Floor-standing Speakers

MartinLogan Ethos Hybrid Electrostatic Speakers

ARTICLE INDEX

Setup

Electrostatic speakers require external power to create the electrostatic field that excites the membrane. MartinLogan and other makers of electrostatic speakers make models that are 100% electrostatic. These speakers are usually large, expensive and do not have great bass extension. So most MartinLogan speakers have powered bass units which serve as the foundation of the loudspeaker.

Not all MartinLogan hybrids have powered subs. The sister model to the Ethos are the Theos which have passive subs and can be bi-wired or bi-amped. Getting back to the Ethos, they have high quality powered subs included that cross over at 375Hz. Because of this, there is only one set of binding posts. The posts are very easy to tighten by hand as they have wings, a sort of plastic wing nut. These are among my most favorite binding posts of all time.

The Ethos also come with two sets of adjustable floor spikes. One set has blunt, rubber tips and the other set has sharp metal tips. By sharp, I mean SHARP. Be careful. The audiophile in me loved the sharp metal spikes because they really coupled to the floor. Just please be extra careful because they're really sharp.

Probably the two biggest placement issues with electrostatic speakers would be their separation with respect to the listening position and their spacing from the front wall. The MartinLogan Ethos speakers have the Curvilinear Line Source panels which promote improved dispersion of the sound as opposed to flat panels. I did find that these speakers should not be placed nearly as far apart as conventional speakers. I usually place stereo towers about 9' or 10' apart in my room. With the Ethos, I placed them about 8' apart while the prime listening position was roughly 11' from the speakers. I also toed in the speakers in accordance with the directions provided. This meant that their central axes converged about 4' behind my head.

One should take care to place the Ethos away from the front wall. These speakers are dipoles and the rear reflections should return from the front wall with the least interaction with the boundary as possible. If the rear waves are absorbed or indiscriminately diffused, then the image can get muddied or become unfocused.

The Ethos have a sub level control that provides +/- 10 db contour control below 100 Hz. I left this on flat the whole time as I was able to get smooth bass response by simply tweaking the speakers' positions. It is a nice touch, though for those whose rooms are a bigger challenge. And the large knob has a wide range of control, a precise feel and has ½ db graduations. Most Ethos owners would probably have their dealer set this control after break-in.

One knock on electrostatic speakers is that they have a narrow sweet spot. This is true, but I found the Ethos no better or worse than most of the dynamic towers I have reviewed. Their panels are tall, narrow and curved. If I sat anywhere between the speakers, the soundstage was just fine. If you sit right in front of or beyond the outer edge of one of the speakers, then the sound will tend to collapse into the speaker that is closest to you. This happens with conventional speakers too.

The Ethos speakers, like all MartinLogan speakers, make a strong visual statement in the room. They always generated lots of interesting comments from our guests. One of our friends thinks that MartinLogan ought to make the panels light up (cringe). I guess she thinks the lights could change colors to the music too, sort of like the visualizations on your PC's media player (double cringe). I even had other people say that the Ethos speakers were symbolic of a particular masculine object (sigh).

My opinion? I love the look of them. They are high tech and transparent. The transparent look matches up with their transparent sound. I also like the real wood finish on the sub modules. This is high grade cabinetry. And the AirFrames do not overlap the sub modules as seen in some other MarinLogan models. The Ethos have a cleaner look.