You’ve just taken your first step on the Coltrane Supreme’s learning curve. These speakers defy expectations and as such it’s easy to miss the point. By effectively disconnecting your eyes from the equation you’ve let your ears understand that what they’ve been listening too is probably the best small speaker they’ve ever heard. You’ve got that precision and pinpoint imaging, that agility and sense of transparent rightness that comes from small cabinets and simple crossovers done really well. But there are those other qualities too: the astonishing detail and resolution; the lifelike scale and perspective; the volume and dimensionality of the images; the dynamic range and immediacy.Now, these are all things that escape even the best mini-monitors, which is when it starts to dawn on you that what Marten have achieved in the Coltrane Supreme is to take the midrange performance that makes those small two-ways so appealing and extend it both up and down. But the really important point is that in doing so they don’t just open the window wider, they improve the view, too.
So, it’s not just about the resolution of detail and dynamic range, it’s about getting all that information positioned correctly in time and space. That’s where the phase coherent bandwidth of the Coltrane Supremes comes in. Not only are linear low-frequencies critical to establishing a proper sense of scale and acoustic space, they also fill out the harmonic envelope throughout the range, bring body and presence to the players and their instruments, properly proportioned depth to the soundstage and impact to dynamic shifts. The danger is in over-egging the pudding. Too much bass, or bass in the wrong place is worse than no bass at all. Take one look at those bass towers with their 12 white drivers and 4000 Watts of power and you expect to be blown into next week, let alone the next room. The beauty of the Coltrane Supremes playing something like the track I’ve just described is that with the lights out you’d have no idea they were there. Until you unhook them that is, when the soundstage and images collapse, the acoustic loses its coherence, the background chat suddenly becomes more intrusive, the interjections jar as their timing loses its sense of place in the proceedings. Townes voice becomes thinner, more nasal, and his guitar all about the strings rather than its body. Suddenly its that old familiar hi-fi sound. It’s good hi-fi, but the magic has gone. The magic is about how incredibly natural it sounds, how easy the system makes it for you to make sense of the music, the environment, what’s actually happening. Part of turning out the lights is unlearning “hi-fi”. In fact, the Coltranes have a pretty steep unlearning curve too
Lesson two on that particular curve has to do with level. When you start out, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll by playing this system way too loud. Like the Avalons, with which the Martens share certain driver technology, you need to listen in a different way. Generally, things sound “loud” when the levels of distortion start to intrude. With genuinely low distortion systems, that happens much later in the volume range. Add copious power and high efficiency into the equation and loud becomes really loud. Seriously, neighbour botheringly, can’t hear the front door loud: and I live in a detached house. Where the Supremes reach the edge is in the upper mid and lower treble, where they get hard, bright and forward. If that happens, back it way off – you’re at ear threatening volumes even if it doesn’t seem like it. And when you do back it off (c’mon, who faced with speakers like these isn’t going to crank it at least once – and soon) notice what happens to the dynamic range and impact: it doesn’t change. Do that with most speakers and your ears need time to adjust, everything sounding compressed until they do. Such is the speed of response and dynamic coherence of the Coltrane Supremes that they maintain dynamic range almost irrespective of level – meaning (somewhat disappointingly) that you don’t need to play them loud at all.
Which brings us now to the vexed question of bass. Like I said – see all those drivers, expect to be battered into submission – only it never really happens like that. Of course, reach for something like the ‘Drum Dance’ from House of Flying Daggers and you’ll have bass power, volume and impact aplenty. But even then this is a fast, transparent, textured bass rather than the room shaking, rib-rumbling thunder that people think is bass. You see, it’s that un-learning curve again – gets you every time.
Now, I can only talk about what I hear in my room, where the bass is both well behaved and on the lighter side of normal. Other rooms might well provoke the Martens to more flatulent effect, but in mine their bottom end was never less than agile, tactile and tuneful. They never managed to match the natural weighted tonality of the Isis, and for that reason, their definition of soundstage dimensions and boundaries was never as clearly defined, but I’m being real picky here. Playing upright bass from ‘50’s and ‘60’s jazz recordings, the attack, weighting and shape of notes is ghostly in its natural pace and presence, Ray Brown’s dexterity running full rein on This One’s For Blanton, where so many other speakers plod and labour. His bass lines and intricate working of rhythm and melody, accent and phrasing are negotiated with effortless articulation and unfettered poise.