The prince of electrostatics
In electrodynamic mode
For many readers and myself, MartinLogan means electrostatic speakers, even though the low-frequency part has almost always been entrusted to a conventional electrodynamic speaker from this manufacturer. I have fond memories of pairs of MartinLogan electrostatic panels observed at random in audio lounges, in boutiques or during listening sessions in private homes of individual consumers, all of whom seemed fulfilled by their choice. In most cases, the electrostatic cell operates from 400 Hz to 20,000 Hz with a realism and a precision that I have always admired. The register, below 400 Hz, being generally entrusted to an electrodynamic transducer makes the size of the panels reasonable. When I received this pair of Motion 40is, I was very surprised to find that I was going to have to tell you about a pair of freestanding speakers of the conventional type—MartinLogan all-electrodynamic!
The series, which includes the pair of speakers proposed to TED Magazine, is called Motion, since this series seems to be dedicated to home cinema as shown in the provided booklet, which describes the complete series. On the other hand, it is just as possible to use small Motion 15i speakers as two-channel main speakers as it is today to use a pair of Motion 40i floor standing speakers to complement a two-channel system as well. The speakers offered are white, rather satin-finished, which MartinLogan calls Matte white, with a nice effect. Their size is particularly well-proportioned, elegant, but still of a good height with one metre (about 41 inches) and its upper side sloping backwards. Equipped with two slightly shiny and curved grey grids each, it easily seduces the eye. The MartinLogan brand logo is engraved on a piece of brushed aluminum and separates the two grids, adding a refined touch. A true blend of simplicity, good taste and discretion that is very seductive, especially since I have always appreciated the elegance of MartinLogan’s electrostatic panels, which I congratulate because I find the company to be among the most dedicated to aesthetics that I have come across.
The rear is just as attractive with its flared vent tube at the inlet and outlet at the bottom of the enclosures, and the well thought-out MartinLogan’s own double terminal block, offering an offset between the low and high frequency terminals, designed to facilitate fork connections (spades) if you opt for dual wiring. By pressing on the treble part, a simple nameplate will inform us about the model with its AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter and the Chinese origin of the construction.
And let’s talk about this construction that impresses as soon as you look at it. The Motion 40i is a three-way, four-speaker design with bass reflex tuning. Once the grilles are removed, the transducers appear on the baffle, or at least, what appears are black satin counter flashes that hide the mounting screws of all the transducers. The only visible screws will be used to hold the grids where the magnets are located. The two identical 17 cm (6.5”) drivers responsible for low frequencies up to 500 Hz occupy the entire volume, taking advantage of the non-parallel shape of the top wall of the cabinets. The midrange transducer, from 400 Hz to 2,200 Hz, has its own enclosed cabinet inside the main volume, making it completely independent of the load volume of the bass transducers. This box is in the shape of a warhead to avoid, once again, standing waves. Then comes the treble part with the judicious use of a tweeter from the family of pleated diaphragm ribbons which will act for the remaining frequencies, i.e. from 2,200 Hz to 25,000 Hz.
All transducers are of very good workmanship with oversized magnets and moulded polymer chassis, giving an almost flawless finish. All connections are made by high quality fast-on terminals and the filter is mounted on a printed circuit inside the cabinet, opposite the bass transducers. This filter uses numerous metal-polyester capacitors and air inductors for medium-high cells. All components are carefully selected and the overall result is flawless. The internal connecting wires are coated with foam to reduce airflow noise all around. This is a detail often found on high-end speakers and one that MartinLogan is sharing with us on this series.
Also note that the pleated ribbon tweeter is used in all Motion Series models, including the dedicated centre channel channels. This is a great proof of the manufacturer’s commitment to sound consistency. The internal damping is made with Dacron foam (a kind of synthetic cotton) placed in the upper part of the enclosures only, letting the air from the lower part act freely towards the outlet of the vent tube.
Preparation for listening
With a sensitivity of 92 dB/1 W/1 m and the possibility of using amplifiers from 20 W to 300 W, the range of combinations is wide, and that’s good. I remember MartinLogan always having a fairly high level of sensitivity when it comes to its electrostatic speakers, a sensitivity that is much higher than what we generally see with electrostatics. So, here we have a first very reasonable sensitivity agreement that is in line with the manufacturer’s desire for satisfactory performance. Then comes the second part, sound concordance, and I’m not the only one to have been convinced of the musical qualities of this prestigious brand. But then, when it comes to the beauty of the panels, when your greatest satisfaction has been electrostatics and their remarkable definition, what will be the musical pleasure with conventional electrodynamic speakers from MartinLogan?
Introduction before the music
I don’t know if it’s because the grids are perforated like the grids on MartinLogan’s electrostatic panels, before being covered with fabric, but I preferred listening on the Motion 40is with the grids installed. Once is not customary, and yet I found a better sonic fusion of all the transducers and I also noticed that the speakers were more discreet thanks to this subterfuge. I remember that for some speaker models from a famous English manufacturer—which I can’t name because I can’t remember which one—it was recommended to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to listen with the grids installed. For my listening, I chose to follow my habits and to connect with simple wiring. Positioning was made easy, as the speakers with their generous output (90 dB and more) posed no problem in my listening room. First of all, there’s a desire for musical versatility, but more so this time, with the Motion 40i model, because I like to thwart prejudices. And, unfortunately, the electrostatic panels are largely covered with them. In some cases, perhaps, since a prejudice may be based on a real observation that will be distorted later, but certainly not with regard to MartinLogan’s achievements, which have always struck me as attractively versatile. It is therefore a musically varied choice that I am going to propose to you for this sound description and, above all, to verify whether MartinLogan is indeed faithful to the sonic beauty of its electrostatic speakers.
