Marten Coltrane 3 loudspeaker

Marten is a small Swedish loudspeaker manufacturer with great aspirations, some of which the company has largely met. Leif Mårten Olofsson founded Marten and designs the speakers, while brother Jörgen Olofsson runs the business as CEO—a division of creative and administrative labors similar to the working relationship between David and Norman Chesky, the founders of Chesky Records and HDtracks.

Marten's ambitious "statement" model, the Coltrane Supreme 2—a 78.8"-tall, 507-lb design that costs half a million bucks—effectively makes the point that this little company can build big. Designing and building a $500,000/pair speaker is one thing; selling it is another. But a year ago, when I met the Olofssons after hours at High End 2015, in Munich, they told me they'd sold four sets of Coltrane Supreme 2s that day. They beamed.

The feat was more remarkable to me because, earlier last year, while in Sweden for the High End Mässan (HEM) show in Stockholm, I visited Marten's offices, showroom, and listening room in Gothenburg, as well as their modestly sized assembly and packing facility a few hours' drive away—it seemed almost too small to contain a pair of Supreme 2s. Since then, the assembly facility has been moved to Gothenburg.

What most impressed me during my visit were the considerable resources that had been devoted to the construction of two well-isolated and acoustically treated listening rooms, in which Leif designs Marten products. The attractive larger room serves both as a demonstration area open to the public and as a venue for concerts. Obviously, given the names of Marten speakers—Coltrane, Miles, Django, Getz, Duke, Mingus, Monk—the brothers are big jazz fans. They also run their own record label, Marten Records.

Like many small (and some large) speaker makers, Marten outsources the manufacture of its drivers and cabinets, both produced to their specifications. But while driver manufacture is a Scandinavian specialty, Marten buys theirs from the German company Thiel & Partner GmbH, best known for their Accuton ceramic drivers, which have high ratios of stiffness to mass and are used by a number of speaker makers. Like most designers I've spoken with, Leif Olofsson made clear to me that the drivers in his speakers are not off-the-shelf types, but the results of close collaboration with Thiel & Partner.

Outside and In
I reviewed the original Coltrane in the February 2005 issue, when Marten, then just six years old, still called itself MÜrten Design. The Coltrane cost $50,000/pair, and was the company's statement product. Two generations later, the new Coltrane 3 looks very similar to the original, and still has a 4" downfiring port tuned to about 22Hz. But much else has changed, including the cabinet's size—it's bigger—all of the drivers, and the price, which has doubled, to $100,000/pair.

Back for a well-deserved encore is the Coltrane's sophisticated cabinet construction of 25mm-thick laminate: two layers of carbon fiber sandwiching a 1" Kevlar honeycomb. This is produced using a one-piece mold that bakes the laminate in a vacuum at 300° to produce a lightweight, ultra-rigid, curved enclosure with no parallel sides. This is then damped with "specially tested" bitumen asphalt, and filled with pure sheep's wool that has been washed and treated. The outer finish is seven layers of polished piano lacquer.

The new cabinet is 47.6" tall by 15.4" wide by 25" deep—about 4" taller and wider, and an inch deeper, than the original Coltrane. Four inches may not sound like much, and in some ways it doesn't look like a lot, but it is. This is a pretty big speaker. Consider that while the original Coltrane weighed 104 lbs, the Coltrane 3 is twice that: a hefty 209 lbs. But while both Coltrane's cost and weight have doubled, I really don't think Marten sells it by the pound.

The front baffle is now 68mm thick: two 30mm layers of a "specially chosen" and highly damped black "fiberboard" sandwiching a 6mm-thick aluminum plate, bonded with 1mm layers of "deadening glue." According to Marten, this construction will extinguish any and every stray driver vibration before it can reach the rest of the cabinet. (The measurements by John Atkinson that accompanied my 2005 review demonstrated the efficacy of the original Coltrane's cabinet design.)

The Coltrane 3's all-new drivers represent a major technological step forward and account for much of the increase in price. All three employ Accuton's Cell Concept technology, for which that brand claims excellent pistonic behavior, steady decay of higher-order harmonics, and identical acoustic centers for midrange drivers and tweeters.

Each Coltrane 3 contains a pair of 10" woofers, the long (±16mm) excursions of which are made possible in part by a new spider shape claimed to produce "ultra-low distortion and energy storage." The woofers' unusual looking domes are made of an ultra-stiff aluminum honeycomb sandwich: There's so much honeycombing going on here that I expected bees to fly out of the speakers' downfiring ports (rim shot).

The pure-ceramic 7" midrange driver has an underhung neodymium-magnet motor—the motor diameter is less than that of the dome—which is claimed to eliminate energy storage and reflections. Marten says that the low-loss rubber surround and thin fabric spider center the moving parts, to help produce high linearity and "the least distorted midrange on the entire market"—about 0.05% at 2.83V, and a maximum of 0.4% at 110dB.

