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post #1 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 07:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Martin Logan Demonstrates Neolith Speaker System



Mark Henninger auditioned the new $80,000 electrostatic speaker system from Martin Logan; did the experience live up to his expectations?

I first saw Martin Logan's Neolith at CEDIA 2014. It was on display, but there was only one, and it made no sound. That was okay—a trade show like CES or CEDIA is not the best place to audition high-end audio equipment. Typically, a combination of inadequate acoustics, rushed set up, improper listening position, and an abundance of background noise make it difficult to know if a sound system is performing to its full potential. An acoustically treated listening room, as you often find at a high-end audio dealer, can effectively mitigate those problems. That's why I was excited when Martin Logan extended an invitation to demo its new flagship electrostatic speaker system at Overture Ultimate Home Electronics in Wilmington, Delaware.


At CEDIA 2014, a single Neolith sat silent.

The listening room at Overture is a sanctuary for the appreciation of sound. Tubular bass traps and other acoustical treatments surrounded the system, resulting in a relatively damped acoustical space—when I clapped my hands, I heard very little reverb.

Visually, the Neoliths dominated the scene; you'll never mistake them for any other speaker. Each electrostatic panel measures 22" x 48", and the speaker's design incorporates two woofers. There is a front-firing 12-inch driver in an acoustic-suspension (sealed) enclosure as well as a rear-firing 15-inch driver in a ported enclosure. As a result, Martin Logan claims that the Neolith's bass response extends down to 23 Hz. Combine that with a rated efficiency of 90 dB and 1300W power handling, and you have a speaker that is close to full range. For the record, I define "full range" as 16 to 20,000 Hz—with enough dynamic headroom to reproduce that range with gusto.


A view of the rear-firing, 15" ported woofer.

Overture used Spectral audio components and MIT speaker cables to run the Neoliths. A SDR-4000SL Master CD Processor ($19,000) fed its signal to a DMC-30SS Series 2 Preamp ($12,000). A pair of Spectral DMA400 monoblock amplifiers ($14,000 each) provided power. Notably, the Neoliths support bi-wiring, but not bi-amplification. Heavy-duty jumpers provide the option to attenuate bass by 0db, 4dB, or 8dB; the speakers I heard used the 0dB setting for full bass output.


Extremely heavy-duty jumpers allow for performance tweaks.

Martin Logan's reps kicked off the demo with an explanation of the rationale behind creating such a rarefied speaker system. According to the company, the Neolith is a statement-level speaker in the same vein as its predecessors, the Monolith and the Statement E2. It represents the culmination of 30 years experience making electrostatic speakers, and it is directly aimed at a particular type of audiophile: someone who is well-heeled and (typically) wants to use separate amplification. As a result, it is an entirely passive design. The rep said exactly what I was thinking: taking a completely passive approach is not necessarily rational, but it is an appropriate choice when considering the mindset of an audiophile who "wants nothing in the way of their music."

The rep mentioned that the Neolith's $80,000/pair price "fell where it may" and reflects the pragmatic costs of building such a speaker on a per-order basis. By the way, if you want a pair, the waiting period is 6-8 weeks from when you place your order—and that's after the production facility is operating at full speed. You do get to choose from seven color options.


Samples of the Neolith's seven standard colors.

The President of Overture, Terry Menacker, handled the audio demos. Before he played any music, Terry discussed the provenance of the tracks he chose, and that he would play tracks for which he was present at the performance, recording, and/or mastering session—tracks with which he was deeply familiar. I heartily agree with that approach, although it turned out I was not familiar with any of the tracks he played. That's typical for high-end demos; my musical taste does not lean toward classical and folk music—which is precisely why I brought my own music to play. As an aside, when I mentioned I'd like to hear some Jay-Z, one of the Martin Logan reps concurred. Alas, that did not happen, even though I had The Black Album on CD.


A view of the source, a $19,000 Spectral SDR-4000SL Master CD Processor.

The first sounds to come out of the Neolith were sublime. The track, "Run With the Devil" from the album There's a Time by Doug Macleod, is quite minimalistic—it's a voice and an acoustic guitar. The huge electrostatic panels produced a thoroughly convincing soundstage with speed and accuracy that made for a very detailed listening experience. Because high-frequency sound is directional, there was very little interaction with the already acoustically dead room. The limited dispersion resulted in a narrow sweet spot—but oh how sweet it was. If you get your head in the right place, a complete 3D audio illusion unfolds before you. Despite their impressive size and exotic sports-car looks, the Neoliths have more in common with a motorcycle: It's pretty much a solo experience, although you can bring another person along for a ride—if they sit behind you. The Neoliths are not speakers that you listen to while sitting off to the side, which often happens at audio shows; you have to put yourself in the exact spot where they work their magic.

As we got further into the demo, Terry played "Requiem: Pie Jesu" from Rutter: Requiem/Five Anthems. It's a fantastically engineered recording, and it includes several 16 Hz organ notes (which I'll discuss in a moment). The track provoked goosebumps, which was a good sign. The sense of space and depth created by the Neolith was a compelling audio illusion.


I picked up the habit of identifying the songs I hear during demos, and snapping a photo like this one.

However, it turns out there was something missing in the Neolith's rendition of the recording: those 16 Hz organ notes. I didn't find that out until I got home and played the same track on my own system, which extends down to 16 Hz. I'm not criticizing Martin Logan here; the speaker's specs say 23 Hz is the bottom. The thing is, 16 Hz (aka low pedal C) is a real note, with real instruments that can play it, and real compositions that use it. So in my view, the Neoliths could benefit from the addition of a subwoofer or two. Of course, I understand that subwoofers might be anathema to the sort of audiophile who would object to actively powering the Neolith's built-in 15-inch woofer.

