As noted, MartinLogan specifies the -3dB at 29Hz. Ladies and gentlemen, that is very low for a full-range system of any price and size, and for once I am inclined to take it at face value. Playing Volume Two of Kei Koito’s Bach organ recital [Claves] boggles the mind that such depth, resolution, and sheer power are coming out of a single 10-inch woofer. String bass from jazz ensembles has an ideal combination of definition and fullness and never sounds dry. No, the Montis doesn’t reproduce that sense of subterranean bass or the full “room sound” that a true subwoofer like the REL 528SE does (Issue 241), but that seems to me just about the only way it falls short. And you can always add a REL or one of ML’s own subwoofers for performance that I doubt any full-range speaker in a single enclosure or array would equal or surpass.
No speaker is perfect, and the Montis is no exception. That mild trough in the presence region can occasionally have the effect of making the presentation, notably of solo voices, fractionally less immediate, which a comparison to my Quad 2805s or Harbeth Monitor 30.1s readily reveals. But for my tastes this is compensated for by a midrange and lower midrange of such lifelike dimensionality that I don’t mind. I’ve called attention to the speaker’s soundstaging capabilities, than which I have heard none superior. But the soundstaging is better than the imaging as such. Owing in large part, I assume, to the curvilinear panels with their increased lateral dispersion and the fact that this also seems to affect the backwave (these being dipoles), the fabulous spatial characteristic of the Montis extracts a small price in imaging specificity. I don’t want to make too much of this. You will not hear ten-foot wide violins unless they’re recorded that way; mono images stay focused in the center; and movements within the soundstage are clearly trackable, e.g., the way the recorder advances from back to front in the left channel, crosses the room, and recedes in the right channel on The Christmas Revels. As befits its spaciousness, the Montis almost always sounds realistic. Indeed, a few days before writing this review I heard an orchestra in a moderately sized hall where I was sitting in row P, and with eyes closed it was not possible to pinpoint exactly where, say, the wind soloists were sitting, though the general vicinity was obvious to within a few feet. The point I want to make is that while the Montis is not imprecise when it comes to imaging, neither is it laser-like in its ability to resolve positional cues with a cartographer’s exactitude, the way, say, a Quad or a really good compact monitor like Harbeth 30.1 or a Magico is if you seat yourself in the middle, have all the levels correctly matched, and the recording allows for it. But never once while listening to music was I ever aware of this “deficiency”; I draw attention to it only because I know there are readers for whom this is an issue of supreme importance (as it is not for me).
The Montis, like all ML speakers, comes with an exceptionally comprehensive and instructive manual to assist even a neophyte in getting the best performance in real listening rooms. This is one manual that’s worth reading carefully and at least trying out some of what is suggested. The only caveat I have is a formula ML offers for triangulating the speaker to side, front, and listening position distances. I tried this formula, which situated the speakers fairly close to the front wall and which resulted in a closed-down presentation that robbed the sound of its life, vitality, and dimensionality. Like everyone else who manufactures planar loudspeakers, MartinLogan is, let us say, optimistic about how close you can move its speakers toward the front wall without seriously impairing performance. My advice is to keep them well out from the wall and as far as you can from the sidewalls without compromising a good stereo spread. Then pay careful attention to the manual’s advice for toe-in and you will have a presentation that just about ideally mediates imaging precision, soundstaging, and tonal balance.
Equally important to enjoying the integration between the woofer and the CLS panel that is possible with this design is the woofer-level adjustment on the back. The natural tendency of most audiophiles will be to leave the indicator at the mid or “0” position or to raise it. Go ahead and start there, but if you begin to hear the woofer as a separate contribution to the overall sound, then you almost certainly have it adjusted too high. In my room, for example, three makings below the middle position yielded both the flattest measured response and the most seamless integration.
Like any accurate speaker system, the Montis will tell you what’s ahead of it in the reproducing chain. I started with the Zesto Audio Bia, an all-tube amplifier with what I suspect may be a highish output impedance. The results were predictable. The midrange was gorgeous and anything I played was meltingly beautiful. But while the bass was strong and powerful with good definition and splendid bloom, I’d have to lie to say it had the kind of sheer force and crunch that the NAD M50 brought to the proceedings. Same with the top end: The combination of the BIA together with the ML’s own sloping response was, well— let’s just say that it was very kind to my dogs’ ears. Mine too, but at the same time I never felt that certain kinds of high percussion ever “bit” the ear in that pleasingly scintillating way that high hats, cymbals, even the highest reaches of the piano can. Switch over to the NAD and you hear what you’re missing. Mind you, I could listen to the BIA/Montis combination until the cows came home, so pleasing is it. But just know that it doesn’t allow you to hear the whole of what the Montis is capable of, which is to say that it can kick a lot more booty and more effectively with good solid-state units. In truth, I was happy with either combination, but I suspect most listeners will lean toward solid-state.
I deliberately waited until I took all my notes and virtually had the review written before I went back and read Dick Olsher’s review of the Summit X. I was pleased to discover that what we had to say tallied so closely with one another, including even our impressions of tube versus transistor amplifiers. The Montis is one of a tiny handful of the finest speakers I’ve ever been privileged to review and one of the finest I’ve ever heard regardless of design, type, complexity, or price—speaking of which, I’ve carefully withheld that piece of information until now so as to not to prejudice the snobs who let price determine how good an audio product is “allowed” to sound. The Montis costs $9995 a pair. That is not a misprint, nor am I going to condemn it further by using the “b” word—you know the one I mean, the one with seven letters ending in “n,” that is code among some audiophiles (and, alas, far too many reviewers) to mean the product they’ll settle for when they can’t afford the one they “really” want. No, as I said at the outset, this is a great speaker system. Period. Like my Quad 2805 or ESL-57 or Harbeth’s Monitor 40.1 and 30.1, the Montis is capable of doing some things I’ve never heard bettered by any speaker regardless of size, price, or design. One thing that makes it very special, however, is how dramatically lifelike it can sound because of the way it’s prioritized its sonic and musical goals in just the right order and proportions, while minimizing or eliminating inevitable compromises and trade-offs. No, I’m not about to replace my 2805—its slightly superior tonal neutrality and coherence, not to mention its vanishingly low coloration, still carry the day for me—but if I had room enough for another setup, the Montis would be on the shortest of short lists.
And let me leave you with this: A producer friend of mine who makes consistently some of the very finest recordings of classical music anywhere—a number of her recordings are used as references by reviewers on this and other high-end audio magazines—also owns Quad 2805s. When she played several of her recordings on the Montis in my listening room, she pronounced it the finest reproduction of any setup she has ever heard. No, she’s not giving up her Quads either, but she is planning to purchase a pair of the Montis. That’s a higher recommendation than anything I could write.
SPECS & PRICING
Driver compliment: 44" x 11.3" electrostatic panel, one 10" powered cone woofer
Frequency response: 29Hz-23kHz +/-3dB
Integral woofer amplifier Power: 200 watts
Recommended amplifier power: 20-500Wpc
Weight: 58 lbs. each (net)
Dimensions: 12.7" x 59.3" x 18"
Lawrence, KS 66046