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MartinLogan Motion 5.1-Channel Surround System (TPV 91)

MartinLogan Motion 5.1-Channel Surround System (TPV 91)

Whenever I reflect back on the CEDIA Expo 2009, one of my fondest memories is of the MartinLogan demonstration room, where the firm was inviting show attendees to compare its roughly $22,000/pair flagship CLX electrostatic loudspeakers versus a prototype version of an extremely affordable and compact surround system—one that, in some 5.1-channel configurations, was projected to sell at or even a bit below $2000. Now I won’t tell you that the little prototype system was truly the equal of the big CLX’s since that would be untrue, but I will say that it captured much of the overall flavor and “feel” of its flagship siblings (and for a small fraction of their price), so that it floored most of custom installation-minded listeners in the room. Indeed, the consensus among many of the dealers present was that tiny system did so much, so well, and for so little that—if successfully brought to market, it would likely “sell like free beer.”

That prototype system has since gone into production and has gotten a name; MartinLogan calls it the Motion Series and it is every bit as affordable as preliminary indications suggested it would be. The Motion range consists of two small bookshelf/standmount speakers (the Motion 2 and 4), two center-channel speakers (the Motion 6 and 8), and two floorstanders (the Motion 10 and 12), with all models in the range leveraging the hybrid combination of small piston-type mid-bass drivers used in conjunction with exotic Heil-type[1] tweeters, which MartinLogan calls “Folded Motion” drivers. Where Heil-type drivers were once used only in costly higher-end speakers, MartinLogan has found a way to incorporate them in some of its lowest-priced systems. Motion speakers can be used in conjunction with any of several MartinLogan Dynamo powered subwoofers in surround applications.

Recognizing that, apart from sheer sound quality, compact size and affordable pricing are two of the Motion family’s greatest strengths, I decided to test a relatively compact and inexpensive version of the Motion system comprised of a pair of Motion 4 bookshelf speakers ($249.95 each) used as L/R mains, a pair of Motion 2 bookshelf speakers ($199.95 each) used as surrounds, a Motion 8 center channel speaker ($399.95 each), and a 300-watt Dynamo 700 powered sub ($695 each)—for a grand total system price of $1894.75. How does it sound? You’ll have to read this review for full details, but let’s just say that this is one of the most—if not the most—accomplished sub-$2000 surround rigs I’ve ever heard. It is good enough, in fact, that it is likely to trigger any number of “why spend more?” discussions, which is wonderful news for those of us who love great sound but are not made of money. 



Consider this system if: you have an inclination toward the finer things in life, but are not blessed with the income to match your tastes. The Motion system gives you many (though of course not all) of the positive attributes of MartinLogan’s famous electrostatic speakers, but at a fraction of the price. This is a fine system for use in mid-sized listening spaces, and it can be used in bigger rooms, too, provided you listen at less than blow-your-socks-off volume levels. This is also one of the few inexpensive surround systems that can comfortably be used in critical two-channel listening applications.

Look further if: you are not willing to invest in good electronics and source components to use with the Motion rig. Don’t get me wrong: the Motion system is fairly easy to drive and is in no way finicky about electronics, but it is quite revealing in ways that can make mediocre system components, if any, stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Also look further if you require true blockbuster-grade dynamics. MartinLogan gets an awful lot of sound out of this very small system, but for sky’s-the-limit dynamics you will ultimately need a bigger, more potent system.

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)

  • Transparency and Focus: 10
  • Imaging and Soundstaging:  9
  • Tonal Balance: 9
  • Dynamics: 9
  • Bass Extension:  9.5
  • Bass Pitch Definition: 10
  • Bass Dynamics: 9
  • Value: 10


Motion 2, 4, and 8 highlights:

  • Motion speakers feature Folded Motion Technology tweeters whose designs are patterned after the pioneering work done by Dr. Oskar Heil on what he called the “Heil Air Motion Transformer.” The driver offers excellent efficiency and terrific transient speed, giving it a “fast,” “responsive” character.
  • Motion 2 and 6 models feature poly cone mid-bass drivers while Motion 4 and 8 models feature paper cone mid-bass drivers—all with “rigid structured dustcaps designed to reduce cone break-up modes.” Mid-bass drivers for the Motion 2, 4, 6, and 8 also feature stamped steel basket assemblies.
  • High quality crossover components are used for all Motion models, including: custom air core coil and low DCR steel laminate inductors (and) polyester film capacitors in series and low DF electrolytic capacitors in parallel.”
  • The Motion 4 model features an innovative Folded Motion Cascading Bass Port that, says MartinLogan, allows a long tuned port, which is folded over itself (think of a trombone’s tuning arm) to be compacted and squeezed into the Motion 4.” The port is said to result in “detailed low bass that can play at high volumes with minimum distortion.” Crossovers also provide “Overall system thermal/current protection.”
  • All Motion models feature gently curved enclosures made—in the case of the Motion 2, 4, 6, and 8—of a molded material and finished in high-gloss, piano black. Enclosures for Motion 2, 6, and 8 models are sealed, while the Motion 4 enclosure is ported.
  • Motion 2, 4, 6, and 8 can be used on stands or tabletops, but also come with clever wall-mount brackets that allow a variety of positioning options.
  • All Motion models incorporate high-quality push-type speaker connection posts that can easily be adapted for use with speaker wires that have banana plug-type connectors.

