MartinLogan’s Summit was among the most promising prototypes heard at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show. The culmination of engineering and design refinements developed over the manufacturer’s more than twenty years of building electrostatic/hybrid loudspeakers, it suffered several months’ delay in delivery, due to problems with suppliers. By early autumn, the Summit began shipping, replacing the Prodigy in ML’s lineup.
Just under five feet tall, just over one foot wide, and less than two feet deep, the Summit is sleek and elegant, an understated contemporized version of the many oversized loudspeakers MartinLogan has made over the years— a product evolution not unlike that of the Mercedes Benz CLK 320, a downsized car that combines sports-car styling and high-tech performance with big-car comforts. Although the Summit has a family resemblance to its predecessors, including a powered subwoofer in the base, almost everything about it is new, including the sub’s high-efficiency 200-watt modular digital amplifiers and the “Xstat” panel’s construction—in particular its “microperforated” carbonsteel stators, ultra-lightweight plasmabonded diaphragms, “ClearSpars” precision spacers, and “ultra-rigid airframes,” as explained in the owners’ manual and on MartinLogan’s Web site.
Much of the technology developed for the company’s flagship Statement loudspeaker has been adopted in the $10,000 Summit, and in its half-price sibling, the Vantage. Despite the Summit ’stat panel’s relatively small size, it actually has a radiating area larger than the Prodigy’s, thanks to the stators’ “microperf” design that exposes more of the diaphragm, a compact base that doesn’t partially block the speaker’s back wave, and frame construction that permits diaphragm movement right to the edges of the panel, according to ML assistant marketing manager Devin Zell.
Refinements also include dual “PowerForce” 10" woofers, one frontfiring, one down-firing, in sealed asymmetrical chambers in the base. Separate bass contour controls provide ±10dB of adjustment around 10Hz bands centered at 50Hz and 25Hz, points that were chosen “because that’s where most rooms have problems,” according to ML rep Pete Soderberg. In my room, with these controls in their neutral positions, bass was wooly, incoherent, and overwhelming. Trimming the 50Hz level by 5dB and boosting the 25Hz control by 2dB worked wonders. Although ML warns against bi-amping, the rear panel comes with separate inputs for the ’stat panel and the woofers. There’s also a threecolor status indicator LED, a dimmer for a cool blue light in the top of the base, and a standard IEC 15A receptacle for powering the internal electronics. (I used the stock power cords that came with the speakers and didn’t experiment with aftermarket models.) The screw-in feet are adjustable for a stable stance on uneven floors—unscrew them all the way and you’ll find spikes if you care to use them. The feet are smoothly finished, so you can scoot the Summit across a hardwood floor without causing scratches. At 75 pounds each, the Summits are easy to move but shouldn’t be lifted by their frames.
The maple-and-aluminum Summits that grace this month’s cover arrived partially broken-in, with about 75 hours playing time on them. According to Soderberg, the speakers begin to come into their own at about 100 hours, so I gave them a couple of days of continuous play at moderate-to-loud levels before taking them for a serious test drive. Their arresting looks got plenty of comments from several visiting friends and relatives during the Thanksgiving holiday. None had ever seen an electrostatic speaker, and all sat patiently through my short “Electrostatics for Dummies” presentation. Look and sound earned them high spousal approval ratings, too.
For the first few days, the Summits were hooked up to my Marantz/ Integra/Parasound Halo C2/A51 combo, the heart of a combined music and hometheater system. A typical comment from visitors was “they sound bright,” a reference to the Summit’s energetic presentation, compelling midrange, and open, effortless treble.
My standard reply is that live music is bright. Strike a cymbal with a drumstick—it has a sharp metallic ring, with fast attack and slow decay. Stand anywhere near a performing violinist, trumpeter, or sax player and then listen to how those instruments sound played back over most loudspeakers. The spinetingling shrillness and bite are almost always absent. There is serious loss of energy between the original acoustic event and the reproduced recording. Cymbals as reproduced by fabric-dome tweeters don’t usually sound sharp and metallic. They don’t ring; they splash. Loudspeaker designers often make conscious decisions to create polite, inoffensive products that can offer some plausible verisimilitude with an almost infinite variety of recordings. Others use metal-dome tweeters that induce edginess in recordings where edginess shouldn’t be. In either case an attempt has been made to balance sonic realism with marketable euphony.