The MartinLogan / Planète Haute-Fidélité Room

(All prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated.)

I seem to hear and read less about electrostatic speakers than I used to. I know they've always been a niche within another niche—audiophile speakers—but I remember the days when a vocal segment of passionate electrostatic devotees swore by the technology and refused to settle for the boxy colorations of your typical boxy speaker. Somehow, along the way, electrostatic speakers have become less visible, in the press as well as at audio shows.

That's a shame. Because whenever I do come across a pair of well-designed electrostatics and take a moment to listen to them, I'm reminded of how wonderful it is to hear so little distortion—10 to 100 times less than that produced by a traditional speaker. There's a sense of ease, purity, and transparency to the sound that few cones-in-a-box can match.

That's the experience I had here when I heard the MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A ($21,500), fed by a 600Wpc Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier ($9500), a Stable 33.33 (that's the company name) 33.2Mk2 turntable ($11,500) with a Reed 10.5 tonearm ($4275) and a Hana SL cartridge ($1035), and a Gold Note PH-10 phono stage ($2400) with its optional external power supply, the PSU-10 ($1500). Cabling was by a brand that no longer exists, while AC power conditioning was delivered by a Saturn Audio 103C power bar ($2400).

In addition to those extraordinary levels of purity, ease, and transparency, this system delivered a huge soundstage, beautiful timbres, sparkling detail, and a sense that I was hearing the undistorted essence of music.

As I left the room, I remember thinking three things: "Man, that 33.33 turntable sure was sweet", and, "There should be more electrostatic speakers in the world", and, "I wonder if Jim would mind if I ordered fried calamari for lunch."