The entire history of MartinLogan represents a continuous forward movement. From 1983 to the present day, more than fifty models of branded speaker systems have been produced. Electrostatic speakers are undergoing changes, each of which makes them more and more advanced. The active use of digital technologies, bold experiments in the field of creating hybrid acoustics and a sincere desire for excellence inherent in the developers make MartinLogan one of the most significant companies in the High End world.
For a true audiophile, the term “electrostatic” is associated not with a school physics course, but with the acoustic brand MartinLogan, well known among connoisseurs of high-quality sound. This American company has gained well-deserved popularity due to the fact that it made two revolutions at once – it created unique electrostatic emitters and brought this technology closer to the consumer, making it simple and safe. To understand the role and place of MartinLogan in the electrostatic loudspeaker industry, let’s take a short excursion into its history. Moreover, it is worth starting from those times when not only the MartinLogan company did not exist, but its founding fathers were not even born. The first electrostatic device used to reproduce sound appeared in the century before last. Back in 1881, at the Paris Electrical Equipment Exhibition, the Dolbear company presented its electrostatic telephone. Formally, this date can be considered the moment of the birth of electrostatic technology. The electrostatic loudspeaker itself, as well as the more familiar electrodynamic loudspeaker, was developed much later, in the 20s of the last century in the laboratories of CW Rice & EW Kellogg-Bell. And now it’s time to move on to the main part of our story, the story about the MartinLogan company, which has made several real breakthroughs in the field of electrostatic technology.
Gail Martin Sanders
The brand name, which sounds like a proper name, is actually a combination of the middle names of the founders: Gale Martin Sanders and Ron Logan Sutherland. In the 70s, these two young men not only loved to listen to music, they were obsessed with the idea of creating an ideal acoustic system, free of phase and non-linear distortions, capable of providing truly pure sound of the highest quality. The development of the company itself was started by Gail Sanders. Having two degrees, musical and architectural, he was neither a musician nor an architect. Instead, he designed electric guitars, amplifiers and pickups, and also made a living selling recording equipment. As a developer, Gale Sanders was and remains an uncompromising person; he destroyed all his developments, the sound quality of which was unsatisfactory, so that no artifacts in the form of any early works or prototypes have survived since then. But quite quickly, Gale Sanders understood the main thing – in order to create something truly high-quality and out of the ordinary, “garage” production is not suitable, you need a team of professional developers. Especially for this, he organized a company whose goal was to create and sell an uncompromising means of playing music. The search for the concepts and technologies necessary for this led him to electrostatics already in 1975, but the implementation of the project known to us as the MartinLogan acoustic system occurred a little later. Only in the late 70s, thanks to the active research in the field of space technology at that time, new structural materials appeared, with the help of which it was possible to implement electrostatic acoustics of a more advanced design than anything that existed before. In 1979, physicist and electrical engineer Ron Sutherland joined Gale Sanders’s company and began developing a fundamentally new electrostatic loudspeaker.
Martin Logan Monolith
Taming electrostatics turned out to be a difficult and even unsafe task. The first prototype literally exploded while being tested in Sanders’ living room. This happened in 1980. The complexity of the task and unsuccessful experiments did not stop the developers, and already in 1981 the world’s first working model of electrostatic acoustics, MartinLogan Monolith, was created, which two years later became a real sensation at the world’s largest consumer electronics exhibition, CES’83. The acoustics sounded excellent, had a neat appearance and demonstrated unique technological solutions for which its creators received several patents. The successful debut of the Monolith acoustics did not become a reason for the developers to rest on their laurels; the first version was followed by other improved versions of the Monolith. The development of new models has begun. In 1997, MartinLogan demonstrated another sensational new product, the appearance of which became a landmark event both for the company itself and for the entire Hi-Fi and High-End equipment industry. The new Statement E2 model provided benchmark sound quality, and its design was very far from the usual image of an electrostat, bulky and awkward acoustics. In terms of its dimensions and body proportions, the Statement E2 acoustics were comparable to a traditional floor-standing system, and in design and sound they clearly surpassed, if not all, then most of the speakers existing at that time. It is not surprising that this model has collected a huge number of awards, including the “Academy for the Promotion of High-Quality Audio and Video”, “Award for Innovation in Design and Engineering Solutions”, “Prize from the Spring Issue of Total Home Entertainment magazine for 1997”, etc. d.
