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Product Review

Martin Logan Electrostatic-Hybrid Cinema Center Channel Speaker
July, 2002

Joe Caraciolo

 

Specifications


Drivers:

- Two 5 1/4" Mid-Bass Cone

- One 22" x 11" Electros-static Panel

- One 1" Dome Tweeter
MFR:  50 Hz - 22 kHz
Magnetically Shielded

Size:
Weight:

MSRP: $1,295

Martin Logan, Ltd.

2000 Delaware Street

Lawrence, Kansas 66046

Phone 785.749.0133; Fax 785.749.5320

mlogan@idir.net

http://www.martinlogan.com

Introduction

For a long time, Martin Logan has been hiding in the land of obscure high-end speakers. Die-hard audiophiles always knew about Martin Logan’s quality, but to non-audiophiles, or people solely interested in home theater, ML speakers have been virtually nonexistent. For the last few years, Martin Logan has tried to change that image and make their speakers more accessible to the mainstream. This is not to say that Martin Logan has gone to mail order, or allows sales from giant electronic warehouses, or will begin marketing a bargain bin model (they haven’t, and I wouldn’t expect them to), but their speakers have appeared in very unusual places. ML speakers have been popping up in recent movies, including "Magnolia", "Loser", "The Skulls", and this year’s "Undercover Brother" in backgrounds, over shoulders, and in one case, as the focal point of a scene. One movie even showcased ML speakers hooked up to a whopping Sony boom box that you can buy at circuit city for $125 – though I certainly would not recommend that combination, especially since electrostatic speakers need lots of amplifier current.

Along with more exposure, Martin Logan has updated their home theater line to include two center channel speakers: the Theater and the Cinema. The Cinema has been around for a few years, and remains a staple in Martin Logan’s attempt at affordable home theater. Mated with a pair of Ascents, or last years Aerius Is, an ML front stage can be had for as little as $3,000. Of course this is not exactly home theater in a box price, but it is cheap for a company that regularly produces $20,000+ speakers.

Features

The Cinema center channel speaker is the most inexpensive of ML’s center speakers at just $1,295, which almost $2,000 less than the Theater speaker. It is a three way design electrostatic hybrid speaker, featuring a 22” by 7” curvilinear® electrostatic panel, 1” soft dome tweeter, and two 5.25" mid/bass drivers. It is video shielded so it can be placed on top of any television without creating distortion – although due to its size, “any television” is limited to TVs that are big enough.

Martin Logan makes a custom stand/mount that can (and should) be purchased for an additional $200, that allows the speaker to be angled or wall mounted (see photo of the Cinema sitting on my TV).

The speaker is a tough load to drive, listed at a nominal 6 Ohms, but dipping to 3.7 Ohms at 20 kHz. The best match would be a nice amplifier that can handle bursts of a 2 ohm load and constant output at 4 ohms. Something like the Sunfire Cinema Grand would be a great match, but something like the Kenwood VR-407, or the aforementioned Sony Boom box would not. Out of curiosity I hooked up this speaker and a pair of Aerius Is to a Yamaha RXV-1000 receiver and nothing exploded. The volume had to be turned way up to compensate, so I wouldn’t recommend the strain it puts on a receiver’s amps. Newer receivers like the Yamaha RX-Z1, or the Denon 5803, which are rated down to 2 ohms, might be able to handle the load. But I’d speak to a local dealer before getting too ambitious.

Description

The Cinema is probably one of the most unique center channel speakers on the market. The front electrostatic panel curves inward in a half moon shape which Martin Logan flowery calls “Curvilinear®.” Two cone mid-bass drivers sit behind metal grilles at either end of the panel, and directly in the middle, the dome tweeter sits in its own enclosure. On the back, behind one of the mid-bass drivers, is the detachable power cord, and behind the other mid-bass driver are the binding posts. I thought the speaker would look nice with a blue light shining through the panel, or one of the 6500 Kelvin lights made by CinemaQuest. But then again, people might find themselves looking at the speaker rather than the TV.

The Cinema is not bi-wireable, unlike most of Martin Logan’s other speakers, so speaker cables must be single-runs only. The binding posts themselves are Martin Logan traditions, very easy to tighten and loosen due to the large surface area. They accept spades or banana connectors, but NOT bare wire or pins. The power cord that comes with the Cinema is smaller than I would have liked – only six feet. When you figure many TVs and entertainment centers are well over five feet high, this does not leave much room for maneuvering.

