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MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL Speaker Review Discussion Thread
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=19938[/img]




MartinLogan Website
EM-ESL MSRP: $2,195 Pair
Available at your Authorized
MartinLogan Dealer



by Wayne Myers

Introduction

The MartinLogan Electromotion ESL (EM-ESL) is the company's entry-level hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker. The EM-ESL and its big brother, the Montis, are the first electrostatic speakers I have reviewed or spent much time with. While I received the EM-ESL first, I had the opportunity to spend time with Sonnie Parker's new Montis speakers back in January, and completed that review first. I will reference that review from time to time, having covered a lot of detail about the technology and MartinLogan's design approaches and general product characteristics there.

Martin Logan has been making electrostatic speakers since the early 1980's. Current models make use of a curved electrostatic panel, which has a wider horizontal radiation pattern than a typical flat-panel speaker. They also stick to the hybrid design principle for all but their largest model, that approach being the best for low-distortion performance. In the hybrid design approach, a conventional cone woofer provides low-frequency coverage.

And low distortion is what I was looking forward to hearing, along with the coherence of a single driver for the entire mid- and high-frequency range. In many ways, the MartinLogan design for hybrid electrostatic speakers seems to me to be an idealized approach for high-fidelity speaker design. My experiences with the ESL and the bigger Montis have been both a delight and an education, and while they have at times been exasperatingly demanding in their placement requirements, the sonic qualities day they have delivered have been among the best I have witnessed.

Read the full MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL Speaker Review.
 

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Wayne, I cannot imagine the trouble you went through to test and listen that extensively and I Thank You for doing so. I look forward to your further thoughts on placement and toe in etc.

Like you, i enjoy mine very much and have achieved some good results and some not so good results based upon room and placement therein. I did find that even in a very large room with a cathedral ceiling, the speakers were able to produce sounds and listening levels that were great. Although putting them too close to the wall behind them created way too much bass. I also found that the better the equipment, the better the sound, these speakers are not embarrassed by very high quality front ends.

I really agree with your review and found only one weakness that maybe should not be called a weakness as if one did not hear it another way, one would not know it was missing. That weakness for me was in the last bit of dynamics that bring music from the sound of a recording to the sound of live. Hard to describe really but once experienced, it cannot be forgotten.

Lastly, i have carpets in my rooms and felt that by placing the speakers atop a flat board that is spiked to the floor, the bottom end got just a bit tighter and snappier. I would not use this trick on hard wood floors as it would do no good, but somehow and i don't understand it, the bottom firing port seems to be less chunky when it fires on to a hard surface.
 

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Very nicely done as usual! I was looking at these speakers when they first came out back in late 2012 early 2013. No real reviews on them at the time and it was really hard to determine how well they sounded in the room they were in. I went a different route and am very satisfied with my setup but after your review I wonder if I short changed the ESL's when I first heard them. Of course setup seems to be very critical with these type of speakers and so may not be for everyone. Thanks again for the great review!
 

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Savjac: I will try the board idea. Thanks for the tip!
Good, I left the rubber covers over spikes on the bottom of the speakers in place and then put some spikes in a flat 1" by a bit larger than the speaker base. That way for me, I could dial in the speaker toe in etc while the board remains solid to the floor. Once I got the angles in place, I marked the top of the board and took the rubber covers off the speaker spikes and let them set down, they are kind of light and I think they may not connect solidly to the floor under my carpet and pad.

I look forward to your thoughts on what you hear or don't and I hope its not all in my mind :coocoo:

Second, if you thing those babies have a good sound space and delineation of instruments/vocals within that space, you should listen to your music via a good tube amp, zowie, those images are fleshed out better and there is a bit of meat on the bones of performers doing fine vocals.

Ps: I forgot, I owe you something, I will get them boxed up right away, I totally spaced. :sad:
 

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Just saw that this review is posted, and I just had to jump on here and say :yay: Been waiting for a long time for this one.

Okay, now I'm going to go read it and I'll come back later.
 

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Awesome review again Wayne. As usual, your very in-depth treatment is worth the wait.

