Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X Review
Today we will talk about the full-fledged top of the ElectroMotion line – not the most compact, but still not stunning in its dimensions, like any Neolith.
The dimensions of the electrostatic emitter of the younger model are 86×22 cm, but in the ESL-X they are noticeably larger – 102×22 cm. In addition, instead of one dynamic bass radiator with a diameter of 20 cm, the more advanced model has two in a rather tricky way – we’ll talk about this separately. It turns out this “faster, higher, stronger” with a predictably better response in the low-frequency range and a more interesting middle, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we will talk about the sound separately and in detail. To begin with – as always, brief technical characteristics.
- Frequency range (± 3 dB) 44 Hz – 22 kHz
- Sensitivity 91 dB (2.83 V @ 1 m)
- Horizontal dispersion 30°
- HF+MF – emitter XStat CLS electrostatic emitter, size 102×22 cm
- Woofers 2 dynamic, ∅20.3 cm
- Crossover frequency 400 Hz
- Nominal impedance 6 ohms (compatible with 4, 6 and 8 ohm amplifiers)
- Recommended amplifier power 20-400 W
- Dimensions 150.3 x 23.8 x 52.6 cm
- Weight 23.6 kg (each)
- Information on the website of the company martinlogan.com
The main element of both the construction and design of the Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X is, of course, the translucent electrostatic emitter itself. It looks extremely impressive and unusual, and has the most direct impact on the sound. The speakers are delivered only in black, but in two design options: with a glossy piano lacquered base or a matt base. It looks strict, but very impressive – you can definitely count on the surprised exclamations of friends who first saw the columns. The drivers are slightly tilted back to help prevent unwanted floor reflections.
The Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X has a proprietary XStat transducer with an impressive 2233 cm² – 341 cm² more than just the ESL. Well, comparisons with dynamic converters are not at all appropriate here – which, in fact, is one of the features. We talked in detail about the device of this type of emitters in the already mentioned review of the younger model, we will not repeat ourselves.
Here once again we note only the curved shape of the emitters, which makes it possible to expand the directional pattern. This is one of the interesting features of Martin Logan products called CLS (Curvilinear Line Source). Thanks to it, the speakers are a little easier to place in the room, the comfortable listening area is noticeably expanding, but it still remains relatively small – more on that below.
At the bottom of the speakers is a subwoofer with two speakers housed in an asymmetric chamber to prevent unwanted resonances and the formation of standing waves inside the cabinet. Simply put, despite the considerable capabilities of the Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X to reproduce the low frequency range, their owners are unlikely to encounter boomy bass. One of the speakers is brought forward and covered with a removable grill with the manufacturer’s logo.
Removing the grille, we see a low-frequency radiator with a diameter of 20.3 cm with a paper cone impregnated with a special compound that increases the rigidity. The bass speakers are responsible for frequencies below 400 Hz, the band separation is carried out by proprietary Vojtko crossovers.
Another subwoofer is housed in a slanted rear panel and also covered with a removable fabric mesh.
The second speaker looks exactly the same as the first. Below it is a panel, which we will consider separately.
Connecting acoustics to amplifiers is possible both using clamping terminals, and using Banana or Spade connectors. By default, the terminals have jumpers that can be removed for bi-wiring or bi-amping connections. Below is a connector for complete power supplies – external power is needed for acoustics to supply voltage to the stators, which provides electrostatic interaction between them and the membrane.
The large bass reflex port is located at the bottom of the bass section. For its correct operation, it is necessary to raise the speakers high enough above the floor, therefore the legs with spikes located in the same place are relatively long. If necessary, the spikes can be closed with complete rubber caps.
The connection of the speakers, as we said above, is done using clamping terminals, as well as Banana or Spade connectors, bi-wiring or bi-amping are possible. Supports 4, 6 and 8 ohm amplifiers. Their manufacturer’s recommended wattage is from 20 to 400 watts. Frankly, the spread is too large, the lower limit causes some skepticism… But there is room for experiments, which is nice.
When placing acoustics, you need to remember about a number of specific nuances of electrostatic emitters. First, of course, about the far from the highest level of horizontal dispersion of sound. Thanks to the CLS technology (that is, the curved shape of the radiators), Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X acoustics form a more or less extended comfortable listening zone, but still it is noticeably smaller than that of acoustics with dynamic drivers.