Dynamo 700 highlights:

  • 10-inch high-excursion, poly cone woofer.
  • Sealed enclosure, which offers user selectable downward-firing or forward-firing configurations. Enclosure incorporates clever, press-fit “ETC (Energy Transfer Coupler)” floor spikes.
  • Built-in 300-watt amplifier with “IME (Inverse Mathematical Equalizer) Filter” said to yield extremely accurate low-frequency response—far superior to that provided by the simple second-order high-Q filters typically found in subwoofers in this price range.”
  • Incorporates variable controls for volume level and crossover (low pass filter) settings, plus toggle switches for phase and crossover enable/LFE bypass settings.
  • “Wireless ready” design incorporates built-in receiver for use with the optional MartinLogan SWT-1 Subwoofer Wireless Transmitter.


Folded Motion tweeters are without a doubt the main technical “calling cards” of MartinLogan’s Motion speakers, as they gives the speakers a fast, clear, open, and well-detailed sound with a just-right amount of treble ambience and “air.” These sonic qualities, typically associated with much more expensive speakers, go a long way toward helping the Motion series speakers “play above their pay grade.”

But, there’s much more to this system than just those Folded Motion tweeters (cool though they are). As MartinLogan has learned through years of experience in building high-quality hybrid electrostatic speakers, it is not always easy to blend the sound of fast, ultra-responsive, high performance tweeters with the sound of conventional piston-type drivers. But in the Motion models, MartinLogan has done a beautiful job of marrying its Folded Motion tweeters with conventional pistonic mid-bass drivers, so that the transition between the drivers is almost perfectly seamless and potential textural discontinuities are held to an absolute minimum.

In fact, the Motion speakers combine relatively exotic tweeters with conventional mid-bass drivers in a way that allows the whole to become greater than the sum of the parts. And the Dynamo subwoofer gets in on the act too, blending extremely well with the Motion-series main, surround, and center channel speakers. As a result, the entire system is quite detailed and revealing, yet also sounds smooth and surprisingly full-bodied, with very good bass extension and pitch definition.

One word of advice/caution is in order, though; plan on giving the Motion system plenty (as in 100 hours or more) of run in time before optimal sound is achieved. Straight out of the box, the Motion system tends to sound a bit thin, bright, and shrill, but pay this no mind. Just run the system at moderate levels for 100+ hours and watch what happens. Over time, both the tweeters the mid-bass drivers will smooth, while developing deeper and richer bass response as playing time accumulates. In the end, your patience will be rewarded with significantly improved smoothness, warmth and a well-integrated system sound overall.

Should you use the Motion system with an A/V receiver or controller that provides room EQ functions? I found the Motion system sounded quite good on its own (that is, without any EQ) but that its performance could be tweaked for even better sound with a good room EQ system. In particular, I found that the Audyssey EQ system helped the Motion rig “snap into focus” in an even tighter way, while improving overall integration between the Dynamo subwoofer and the Motion speakers. If you do use a room EQ system, you may want to run calibrations once when you first install the system, and then again after break in is complete. Hint: don’t be surprised if you find—as I did—that calibration settings needed for the system can and do change significantly as break-in progresses. 


Above, I’ve mentioned the rich, full-bodied, yet detailed character of the Motion system, and to experience those qualities in action you need look no further than to the soundtrack of the music-centric, academy award-winning film Crazy Heart. A major theme of the film involves the unlikely development, growth, and ultimate collapse of a relationship between the grizzled, road-weary, alcoholic, and yet also profoundly talented country music musician Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) and the much younger, single-mom music journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

What starts out as a series of background interviews for an article Jean hopes to write about Blake becomes something more when, late one evening, Blake turns to Jean with a sly smile and half murmurs/half whispers, “I wanna talk about how bad you make this room look. I never knew what a dump it was until you came in here.”

Jean laughs softly laughs and blushes, sounding both a bit nervous yet also obviously touched and flattered by Blake’s attention. Blake, encouraged by this, grins, laughs, then adds, “I haven’t seen someone that blushed in I don’t know how long.” Jean dips her head for a moment, then coquettishly replies, “Well, I can’t help it if my capillaries are close to the skin.”

