Among the most promising new products heard at last January’s Consumer Electronics Show was MartinLogan’s new Voyage loudspeaker, which appeared to be a breakthrough in in-wall designs. I recently had the opportunity to take it and the Legacy Harmony for back-to-back test drives. The two speakers are similarly priced but the resemblance stops there. They are as different as can be while still belonging to the same genus.
As a test setup for these and several other in-walls still to be reviewed, I built a couple of freestanding bays from 2"x4" studs and half-inch sheetrock, imitating as nearly as possible the wall construction in typical American homes. Each bay measures 8' tall by 20.5" wide. For rigidity, I used double studs on all four sides of the frames, screwed them together every 12", and similarly secured sheetrock panels front and back. Twentyfour- inch horizontal supports on the bottom were fitted with screw-on plastic feet to protect our hardwood floors. To reduce boominess in the stud bays, I put a piece of fiberglass insulation in the top and bottom of each one. The internal volume of each bay is 4669 cubic inches, or 2.7 cubic feet, very much like a typical mid-sized column speaker. For testing, I used 25' runs of Red Rose 336 speaker cable to my Parasound Halo A 51 amplifier.
The MartinLogan Voyage is a threeway loudspeaker with two 8" woofers, two “advanced thin film” (ATF) electromagnetic midrange drivers, and a center-mounted ATF tweeter in an “eyeball” device that can be rotated 90 degrees and tilted 20 degrees in any direction. The Voyage can be mounted horizontally or vertically (used for left, right, or center channels) and comes with a flexible grille that slips easily into place.
The whole affair is finished in a high-tech silver gray and is designed to complement a 50"-or-larger flat-panel TV in a contemporary setting. The end caps can be removed for painting, and MartinLogan can supply grilles in many colors. This provides any number of ways to coordinate them with your wall color—matching, complementary, contrasting, or for the decoratively inventive, some bold tri-color scheme. I imagine that interior decorators will flock to this speaker because of its visual versatility. As delivered from the factory, it has a stunning high-tech look that elevates it to an architectural element— the opposite of the approach taken by most makers of in-wall speakers, who typically emphasize their products’ ability to disappear. Even without its grille, the Voyage got a big thumbs-up from my mate.
The speaker is a breeze to install: Position the mounting template on the sheetrock, cut out a rectangle, connect the speaker wires, and push the whole assembly into place. At less than 26 pounds, each Voyage is easy to handle—truly a one-man operation. Its rigid one-piece construction is ingenuity itself. Once the speaker baffle abuts the sheetrock, all you have to do is tighten the “dogs” or mounting clamps with the supplied hex tool in a cordless drill at low torque. No need to over-tighten— when the dog bottoms out, your drill will slow down and stop. The baffle seats to the sheetrock and insures a leak-free seal.
Despite a caution from one MartinLogan exec that the Voyage might sound a bit “icy” until it had a chance to break in, I thought it sounded wonderful right out of the box: exceptionally clear and open, and dynamic as hell. The eyeball tweeters let you direct high frequencies at your listening position, a feature that enables an unprecedented degree of imaging precision. I would never have believed that in-walls could deliver imaging comparable to freestanding audiophile speakers, but the MartinLogans did this easily. The top end is open and phenomenally detailed, the midrange is clear and rich, and the bass is amazingly articulate. Among the many pieces of music I enjoyed through the Voyage were Patty Smith’s excellent cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” on her two-disc compilation Land (1975- 2002), a recording with a dynamic, seductive bass line and powerful but intimate vocals. Similarly orchestrated, but with deeper bass, is “You Did” from San Francisco rocker Chuck Prophet on his CD Age of Miracles. In both cases every nuance was clear— including the microtonics of plucked bass strings. Few loudspeakers have that kind of resolving power.
I invited my friend Marc over to hear the MartinLogans—he had purchased them for the unfinished renovation of his attic—and he was amazed that the bass they were producing was all theirs. He swore that my James SG-10 subwoofer was on, and when I demonstrated that it wasn’t, he was more eager than ever to get the construction done. Were the Voyage to be installed in a 2"x6" stud bay, with shear-wall construction (sheetrock over plywood)—in other words, in a larger resonant cavity with stiffer baffles—my guess is that its bass could reach subwoofer depths unaided. As it is, the Voyage goes deeper than any in-wall I’ve ever heard, and more dynamically, too. The gentle rolloff at its bass limit (-3dB point is 40Hz, according to the manufacturer) is the lowest I’ve ever encountered in an in-wall, and one that’s perfectly respectable in most freestanding speakers. Using my 2"x4" mockups, blending in some subwoofer bass below 50Hz gave the room acoustic just the degree of low-end reinforcement it needed. With a powered sub, the MartinLogan Voyage is capable of near-world-class performance.