Martin Logan Statement E2
For all its perfection, the Statement E2 acoustics had one very significant drawback – it was one of the most expensive acoustic systems in the world and was sold for $100,000. Therefore, in 2003, the Clarity model was created, combining advanced technologies and high-quality MartinLogan sound with a much more affordable price tag of $3,500. The fact that the new acoustics retained all the main advantages of their predecessors was confirmed by EISA experts, who in 2003 recognized the Clarity models as the best acoustics in the High End Audio category. In the mid-2000s, the MartinLogan line of cinema acoustics was formed. The assortment now includes subwoofers of various classes and powers, as well as electrostatic satellites, center channel speakers and universal electrostatic LRC speakers. Around the same time, the company’s line was replenished with built-in and compact designer acoustics, made using traditional dynamic drivers, dome and proprietary ribbon tweeters. But the main role in the range is still played by full-size electrostats, which are equally successfully used both in stereo and as front acoustics in high-end cinema installations.
MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL
The MartinLogan ElectroMotion line of acoustics, which was born in 2011, can be called the quintessence of the company’s modern technologies, since it includes the ElectroMotion ESL electrostatic loudspeaker, which acts as a front pair, and Motion dynamic acoustics, equipped with a proprietary ribbon tweeter. An important point reflecting the development trend of electrostatic acoustics is another reduction in price. The ElectroMotion ESL model costs about $2,500, depending on the type of finish. Since its founding, MartinLogan’s strength has always been cutting-edge technology, but before you look at it, it’s worth taking a closer look at how a traditional electrostatic loudspeaker works to understand its main advantages and disadvantages. Structurally, any electrostatic acoustics includes a thin and light diaphragm-membrane with a conductive coating, located between two metal stator grilles.
MartinLogan CLX ART
The electrical potential supplied to the diaphragm is constant, but the polarization of the stators changes according to the shape of the musical signal received at the input. Thus, the membrane is set in motion and sound is emitted. The advantages of this solution over a conventional dynamic loudspeaker are obvious – the weight of the diaphragm-membrane is significantly less than that of the speaker cone, so electrostatic acoustics are much richer and more accurate in reproducing sound details. When the cone of a conventional speaker moves, deviations from the plug mode of operation are inevitable, which means distortions occur in the sound. The membrane of electrostatic acoustics does not bend when moving, so it does not introduce any distortion into the sound. In order to make a thin and light membrane produce truly deep and tight bass, its size must be large, as demonstrated by the flagship MartinLogan CLX 25th Anniversary Edition, which is a full-range electrostat. The large working area of the emitters and the use of a design with three stators and two membranes allow it to create high sound pressure at low frequencies, but the dimensions of the speaker are quite impressive. In terms of size versus design performance, a conventional dynamic woofer with a rigid cone and a powerful magnet system definitely wins, although the CLX 25th’s low-frequency sound quality is superior to that of many traditional systems.
Martin Logan Ethos
Other MartinLogan acoustic models use smaller electrostatic drivers that are not designed to reproduce deep bass. This role is taken on by subwoofer sections with dynamic radiators installed at the base of the electrostatic system. The crossover frequency of the broadband electrostatic and low-frequency sections is around 200-300 Hz, so that all the main positive features of the sound of electrostats are preserved, including the absence of phase distortion in the mid- and high-frequency range. The crossover separating the electrostatic and subwoofer sections is designed to maintain a flat frequency response and ensure maximum phase consistency. Another point that significantly distinguishes conventional loudspeakers from electrostatic ones is the direction of sound. A conventional emitter has a hemispherical sound wave that propagates from the diffuser not only forward, but also equally in all directions: to the sides, down, up. The membrane of a conventional electrostat has a flat surface, which, when moving, emits sound directly in front of it. It would seem that the second option is more correct, since sound dispersion is minimal, all the energy of the sound wave is directed towards the listener, and no unwanted reflections from the walls, floor and ceiling occur. However, the truth is, as always, exactly in the middle. The sound dispersion of a conventional loudspeaker is too wide, which blurs and distorts the sound stage, and a conventional electrostat sounds so directional that the sound is focused strictly at one point, a displacement relative to which noticeably distorts the sound.
MartinLogan Expression ESL13A
In their first electrostatic acoustic system, MartinLogan Monolith, the developers solved this problem. The unique patented technology of the curved electrostatic driver allowed to expand the dispersion of sound in the horizontal plane, while maintaining ideal directionality in the vertical. Thus, the comfortable listening zone was expanded and the property of eliminating the occurrence of spurious reflections from the floor and ceiling was preserved. The manufacturing process of electrostatic panels is very interesting. Despite all the high-tech technology, 95% of production is manual and piecemeal; there is simply no such thing as a “conveyor” at the MartinLogan factory. The production of proprietary electrostatic emitters ESL, used in various models of speaker systems, begins with the creation of perforated stator panels, holes in which are punched according to a template with a tool specially designed for this purpose.
