Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 3 Old 09-03-15, 01:37 PM Thread Starter
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Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker Review

A few months ago, I started a thread regarding four loudspeakers and a "six month" test revolving around living with these speakers for a few months. The reason for doing this was both for fun and to hopefully put out information on speakers that many may not be able to audition for him or her self.

I purchased all the speakers as anyone reading this would, and there are no advertisers to whom I owe allegiance. This is not an attempt to "sell speakers", nor to tell anyone which speakers to buy. It's always a great idea to audition speaker's in one's own home, if possible.

There will be four dedicated threads, one for each loudspeaker pair. This thread is dedicated to the first speakers I purchased, the Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid loudspeakers. Comments and questions are welcome!

The text will be in the next two posts. Here is a picture of all four speakers in our listening room.

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post #2 of 3 Old 09-03-15, 01:39 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker Review

Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker (ESL)

Manufacturer's pricing and specifications:

MSRP: $2500 per pair

System Frequency Response: 42–22,000 Hz 3db

Dispersion: Horizontal: 30 Degrees

Vertical: 34” (86.4 cm) line source

High-Frequency Driver: XStat™ CLS™ electrostatic transducer

Panel dimensions: 34” x 8.6”(86.4 x 21.8cm)

Radiating area: 292 in2 (1884 cm2)

Sensitivity: 91 dB/2.83 volts/meter

Impedance: 6 ohms (1.6 ohms @ 20 kHz min.). Compatible with 4, 6, or 8 ohm rated amplifiers.

Crossover Frequency: 500 Hz

Woofer Type: 8” (20.3 cm) high excursion, high-rigidity paper cone with extended throw driver assembly, non-resonance
asymmetrical chamber format, bass reflex cabinet

Recommended Amplifier Power: 20–300 watts per channel

Weight: 35.5 lbs. each (16.1 kg)

Size: 52.1” h x 9” w x 16.3” d (132.3 cm h x 22.9 cm w x 41.4 d cm)


The ESLs are packaged as well as one would expect from a high end speaker. Built to protect the somewhat fragile nature of a speaker with a long, thin panel, the cardboard "spine" around the ESL panel is excellent, and the speakers survived the best UPS could throw at them without Any damage.

All one needs to do is stand the box upright (the box does tell one which is "up"), and slide the whole assembly out. At 35 pounds, this is a simple task. What is left is to take off all the packing materials and carry the speakers to their listening position.

The primary difference in hooking up the ESL's to other speakers is one must plug a small "wall wart" style plug into each speaker, and into a wall outlet. The "high frequency panel" ... or what is normally considered to be the tweeter, requires an electric charge to operate - as one would expect with this design.

Overall, the excellent packaging materials and ease of set up warrant a grade of "A".

The System and the Room:

The listening room is 44x14.5x7.5 feet with concrete walls, floor and acoustic tile ceiling. The associated equipment is a Marantz UD-5007 Universal player, a Marantz 7008 receiver and for some of the listening tests, an Axiom ADA-1000-5 power amplifier.

All listening was done with no Audyssey room correction applied, and no subwoofer in the system. The Marantz 7008 was operated in 2 channel mode for all listening. The speakers were placed appx. 4 feet from the back walls and 2 feet from the side walls.

(See next post for listening impressions)
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post #3 of 3 Old 09-03-15, 01:44 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker Review

Listening Tests and Observations:

Roger Waters "In The Flesh" SACD

This SACD has been a favorite test disc of mine for 11 years now. It's not the best sounding disc, but there is so much going on with it that I have found it a valuable tool for evaluating speakers. There are many tracks with background voices in them (particularly "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" and "Amused to Death"), and this is one of many of those tools. Compared to other speakers I have had here, the ML's are about average in terms of delineating these background voices. Average does not mean bad in this sense - it means that there were speakers which were more clear than the ML's, and others were less clear.

Macro Dynamics are less than average on the ML's with this disc set - "Money" and "Another Brick in the Wall" do not come across with a lot of impact, and these are two songs that are meant to rock, not soothe.

On the up side, Micro Dynamics are average overall - the bells in "Time" are clear and never harsh.

Sound staging is deep - during "Perfect Sense", the voice of "Hal" from "2001: Space Oddity" starts REALLY deep - well behind the performers - and then projects out into the audience. He also moves nicely from left to right as he emerges. The projection out is not as strong as the depth, but overall it gives the goose bumps one expects.

While the ML's were not a revelation with "In The Flesh", they overall are about average with my experience with this disc, and this IS a rock disc, not necessarily the typical music for which one purchases modestly price Electrostat hybrids.

Next up will be a disc from Diana Krall: "Live in Paris".

Diana Krall Live in Paris

We can start here - the ML's love jazz and orchestra. There is nothing that jumps out at one on this disc, but it does have a lot "going on" that makes it a fun listen. Krall's voice comes through the ML's with excellent clarity and a lot of that "you are there" quality. When her voice does that "appealing cracking" thing for which she is known, it's palpable. When she whispers, it's clearly audible. Instead of being a disc that jumps at you, Krall makes you want to lean into the performance, and the ML's do this quite nicely.

Stand up bass is rendered as I hear it from a love jazz band at our club ... it's fast, clean and makes you move your feet without thinking about it. I am used to this live, but most speakers don't present this well. By most, I mean speakers under $3000 per pair. The Klipsch LaScalas soar with this disc, even more so than do the ML's - but they are also $7000 per pair, and were once a class "A" Stereophile speaker (limited bass response).

The ML's strength in micro dynamics REALLY shines here - the brushes by the drummer - the background noises of the audience. All that was missing was a single malt scotch and a cigar.

The ML's have made this disc one I want to hear again - and one can't ask for much more from a speaker than that, especially for $2500.

