Well, these Martin Logans are a little different, aren’t they? But Martin Logan’s reputation is built on doing things differently.
The ElectroMotion ESL X is just the latest in a long line of hybrid speaker designs from the company that combine an electrostatic panel with moving coil drivers to handle the bass. Why not just a single electrostatic panel covering the entire frequency range? On paper, a single electrostatic driver makes perfect sense in terms of technical purity and delivering sound as cohesive as possible, but there are drawbacks in terms of speaker size (it will be large) and bass response (it will be relatively limited). That’s where Martin Logan’s hybrid approach comes in.
Here, the 102 x 22cm electrostatic panel covers everything from 400Hz and above, leaving the dual 20cm bass drivers – housed in the slanted box enclosure – to handle the low end. Such a configuration allows the electrostatic panel to be slim and keeps the speaker footprint manageable while still providing good coverage of the full frequency range.
However, there are other things to consider. The electrostatic panel fires equal amounts of sound forwards and backwards, so the placement of the ESL X in the room, relative to the back wall, has a huge impact on performance, more so than conventional designs. In our 7 x 5 m test room, we have them about a meter from the back wall and at an angle to the listening position. Due to the properties of electrostatic panels, they produce very little sound laterally, so these speakers can be placed much closer to a side wall than you might expect
Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL X technical specifications
Type Hybrid electrostatic
Impedance 6 ohms (minimum 1.6 ohms at 20 kHz)
High/mid tones 102cm x 22cm electrostatic panel
Bass 2x 20cm paper cones
Crossover frequency 400 Hz
Size (hwd) 150x24x53cm
Martin Logan’s use of curved electrostatic panels improves the dispersion characteristics of the speakers, making them easier to listen to in a wider range of listening positions. The company has a setup technique where a person with a flashlight sits in the main listening position and shines the light onto the electrostatic panel. The speakers should be positioned so that the light reflecting off the diaphragm is about a third of the way in from the inner edge. This is a good starting point and further adjustments can be made from there. The ESL X has a claimed nominal impedance of 6 ohms, but that drops to 1.6 ohms at higher frequencies. This can cause some partner issues, although most good price compatible amps should be fine.
Something like Naim’s SuperNait 3 or Rega’s Aethos amps would be a good place to start, with a suitably talented source supplying the signal. We use our usual reference system of a Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer, Technics SL-1000R/Kiseki Purpleheart turntable feeding a Burmester 088/911 Mk III pre/power amp, as well as the aforementioned Naim Supernait 3 integrated amp for part of the testing process.
The ESL X sounds unusually clean and accurate when judged by conventional box speaker standards. In such a context, they excavate extraordinary fine detail through the mid to high frequencies, conveying it in a natural and unconstrained manner. These speakers are so understated about their work that it takes them a while to realize how good they are in this regard.
We listen to Orff’s Carmina Burana and hear dynamic nuances and instrumental textures that most alternatives ignore. These Martin Logans are also responsive and able to follow instrumental stands and transients with determination. Even our reference ATC SCM 50s (about double the price) sound a little unwieldy by comparison, despite having one of the best conventional midrange drive units we’ve come across. Once properly positioned, the ESL Xs deliver amazingly accurate and spacious stereo imaging. Voices and instruments are locked in place and layered with real care.
Having a single electrostatic panel to cover everything from 400Hz upwards means the ESL X avoids the integration problems of multiple drive units in this frequency range and circumvents any sonic degradation that a collaborative crossover network would invariably cause. The presentation is completely seamless in this region to the point where it’s not possible to think of highs and mids as separate entities. As a result, voices come through with exceptional clarity and nuance.
So what does adding a pair of conventional bass drivers do to this consistency? Martin Logan has been working on hybrid loudspeakers for decades and it shows. For the most part, the company has done a great job, with the bass drivers keeping their true nature well hidden. But when you look for the differences, the bass isn’t as detailed or precise as the rest of the frequency range. But we can’t fault the overall integration as the ESL X’s all sound one piece and are articulated from top to bottom.
While the bass end isn’t particularly deep, it has enough punch and attack to be satisfied, at least in small to medium-sized rooms. The overall balance of the speaker is a little on the lighter side, with the ESL X lacking the sheer authority and tonal richness of the best of their rivals, but not so much that it’s a big deal.
We switch to Bruce Springsteen’s High expectations and the ESL X’s strengths continue to shine through. They communicate The Boss’s voice with all the grit and passion it demands, while maintaining a sense of composure when production closes. It’s a fast-paced and emotional presentation; one that goes straight to the heart of the music. The speaker’s lack of muscularity in the bass affects the energy levels of some tracks, particularly the gnarly version of The ghost of Tom Joadbut there’s a lot of compensation in the way these hybrids put a microscope on the shot and reveal subtleties that most rivals ignore.
It seems strange to talk about compromise when products cost so much, but the reality is that every technology has its limitations. Electrostatics do some things brilliantly, namely their low distortion, precision and clarity, but struggle to deliver the dynamic power and general muscularity of conventional cone loudspeakers. Going the hybrid route certainly helps broaden the strengths and has resulted in an excellent alternative to the established class leaders for the price. If you’re lucky enough to buy at this level, we think these speakers deserve a high spot on the shortlist.
- Sound 5
- To build 4
- Compatibility 3
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