I had asked Wayne a while ago to show us off-axis response since, if I were to use a pair of these speakers, I would be positioning a third one behind an acoustically transparent screen for the center channel in multichannel movie soundtracks and concerts. My concern was how narrow the dispersion was and whether it would be able to accommodate four or five people seated in one row (about 25 degrees off-axis on either side) without significant high frequency roll-off.

Looks like I'd be pretty okay to at least 15 degrees, but there is significant attenuation when 30 degrees off-axis. I do like a crisp sound and wouldn't want to lose that. On the other hand, Wayne also said he liked 30 degrees for soundstaging and that was about the limit for this on movies.

I suppose, though, to maintain a consistent tone across the front sound stage, if you are at zero degrees to the center speaker, you wouldn't want to be more than 15 degrees off-axis to the left and right speakers. I'm speaking in the interest of the primary listening position for this. On the other hand, it looks like the tonality can be significant affected by tilting the speaker up and down, so being 30 degrees off-axis to the left and right channels can be somewhat compensated for by changing the vertical angle too. Nice flexibility IMO.

I'm not against EQ to lift the highs a bit, but it just requires planning and might affect my choice of AVR/pre-pro and EQ scheme. I've contemplated everything from an Anthem AVR (ARC) to manual EQ in the Emotiva UMC200, or building an HTPC and running everything through that, using JRiver's manual EQ or even Dirac Live. So many choices.

Wayne, it's fun to read as you wax poetic about sound stage. I don't even know for sure myself whether I would place such high priority on it as you do, or if I will be more focused on tonality or whatever else. But I can say for sure that I will not be buying a new set of speakers until I get my hands on these and try to duplicate what you've been able to create. And then I will know better what my priorities are. Before the Montis review I had not really considered an ESL, due to some preconceived notions including output capability and difficulty in set up. But now this speaker is definitely on my short list.

Thanks again, Wayne, for a thorough review! :T

Edit: I should mention that this acoustically transparent screen would be 2.5 - 3 feet away from the front wall, so I will have some space between the wall and the speakers. And I am willing to move the left and right speakers to the most optimal positions when engaging in stereo listening.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Looks like I'd be pretty okay to at least 15 degrees, but there is significant attenuation when 30 degrees off-axis. I do like a crisp sound and wouldn't want to lose that. On the other hand, Wayne also said he liked 30 degrees for soundstaging and that was about the limit for this on movies.
I would call 15 degrees the limit for music, you can hear the change beyond that fairly rapidly. For movies, 30 degrees sounded fine to me.

I suppose, though, to maintain a consistent tone across the front sound stage, if you are at zero degrees to the center speaker, you wouldn't want to be more than 15 degrees off-axis to the left and right speakers. I'm speaking in the interest of the primary listening position for this.
For music, I agree. You are being super kind to your fellow listeners, probably not nearly as discriminating as you are.

On the other hand, it looks like the tonality can be significant affected by tilting the speaker up and down, so being 30 degrees off-axis to the left and right channels can be somewhat compensated for by changing the vertical angle too. Nice flexibility IMO.
Pitch and roll strongly affect imaging, be careful there.

Edit: I should mention that this acoustically transparent screen would be 2.5 - 3 feet away from the front wall, so I will have some space between the wall and the speakers. And I am willing to move the left and right speakers to the most optimal positions when engaging in stereo listening.
Moving them around will depend on how critical the placement of your chosen setup priority. For multiple listeners, soundstage will probably not be top priority, so it might be practical.
 

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^^

Wayne, will you please clarify your comment about pitch and roll, as mentioned in the "Ultimate Soundstage Tuning" section? I am interpreting it as is shown here. and assuming that the nose of the plane is pointing directly at the listening position equates to a line perpendicular to the panel running through the listening position. So changing the yaw of the speaker is changing toe-in angle, for example.

I interpret from your comments that you played around with roll (ie with the panel's long axis not perpendicular to the floor), which surprises me so I thought perhaps I am not interpreting this the same way you are.

