MartinLogan Motion 60XT

Reference Quality

Equipment report
Martin Logan Motion 60XT
MartinLogan Motion 60XT

After initial break-in, I adjusted the speaker placement to obtain the deepest, smoothest, and most natural-sounding bass, obtaining best results with the speaker face approximately 32" from the rear wall. Regarding toe-in, the manual states that “superior stereo imaging” is achieved when the speakers are aimed toward the “primary listening position.” Loudspeakers utilizing planar magnetic drivers can sometimes be susceptible to beaming or glare, and given the tremendous output that the AMTs in the 60XT are capable of, I started by gradually increasing toe-in outward from my ears until the soundstage began to collapse, then slightly inward until I got the best compromise between tonal balance and soundstage width and depth.

A final question was whether the speakers sounded better with or without their grille covers. To that end, I listened to “Brite Nightgown” from Donald Fagen’s Morph the Cat, and noted that the differences with and without grilles were similar to those between an airbrushed photograph and its original—dynamic transitions (edges) became softer and somewhat less distinct with a slightly rounded texture with the covers installed. Preferring the naked speakers, I listened to the speakers sans grilles for the remainder of the review.

Once the break-in period had elapsed, my curiosity and interest whetted, I chose Patricia Barber’s “Inch Worm” from Café Blue [HDCD, Premonition] for my initial close-listening test. Immediately, I was taken aback; the broad, sharply defined soundstage extended well beyond the width of the speakers, the vocals sounded eerily lifelike, and the instrumental timbre natural, with a depth so palpable I could practically reach my hands into it. I followed that with Leon Russell’s Stop All That Jazz [CD, Shelter], a stark musical contrast to Café Blue, and perhaps one of Leon’s greatest albums. Listening to “If I were a Carpenter,” Leon’s textured, raspy voice possessed a realism, presence, and sonic texture reminiscent of a recent, live concert performance. “Spanish Harlem,” an instrumental track, begins with bongo-like percussion deep in the left channel, sequentially adding individual percussive instruments, layered on top of one another and alternating between the right and left channels. With the 60XT, this layering was phenomenal. Transparent and deep, each percussive addition overlaid its predecessor cleanly without smothering it, with the placement of every instrument pinpointed in the soundstage.

The AMT tweeter’s fast transient response and dispersion characteristics, coupled with its precise crossover with the midrange, reminded me of an ESL, though with a tad less delicacy. Perhaps the best example of the tweeter’s transient response was “Unsquare Dance” from Dave Brubeck’s Time Further Out [CD, Columbia/Legacy], with the 60XT capturing the crisp, near-live, stick-on-steel of Joe Morello’s drumstick rimshots as few speakers can. The simultaneous juxtaposition of Eugene Wright’s upright bass in the lower-midrange/upper-bass region was coherent and solid—producing a realistic representation of all but the deepest octaves. From top to bottom, the matching of the drivers and crossover was excellent, resulting in a very live and lifelike-sounding performance.

According to the manufacturer, the minimization of floor bounce was a design goal for the Motion Series models, with the dual 8" woofers of the 60XT vertically positioned to “fill in the 200Hz–300Hz area.” Another benefit of the woofers’ positioning (their centerline is approximately at abdomen level when seated), combined with the rear ports, is enhanced visceral and dynamic midbass impact, belying the speaker’s frequency roll-off in the bottom octaves.

Curious how the loudspeakers handled more energetic content, I listened to Rare Earth’s Ma [CD, Motown]. The instrumental “Hum and Dance Along” absolutely rocked! On “Big John Is My Name,” the vocals were audacious, realistic, and moving, and the bass quite good though not earthshaking. Cranking up the volume, however, I suddenly became aware of how much treble energy the tweeters were able to produce.

As mentioned earlier, the owner’s manual makes no specific mention during setup of the wall behind the listener, but the air motion transformer tweeters used in the Motion 60XT are capable of producing such significant output levels that the presence of a nearby and/or undamped wall can cause reflections, making the speaker sound overly hot, and distorting its true tonal character. Choosing a better seating position or using appropriate sound-absorption material on that wall can minimize, if not alleviate, the impact of this effect.

Shifting source material, this time to classical music, I listened to Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Symphony’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture [CD, Telarc]. Perhaps one of the most dynamic recordings of this (or any) symphonic work, with levels ranging from the delicate ringing of a triangle to the explosive melee of artillery at the work’s conclusion, the recording is a test of any loudspeaker’s ability to reproduce extreme dynamics. During the work’s climax, the 60XT fell short of making the earth move, but it was nonetheless enjoyable.

A characteristic noted repeatedly throughout my listening, regardless of source material, was the resolution of these speakers, both in definition and amplitude, and the resultant width and depth of the soundstage it conveyed. Whatever the recording, the sense of depth—in some cases previously unnoticed even on very familiar recordings—was startlingly realistic.