Floor-standing Speakers

MartinLogan Ethos Hybrid Electrostatic Speakers

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When it comes to electrostatic speakers, I have always thought that the internal drive circuitry may be a limiting factor in the reproduction chain. I've long wondered if this circuitry might color the sound and obviate the need to move up to a better amp. Boy, was I wrong.

I used no less than four different amps with the Ethos and the Ethos revealed even the most subtle differences in the sound of each amp. I started with an Integra receiver, but that left me wanting. Not enough power or current. So I pulled out a stereo Crown amp from the closet. It had much more power and much more current . . . now we were getting somewhere. Next, I tried the new Primare A30.7 Class D amp and that was better still. But, finally, I drove the Ethos with a pair of Mark Levinson No 531H monoblocks. The Levinson No 531H amps are rated at 500 watts into 4 ohms and sounded fabulous through the Ethos. These were the amps I used for most of the review.

My point is that the Ethos are plenty good enough to warrant investment in a high quality amp. I could hear the sonic signature of each amp through the Ethos. I also found that they thrived with lots of power. They never flinched even once.

MartinLogan Ethos hybrid electrostatic speakers

I am a pretty big fan of Helene Grimaud. I listened to the stereo track of the SACD Credo through the Ethos. The first half of the title track is an example of aleatoricism which is the creation of art by random chance. It is a raucous piece that can sound like a cacophony on lesser speakers but maintained a civilized panache through the Ethos. The second part of this movement contrasted the aleoric with an arrangement of a prelude by Bach. This is my favorite part.

On track 4, Allegretto, the piano solo was about as close as it gets to the sound of an actual piano in the room. Ms. Grimaud's virtuoso playing came through the Ethos with lots of air around the notes. Trills on the piano, for example, retained their full texture with ample space between each key stroke.

Track 6 was recorded live and I could hear each instrument in the orchestra, not just a mass of strings. The presentation put me at about row 25 and the Ethos played to live levels with no strain. I inexplicably thought of fractal geometry at this point. All speakers can probably be modeled by fractal geometry. It's just that the Ethos would require a much larger data set than most others.

MartinLogan Ethos hybrid electrostatic speakers

Here is a new concert Blu-ray that was recorded just this last summer. Sting Live in Berlin has Sting performing his classic songs alongside the Berlin Philharmonic. The pieces have been "re-imagined" for orchestra. The very entertaining conductor is Steven Mercurio who jumps around quite a bit. Branford Marsalis is the featured guest on a number of the tracks. All the tracks are stand outs, but I enjoyed "Roxanne", "Englishman in New York", "This Cowboy Song", "Moon over Bourbon Street" and "All Would Envy" the most. This time, I felt like I was a little closer to the stage. Maybe row fifteen. The picture quality is quite good on this disc, by the way.

I was listening in stereo mode and still enjoyed an excellent sense of arena space. The Ethos had a balanced sound with a delicate top end and a full but slightly rolled-off bass. Sting was on fire on Roxanne. He is a real pro who performs with lots of heart. Throughout this disc, the Ethos passed along the full scale and majesty of the orchestra. The soundstage was at least 3' outside the speakers. I almost fell out of my chair when Sting started playing a Theremin on "Moon over Bourbon Street". You don't see that every day!

MartinLogan Ethos hybrid electrostatic speakers

So how about a little Tenacious D, the Complete Master Works 2? This live concert Blu-ray disc is pure modern rock opera. Maybe I should have guessed that the Devil was in to speed metal. Jack Black and Kyle Gass come across so tongue in cheek that I couldn't stop asking myself, "Is this art?"

I rocked out hard to the very lifelike presentation over the Ethos. The driving bass lines were clean and powerful with excellent, forceful impact throughout the all-important power band. This disc really demonstrated the amazing transient response of the Ethos. Even though I was listening at pretty high levels, I had no discernable symptoms of fatigue at the end of the show. I gave Tenacious D and the Ethos a standing ovation!

So, how did the Ethos do on movies? I pulled out the Blu Ray of American Gangster. This Ridley Scott film is a good choice for sound system evaluation. It has lots of music, environmental sounds and special effects. It has the added benefit of being a very entertaining film to boot.

MartinLogan Ethos hybrid electrostatic speakers

My first impression was that I really like having stereo subs. The subs tend to blend and cancel much of the room interactions. While the Ethos gave it the old college try, I would recommend that you throw in a high quality sub crossed over at about 40 Hz for movies and pipe organ. That's because the Ethos, in practice, rolled off at about 35 Hz. I suggest that you consider one of MartinLogan's excellent stand-alone subs for this purpose.

I really connected to the movie's sound effects through the Ethos speakers. The effects had a highly tangible and see-through quality. Note that the Ethos do indeed require upwards of 100 hours of playing time to sound their best. Not only did the bass fill out, but the whole sound of the speakers went from wooden to liquid over this intermediary period. If you don't believe me, just check out the jungle scenes in American Gangster and then you will understand the importance of a proper break-in for audiophile speakers.