My idea of changing the pitch of the speaker was that if I was sitting in the PLP and was 30 degrees off-axis to the left and right speakers, and the center speaker (at 0 degrees) sounded bright in comparison, I could tilt (or change the pitch of) the center channel to "turn its highs down" a bit and make them closer to timbre matched at the PLP. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I probably would just keep the left and right channels at 15 degrees for cinema, making this a moot point.

Also, for stereo listening I'm nearly always alone. Stereo listening is a bit of a solitary adventure, almost by necessity. The position of the left and right speakers in a cinema setting carries constraints that will likely make it less than ideal for soundstage and imaging (at least in my smallish room). In my setup, for example, I would probably have only 2.5 feet between the speakers and the front wall, and the speakers would be either behind the AT screen or immediately to the sides of the screen. So for stereo listening, I would try to find the best position, and then move the speakers back and forth depending on what I am doing.

See, you're not as crazy as you think . . . well, maybe you are but you're not alone. :D This hobby seems to foster obsession and related disorders!

I only care about others' experience when there's a movie playing, and hope to be able to achieve an experience that is similar for everyone that is located inside the left and right boundaries of the screen. In my case, that would mean no one is more than 25 degrees off-axis from the center channel. Maybe only 20 degrees most of the time, and we will not worry too much about that guy at 20 degrees :whistling:
 

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Wayne, will you please clarify your comment about pitch and roll, as mentioned in the "Ultimate Soundstage Tuning" section? I am interpreting it as is shown here. and assuming that the nose of the plane is pointing directly at the listening position equates to a line perpendicular to the panel running through the listening position. So changing the yaw of the speaker is changing toe-in angle, for example.
Yes, that is correct. I should have been more specific. The linked illustration and your description show exactly what I meant.

I interpret from your comments that you played around with roll (ie with the panel's long axis not perpendicular to the floor), which surprises me so I thought perhaps I am not interpreting this the same way you are.
I did not "play around" with the "roll." Rather, my carpeted basement floor has some slightly uneven areas, which include around the spots where both ESL speakers sit. At one point in the experiments, the imaging became very soft, and I eventually realized that the ESL position relative to that floor unevenness had the "roll" slightly off-vertical. I used a level across the top of the panel (be sure it is exactly straight across) to adjust the "roll" back to perfectly vertical, and the image clarity improved dramatically. I was surprised at how sensitive the image clarity was to this slight error.

So it is not a variable to play with, but rather a potential pitfall which must be watched closely. Precisely zero "roll" is the only acceptable orientation.

My idea of changing the pitch of the speaker was that if I was sitting in the PLP and was 30 degrees off-axis to the left and right speakers, and the center speaker (at 0 degrees) sounded bright in comparison, I could tilt (or change the pitch of) the center channel to "turn its highs down" a bit and make them closer to timbre matched at the PLP. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I probably would just keep the left and right channels at 15 degrees for cinema, making this a moot point.
The "pitch" also has to be just right, although the actual value can be different for the two speakers (couldn't just ONE little thing be simple?????). With a mirror taped to the wall and a laser distance finder reflecting from LP to mirror to ESL and back to mirror and LP again, one can determine (with some experimenting with the mirror location on the wall) right where the main reflection points are for the rear waves. Upon trying this, it became clear that my wall was not perfectly flat, and that the reflection points differed in height on the wall by several inches. The best image clarity was achieved by adjusting relative pitch so that the rear waves were coming from the same heights of the two speakers. When you look at the distances and angles, you can see that adjusting "pitch" affects the point of origin for the rear wave more than it does the front (there, ONE factor that makes setup a LITTLE bit simpler), so the "pitch" will be adjusted initially for the proper rear-wave path from panel to LP, then fine-tuned by ear for image clarity later on. This adjustment also was quite sensitive. I resorted for convenience to propping the back of one ESL with paperback books just so I could vary the "pitch" quickly, and found that the difference of thickness of a few pages there could affect the image clarity noticeably, from "pretty good but sounds a little bit strained" to "totally natural and relaxed."

It will depend on what qualities you prioritize. Your statement above is essentially correct, but if imaging is a priority you will have little leeway in playing with "pitch." For frequency response matching, you might be able to vary it more, but that is essentially what was being done to adjust imaging, so I am not sure now much you can vary it in practicality.