The Motion systems catches all of the fine sonic textural details in this scene, letting you hear the alcoholic charm beneath the just-slightly slurred edges of Blake’s words, and the unmistakable undertones of sincere longing behind the bravado in his voice. And just as plainly, you can hear Jean being won over in spite of herself. In this and in several other quiet, tender, dialog-driven scenes between Bad and Jean, the Motion system shows off its terrific clarity, delicacy, and finesse, exposing not just the sounds but also the subtle emotions in the actors’ voices.

But it’s during the live music scenes in Crazy Heart that the system’s bigger, bolder, more full-bodied character comes into play. One of my favorite scenes involves an evening concert at a large outdoor pavilion in Phoenix, where Blake has been invited to open for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former sideman and protégé of Blake’s whose career is enjoying a meteoric rise, even as Blake’s is in decline. As the scene opens, you seen an audience member’s view of the stage and hear the loud, overblown sound of the PA system playing canned, pre-show music. The sound is ever so realistic, capturing to a “T” the overblown sound of waves of bass notes cascading forth from the PA speakers and rolling upwards into the inclined seating areas outside. But as Blake take the stage you hear—again, quite realistically—the sound of the PA system change and improve dramatically as well-judged concert soundboard setting, which Blake had worked out with the soundman earlier in the day, suddenly take hold.

Blake leads off with his signature song “Fallin’ and Flyin’”, an upbeat yet sardonically humorous tune (the chorus lyric is, “Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/…for a while”) that is chockfull of vocal and instrument hooks, and as he sings Tommy surreptitiously comes onstage to join him for the first chorus. The crowd, predictably, roars its approval. What floored me about both the soundtrack and the Motion system’s handling of it, was the sheer energy and realism it conveyed, convincingly presenting the sound of a good live event stage mix as heard from the musicians’ point of view (in a former life, I used play in a band that occasionally gave outdoor concerts, so this a sound I know well and remember fondly).

For example, the Motion rig caught Blake and Sweet’s powerful yet sweetly harmonized voices on the song’s chorus, which is heard both through the band’s stage monitor speakers but also—an infinitesimal split-second later—as it is projected by the PA system out into the pavilion. Similarly, the Motions nailed the saturated, slightly overdriven “bark” of Blake’s electric guitar as it is played through an old, road-worn, tube-powered Fender amp. Again, the Motions offer sufficient resolution that you can hear the difference between the direct, stage-sound of the guitar amp and the slightly differently voiced sound of the guitar as reproduced both by the stage monitors and PA speakers. Finally, the Motions give you the tight, powerful, punchy sound of the band’s rhythm section, accentuated by the deep “thwack” of the kick drum, the dry “snap” of the snare drum, and the deep, rolling propulsive sound of a Fender bass guitar—all combining to drive the song forward like a locomotive with a full head of steam.

My point is that the compact Motion rig can, despite its diminutive size, capture much of the energy and overall feel of a live event, always preserving its signature qualities of clarity, subtlety, and nuance, yet flexing its muscles, too. Granted, the Motion system can’t flat-out “crank” the way that some larger surround systems do, but within its higher-than-expected dynamic limits it does very well.    


To hear just how refined the Motion system can be try a well-recorded, high resolution, multichannel piece such as the Sir Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin In The Fields performance of Gordon Getty’s Overture “Plump Jack” (Orchestral Works by Gordon Getty/Pentatone multichannel SACD).

Composer Gordon Getty says of his two-act opera Plump Jack that it “tracks the fictional career of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Parts One and Two) and Henry V, setting the original text where practical. Falstaff brews merry mischief with the scapegrace Prince Hall, to the despair of king and court, but is banished ‘Not to come near my person by ten mile’ when Hal becomes King Henry the Fifth.” By way of describing his Overture to the opera, Getty adds that, “the overture is a synopsis of this story, quoting scenes of Falstaffian high jinks and of courtly grief by turn, along with a few idyllic episodes, interrupted by occasional distant fanfares warning of the banishment.”

As you can imagine from Getty’s description, the short, roughly twelve minute-long Overture “Plump Jack” presents a series of musical vignettes that cover a lot of orchestral territory in a short span of time. What impressed me about the Motion system’s handling of this beautiful Pentatone recording was, first, the ease with which it reproduced and delineated various overlapping sections of the orchestra, not just in terms of timbre but also in terms of precise spatial placement on the stage. String tones were gorgeous: clean, crisp and incisive, yet also sweet and appropriately warm—never cold, edgy or “glassy” sounding. Brass, and especially lower brass instruments, had beautiful sonority and projection, with just-right touches of metallic “bite.” Percussion sounded wonderfully taut, clear, and well defined, so that you could easily hear the “skin sounds” of tympanis as they rolled into play. But what was really striking to hear, especially from a surround speaker system in this price range, was the way the Motion system accurately positioned each section of the orchestra on the stage, so that you could hear how (and where) each section fit within the larger whole. The acoustics of the recording venue, too, could plainly be heard, so that I was able to enjoy the reverberant characteristics of the space—characteristics that contributed a lot to perceived musical realism.