And, secondly, we must not forget about the sound in both directions from the surface, and in antiphase. It is not worth placing the speakers very close to the wall, since theoretically sound waves can be reflected from the walls, meet at the surface of the emitter and mutually neutralize. At the same time, some owners of Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X argue that this gives an interesting and generally positive effect… In general, as always, it is worth moving the speakers, listening, moving them – the process is not fast, but interesting.
We will focus on the manufacturer’s recommendations – fortunately, they are formulated as clearly as possible. Let’s borrow an illustration from the instructions, where the preferred placement options are clearly shown.
Traditionally, when talking about passive acoustics, we list all the equipment used for listening. This time we used two devices:
- network audio player Aurender A100
- amplifier Schiit Vidar
The player is familiar to us, at one time it became the hero of a separate review. In this case, we were interested in it simply as a knowingly high-quality source with convenient control through the Aurender Conductor software, which allows us to comfortably find the desired tracks and switch between them during test listening.
But the amplifier was chosen interesting. The manufacturer classifies it as an “ultra high-end”, while it costs substantially less than its counterparts in the class. You can talk about its technical characteristics for a long time and in a separate review – probably someday we will do it.
The device is really solid: it is assembled exclusively on discrete elements, operates in class AB with current feedback, is equipped with a linear power supply and an “intelligent” microprocessor control system … The sound of the amplifier is comfortable and musical – without bright colors and conspicuous specifics. And, of course, he is quite capable of rocking the heroes of today’s test.
Sound and frequency response measurements
According to the established tradition, we will start talking about sound with subjective listening impressions, and finish with measurements and frequency response graphs. And also note that the testing was carried out in a specially prepared room – not in the place where the photographs were taken. First of all, of course, attention is drawn to the detailed and well-worked out middle – after all, these are electrostats. But at the same time it is felt that the “bass potential” of the speakers is great – two low-frequency speakers make themselves felt.
At the same time, dense bass with a good attack is organically woven into the general sound field, everything sounds very musical and “at the box office” – without audible “seams” at the crossover frequency. The sound is more likely not monitor-analytical, but comfortable and without unnecessary harshness – even biting hits on small cymbals or a snare drum are delivered delicately, without causing a single drop of irritation to the listener. At the same time, we should once again note the high level of detail, as well as correct operation at increased volume – during the tests we did not manage to notice at least minimal distortions even at a level slightly above the comfortable limit.
We started our audition with Lana del Rey’s track “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” from her new album of the same name. We have long been aware of the fact that female vocals sound especially excellent on electrostats. But in the case of the Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X, it is also framed by a very detailed sound of all the instruments. Particularly pleased with the drum solo at the end: touching a stick, bouncing, ringing strings – that’s all in its place. For a slightly more expressive presentation of female vocals, this time the German singer Alice Merton answered with her “No Roots” – the speakers predictably coped with it with a bang. And the bass introduction left no doubt that the acoustics can reproduce the low-frequency range, moreover, they do it in a volumetric manner, with a good attack.
Then we wanted something even more rhythmic and groovy, and therefore we remembered about “Sing It Back” by the group Moloko. Rather, about her remix of Borris Dlugosh, which has become popular – the original did not receive much fame at the time. And again, the impressions were the most pleasant: the bass is restrained, but very biting, while the vocals do not lose a drop in detail – it seems that Roshin Murphy is right in front of you.
Still, I wanted to squeeze the maximum out of the two bass speakers that they are capable of. To do this, we turned up the volume a little and launched the song “Return To Nowhere” by the Belgian DJ and producer Charlotte De Witt. This is a pretty “hard” techno track, largely built on the bass line. And here we got the same “blow to the chest” that we were looking for. The bass is tight, accented and at the same time with a good attack – everything we love. At the same time, very minimalistic vocals suddenly begin to sound even somehow interesting and add volume to the mix, cymbals and hats are served brightly, but without “sand” and other problems. As a result, there is a desire to listen to the composition, despite its frankly danceable character.
This time we were pleased with the male vocals by Imagine Dragons – we hadn’t heard anything from them for a long time, and by the time of testing the single “Follow You” had just arrived. “Electrostats” give a special perception of vocals and solo instruments within the mix – very elaborate, clear and transparent. On the track “Dragons” it was perfectly noticeable, but we consolidated the impression with another new single – this time “No Hole in My Head”, which celebrated the 80th anniversary of Tom Jones last year.
