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MartinLogan Spire Hybrid Electrostatic Loudspeaker Review

By: Andrew Robinson

When it comes to electrostatic and hybrid electrostatic speakers, no one does them better than MartinLogan. For decades, MartinLogan has been at the forefront of electrostatic technology, going head to head with formidable, yet now largely defunct, competition. A few years back, MartinLogan introduced a new look and product design with their flagship Summit loudspeaker, which heralded the beginning of a new era at MartinLogan, featuring a more compact, less obtrusive cabinet with better bass response and seamless integration between the woofer(s) and ESL panel. The Summit, for lack of a better description, was an amazing loudspeaker and quickly garnered rave reviews and sold hundreds of pairs. The Summit is no longer with us, replaced, sort of, with two models: the mighty CLX and the Spire.

I raved about the new CLX in an earlier post on Home Theater Review, yet found its large stature and somewhat obscure look a bit of a hard sell for the average home theater or audio enthusiast, despite wanting a pair for myself. The Spire, like the Summit it replaces, is a more traditional MartinLogan design. In fact, is looks almost identical to the Summit, give or take a few inches in overall size. However, that is where the similarities stop. With a retail price of $8,495 per pair, the Spire is less expensive than the Summit yet, with its new CLX-influenced panel, it sounds noticeably better. The Spire is a hybrid design, unlike the CLX, with an ESL panel mated to a powered 200-watt 10-inch aluminum woofer, which gives the Spire a reported frequency response of 29-23,000 Hz. The Spire is also "tunable" via its 35Hz level control, which allows consumers to dial in the frequency responses that are most effected by room boundaries and acoustics for a more even, seamless bass response. The Spire, unlike past MartinLogan designs, is shockingly efficient, with a sensitivity of 91dB into a rather stable four-ohm load. This means you could power the Spire in a home theater-like setting with a high-powered, high-quality receiver, though separates are still recommended. The Spire can be bi-wired and can accept either spade or banana speaker cable adapters. Like MartinLogans of yore, the Spire must be plugged into a standard wall socket to power the woofer, as well as to charge the panel. The Spire comes in a variety of finishes including, but not limited to, natural cherry, dark cherry, black ash and maple. There are exotic wood options available at an extra cost, as well as custom finish options through MartinLogan's own custom shop.

High Points
• The Spire's CLX influenced panel produces some of the most accurate and natural midrange and high frequencies of any MartinLogan design to date.
• The addition of a true powered woofer makes the Spire remarkably efficient and allows for better integration between the lower frequencies and ESL panel, permitting the Spire to sound more like a full-range electrostatic than a hybrid design.
• The Spire's relatively compact size is an added bonus for the full-bodied, rich sound it produces, making the Spire ideal for medium to large venues.
• The Spire's finish is first-rate. Thie Spire is uniquely customizable in finishes never before seen on a loudspeaker, like suede or leather that seem more suited to an exotic Italian sports car than a speaker.

Low Points
• While vastly more elegant than its CLX brother, the Spire is still unique-looking among loudspeakers and requires some getting used to.
• Spires must be positioned carefully in a room to sound their best, not to mention close to an electrical outlet or two in order to generate sound at all.
• The Spire's binding posts are first-rate, yet can be difficult to tighten on larger-gauge spade lugs, due to their unique shape.

Conclusion
With a base retail price under $8,500 per pair (exotic or custom finishes drive the cost up), the Spire is a remarkable speaker, especially when you consider the costlier Summit it replaces. The Spire, save maybe the CLX, is the best-sounding loudspeaker MartinLogan has made to date and, unlike the CLX, the Spire is a speaker you're actually going to want to see in your listening room. I consider it to be a true hybrid, in that it beautifully mates form and function, making for a remarkable-sounding loudspeaker and a visual statement, which is what MartinLogan is all about.
 
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