The new 1" tweeter has an ultra-hard, well-damped dome of pure diamond with a breakup mode claimed to be "way above" the audioband. The tweeter, too, has an underhung motor, along with a double neodymium magnet and a vented aluminum voice-coil former. Marten says that this design produces high excursions, low power compression, and "ultralow" distortion: around 0.04% at 2.83V and a max of 0.4% at 110dB.

First used in the Coltrane Supreme 2, the Coltrane 3's low-loss, first-order crossover (220Hz and 3.8kHz) uses metalized polypropylene capacitors (both aluminum and silver/gold in oil) and copper-foil coils. Also the result of a collaboration with Accuton, this design, which Marten calls "minimalist," still manages to comprise 70 components. Marten says that the result is "100% time and phase coherent"—something manufacturers often claim but that JA's measurements rarely confirm.

The Coltrane 3's internal wiring is pure copper from Jorma Design. The terminals are pairs of WBT Nextgens, for biwiring or biamping. For single-wiring, Marten supplies jumpers.

Like the original Coltrane, the Coltrane 3 sits on cross members made of polished stainless steel, which in turn sit on Black Diamond Racing Cones and pucks, high enough off the floor to give the port room to breathe. (Changing that dimension by raising or lowering the threaded cones affects the speaker's bass performance.)

The Brothers Olofsson flew over from Sweden to set up the Coltrane 3s in my listening room. I think that's money well spent for a review of a $100,000/pair of speakers. While the original Coltranes were somewhat difficult to position correctly in my room, the Coltrane 3s proved much easier, probably due in part to what would prove to be the new speaker's far superior bass performance. But, like the originals, the new Coltranes ended up very close to where most speakers work best in my room, and toed in so that only their baffles were visible from my listening seat. Of course, given how much smaller the Coltrane 3s are than my reference Wilson Audio Alexandria XLFs, the Martens' greater distances from the side and front walls gave them more breathing room.

Concerned that the Black Diamond Racing Cones wouldn't couple well with my carpeted floor, Leif Olofsson said he'd send sharper spikes that would reach the concrete below. But I had no complaints whatever about the speakers' bass performance or image stability "out of the box." As we'd done with the Coltranes, we experimented with the Jorma Design speaker cables the Olofsson brothers had brought, as well as with Wireworld's Platinum Eclipse 7 and TARA Labs' Omega Evolution SP. While the Jormas had worked best with the original Coltranes, the Coltrane 3s fared better with Wireworld and TARA Labs cables—but more about that later.

The lethal spikes arrived just before Dan Meinwald of Sound Advice, Marten's US distributor, paid a visit with New York City dealer Wes Bender. We listened both ways, and all agreed that, for whatever reason or reasons, the bass was better with the original Black Diamond Racing Cones.

Any good for $100,000?
You'd better believe it. Leif Olofsson has improved the imperfectly disciplined bass and lack of consistent tunefulness that I reported in my review of the original Coltranes, which sometimes produced just bass instead of bass notes.

The Coltrane 3s, housed in an improved version of the original cabinet design and playing in the same room, produced some of the best bass I've ever heard here. Marten's specs claim a frequency response of 20Hz–60kHz, ±2dB, and I heard nothing to contradict that. Although my room is notorious for being incapable of expressing the lowest octave, the Coltrane 3 produced the deepest bass I've heard here, with the exception of the original Vandersteen Model Seven, which has a built-in powered subwoofer.

The Coltrane 3's new, long-excursion drivers delivered speed, punch, and dynamic wallop, combined with a fully expressive tunefulness that entirely avoided the overdamped "home-theater bass" that sometimes accompanies punch. Notes exploded, decayed, and disappeared without hangover. This was with the Coltrane 3's four-position bass-sensitivity switch (1dB of attenuation for each click) set to "maximum."

Bass transients were cleanly expressed, followed by well-defined textural and harmonic structures that combined to produce those real bass notes. The results were consistently believable renderings of the instruments that produced the notes. This was true throughout the bottom octaves, no matter the volume and no matter the instrument. Granted, my room is of modest size (15' wide by 22' long by 8' high—but filled with records, so it looks smaller), but I could push the Coltrane 3s to very high SPLs without them revealing even a hint of strain. Their overall tonal and textural character remained remarkably consistent.

US distributor: Sound Advice
1087 E. Ridgewood Street
Long Beach, CA 90807
(562) 422-4747

eriks's picture

Time for some bass traps Michael, and judicious application of DSP! I have a small listening room and have enough bass to pulverize kidney stones when asked for it. :) Those in room graphs are crying for TLC.