Tony Bennett Unplugged Live:

This disc starts off with drums, piano, stand up bass, and Tony crooning. The ML's immediately deliver to one both Tony's age ... and his incredible singing voice. Yes, you hear some crackle from him that wasn't there 35 years ago, but let's challenge any singer to match how this man can still hit the notes he does in his 5th decade performing. The man was 68 when he made this disc ... impressive.

The sound mix on this disc features Tony "front and center", and the ML's put him out front, right where he belongs. On "Fly Me To The Moon", Tony walks towards the back of the stage, and the ML's deliver this space wonderfully... then he comes forward again, and one can "see him move".

"Speak Low" starts with a single person snapping fingers, and quickly goes to several, and it sounds like several distinct people snapping, with Tony's voice coming through like silk, the stand up bass crystal clear. With the ML's, one knows it's going to be a great show. You hear everything ... his draw of a breath, the air of the hall.

"I Left My Heart In San Francisco" showcases his ability to hit the notes, and again, the ML's make a palpable statement about both how great he still is, and his age... then it goes directly into "Steppin Out With My Baby", and with the ML's, it's hard to sit still. These are a really fine speaker - one might expect Electrostats to be "dry", but these are not. They are musical, toe tapping treats.

"Moonglow" with KD Lang showcases the ML's talents with male and female voices simultaneously - you can see them looking at each other smiling while singing (remember, this is an SACD, no picture) ... the ML's create this picture.

The Diana Krall DVD and this SACD will definitely be required discs for all the speakers that are auditioned, and look for some comparisons and contrasts between the speakers with both these discs.

Steely Dan 2 Against Nature:

2AN has been a staple of mine in the arena of assessing speakers for over a decade, and with good reason. Vocals are quite varied, the disc is possibly the best recording from Steely Dan, and it provides a musical test from below 20 Hz in some songs. Plus, it's a fun listen.

The ESLs showed off both their strengths and weaknesses with 2AN. The strengths are deep soundstage, excellent detail, surprisingly deep bass and tremendous presence with vocals. The weaknesses are in macro dynamics. Push them, and the ESLs will get harsh more quickly than one would expect at $2500 per pair. The good news: By the time the ESLs sounded harsh, the music was louder than most would care to listen over an extended time period.

2AN opens with "Gaslighting Abbie", then transitions into "What a Shame about Me". This transition in deep bass is remarkable. "What a Shame about Me" is one of several tracks with true "subwoofer deep bass", and the 8 inch woofer does an admirable job in delivering bass you can feel at moderate levels.

Soundstage is excellent - for example - On "Cousin Dupree", one can hear the vocals are towards the back of the stage. The one caveat on this is one must be in the "prime position" for the soundstage to work. The dispersion pattern of the ESL panel is quite different than with most loudspeakers. Simply standing up or moving two feet left/right changes the sound of the ESLs. Stay in that "sweet spot", though, keep the volume at moderate levels, and the ESLs provide a sonic treat to one's ears.

Amber Rubarth: Novocaine (Legacy Audio Disc)

Before starting this test, I had never heard of Amber Rubarth. Legacy includes this disc with each speaker purchase, so when I got the pair of Legacy Signature SE's earlier this year, listening to it was a "must". This track has become an invaluable tool in testing a speaker. Her vocals are haunting, and the recording is a gem. Each disc has its own set of challenges for a speaker, and Novocaine is no exception. The challenge here is in several of the "soaring moments" in which Amber hits both her vocals and her guitar "hard", lesser speakers will muddy her lyrics.

The ESL's love this song: As noted with other discs (Tony Bennett and Diana Krall), the ESL's love jazz and music at moderate levels. Sit in the sweet spot, and you can feel her pain. If you have not heard this song, you owe it to yourself to get it. The Acoustic Guitar, her playing it while crooning sweetly, some violin and live percussion is the whole performance.

There are a lot of speakers in the $300-$1500 per pair range at our place, and with one exception, none of those speakers was able to delineate all the lyrics in Novocaine. The ESL's did so with ease.

Supertramp: Brother, Where You Bound

This disc from the mid 80's is another great test of a loudspeaker's abilities. The title song is 18 minutes long and has everything from acoustic guitar to well preserved percussion to astounding sound effects. In the middle of the song (one must leave politics at the door and just enjoy the performance), there is a march of soldiers that starts from the right side of the soundstage, crossing in front of you, then exiting left.

As long as one is in the "sweet spot", the ESL's will present the march from outside the right wall, across the room, and exiting, just as the recording intends. Kick drum is tight and deep, and the ESLs do show some chops with a very demanding "Rock Anthem".

Other discs auditioned:

Michael Stanley: Live at Tangiers (see Tony Bennett)
Steely Dan: Aja (see 2 Against Nature)
Pink Floyd: The Wall (see Roger Waters In The Flesh)


The Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid's stated goal is a lofty one: Can a speaker bring to the listener a high end, electrostat design to the masses at an affordable price? In order to do this, some compromises had to be made. One must listen to an 8 inch woofer up to the 500 Hz crossover. One must except that this is not a speaker to "rock the house", or impress your buddies with how well they can reproduce AC DC at reference levels.

Keep the listening levels moderate, and make sure you have the "sweet spot", and the ESLs will give one a high end sound for a lot less than one would expect to pay. They also have a "cool factor" that's hard to resist. Several of my friends who have seen them in person have suggested the purchase price is worth it just on looks alone. This 52 inch tall speaker LOOKS like it should cost $10,000.

If your favorite music tends towards live, unamplified performances, the ESLs should definitely be on your audition list.

Last edited by craigsub; 09-04-15 at 01:41 PM.
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