The name MartinLogan will forever be associated with high performance hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers, since this is the area where the firm has done most of its pioneering development work. But what we didn’t necessarily see coming was the firm’s new ElectroMotion ESL 5.1-channel system, which turns out to be a “hybrid of hybrids” that combines—what else?—hybrid electrostatic main speakers, center and surround speakers featuring a hybrid mix of Heil-type “Folded Motion transducers” and dynamic drivers, and a powerful conventional subwoofer. The result is a heady sonic brew that provides a blend of unexpectedly exotic driver technologies, is surprisingly affordable, and is altogether wonderful to hear in action. Let me come right out and say it: this system may well offer more serious (and I mean really serious) high-end sonic goodness per cubic dollar than any other I’ve run across thus far.
Our 5.1-channel ElectroMotion ESL review system consists of a pair MartinLogan ESL hybrid electrostatic floorstanding speakers ($2195/pair), an ElectroMotion C2 center channel speaker ($799.95/each), a pair of ElectroMotion FX2 surround-channel speakers ($649.95/each), and a 500-watt Dynamo 1000W powered subwoofer ($995). If you add up those figures you’ll discover this system sells for a total of $5290 (rounded to the nearest dollar)—certainly not an inconsequential sum, but an outright bargain when you consider the ElectroMotion ESL system can and does stand tall in the company of surround systems costing thousands more.
Veteran high-end audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts may view the preceding paragraphs with a healthy and I would say perfectly appropriate dose of skepticism, and here’s why. The honest truth is that while the concept of using hybrid technologies is appealing (the train of thought being that you would have opportunities to combine the best aspects of multiple designs), the practical reality often paints a far less rosy picture. The fact is that it is difficult to get disparate types of drivers to work and play well together, and harder still to get them to produce a truly coherent, self-consistent sound. Consider this: It has taken MartinLogan many years to perfect the art and science of marrying electrostatic panels with conventional dynamic drivers, and not all of their efforts were at first successful or sonically pleasing. Now consider that the ElectroMotion ESL faces an even tougher challenge, which is figuring out a way to blend two different kinds of hybrids in one system—a system where the hope is to get electrostatic panels, Heil-type folded motion transducers, and dynamic drivers to sing sweetly and in unison.
Is MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL system able to pull off this admittedly challenging feat? For the most part I think that it is, as I will explain in this review.
As you have gathered from my introductory comments, there are lots of technologies at work in this system, so that it’s helpful to consider the highlights that make each of the system elements special in its own right.
ElectroMotion ESL floorstanding speakers, technical highlights:
• In many respects, the ElectroMotion ESL (or EM-ESL, for short) harks back to one of the best-loved MartinLogan hybrid electrostats of all time; namely, the late, lamented Aerius i-model floorstander. The two speakers are similar in size, configuration, and overall design intent, though I would argue that the ElectroMotion ESL is the far better speaker of the two, and for essentially no increase in price (despite the many years that have elapsed since the late, great Aerius i was discontinued). The ElectroMotion ESL is, by the way, by far the least expensive hybrid electrostat that MartinLogan presently offers.
• The EM-ESL sports a large (34-inch high x 8.6-inch wide), curved, thin, see-through electrostatic panel that handles all midrange and high frequencies from about 500Hz to well beyond 22kHz. The panel requires a low-voltage outboard DC power supply (included), which is triggered by a signal-sensing circuit and that charges up the panel within two seconds of detecting an audio signal. The electrostatic panel incorporates a number of signature MartinLogan technologies developed over the years:
o CLS (curvilinear line source) technology: MartinLogan’s answer to the decades-old problem of achieve horizontal dispersion from electrostatic panels has been to develop an ingenious curved panel architecture that provides about 30 degrees of horizontal dispersion—enough to provide a relatively wide listening area, but not so much as to interact in undesirable ways with the sidewalls of rooms.