Also, for stereo listening I'm nearly always alone. Stereo listening is a bit of a solitary adventure, almost by necessity. The position of the left and right speakers in a cinema setting carries constraints that will likely make it less than ideal for soundstage and imaging (at least in my smallish room). In my setup, for example, I would probably have only 2.5 feet between the speakers and the front wall, and the speakers would be either behind the AT screen or immediately to the sides of the screen. So for stereo listening, I would try to find the best position, and then move the speakers back and forth depending on what I am doing.
Sonnie has done this successfully. Taped targets on the floor plus precise laser distance meter measurements and laser-guided angle adjustments can give pretty satisfying results. The ultimate soundstage results require that measurements get mighty close, though. I adjusted for impulse delay matching front and rear, as shown, which gets down to 1/10th inch distances and fraction of-degree-angles. As mentioned, however, it did turn out that using the "thickening" slats on the wall allowed that precision requirement to be relaxed a bit, so movement back & forth with a few minutes allowed for positional fine tuning might work.

The soundstage without the slats and with precision delay matching is remarkable, but adding those thickening slats makes the depth acuity and density cine alive.

See, you're not as crazy as you think . . . well, maybe you are but you're not alone. :D This hobby seems to foster obsession and related disorders!
Yeah, if one has the slightest OCD tendency, this hobby will really get under his skin (scratch, scratch).

I only care about others' experience when there's a movie playing, and hope to be able to achieve an experience that is similar for everyone that is located inside the left and right boundaries of the screen. In my case, that would mean no one is more than 25 degrees off-axis from the center channel. Maybe only 20 degrees most of the time, and we will not worry too much about that guy at 20 degrees :whistling:
I think you will be very satisfied with those criteria.
 

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The "pitch" also has to be just right, although the actual value can be different for the two speakers (couldn't just ONE little thing be simple?????). With a mirror taped to the wall and a laser distance finder reflecting from LP to mirror to ESL and back to mirror and LP again, one can determine (with some experimenting with the mirror location on the wall) right where the main reflection points are for the rear waves. Upon trying this, it became clear that my wall was not perfectly flat, and that the reflection points differed in height on the wall by several inches. The best image clarity was achieved by adjusting relative pitch so that the rear waves were coming from the same heights of the two speakers. When you look at the distances and angles, you can see that adjusting "pitch" affects the point of origin for the rear wave more than it does the front (there, ONE factor that makes setup a LITTLE bit simpler), so the "pitch" will be adjusted initially for the proper rear-wave path from panel to LP, then fine-tuned by ear for image clarity later on. This adjustment also was quite sensitive. I resorted for convenience to propping the back of one ESL with paperback books just so I could vary the "pitch" quickly, and found that the difference of thickness of a few pages there could affect the image clarity noticeably, from "pretty good but sounds a little bit strained" to "totally natural and relaxed."

It will depend on what qualities you prioritize. Your statement above is essentially correct, but if imaging is a priority you will have little leeway in playing with "pitch." For frequency response matching, you might be able to vary it more, but that is essentially what was being done to adjust imaging, so I am not sure now much you can vary it in practicality.
Remember that part where I said you are not really crazy? I might have to take that back. :yikes: :bigsmile:

Thanks for all the clarification.
 

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Believe it or not Wayne, that is another reason I put heavy boards under the Logans and put long sharp drywall screws through the boards, that way I can spike the board to the floor, and adjust the pitch of the speaker by changing the drywall screws in the board. I start with the boards flat and add the speakers with their feet tight in. Then I can adjust the speaker and the board beneath much easier. It does raise the speaker a short but so your 31" may change but I think you will like the sound more.
 

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Nice review. I enjoy mine a lot. I should play with my room and placement a little more but I'm kinda locked in a little due to my room size and having it be a living room as well.
 

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Remember that part where I said you are not really crazy? I might have to take that back. :yikes: :bigsmile:

Thanks for all the clarification.
OK, that was a mouth full. The short answer is: adjust the speakers' pitch for best image clarity. The slightly uneven wall issue really had me thrown though until I got mirrors and lasers involved. Details!
 
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