MartinLogan CLS loudspeaker Page 3

Well, I have to say that although the balance was still cold, the glare had gone. Driven by the D-250, the superb stereo imagery and the totally transparent midrange allowed me to hear further into recorded balances than, with one exception (footnote 2), I have ever heard before. The SL600 that has been my reference for three years now is excellent in this area, but sounds veiled beside the CLS. The CLS's upper bass had also improved somewhat, but the relatively limited dynamic range was still a feature, orchestral music producing "cracks" with average levels over 96dB (equivalent to around 103dB peak). I can only assume that I had been unable to apply enough heat.

Somewhere, over the rainbow?
This is a hard conclusion to write. The CLS has major strengths, but also, for me, a tonal balance that favors the treble overmuch, and a limited low-frequency dynamic range. To put this into perspective, I am talking about sound levels that are probably higher than many would like, and the CLS does play louder than the Quad ESL-63. However, I think a $2500 loudspeaker should play loud; certainly it should deliver levels approaching the real for some kinds of music. The bass was better with the KSA-50 than with the 4010, but I don't feel the CLS to be a loudspeaker for solid-state amplifiers. They were at their best with the D-250, and I would think that Quicksilvers, the C-J MV50, and similar tube designs would also bring out their best.

I am tempted to say that the CLS is an ideal speaker for small-scale chamber music—the JS Bach flute sonatas CD on Harmonia Mundi sounded magic—except that when I played the old Rostropovich Brahms cello sonatas CD on DG, which has a predominance of energy in the upper bass/lower midrange, the speakers again ran out of steam if played at musically satisfying levels.

Let us assume that this is only a limitation for my pair of CLSes, which might, of course, be atypical at Santa Fe's altitude. How then would I rate them? Magically transparent; neutral through the midband; capable of throwing a superbly delineated soundstage; the CLSes still proved unsatisfying on musical terms. With speakers like the Celestion SL600s, you can invite friends round, listen to a large selection of different music, and, though the characteristics of the recordings are always clear, they do not get in the way of the musical communication. Resultant conversations amongst listeners involve matters of performance and interpretation, or even just involve people sitting, tapping their feet. With the CLSes, those conversations take on a hi-fi flavor. Is the VTA correct? I think your turntable has a trace of wow. That's the sound of 6DJ8s aging. Listen to the faders on the mixing desk move. Was that an edit? Crossed hypercardioids for sure! Surely the engineer has placed the soloist too far forward in the mix.

Amongst all these dramatically revealed trees, one loses sight of the musical forest.

This, of course, may well be a matter of my taste being out of tune with that of the MartinLogan design team, and perhaps with yours. If you feel that the CLS's positive attributes that I have described outweigh my critical feelings, try to audition the speakers with your own set-up for a weekend before committing yourself to their purchase. If you still love the things they do right on Monday morning, and can ignore the shortcomings, they will be the right speaker for you.

Footnote 2: The exception was Harry Pearson's awesome IRS system, which I experienced before the Sea Cliff fire. This system, however, does rather more than the CLS in the other areas of reproduction.—John Atkinson