I've never listened to a MartinLogan speaker before. That’s a gap in my audio experience that I’ve wanted to fill for a long time. So it was with genuine excitement that I accepted the review for the company’s newly revised and updated 35XTi bookshelf model. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but it’s hard not to look forward to something from a venerable company like ML. Maybe I’m letting my nerd colors show a bit here, but hey, if I can’t be an equipment geek in The Absolute Sound, I might as well give up.
Anyway, when they arrived and they weren’t ginormous electrostatics that look vaguely like dinosaurs, I was baffled. I mean, MartinLogan makes big flat obelisks, not boxy bookshelf speakers. But here’s the thing: As soon as I plugged them in and started listening, I forgot all about what I thought I knew about MartinLogan, and just enjoyed the music. That’s a hard thing for me to do, by the way. A speaker that turns off the old hamster wheel in my skull and makes me ignore everything but the sound is doing something impressive.
On the surface the MartinLogan 35XTi ($699 each) look like pretty standard bookshelf models. My review pair came in a nice reddish walnut with a curved silver MartinLogan badge beneath smooth, simple grille covers. Under the grille are a 1.25" by 2.4" Folded Motion XT tweeter atop a 6.5" aluminum cone woofer. The tweeter in particular is interesting—it’s based on the Heil air-motion transformer concept—and a nice break from the standard dome driver. The 35XTi’s have solid, quality binding posts that allow for bi-wiring, which I did not use in this instance, but which would certainly benefit the listener. I did all my listening with the speaker grilles off and found the sound a bit tighter that way.
MartinLogan rates the impedance of the 35XTi at 4 ohms and recommends a power amp of anywhere from 20Wpc up to 250W. My Parasound HINT 6 integrated amp sits toward the upper end of that spectrum. Though the ML’s sensitivity is listed as 92dB/2.83V/meter, suggesting that 20Wpc would likely be fine, I’d err on the side of caution. I never felt my HINT 6 was getting anywhere near straining these speakers, but I suspect they might be less contented when driven by an amplifier at the lower end of the recommended power range.
My initial impressions were overall very positive. The fit and finish was impressive; the 35XTi’s looked neat and clean; and my first few minutes spent listening to them with background music were enjoyable. If I’m not going to get their big planar speakers, I guess these are the next best introduction to MartinLogans.
I began my serious listening with a new jazz album called Reverence from saxophonist Muriel Grossman on the fantastic RR Gems label. Side III opens with a screaming, almost cacophonous wail from Grossman’s saxophone that eventually resolves into a rhythmic jam called “Chase.” The Hammond here drove the sound, overwhelming the drumming. I was surprised at how tight the bass was; indeed, the 35XTi did a very nice job with the rhythm section as a whole. On some speakers an organ can sound a little mushy and undefined, but not here. I caught flourishes from the Hammond player rising up in the mix as Grossman continued her lilting solo.
The next track on that same side is called “Tribu” and starts with a rolling bass solo. It showcased the 35XTi’s depth and strength in the lower region. They don’t dig down deep and likely won’t shake the floor, but their bass was still dynamic and solid. After the bass solo ended, the cymbals came in with very nice sparkle and no uncomfortable glare. At times though, the saxophone could sound a little bit too intense, especially in the throes of a really good jam. As a consequence, I found myself playing the 35XTi’s a little quieter than I normally would, which didn’t necessarily take away from the pleasure I got from listening to them.