But these are modern tracks with extremely good mixing and mastering quality. Not all interesting music is recorded this way. Take, for example, the Sex Pistols and their “God Save The Queen” – a dirty sound, punk-led back in the mix guitar, sounding in one stream, which a listener not too loyal to punk-rock would call porridge. To admit, it can be difficult to listen to this on monitor acoustics. But ESL-X presented everything quite interestingly, emphasizing the doltish character of the track, but not overloading it with annoying details.
And, finally, the stereo effect and the so-called “virtual scene” Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X forms remarkably – if the mix allows it, you can literally point your finger at any of the instruments. We checked this on the composition “Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussorgsky. In general, the sound of a symphony orchestra is a reason to look for the correct positioning of the speakers, move around in the sound field yourself, and then correct the position of the acoustics. If you do everything right, you can almost completely feel the presence of the orchestra, highlight each part, feel the rumble of drums with your chest – everything is almost like in a concert hall. Let’s stop at this and move from subjective impressions to measurements.
We would like to draw the attention of our readers to the fact that all graphs are presented solely as illustrations – they should not be used to judge the quality of the tested acoustics. Measurement results can vary significantly depending on microphone position, sound path components used, listening room settings, and so on.
We traditionally carried out the first measurement in the near field – with the microphone positioned perpendicular to the plane of the emitter at a distance of 1 meter. The resulting graph has a couple of extremely noticeable peaks and dips that are completely invisible when listening. This tells us that we should give the “electrostats” some space and listen to them at least from a short distance. We move another meter and we get a more interesting picture corresponding to subjective experience.
As the main one, we will take the graph obtained when the microphone is placed at a distance of 2 meters, and we will conduct a small experiment: we will try to move the microphone to an ever greater angle horizontally. The difference in the graphs obtained is extremely noticeable: the supply of the mid- and high-frequency range sharply weakens right before our eyes. This demonstrates to us that the horizontal dispersion of the tested acoustics is small, so its placement should be given special attention.
Let’s take a look at the main chart separately. As we said above, the sound of the speakers is far from being “monitor” and even quite brightly colored – this is perfectly visible. In the low-frequency range, there are noticeable accents and drops, which determine the specifics of its sound, but the middle is served quite evenly – as it should be for electrostats.
Next, let’s look at the graph of the cumulative attenuation of the spectrum (aka “waterfall”), also obtained at a distance of two meters. It is clearly seen that the acoustics are not at all inclined to “hum”, a small peak is observed only in the region of 40 Hz – probably the phase inverter is tuned to this frequency.
Well, at the end, for the sake of interest, we will move to a point located at a distance of about 3 meters in the center between the columns. The graph changes, the middle becomes somewhat more uneven, a dip appears in its upper part…
This proves once again that enough time should be devoted to the placement of the acoustics and the choice of the listening point – the impressions obtained are highly dependent on the success of this event. At the same time, judging by the “waterfall”, the room with good acoustic preparation, in which the listening was carried out, did not have too much influence on the signal attenuation – a small new peak appeared only in the region of 80 Hz.
As we said earlier, almost the only disadvantage of electrostats is the price. In this case, it is even higher, although in general the ElectroMotion line is interesting precisely because it made the cost of branded speakers with electrostatic emitters at least somewhat understandable and lifting. Some Neoliths of the same Martin Logan, with whom we had a chance to talk a little later, provide absolutely incredible listening pleasure, but at the same time they cost more than 20 (!) Times more expensive. So it all depends on what and with what to compare.
We previously recommended the younger model to lovers of chamber music, jazz and vocals: its stunning detailing, “smooth” midrange delivery and well-developed “virtual stage” can give them a lot of pleasure. Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL-X can do all the same, plus tight bass with excellent attack, which allows you to fully reveal the sound of a double bass or French horn, as well as provide an effective reproduction of bass parts in dance tracks or extreme genres of guitar music. As a result, we have an extremely versatile acoustics, which, with a successful selection of the amplifier, will be able to completely cover the needs of a music lover who does not want to be isolated within the framework of any specific styles or trends.