MartinLogan Motion 35XT Loudspeaker

Sweet and Lowdown

Equipment report
Martin Logan Motion 35XT
MartinLogan Motion 35XT Loudspeaker

I first encountered the MartinLogan Motion 35XT at the California Audio Show in San Francisco last September, and my ears perked up immediately. Even under the less than ideal show conditions, these stand-mounted compacts were engaging, rock-solid performers. So much so that I just had to see how things would shake out in my own listening room, for as every veteran audiophile can attest, sometimes first impressions stick and sometimes they don’t.

The Motion 35XT is a two-way design in a bass-reflex enclosure with a rear-firing port. It’s one of two stand-mount speaker options in ML’s Motion Series, a “mix and match” collection that also includes three XT floorstanders, a pair of center channels, plus designer FX models, ultra-slim XL models, and even a sound bar, for goodness sake. The one common thread this broad lineup shares is ML’s Folded Motion Tweeter—a fairly esoteric transducer in this modest price range but a not entirely surprising feature given that MartinLogan built its reputation on exotic electrostatic designs that harken back to the original full-range CLS from 1986. In many ways the Folded Motion driver is derivative of the classic Heil Air Motion Transformer wherein an ultra-low-mass diaphragm (4.5" x 2.75") is pleated, accordion-style, embossed with a conductor, and suspended in a magnetic field. The diaphragm squeezes the air along the pleats or “folds” and, voila, music. Its virtues are its extremely low mass, tiny excursions, and large radiating surface. MartinLogan has used this design on previous models, but this new generation boasts a 40% larger diaphragm area. The three XT models (35XT, 50XT, and 60XT) feature this new, larger-diaphragm tweeter; the other four Motion models use the standard Folded Motion driver.

Beneath the aforementioned Folded Motion Tweeter rests a 6" black aluminum cone mid/woofer in a cast-polymer basket. It uses a rigid, structured dust cap to reduce cone break-up modes. Both drivers are bolted securely in place between the underlying baffle and a black-anodized brushed-aluminum outer baffle. The handoff between mid/bass and tweeter occurs at 2.2kHz via a crossover network that features a custom air-core coil, low DCR steel-laminate inductors, polypropylene film capacitors, and high-quality electrolytic capacitors. The tweeter receives thermal/current protection, as well.

The enclosure is a stout construction of ¾-inch MDF; its top panel is raked gently front-to-back presenting a non-parallel surface meant to reduce resonances and internal standing waves.

The Motion 35XT is nicely detailed and richly finished in deep gloss—a clear step up from the typical bookshelf. Other features include ML’s signature perforated steel grille, which attaches magnetically, and dual custom-angled, 5-way, tool-less binding posts for connection versatility.

The sonic character of the 35XT is first and foremost, refined. And like any contemporary small monitor worth its salt, the 35XT manages to vanish within the soundspace with ease. It has a smooth, neutral to neutral/light character not untypical of compacts that tout a single, smallish, mid/bass transducer and restricted internal volume. But it’s not an edgy cold signature, which is often the case. There is a relaxed quality to the 35XT that takes a natural acoustic recording like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and delivers wind sections and upper strings with sweetness and openness. Transients, low-level resolution, and micro-dynamics are likewise also very good—I always listen for the soft tapping of the keys of the oboe midway through this ballet. The 35XT never missed a cue. The result of ML’s efforts are treble octaves that possess an expansive yet precise sound that delivers images with air and substance—a realistic effect that isn’t normally captured by a typical dome tweeter, but clearly is by MartinLogan’s Folded Motion design. In many ways, solo images have some of the same freely suspended openness and sparkling character that I typically associate with Maggies and Quads, although on a more restricted basis with the 35XT. When I listened to Glinka’s song The Lark, arranged for piano, the transmission of sound was almost frictionless, with free-flowing, fluttering keyboard trills and little to no smearing.

As I listened to The Carpenters’ hit “Sing,” the harmonica intro with piano accompaniment was pristine, the harmonica untrammeled by colorations, just reedy-pure and quicksilver fast. Vocal sibilants were natural—sharp but not spitty. On this high-resolution DSD track I could hear all kinds of minutiae, including the tape hiss softly joining the overall mix when Karen’s vocal track is brought up and the accompanying flow of reverb cascading down the soundspace. However, at the upper frequency extremes harmonics seemed to darken slightly. As I listened to Miles Davis’ “So What,” some of the upper-frequency air and whitish pressure generated from Davis’ mouthpiece were hinted at rather than fully realized.