December 19, 2014

  • MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL, Part 2

    It's been a little over three weeks since I replaced my Quad 989 speakers with the ML EM-ESL.  During that time I've clocked over 200 hours on the new speakers and I can tell you that ML's recommendation to allow 72 hours for break-in should be taken seriously. There have been a couple of changes to my system over this time, one of them unintentional and I'll cover both near the end of this review.

    Unless otherwise noted, my listening impressions are based on the EM-ESL's sound post break-in. This includes the removal of the rubber spike protectors and placing them on MDF plinths.  The former increased apparent detail while increasing tonal colors and the latter tightened the bass.  As was the case with the 989s, Acoustic Revive RWL-3 diffusor panels were used, although their placement was farther from the speakers.  Comparisons will also be drawn to the predecessor Quad 989s.

    Listening Impressions

    • The new speakers, because of their increased efficiency (real world 87dB versus 83dB for the Quads) are louder and depending upon the source, required a decrease in the volume setting of my c-j CA200 of between three to eight clicks to reach comparable loudness levels.  This corresponds to about 2dB to 5dB.  Decreasing the volume control on my Oppo BDP-105D from 100 to 92 (4dB) allowed me to play music at the previous volume setting on the CA200.
    • Regardless of the source, bass depth and impact are, respectively, lower and more potent than the 989.  Watching the Bu-ray version of Prometheus, was almost as if I were seeing it for the first time.  The quality of the bass was excellent, never one-note, if not quite as seamlessly integrated with upper frequencies as is the 989.  This is not unexpected when comparing an ESL hybrid with a full range electrostatic speaker.  Listening to Jesse Cook's album The Blue Guitar Sessions, I initially thought there was a large truck idling outside my living room window when it was in fact the music.
    • Listening to the Øystein Sevåg album Bridge, for example, revealed that the sound stage didn't have quite the same height as I'd previously heard.  This was a consistent characteristic when comparing the two speakers.
    • Piano rendition is, if anything, superior to the Quads which were excellent to begin with.  The ML's seem to have more presence with a greater illusion that the piano is in the room with you.
    • Dialogue in the film Oblivion via my STB is clearer and more nuanced.
    • Treble response is more extended .  When listening to a playlist of Hearts of Space and Narada albums on an SSD via the PranaWire Photon USB cable hooked up to the 105D, I heard details and subtleties previously buried in the mix.  This seems to be an almost track by track difference, however.  In some cases the treble presentation of the 989's is superior.  While listening to the track Buffalo Trail on the album Red Sky Beat by The Blue Chip Orchestra, the portrayal of bird sounds is more crude/less realistic.  Via the Quads, it was difficult to distinguish whether there were actual birds chirping outside or if they were coming from the recording.  Not so with the EM-ESL's.
    • Listening to the same playlist as above except this time with an EHD via JRiver20, there is a bit of leanness not heard with the Quads.  This is also a consistent result regardless of source and method of playback.
    • The Quad 989's are masters of coherence, sound staging and refinement.  Although an excellent speaker in its own right, the ML EM-ESL's never quite measure up in these regards.  When one remembers that the 989's are 3X to 4X the list price of the hybrids, it brings the comparison into more realistic focus.
    •   The midrange is another quirky area.  Generally leaner with the ML's, there were also times that the leanness lent a heightened sense of realism.  This may be a case of you pays your money and you takes your choice.

    At this point I'd like to discuss the two system changes previously mentioned and their consequences in revealing some of the ML's attributes.

    Dead Fuse
    My conrad-johnson CA200 is prone to eating alive the T6.3A fuse utilized in the mains connection.  This happens on initial power-up from standby mostly very early in the morning and especially at that time during the weekend when the electrical draw is at its lowest (not counting in the dead of night when the system is inactive anyway).  Evidently the transformer's power-up inrush swamps the mains fuse causing it to blow.  This happens almost exclusively with expensive, aftermarket fuses that are built to tighter tolerances than the stock glass fuses that come with the integrated although I've lost one or two of those, as well.  The second scenario causing fuse failure occurs when power cords are swapped out.  As a result, I had taken to leaving the integrated on 24/7 and now having come to a power cord that I'm totally satisfied with, the PranaWire Satori, my troubles seemed to be at an end.

    In anticipation of fuse failures, I'd purchased one each of the HiFi-Tuning Supreme, Silver and Gold XT (an extra slow blow model formulated to withstand transformer power inrush).  See picture below.

    HiFi-Tuning Fuses All Three Flavors


    The Supreme had already bitten the dust during a power cord change and I was now using the Silver which I, in fact, preferred in this particular application.  The Supreme is supposed to combine the smoothness of the Gold with the detail and airiness of the Silver.  As I discovered, it borrowed more from the Gold than the Silver -- again, in this application.  One day, feeling suicidal, I decided to place the CA200 into standby in the vain hope that after having settled in for weeks in its new home it'd somehow become impervious to past problems.

    Sadly, this was not the case on power-up.  And so the Gold XT now resides in the CA200.  The whole point of this lengthy introduction is the fact that the difference in sound was immediately and very clearly conveyed by the new speakers.  In comparison, the Gold XT is less detailed with rounder transients, less low level detail, and a generally more midrange-centric sound.  Macrodynamics suffered and the superior startle factor of the ML speakers versus the Quads almost entirely disappeared.  I've placed an order for two more Silver fuses.  NB:  This was with the Gold XT in the same orientation as the Silver had previously been.

    Mad Scientist Black Pods

    The second system change was the introduction of the Black Pod footers purchased from Mad Scientist Audio based out of New Zealand.  See pictures below.

    The Set of Three
    Black Pod Set


    Black Pod Profile Close-Up


    The Reverse Side

    Black Pod - Reverse Side


    Again, the difference was immediately clear: I didn't like them under the BDP-105D. Although bass was a tad stronger, the overall effect was similar to that of the Gold XT in that apparent detail was lessened and it seemed to just suck out some of the air from the presentation, especially in the treble. This may have been due to the fact that the 105D was already residing on an original model Acoustic Revive RAF-48 air floating board and maybe it was just too much of a good thing. I'm not sure.

    Although not my original intention, I removed them from the 105D and tried them in place of Mapleshade's original model Triple Points on my Olive O3HD media server.  Ah, this was more like it:  detail was just as good as before, and inner detail/timbre superior.  The song Sailing to Byzantium from Lisa Gerrard's Immortal Memory sounded beautifully ethereal with a solid bottom end.  The sound stage was more dimensional than I ever remember hearing on this track.  Coyote Oldman's track Shape of Time from his album In Beauty I Walk projected into my living room right up to my listening seat.


    I apologize for going on to such length but the MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL have made a great impact on me.  Are they the be-all and end-all of audiodom?  Obviously not and I'm sure there are other speakers in its price range equally deserving of praise.  But I can tell you this, I haven't had this much fun and enjoyment listening to my system since...never, maybe.  If you're looking for new speakers anywhere near their price range, you'll be doing your self a disservice not putting them on your short list.  Enthusiastically recommended.

Comments (2)

  • How did you get a slash through the O, and a little circle above the a?

  • I copied and pasted it into WordPress from a document in Wikipedia showing his name as it would appear in his native Norway.

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