Martin Logan Clarity
The future stators are then insulated with nylon polymer and fired in a high-temperature oven. Thus, the polymer layer is securely welded to the steel stator, creating the necessary degree of insulation to protect the user from electric shock. The treated stator panels are bent with a radius of 30°, creating a frame for installing the membrane. The membrane is made of ultra-thin polyester, onto which a conductive layer is applied using vacuum deposition. Thanks to this, it can withstand high voltage and respond to the music signal with extreme precision. Before assembling the structure, each stator is tested with a voltage of 10,000 V, twice the operating voltage of the acoustics. After testing the workpieces for electrical safety, a membrane is stretched between the stators using special limiting elements. At the final stage of manufacturing the ESL electrostatic module, connectors used to supply polarizing voltage and a useful signal are mounted on it. MartinLogan is constantly developing and improving its electrostatic acoustics. One of the areas of development was the use of a 24-bit DSP processor and a D-class amplifier in the Ethos speaker system.
Another interesting direction: the creation of three-way hybrid speaker systems, in which the electrostatic panel serves as a broadband mid-frequency link. This technology was applied to improve the sound quality of electrostatic center channel speakers and was called HD-XStat (where HD is an acronym for Hybrid Speaker). In the Motif and Stage models, an HF emitter with a silk dome and a neodymium magnet is mounted directly in the center of the electrostatic panel. This solution can significantly improve the phase coherence and synchronism of mid/high frequency transmission and provides the required level of sound dispersion. The role of the low-frequency link is performed by two boxes with aluminum speakers installed in them, located on the sides of the electrostatic panel. Motif and Stage acoustics can be used not only as a center channel, but also like any other satellite acoustics in a multi-channel cinema system. Naturally, in this case, you cannot do without the support of a subwoofer, and therefore the company’s assortment includes a whole line of subwoofers of various classes. Of course, it couldn’t have happened without high technologies and original solutions. The MartinLogan freestanding subwoofers of the older Descent i and Depth i series are very interesting. To increase efficiency and minimize distortion that occurs during the operation of low-frequency dynamic radiators, the company’s engineers have developed a unique BalancedForce design. In a conventional subwoofer, only part of the energy is used to create a sound wave, and the other part of the sound waves created by the speaker is transmitted to the subwoofer body in the form of parasitic vibrations, which distort the sound of the low-frequency range and all acoustics in general. The BalancedForce concept involves the use of several identical low-frequency radiators located in the subwoofer housing or subwoofer section of the speaker system, symmetrically relative to each other.
Martin Logan Descent i
If two speakers are used, they are located opposite, if three speakers are used, their axes are located at an angle of 120°. In both cases, the speakers are turned on in phase. Thanks to this solution, parasitic vibrations are mutually damped. The developers demonstrate the effectiveness of this technology with the help of a simple but very effective trick: a coin is placed on the subwoofer body, on its edge, after which a music signal is sent to the subwoofer. Hearing a powerful and fairly loud bass shaking the walls, you can observe that the coin continues to stand, which means the subwoofer body does not vibrate at all, that is, it does not introduce any overtones or distortions into the sound of the system. The most compact, designer Motion series, which we mentioned earlier, is built on traditional electrodynamic midrange/bass drivers and ribbon tweeters. But these speakers seem traditional only at first glance. Small, elegant satellites and slender floorstands contain many high-tech secrets. The simple-looking bass reflex port found in the Motion 4 is part of an extended labyrinth with a low resonant frequency. Thanks to this, small bookshelf speakers are able to reproduce surprisingly deep bass.
Martin Logan Motion
The curved shape of the body of the Motion 2 and Motion 4 bookshelf speakers not only gives them an unusual look, but also allows you to correctly orient the acoustics installed on a proprietary wall bracket, without moving it far from the wall and without disturbing the harmony of the room with the type of fasteners. The floor-standing models Motion 10 and Motion 12 have an acoustically transparent back wall on the mid/high section, which gives their sound a dipole effect. So they can sound as spacious and open as electrostatic speakers, which are dipoles throughout the entire frequency range reproduced by the ESL driver.
Well, the main highlight of the Motion line and one of MartinLogan’s newest developments is the original FoldedMotion ribbon tweeter. Its working surface is eight times larger than that of a conventional dome tweeter with a standard diameter of 25 mm. FoldedMotion works quite unusually. The emitter looks like a wide ribbon folded in waves. Under the influence of a useful signal, the folded tape is compressed from the sides, like the bellows of an accordion, and air is squeezed out of the folds. This is how the tweeter reproduces sound.