The speaker is gigantic, bigger than almost any center channel I’ve ever seen (although it is dwarfed by its sibling, the Theater) measuring almost 34” wide and 8” high. The mounting bracket adds another 2” in height and possibly more, depending on the angle at which the speaker sits. Make some specific measurements before placing this on top of a TV, or nestling it in an enclosed cabinet. The size is a factor to consider: 19” TVs need not apply. The Cinema weighs in at a hefty 28 pounds, maybe too much for many TVs to handle, so be cautious. I had to mount some brackets that I purchased from Home Depot to the studs behind my TV just so the weight didn’t crush my 42” RPTV.

Sound

Be prepared for some trial and error before reaching sonic euphoria with the Cinema. Like most Electrostatic, and Electrostatic-Hybrid speakers, the room plays a big part in getting good sound. With the Cinema, the most difficult part was the up-and-down angle, since the TV dictates its room location. I first tried the speaker flat, without that stand, aiming straight out into the room. That was a mistake, as my Fiancée frequently asked me, “What did he say?”, when we were watching movies. So I attached the stand with the supplied hex screws, arbitrarily picked an angle, and put it back on the TV. It still sounded flat in the midrange, so I took it down, loosened the bracket, and tried again. After about five tries I had a breakthrough. I had bent down to pick something up off the floor when I realized the sound was perfect down there. The voices sounded like they were coming from the people on TV, and every syllable was precisely reproduced. I once more adjusted the angle so that the tweeter was aimed just slightly above my listening position and found my spot. I was so happy with the results that I would not dare loosen it again, not even to get pictures. Because Martin Logan does not include any markings on the stand, if I lose this spot it could be gone forever.

From the listening position of directly in front of the speaker, i.e., my sweet spot, imaging was dead on and the speaker itself disappeared. Voices were spoken by the images on the TV, not from on top of the TV. Left to Right pans with the Aerius Is were seamless with no noticeable drop out where one speaker stops and another takes over. I set a pretty high crossover, as the mid-bass drivers are -3 dB at 80 Hz. I found that a crossover of 100 Hz with an equalizer setting of -1 dB at 120 Hz worked well with my SVS subwoofer.

Since dialogue is the most important responsibility of a center channel, my testing consisted of dialogue-heavy DVDs like "Memento" and "Bridget Jones’s Diary", along with simple Dish Network programming. I was looking for muddied phrases and times when I could not understand what was being said, but not surprisingly, I had a hard time finding any flaws with this speaker’s performance.

The midrange was so smooth and perfectly matched to my other electrostatics from ML that I was sold after only a few hours of getting it properly set up. I am still surprised at how smooth and transparent the speaker sounds, considering it has two crossover points (at 300 Hz and 3,500 Hz) and a different driver compliment than any other Martin Logan Speaker.

The tweeter made very high frequencies sound crisp but not tizzy. When people spoke the letter “s” it did not ring out, but flowed with the rest of their sentence smoothly, like the person was there talking to me. And like all electrostatic speakers, there is no enclosure to give that claustrophobic hollowness that box speakers sometimes have. This speaker was all open and has that Martin Logan sound that has made them an audiophile super giant.

Off Axis listening was a slightly different story. Because of the inward curve of the electrostatic panel, the sound forms a sort of hourglass shape in the room, with dead spots to the far right and far left of center. Martin Logan describes this in the manual as a way to broaden the soundstage for listeners seated in front of the TV (see picture). But in a smaller room, this “hourglass” could have the effect of creating a very large void. Although this too can be cured with speaker placement, listening tests are critical to determine if the speaker is in the best possible spot.

In my room, off axis seats did exhibit some of the emptiness, sounding like the seat was in a frequency valley. I can live with that slight problem, but some other consumers might have a hard time adjusting the speaker because of it. The best solution is to buy from a dealer with a return or exchange policy so that you can be sure it fits your room. An easy cure for Martin Logan would be to curve the electrostatic panel out toward the listener. This would result in an even dispersion of sound throughout the room . . . and coincidentally, Martin Logan’s top center channel speaker, the Theater, does have the electrostatic panel curved out so as not to create this same problem.

Conclusion

I can, and will, live with the Martin Logan Cinema speaker. Its slight drawbacks of weight and that off-axis problem are detriments, but when I weighed the benefit of having a matching center channel that sounds as good as the Cinema, along with the ergonomic bliss I have when I look at the thing, my choice is easy. Even if I wasn’t a current Martin Logan speaker owner, I could see myself converting after watching a movie with this as the centerpiece.


- Joe Caraciolo -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:
Speaker Primer
Misunderstood 0.1 LFE Channel Nature of Equipment Reviews
A Big Dig into Bass Reflex What we Hear
Big Bass in Small Places High Fidelity
Equalizers Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile
 

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