a clear pref­er­ence for the tube amp, but with the Mo­tion 4i I hon­estly have to say there were times when I pre­ferred the more neu­tral sound of the Class D amp and times when the tube warmth won out depend­ing on the piece of mu­sic.

Per­for­mance

I first sit­u­ated the speak­ers at ear height, roughly six feet apart with a 60-de­gree an­gle to­ward my cen­tral lis­ten­ing po­si­tion, which is about nine feet away. Af­ter a few tracks I ex­per­i­mented with mov­ing them closer to the rear wall and there­fore mov­ing my chair a bit to­wards them to main­tain the same dis­tance. This made a very big im­prove­ment, so keep this in mind when you po­si­tion the 4i: it likes a good bit of bound­ary re­in­force­ment. I imag­ine most will be ei­ther mount­ing th­ese di­rectly on a wall any­way, but if sur­face mount­ing on a flat sur­face, you may want to pay at­ten­tion to the dif­fer­ences even a few

inches can make rel­a­tive to the wall and ad­just ac­cord­ingly. Now that I had the speak­ers di­alled in, I moved on to sev­eral tracks that I imag­ined would push th­ese 4i to its limit, start­ing with Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” off the Pulp Fic­tion sound­track. That track is re­plete with high reg­is­ter pi­ano pound­ing, a full horn sec­tion, and a crack snare that tests the high fre­quency tran­sient re­sponse and mid fre­quency res­o­lu­tion of any top per­form­ing speaker. The re­sult? The 4i was crys­tal clear, with no lack of clar­ity in the midrange fre­quen­cies that I could hear.

Next, I cued up Haydn’s “Em­peror’s Hymn from String Quar­tet in C.” I chose this piece be­cause of the del­i­cate in­ter­play be­tween the strings and very lit­tle low fre­quency in­for­ma­tion. The 4is were silky smooth and brought for­ward all the de­tail and com­plex­ity with­out any comb filtering or col­oration.

Mov­ing on in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, I wanted to hear how the 4is han­dled fe­male vo­cals. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to a few of my favourites, I set­tled in with Diana Kralls’ ver­sion of “Cal­i­for­nia Dreamin’.” This track has some very nice re­verb trails and space in the mix to let them roll off into the dis­tance. The 4is sounded crisp yet rich, but by now I knew the 4is could han­dle more spa­cious mixes like Shawn Men­des “In My Blood.” Check out the cho­rus, the first in­stance of which hits at the 1:10 mark, where it gets a bit dense. The

Mo­tion 4is grap­pled with the thick mids and bot­tom-heavy beats and were able to main­tain the ut­most clar­ity with­out los­ing emo­tion.

But what if you want to use th­ese in a home theatre con­fig­u­ra­tion for watch­ing movies and tele­vi­sion? I re­ar­ranged my home theatre to sub­sti­tute the left and right chan­nels of my Dolby At­mos sys­tem, plac­ing them as close as pos­si­ble to the same po­si­tion as my De­fin­i­tive Tech­nolo­gies DI 6.5 LCR in-walls. I am not go­ing to tell you they en­tirely kept pace with the De­fTechs, largely to size and tim­bre match­ing with the rest of my sys­tem but they sounded very good. Good enough that were they mated to their own sur­round sound brethren, I can imag­ine the sys­tem be­ing ex­tremely good, and due to their in­ge­nious mount­ing hard­ware and de­sign, they of­fer a ter­rific op­tion for on-wall if you don’t want to cut holes for in-walls.

I binge-watched a few episodes of Stranger Things on Net­flix and then Speil­berg’s Ready Player One, and be­tween th­ese se­lec­tions there was plenty of hard left-right pan­ning and off-screen di­a­logue, and with the Dy­namo 600X sub, I could tell th­ese would make for a great 2.1 or sur­round sound sys­tem that would com­ple­ment a very, very nice (and af­ford­able) home theatre.

The Down­side

The Mo­tion 4i is ported to the rear, and as such its low fre­quency re­sponse fluc­tu­ates pretty sub­stan­tially as you move it to­ward and away from the wall be­hind it. That is true of all rear ported loud­speak­ers, but vastly so here. With table­top place­ment that might not be a big con­cern, but if you’re mount­ing them on a wall, well, you can’t make any ad­just­ments, ex­cept via bass man­age­ment or room cor­rec­tion.

Con­clu­sion

One other thing that sets the Mo­tion 4i apart is that it’s in­di­vid­u­ally priced, not lumped in pairs. At any rate, buy them in twos or fours as most peo­ple prob­a­bly will, and you’re look­ing at a cost of $899 per pair. Add the Mart­inLo­gan Dy­namo 600X to the mix and you’re look­ing at an ad­di­tional $1099, for a com­plete 2.1 speaker sys­tem cost of right at $1,998. You can ob­vi­ously spend more and get more sound over­all, but at this size, Mart­inLo­gan doesn’t have a sub­stan­tial amount of com­pe­ti­tion.

Con­sid­er­ing size, cost, and de­sign, the Mart­inLo­gan Mon­i­tor 4i is hard to beat. The sonic sig­na­ture of a folded tweeter sounds great to my ears and lends a very open and de­tailed mu­si­cal­ity to ev­ery­thing you might throw at it in a va­ri­ety of sys­tems and speaker con­fig­u­ra­tions.

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