Marten Django XL loudspeaker
If it's rare to go to an audio show and hear most of a company's products set up properly in multiple rooms, it's rarer still to hear those products also sounding terrific in each and every room. Such was my introduction to Marten's loudspeakers at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. In each of the systems in which the Swedish company's speakers were set up, and no matter what gear was upstream of them, I heard distinctly neutral, open, musical sound. After having the very same experience with Marten's speakers at the 2011 CES, I concluded that they must know what they're doing, and that their speakers are the real deal. I wanted to review some.
However, most of the speakers in Marten's Heritage and Coltrane lines are quite pricey, and the other models trade off bass extension for lower prices. Though I believe I have the ears to appreciate speakers that cost $50,000/pair, I'm not sure I have the means to properly contextualize such costly gear for a review. Maybe, someday, I'll feel more comfortable recommending such high-ticket gear; for now, I'm not sure I can comment on the value of anything costing much more than $20,000.
But when I heard that Marten was about to release the Django XL, a full-range floorstander that uses the same midrange driver as their more expensive models but costs $15,000/pair, I knew I wanted to review them. I contacted Dan Meinwald of E.A.R. USA, Marten's North American distributor, and was able to get the very pair that had impressed John Atkinson and others at CES 2012.
On the face of it, the Django XL is a straightforward three-way loudspeaker. On top is a ceramic tweeter, designed to Marten's specifications by German driver maker Accuton (known as Thiel and Partners outside the US), that's similar to the diamond tweeter used in Marten's top line of Coltrane models. The ceramic midrange driver, also made by Accuton, is found in Marten's Heritage line. New with the Django are its three aluminum-cone woofers, made for Marten by SEAS. These are reflex loaded, with two ports that fire down through the speaker's base. The cabinet, made of 25mm-thick MDF, is an oblique rectangular prism; the driver-bearing front baffle gently slopes up and away from the listener. All edges are nicely rounded, to reduce diffraction and to soften the Django's appearance. Although a large loudspeaker, the Django's elegant proportions make it seem far smaller.
The Django is available in Piano Black gloss (as were my review samples), or Silver Grey. As I've said before, I'm no big fan of piano-black speakers. But while I prefer the Marten Coltrane's woody surfboard looks to the Django's Darth Vader vibe, the latter's fit'n'finish was superbif you like your speakers in black-gloss lacquer, you'll love the Django's looks. Even if you don't, they could get you to lay your prejudice aside, as I did mine.
Each driver is protected by a robust black metal cage. Accuton's ceramic drivers are notoriously fragile; the cages should keep any wayward fingers or paws off the delicate cones without adding any deleterious comb filtering to the sound. However, the cages look a bit brutal, reminding me of the chicken wire that separates the Blues Brothers from their angry audience as they sing the Rawhide theme. I got used to the cages, but perhaps Marten can come up with a more elegant solution for the Django's next edition.
The Django XL meets the floor via metal outriggers that widen its stance to increase its stability. The outriggers' four adjustable cone feet allow for easy leveling of the speaker. I'm a big fan of using spikes with speakers that sit on carpets; the Django's thick, blunt cones would likely leave it slightly floating above the floor. This wasn't a problem in my studio, where the Djangos sat directly on the concrete floor in front of my area rug, but if you have thick, shaggy carpet and like to spike your speakers, you might want to try another type of foot on the Django's outrigger.
On the rear panel is a single pair of WBT binding posts, and a knob for the Django's three-position bass-level control, which offers uncalibrated settings from "" to "+." The Django's claimed sensitivity is 89dB and its nominal impedance is 6 ohms; the internal wiring is by Jorma Design.
Djialing in the Djangos
Setting up and positioning the Django XLs was easier than with any other speaker I've had. I first attached the outrigger and cone feet to each speaker using a supplied Allen wrench surprisingly similar to the one included with every piece of IKEA furniture I've assembledSweden's streets must be choked with these things. I placed the Djangos in the spots normally occupied by my Revel Performa F30s, toed in so that their drivers were aimed directly at my ears. Then I hooked them up to my Rogue M-180 monoblocks (with KT120 tubes) with Kimber Kable BiFocal X speaker cables doubled up at the speaker terminals, and had a listen. From what I heard from the Djangos straight out of the box, it was clear we were in for some good times together.
However, in ensuing weeks I experimented with placement and toe-in. Typically, I prefer speakers not to be toed in directly to the listening position but arranged so that their tweeter axes converge at a point some distance behind my head. That way, I hear greater stereo separation and better front-to-back layering.
As I adjust the speakers' angles, I listen for a few specific things. First, I want to make sure that a gentler toe-in actually does improve the stereo image: Does the image widen, deepen, and give more separation between images, or does it diffuse and confuse the soundstage? Second, does it deleteriously affect the speakers' voicing and balance? The dispersion pattern of each speaker is different at every frequency, and adjustments of toe-in angle can dramatically change the voicing of the speaker, especially at and around the crossover frequency(ies). Third, I weigh the benefits and costs: balancing the possible greater immersion in the soundstage that less toe-in can provide, while maintaining precise imaging and ensuring that there's no hole in the middle of the stereo image.
As I played with their toe-in, the Django XLs proved to be textbook examples of why I do all this. As I reduced their toe-in angle, the Djangos' stereo image did indeed seem to widen, with more separation, to provide a more immersive soundstage than when the drivers were pointed straight at my ears. However, there were tiny losses of inner detail, immediacy, and transient snap, which I had to balance with the improvements in stereo imaging. I ended up with the Djangos toed out about 10° past pointing straight at my headI could just see the inner sidewall of each cabinet. The results were a very wide, deep, precisely defined soundstage, stable center imaging (as confirmed by playing the "Dual-Mono Pink Noise" track on JA's Editor's Choice CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), and excellent tonal balance from the midrange up. Throughout this process the tonal balance remained very constant, indicating that Django had nice, wide, even dispersion.
Finding the best spots in my room for the Django XLs was also relatively easy. As I settled on spots only an inch or so from where my Revel F30s give me the best bass, the Audio Research Reference 150 stereo amplifier arrived. This amp took the performance of the Martens to levels I hadn't thought possible.
Rereading my rave review of the Ref150 in the July 2012 issue, I'm now not sure I gushed quite hard enough for how good this game-changing amplifier is. Y'all need to own one, or at least hear one! With the ARC and the Rogues, the Djangos exhibited a wonderfully full, textured midbass and great low-bass extension, but also sounded slightly loose in the 5060Hz range. Part of this sound can be attributed to my room, part to the Ref150, and part to the DjangosI don't think any single element of the combination was at fault for this minor problem, but together they added up to a sound just shy of neutral that no amount of repositioning could make entirely neutral.