MartinLogan Montis loudspeaker Page 3
In terms of bass extension, it was clear from just casual listening that the Montis didn't lack in this department; more critical listening made me realize that the Montis was even better than I'd first thought. "Temple Caves," from Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, begins with a synthesizer note that separates the men from the boys: midsize floorstanding speakers that lack the benefit of a powered sub can only vaguely indicate the note, and small stand-mounted speakers omit its fundamental frequency entirely. Through the Montises, the synthesizer note was unambiguously present in a way that shook my roomperhaps only a touch less impressively in terms of power than through the Avantgarde Uno Nano and the GoldenEar Triton Two.
The bass drum in the Kyrie of Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, conducted by José Luis Ocejo (CD, Philips 420 955-2), was reproduced with the proper weight and the requisite speed. What surprised me was the Montis's low-end extension, as indicated by the test tracks on Nordost's System Set-Up & Tuning Disc (CD, Nordost CD NOR 101). The Montis is specified as having low-end extension to 29Hz, 3dB, but this spec is evidently conservative. The output at 27Hz was about as strong as at 30 or 33Hz, and though the test tracks of 24, 21, and 18Hz showed the expected decline in response, these tones were quite clean. There was even something at 18Hzwhere the GoldenEar Triton Two, generally no slouch in bass reproduction, and specified as going down to 16Hz, had already given up. The Uno Nano's own powered sub, which has two 10" drivers in a larger enclosure than the MartinLogan's, is capable of much higher SPLs, but the Montis sub's capability proved well matched to the characteristics of the electrostatic driver.
A theory I tend to agree with is that a speaker's tonal character depends on the balance of its top and bottom ends. A speaker with extended, powerful bass must have a correspondingly extended treble response if it is not to sound dull. A speaker whose extended treble is not matched by a correspondingly extended bass will sound too bright. The Montis's impressive bass was matched by a scintillating but not overbright treble. The percussion instruments in track 3 of the Chesky Records Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test Compact Disc, Vol.1 (JD37) rang out with clarity, the cymbal having the proper shimmer and decaying very naturally.
The classic electrostatics had a reputation for sounding "polite," and were at their best with solo voice and piano, string quartets, jazz combos, etc.not symphony orchestras, big bands, or rock. If you played dynamically demanding music, you had to be careful not to turn up the level too much or the speaker would start to sound distressedand you could end up with a damaged electrostatic diaphragm.
Those criticisms didn't apply to the Montis. I'm no headbanger, but I like to play music loud on occasion, and I don't want my speakers to wimp out on me or break. And I admit that, like most audiophiles, I tend to play the system louder when I'm demonstrating it to visitors. Though not as effortless as the Avantgarde Uno Nano at high levels, the Montis rose to the challenge: As I turned up the volume, the music just got louder, with no indication of distress on the part of the speakers.
How loud was that? Sitting in the listening chair and using the sound-level meter of the Audio Tools app for the iPhone 4, I held the phone before me, set the meter at C weighting, fast response, and played "Shiny Stockings," from Clark Terry and Frank Wess's Big Band Basie (CD, Reference RR-63CD), with the volume control of the CAT SL-1 Renaissance preamp set two notches above my usual setting. The highest SPL registered for this track was 103dB. The Audio Tools instructions point out that the iPhone's built-in mike clips above 100dB, so the actual level was probably higher. This is louder than I would want to listen to for very longand I know that if I played the music at that level for visitors, they'd be asking me to turn it down.
At more moderate levels, the Montis distinguished itself by effectively communicating music's subtle ebb and flow. Track 7 of Bélanger's Là involves the interplay of cello and piano; the Montis (and the rest of the system) made it easy to follow the fine nuances of the playing of these gifted musicians.
The Montises were able to throw a soundstage that, depending on the recording, was wide, high, and deep, and a convincing impression of space. The imaging remained quite stable when I moved my head laterallya benefit of the curvilinear line-source design. Where the Montis fell behind some other speakers I've had in my system was in the ability to produce pinpoint imaging. The imaging never sounded vague; it just lacked the specificity that I've experienced with, say, the GoldenEar Triton Twos, which I reviewed in the February 2012 issue. Playing the imaging-depth test on the Chesky Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test CD, Vol.2 (Chesky JD68), with the Triton Twos I could distinguish between clicks recorded at varying distances up to 70' from the microphone, whereas with the Montises there was good differentiation up to about 50'; the clicks recorded at distances beyond that sounded pretty much the same.
How important is the pinpoint definition of images in the soundstage? Arguably, not very. If you close your eyes at a concert, you may be surprised to find that the imaging isn't all that precise, resembling more what I heard from the Montises. Other than test material, very few recordings involve a mike-to-sound-source distance greater than 50'. The fact is that every speaker design involves a series of choices, and often trade-offs. A curvilinear line source makes for a design more forgiving of speaker and listening positions, the trade-off being a slight loss of imaging specificity and less-than-perfect layering of extreme depth. Some flat-panel electrostatics, like the Innersound Eros Mk.III, reviewed by Larry Greenhill in the May 2003 issue, may produce more precise, more holographic imaging, but the cost can be a sweet spot that, per LG, "seemed only millimeters in diameter." Taken as a whole, the MartinLogan Montis must be considered an outstanding successbut if hyperprecise imaging is at the top of your list of priorities, then it may not be the speaker for you.
If ever there was a model to break down the negative stereotypes of electrostatic loudspeakers, it must be the MartinLogan Montis. With a small footprint, and taking up only a modest amount of visual space in the room, the Montis can be driven effectively by solid-state or tubed amplifier (including such modestly priced ones as PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium integrated), has very good bass extension (courtesy its hybrid design), can be played quite loudly, and doesn't require you to listen with your head locked in a virtual vise. In the right system and with the right recordings, a pair of Montises can aurally transport you to the concert hall, or the musicians to your room.
After I'd written all of this review save these final words, nearly two weeks passed without my listening to the system. Turning it on again following my musical fast, I was struck by how natural, how unhi-fi it sounded. The MartinLogan Montis really is a lovely loudspeaker: all the technology and precision that have gone into its manufacture work in the service of music. I will be sorry to have to say goodbye to the review samples.