More often than not, a high profile, high-priced and technologically advanced design is followed by simplified versions at lower prices, models that dilute the performance whilst slashing the purchase price. Not so with Marten: Their first model, the flagship Coltrane was followed by an even more ambitious project, the massive, four-cabinet Coltrane Supreme. Now comes the smaller and outwardly simpler Coltrane Suprano (although personally I think that ‘Favorite’ would have been a nicer name and maintained a greater sense of Coltrane continuity) and again, Marten have defied expectations. After all, the new model has all the outward indicators of a cost cutting, cash in design: fewer drivers, a smaller cabinet, less bandwidth. That is until you notice that the Coltrane Soprano still tips the scales at a far from inconsequential €40,000. Not much cost cut there then…
In fact, the rationale for this new Coltrane model is quite distinct and rather than offering a slice of Coltrane performance at a lower price, has more to do with delivering as much of the larger, three-way Coltrane’s performance as possible in the confines of a smaller room and a smaller cabinet.*
* Those wanting Coltrane bandwidth and dynamics in a more affordable package should look at the Bird, which while it might not seem to deliver much more on paper than the Soprano, is an easier load with a greater sense of scale and more expansive dynamics.
So, far from cutting costs, it employs the same carbon fibre/honeycomb sandwich for its boat-backed cabinet, the same stainless steel outriggers and Black Diamond Racing cones as the larger Coltrane. It also uses a diamond tweeter (in this case the new 26mm model from Jantzen), ceramic drivers for the mid and bass frequencies and a laminated MDF baffle. Indeed, in most important respects this is, quite literally, a chopped down Coltrane – and that’s no way to create a bargain, believe me. Despite the smaller size, most of the material costs are going to approach those of the larger model with only the driver complement pegged back. Meanwhile, building the beast and finishing it, packing it and guaranteeing it will also all cost pretty much the same as the larger Coltrane design. What savings there are come from the reduced driver complement and some detail changes. So why build a smaller version of the same thing, with less bandwidth to match the slightly lower price? Because it’s going to do a different job – one for a different listener with a smaller room.
As impressive as the original Coltrane is, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a large loudspeaker that, whilst it’s capable of impressive performance in smaller rooms (largely due to its tightly controlled low frequencies), really blossoms once it’s given space to breathe. That sonically unobtrusive cabinet allows the speakers to disappear whilst the driver area delivers enough bandwidth for a real sense of scale. In contrast, listen to the Coltrane Soprano and whilst it shares the same lightness of touch and precise transparency that characterizes the Marten sound, the fact that this characteristic extends much lower in the smaller cabinet makes it even more tolerant of smaller spaces and closer boundaries.
But there’s other things going on beneath that familiar exterior that bear closer examination and point quite clearly to a subtly different blend of virtues in this design, virtues that also clearly separate the Coltrane Soprano from its larger namesake.
Let’s look at the detail. As mentioned above, the boat-backed, one-piece composite cabinet with its large, downward firing reflex port closely echoes the construction of the original Coltrane. Likewise the carefully shaped and beveled front baffle is unmistakable, although in this instance it’s formed from laminated MDF (veneered or high gloss lacquered) rather than the layered, solid wood employed in the larger design. Two slabs of differing thickness are used, with a damping glue in between to create a constrained layer and a baffle 56mm thick. The stainless steel outriggers and BDR cones are for more than just leveling and stability; they also optimize the distance of the port from the floor boundary. So far so similar: the real differences lie in the driver complement and crossover configuration – and in turn, the specific strengths and weaknesses that go with them.
Rather than the three-way, twin bass driver configuration of the Coltrane, the Soprano is a straight two-way design, both of the 7” ceramic-coned bass-mid drivers working across their entire range. The two circular cutouts in their diaphragms suppress the first break-up mode, helping their midrange performance and ensuring a clean transition to the high-frequency driver. This is a new design from Jantzen and whilst it can’t boast the 100kHz extension of the Accuton design used in the larger speaker, 55kHz is far from shabby. Tying this together is a hybrid first/second order crossover consisting of just three, extremely high-quality parts and hard wired throughout with Jorma cable.