And I dare start with vinyl. But of course! A vinyl that I particularly appreciate, by Jacques Bertin, for the warmth of his voice and the simple but very effective recording. Carnet is the title I chose first, for the magnificence of the artist’s voice and for the title. Besides, it is with this one that I chose to listen with the grids … after many comparative tests. If MartinLogan’s future customers are avid vinyl fans I must say that the pleasure is very great with what one immediately discovers there. From the very first minutes, the atmosphere promises to be warm. The sound spectrum, from low to high, seems particularly linear and well balanced. One can feel the voluntary limitation of the chosen record, which totally lets the emotion pass through the voice. Mandatory test—my room is totally dark—it’s better than closing your eyes, the artist must be particularly present between the two speakers… He is, test passed! After Carnet, Menace, for fun, and a few other vinyls of different genres. Although I’ve never had the opportunity to listen to vinyl with MartinLogan speakers, what I’m hearing now with the Motion 40is is totally enjoyable.
The comeback of vinyls has this good thing (among many other things!), it allows us to rediscover forgotten records, some great masterpieces. And Atom Heart Mother is one of those masterpieces. Listening to Pink Floyd is a bit like watching a movie without pictures. A few small present noises, a few whispers, majestic chords, a recognizable voice, everything is pleasantly transmitted with the Motion 40is. The sound scene is beautiful, well-balanced with pronounced stereophonic effects, as we liked to make—and hear—in those years. First album published by Virgin in 1973, Tubular Bells is also a masterpiece. It’s the digitalized version from 1998, and re-recorded, in 2003, that I listen to with the Motion 40is. Fabulous recordings that suggest that the MartinLogans do not falter during these difficult and complex performances. Changes of rhythm, changes of tempo, changes of instruments, everything happens without us really noticing it. The music, and all the richness of this composition by multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, marks the history of the record and is transmitted to us with aplomb.
Change of subjects, change of creators, but geniuses too, Debussy and Ravel. And for starters, Claude Debussy’s Syrinx. Flute. Not an easy execution and a test for many speakers. The flute is a bit like the piano, uncompromising if it is badly played, unbearable if it is badly broadcast. But that’s not the kind of test I want for MartinLogan’s Motion 40is. It’s more about realizing how the instruments are the right size… Try it, in some cases it’s a lot of fun! Brass, in particular, can take on a supernatural dimension! And as far as we are concerned today, this flute is very good, I would even say invigorating, because it is precise and tonic.
For Maurice Ravel, it is also a string quartet, of which the Motion 40is reveals all the majesty. The staging is coherent and we can easily imagine the instrumentalists. The pleated ribbon tweeter is not chosen in vain, because this extra definition, which brings us close to the veracity of an electrostatic panel, is very perceptible. It’s easy to forget the work of analysis and let yourself be carried away by the music played by the MartinLogan speakers.
New speakers, new concept for this manufacturer, new record and new artist… Tim Dup. With a record of which the title seems to me to be particularly well chosen, Mélancolie Heureuse, I offer you a mix of music and lyrics. All the intelligence of the words serves to delight a delicate and melancholic accompaniment. The performance is honoured by the Motion 40is which, once again, fade pleasantly in front of the music. We sense a particularly scrupulous studio work, as in the title Mourir Vieux (avec Toi), a work well dissected by the MartinLogan speakers. One listens and listens again, a sign of a beautiful sound success that nothing exaggerates.
When you’re one of the princes of electrostatics, wanting to make your mark with electrodynamic speakers is a bit like Mike Oldfield who, in the 1970s, wanted to make his mark with a composition without vocals or drums! In both cases, it’s very successful and I must admit that I didn’t expect such a great resemblance between the pleasant memories of the MartinLogan electrostatics and this pair of Motion 40is. We have a strong sense of the seriousness of the implementation and I guess it can’t have been easy. It now remains to be seen what commercially pushes MartinLogan to move into conventional electrodynamic speakers? Is it a question of seducing another clientele or recovering the one that has left? Or both? It doesn’t really matter to us why, since the result is impressive. The only thing that counts is the fulfilled wish to listen to music that convinces us and is a credit to the profession of loudspeaker manufacturing. The musical diversity that these speakers face allows me to see that what I felt a few years ago in electrostatics was very real. Talk about true versatility. For the sheer pleasure and discovery of a manufacturer that is true to itself, the Motion 40is deserves your attention. They will never disappoint acquiring music lovers sitting in the same room as these speakers.
Price: $1,349.50/each speaker
Warranty: 5 years parts and labour
Distributor: MartinLogan, Phone 785.749.0133 or in Quebec 450.510.1960,
• Jacques Bertin, Domaine de joie, Le Chant du Monde, LDX 74701
• Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd Records, PFR5
• Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells, 2003, WEA 2 60,204
• String Quartet, Ravel et Debussy, EMI Decca, 0946 3 82 231 2 2
• Tim Dup, Mélancolie Heureuse, Sony Music, 88 985 482 592
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