Imaging, whether you are listening just to a stereo pair of EM-ESLs or to the entire surround system, is exceptionally good, with smooth and very effective wraparound surround soundstaging on well-recorded movie soundtracks or multi-channel music material
Next, we come to the system’s other hybrids: the EM-C2 center channel and EM-FX2 surround speakers. I would say their virtues are similar, though not strictly speaking identical, to those of the EM-ESLs, though in some key respects their strengths are complementary to one another. For starters, the Folded Motion XT Heil-type tweeters are very fast and smooth sounding. If you listen very, very carefully you’ll notice that their way of handling treble textures and timbres is oh-so-close to that of the ESLs’ electrostatic panels, though their dispersion and radiation patterns are significantly different—basically because the Folded Motion XT drivers offer better horizontal and vertical dispersion and offers terrifically punchy dynamics when the need arises. If you stop to think about it, these characteristics fit really well with the workload the center channel speaker (and to a lesser extent the surround speakers) must play. The mid-bass drivers used in the EM-C2 and EM-FX2 seem to match the tonal and timbral characteristics of the EM-ESLs own dynamic mid-bass driver, so that from the midrange on down the voice-matching of the system’s speakers becomes even more consistent.
Strict purists will ask, I suppose, “Yes, but are the EM-C2 and EM-FX2 precisely voice matched with the EM-ESL?” The answer is that the match is not exact, though it comes awfully darned close—so close that I doubt most listeners could or would detect any difference at all. Bear in mind that we are making hair-splitting distinctions while discussing upper reaches of performance that many speaker systems can’t get to in the first place. Please note that, if the idea of merging speakers with electrostatic panels with speakers that use folded-motion drivers is going to keep you up nights, then MartinLogan can happily sell you center channel and surround speakers that do incorporate electrostatic drivers. The trick, however, is that making that change would add multiple thousands of dollars to the price of the system. My sense is that, for the overwhelming majority of listeners, the benefits of switching to an all-hybrid electrostatic system would be small, while the jump in price would not be—proving the innate wisdom and cost-effectiveness of the original ElectroMotion ESL “hybrid of hybrids” approach.
Finally, we come to the Dynamo 1000W subwoofer, which can give very good results provided you keep one simple rule in mind, which is this: use a relatively low crossover frequency for the subwoofer. In other words, don’t run the sub at higher frequencies than you need to. Here’s the deal: MartinLogan has spent decades figuring out ways to may dynamic woofers keep up with its lightning-fast electrostatic drivers, and they’ve leveraged what they’ve learned in all of their ElectroMotion-series speakers. The practical reality is that even very good subs (and the Dynamo 1000W is a good one) are going to have a hard time keeping up with the transient speed and definition of the ElectroMotion speakers. The solution, then, is to use the sub down at frequencies low enough that you won’t notice the inevitable speed disparities that are present. Happily, the ElectroMotion speakers invite this practice because they all offer quite good bass extension (deeper than you would expect), so that there’s really no need to bring in the sub at mid-bass frequencies. The good news is that you can get a really well-blended (and spacious) sound provided that you use the powerful Dynamo sub to fill in the bottom octave and a half for the center and surround speakers, and—where possible—use an even lower crossover frequency between the main EM-ESL speakers and the sub.
How good is the EM-ESL system really? An anecdote will help answer the question. I played the system for a high-end audiophile friend who was favorably impressed from the outset. He asked how much the system cost, and when I told him the price ($5290) he assumed—purely on the basis of sound quality—that I had provided the price for the main speakers only. When I explained the entire system could be had for the sum I had specified, my friend was simply dumfounded at the news. My point is that the ElectroMotion ESL system offers performance and value in equal abundance.