MartinLogan SL3 loudspeaker Page 3

Since electrostatic drive elements must be energized, the rear panel also sports an IEC-type mains plug; this allows you to choose your preferred AC cord (the transformer is housed within the bass bin). I tried several different high-end power cords and didn't notice much, if any, difference, so I reckon you might as well use the ones that come with the speakers. On the advice of Les Edelberg, however, I plugged the speakers into an API Power Wedge 112. That lowered the noise floor, further increasing low-level detail.

The SL3 comes with two sets of feet, one with metal "glider" pads. Use these while you establish the best position in the room for the speakers—a process that will take a longer time than for most speakers. Once you've chosen the permanent placement, use the set of spikes. This isn't optional—you must spike these speakers to a solid floor. The SL3 is capable of stunning clarity and transparency; when the speaker is not as stable as you can make it, you'll lose a substantial amount of both qualities. You paid for 'em and you deserve 'em; don't throw 'em away.

Location, location, location
Get the impression that this loudspeaker requires careful setup and component matching? Good—it surely does.

While the SL3 is revealing of every link in the chain before it, it is particularly demanding of power amplifiers. I started by connecting it to Conrad-Johnson's Premier Eleven A, which had proven an ideal mate to M-L's smaller Aerius. But the Eleven amp lacked the juice to drive my room, which has 14' ceilings; the speakers played, but sounded thin and bleached. Changing over to the Premier Twelve monoblocks—at twice the power—made a tremendous improvement. I wasn't playing the speakers any louder, but they began to energize the room. The sound became more detailed, truer to timbre, and much more revealing of the recorded acoustic.

I began to move the speakers about within the room, looking for the best compromise between bass response and detail. While one has to stalk that magic spot with all loudspeakers, the process is made harder with a dipolar radiator—the unimpeded rearward radiation can smear detail if you move the speaker too close to the rear wall. Generally, you want a dipole way out in the room. And that's where the SL3s ended up in my tall, fairly lively listening room.

By pulling them so far into my room, I sacrificed most of the rear wall's bass reinforcement. The balance between bass, midrange, and treble was reasonably uniform, but I was experiencing emphasis of tones that seemed out of sync with the musical signal. I still felt that the sound was, by and large, lacking in tonal contrast—my timbral box of Crayolas was missing all the primary colors; what was left were the pastels.

I was frustrated, but I reckoned a visit from Gayle Sanders might teach me a few new setup tricks. As luck would have it, he'd already scheduled an early winter visit to our home office. Then MIT's Bruce Brisson called. Earlier in the fall I'd spent a pleasant pair of days with Bruce, Joe Abrams, and Norm Varney, all of MIT, creating a veritable forest of ASC Tube Traps throughout my listening room while I was reviewing the Wilson WATT/Puppy 5.1 speaker system.

"How's the room sounding?" Bruce inquired. (Having done all that work, I guess he felt a vested interest in it.)

"I had to take out a lot of the Studio Traps we set up, since dipolars react with the room so differently. I can't see how to utilize them in this context—in fact, I don't think they'll even work with these speakers."

"I've done a lot of work with Martin-Logan speakers and Tube Traps, and I think I could show you a trick or two. Tell me when Gayle's coming in; I want him to hear this." (See sidebar: "California Brisson and the Soundroom of Doom.")

Truth goes, when she goes best, stark naked
Once Bruce Brisson and Joe Abrams had helped me tame the wild resonances in my room, I began to hear just how special the SL3 speaker system was. While I was tremendously impressed by the original Aerius, much of its strength derived from compromises made in its frequency response—it succeeded because it didn't try to woof too low. This was definitely not true of the SL3. It may have lacked ultimate bass extension, but it went plenty deep and had a buncha buncha heft and impact. And, just as Gayle had promised, the integration of dynamic woofer and electrostatic driver was seamless, despite the relatively high (according to conventional wisdom) crossover point.