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.
Imaging, on the other hand, was exceptional; the kaleidoscope of panned vocals and images zipping across the soundstage from Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “It Can Happen” were startling in their movement and clarity. Soundstage dimensionality—at least laterally—was well resolved, but depth was a little lacking. The speaker has a tendency to emphasize and press forward a recording’s backgrounds—for example, the backing singers, principally Michael McDonald harmonizing behind Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen during “Hey Nineteen.” Similarly the vast ambience and the depth of the soprano soloist within the Turtle Creek Chorale on the Rutter Requiem were not fully revealed; rather everything was pressed forward and flattened slightly.
Outside of the lowest octave—the 20–40Hz range is beyond the grasp of the 35XT—bass response was faithful and tuneful, with good tonality and pitch specificity. And to its credit, the bugaboo of port overhang was all but non-existent at any rational listening level. Predictably, the 35XT had limits on large-scale dynamic shifts in the midbass regions, and its mid and upperbass were a bit shy of ruler-flat. Although the duet for bass violin and trombone from Pulcinella indicated some suppressed macrodynamic energy, the 35XT still managed to more than pull its own weight (and that of the instruments)—quite an accomplishment for a compact barely topping thirteen inches.
Keep in mind that the quality of bass response performance will be commensurate with positioning in the room, meaning the 35XT needs the reinforcement of the wall directly behind it. In my room, midbass and upper bass response smoothed out appreciably at a distance of about 28″ from the backwall to the speaker’s rear panel.
Driver integration, a critical aspect of the listening experience, becomes ever more significant with hybrid designs such as the 35XT. Mixing driver materials, types, and technologies can be a little like stirring oil and water—the drivers struggling to integrate with each other and to sing with one voice. In other words, the heavier (read: slower) woofer can be heard to be operating at a disadvantage to the feather-light folded diaphragm of the tweeter. Fortunately evidence of this familiar divide was negligible in my listening sessions with the 35XT. The human voice is excellent at exposing inter-driver irregularities, but the 35XT proved its mettle to my ears. It managed to strike a canny musical balance. An impressive achievement, to say the least.
All told, the Motion 35XT offers some stiff competition to battle-hardened rivals like the Sonus faber Venere 1.5 with its espresso midrange, or the Focal Aria 906 with its punchy bass response and all-around dynamism. But of these contenders only the ML has the virtue of its sweet tweet, and offers such a high level of overall transparency and musicality. The 35XT is a worthy heir to the proud tradition at MartinLogan.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex, hybrid ribbon/cone, stand-mount loudspeaker
Frequency response: 50Hz–25kHz +/-3dB
Drivers: Folded Motion XT Tweeter (4.5″ x 2.75″ diaphragm), 6″ aluminum mid-bass
Sensitivity: 92dB @ 2.83 volts/meter
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 13.5″ x 7.6″ x 11.8″
Weight: 18.5 lbs.
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By Neil Gader
My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.More articles from this editor