For as long as I can remember serious music lovers have been fascinated with electrostatic speakers. The reasons are obvious— instead of woofers and tweeters, electrostatic speakers use a light, responsive, super-thin electrically conductive diaphragm suspended between electrostatically charged “stators” (grids) to move the air. The resulting sound is extremely low in distortion. But full-range electrostatic speakers were generally considered “bass challenged” until MartinLogan figured out a way to smoothly integrate conventional woofers with their ‘stat panels.
The Source is a hybrid electrostatic/dynamic design featuring a 28-inch-high curved electrostatic panel and an 8-inch conventional woofer. As electrostatic speakers go, it’s pleasantly compact—just 4 feet tall and a smidgeon under 9 inches wide. The AirFrame that supports the electrostatic panel is just 1-inch thick, so the speaker is far less imposing than a four-foot-tall box speaker, that’s for sure. The Source is also the most affordable electrostatic floor-standing speaker in MartinLogan’s extensive line.
The electrostatic panel was designed with a new thin-film plasma-deposition process that applies an improved conductive coating to the ultra-low-mass PET (polyethylene terathylate) diaphragm. Which reminds me, since there’s just as much sound radiating off the back of the panel as the front, the Source needs to be placed two or more feet away from the wall (mine were closer to three feet away).
At the bottom of the Source is a box-type cabinet, which houses an 8-inch paper cone woofer that was designed to achieve proper blending with the electrostatic panel.
Each Source comes with a small power supply that’s used to keep the electrostatic panel charged, so yes, like all electrostatic speakers, the Source must be plugged into an AC power outlet.
The Source’s extraordinary resolution lets you hear more of the sound embedded in your CDs and LPs. You hear subtle details most box speakers gloss over, such as the way John Lennon, when he was in the Beatles, doubled his vocals, or subliminal cues that let you know whether a given recording’s reverberation was natural or digitally created.
Thanks to the 8-inch woofer, the Source’s bass oomph and deep bass extension are superior to some panel-type speakers. The Source’s exacting imaging and depiction of acoustic space are first rate. But the Source is what I call a “serious listening” speaker—meaning it’s great when you’re sitting in the sweet spot, but that the sound gets a little dull and muddled when you stand up or move around the room. To help address this issue, the Source, which is only 48-inches tall, integrates a detachable base that allows the rake of the speaker to be adjusted by 12 degrees.
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings uses just a pair of microphones for all of his sessions, placing the mics on high stands a good 10 feet over the instruments. With the Source speakers, I could hear that perspective, and the overall sound picture was extremely accurate. It was as though I was present at the sessions for The Invisible CD [MA Recordings]. Played back over the Source speakers, the sound totally captured the sense of space and the acoustics of the recording venue. I swear I was “looking down” on the instruments.
The drums and percussion instruments on Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban’s Mambo Sinuendo CD [Nonesuch] had remarkable presence and detail. Clearly, the electrostatic panel’s transient speed revealed even the subtlest shadings of the drums’ and congas’ dynamics, while Cooder’s and Galban’s electric and acoustic guitars floated effortlessly above the wash of drums.
Similarly, the a cappella vocals on The Persuasions Sing U2 CD [Chesky] were perfectly formed and three dimensionally realized.
Rocking out with Yo La Tengo’s Prisoner of Love CD [Matador], the Source speakers again wowed with their resolution. True, some big box speakers can play louder and kick harder, but the Sources delved deeper into the band’s textures.