My point is that the Motion system delivered a refined and extremely sophisticated sound that was in many respects reminiscent of the sort of sound you might expect from a system several times its price. This sense of getting more than you paid for is what makes the Motion system so special.


MartinLogan has hit a home run with the Motion system, pure and simple. It is a compact, well made, and attractively finished surround sound speaker system that can fit into spaces where larger systems simply will not work. But most importantly, the Motion system preserves MartinLogan’s sonic “family values,” meaning that it offers clarity, subtlety and nuance combined with an unexpectedly vibrant, full-bodied sound. While it won’t play at blockbuster levels, the Motion system in most other respects offers “big-system sound,” and at price that makes high-end performance accessible to enthusiasts of modest means.

<h4>SPECS & PRICING</h4>

MartinLogan Motion 4

Type: 2-way, bass reflex bookshelf/stand-mount speaker
Driver complement: one 1-inch x 1.4-inch Folded Motion tweeter, one 4-inch paper cone mid-bass driver in reflex enclosure
Frequency response: 70Hz – 25kHz
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 12.6” x 5.6” x 5.25”
Weight: 6 lbs. each
Warranty: 90 day, parts and labor (extends to 5 years, parts and labor, if certificate of registration is returned to MartinLogan within 30 days of purchase)
Price: $499.90/pair

MartinLogan Motion 8

Type: Three-driver, 2-way, sealed enclosure center channel speaker
Driver complement: one 1-inch x 1.4-inch Folded Motion tweeter, two 4-inch paper cone mid-bass drivers
Frequency response: 70Hz – 25kHz
Sensitivity: 89 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 5.6” x 22.25” x 5.25”
Weight: 8.5 lbs. each
Warranty: 90 day, parts and labor (extends to 5 years, parts and labor, if certificate of registration is returned to MartinLogan within 30 days of purchase)
Price: $399.95/each

MartinLogan Motion 2

Type: 2-way, sealed enclosure bookshelf/stand-mount speaker
Driver complement: one 1-inch x 1.4-inch Folded Motion tweeter, one 3 ½-inch poly cone mid-bass driver
Frequency response: 110Hz – 25kHz
Sensitivity: 86 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 11.3” x 5.3” x 4.4”
Weight: 4 lbs. each
Warranty: 90 day, parts and labor (extends to 5 years, parts and labor, if certificate of registration is returned to MartinLogan within 30 days of purchase)
Price: $399.90/pair

MartinLogan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer

Type: Wireless-ready, sealed enclosure, powered subwoofer
Driver complement: 10-inch poly cone woofer
Integrated amplifier power:  300 watts
Dimensions (HxWxD): 12.54” x 11.69” x 12.53”
Weight: 26.5 lbs. each
Warranty: 90 day, parts and labor (extends to 3 years, parts and labor, if certificate of registration is returned to MartinLogan within 30 days of purchase)
Price: $695/each

System Price: $1894.75 as tested

(785) 749-0133

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[1] About MartinLogan’s Folded Motion drivers: the Folded Motion driver applies design concepts first developed by Dr. Oskar Heil, whose so-called Air Motion Transformer tweeters were initially used in ESS loudspeakers back in the 1970s. Like the original Heil driver, the MartinLogan “Folded Motion” driver is rectangular in shape and features a pleated diaphragm that resembles the bellows of an accordion. As the pleated surfaces of the diaphragm move, forward-facing pairs of pleats squeeze together, essentially “squirting” air forward toward the listener to create a pressure wave, while rear-facing pleats pull away from each other, drawing air inward on the back side of the driver to create a rarefaction wave (or wave “trough”). When the music signal reverses, so does the motion of the pleated diaphragm surface. To see an animated diagram showing how the Folded Motion driver works, follow this link: http://www.martinlogan.com/motionSeries/index.php#foldedmotion.

The Heil-type Folded Motion driver is incredibly simple and clever, and it offers two key benefits: excellent efficiency (because the pleated driver diaphragm can displace large volumes of air without actually having its surfaces move very far) and terrific transient response (because the pleated diaphragm is light and flexible enough to respond even to very subtle textural shifts in the music). What is more, Heil-type drivers can also be used as dipoles, meaning that in principle they can radiate sound in both forward and backward directions; some manufacturers, like ESS, take advantage of the driver’s dipolar capabilities, while others, like MartinLogan, use it solely in a forward-firing configuration. 

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