As the demo neared its conclusion, I asked Terry to play my track "Return of the Dub King." Because I created the track, I'm intimately familiar with how it should sound, and what my intent was as an artist. It was one of the most fascinating listening experiences I've ever had. My first feeling was one of relief; the mix sounded very much the way I expected it to. The resolution of the Neolith is breathtaking.

Nevertheless, as the track progressed, I noticed that the bass seemed weak. Once again, the 23 Hz floor became an issue that limited my listening experience. Unlike the "Requiem: Pie Jesu" track, I was aware that the Neolith's rendition of my composition was missing visceral ultra-deep bass. When the track was over, nobody asked me if it sounded the way I thought it should, and I did not bring it up. Overall, the speakers' performance was impressive enough; nitpicking the demo on the spot seemed unnecessary, especially since Martin Logan was honest about the speaker's specs and bass capabilities.

As it happens, the Neolith demo occurred on the same day I set up my first Dolby Atmos system at home. The coincidence added a novel complication to my experience, because it turns out Atmos provides an accurate yet spacious sound that I found at least as impressive as what the Neoliths achieved. In fact, the Dolby Surround function in Atmos, which expands 2-channel music into immersive audio, did a better job of emulating church-like ambiance than the Neoliths could pull off. Simply put, I found it more believable and enjoyable to listen to the same track played through Atmos than through a six-figure, 2-channel audiophile rig. Additionally, and just to add a heaping helping of heresy to my observations, I'd like to note that I bought my copy of the track on iTunes—and yet it sounds fantastic played through a system that cost about 5% of the Neoliths' price tag.

I understand why Martin Logan built the Neoliths—they make a statement—and I certainly don't begrudge anyone who has the money to spend on such excellent speakers. If price were no object, I'd own a pair, and I'd add a few subwoofers to bring my overall system response down to 16 Hz, because the Neoliths really are fantastic-sounding speakers.


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Mark Henninger

Last edited by imagic; 11-10-2014 at 08:22 AM.
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post #2 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 07:34 AM
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I must say that I concur with Mark's assessment having heard these speakers at this demo myself. They produced a huge sound. One that was very detailed, expansive and smooth, without the hint of brightness or hardness. The demo was redbook CD all the way with no high res content. Even though the Doug Macleod track is available from Reference Recordings in 24/176.4, it was the CD that was played. Nonetheless, other that the issue with the bass, I can't image that track could sound any better. The issue I have with this demo was the bass. It was woefully short in that department. The reference tracks that I bring to these types of occasions is the Duke's Big 4 XRCD and the low end of the bass and the kick drum was missing. Sure there was some kick drum there, but it was missing the visceral impact that I am used to hearing at home. Frankly, to these ears, too many audiophile speakers fail to reproduce this track faithfully at the low end. Before the demo, the kind folks at ML and Overture allowed me and another press attendee to listen to the $25,000 a pair ML speakers with 2 of the large powered subwoofers. in another room while the Neoliths were being set up and tweaked. Those speakers were being driven by all McIntosh electronics. Source was limited to CD also. I played track 3 of the Duke's Big 4 and all the bass was there. The openness and smoothness was superb with deep tuneful bass. This was some of the best sound I have ever heard. Given the sound I heard before the event, the Neolith's performance was surprising. I also played a track from Tierney Sutton's latest CD, Paris Sessions. and her voice was beautifully rendered. The Neolith's without a doubt will please many audiophiles but for me, they really need to be paired with powered subs to sound their best.
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post #3 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 07:50 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JWhip View Post
I must say that I concur with Mark's assessment having heard these speakers at this demo myself. They produced a huge sound. One that was very detailed, expansive and smooth, without the hint of brightness or hardness. The demo was redbook CD all the way with no high res content. Even though the Doug Macleod track is available from Reference Recordings in 24/176, it was the CD that was played. Nonetheless, other that the issue with the bass, I can't image that track could sound any better. The issue I have with this demo was the bass. It was woefully short in that department. The reference tracks that I bring to these types of occasions is the Duke's Big 4 XRCD and the low end of the bass and the kick drum was missing. Sure there was some kick drum there, but it was missing the visceral impact that I am used to hearing at home.

Frankly, to these ears, too many audiophile speakers fail to reproduce this track faithfully at the low end. Before the demo, the kind folks at ML and Overture allowed me and another press attendee to listen to the $25,000 a pair ML speakers with 2 of the large powered subwoofers. in another room while the Neoliths were being set up and tweaked. Those speakers were being driven by all McIntosh electronics. Source was limited to CD also. I played track 3 of the Duke's Big 4 and all the bass was there. The openness and smoothness was superb with deep tuneful bass. This was some of the best sound I have ever heard. Given the sound I heard before the event, the Neolith's performance was surprising. I also played a track from Tierney Sutton's latest CD, Paris Sessions. and her voice was beautifully rendered. The Neolith's without a doubt will please many audiophiles but for me, they really need to be paired with powered subs to sound their best.
I've enjoyed attending demos with you and your critical ears, Joe. Now, when you bust out the Duke's Big 4 XRCD I know I'm going to gain insight into the true nature of a stereo system. No doubt, Terry approved of the selection as well. In fact, that was the moment I realized how much the demo was leaning on the production of the music. The lack of bass diminished the impact, and since I've attended a performance (with you) at the Blue Note jazz club in Manhattan, I have that common frame of reference for how jazz drums ought to sound—and feel.

Mark Henninger

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post #4 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 07:52 AM
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You are preaching to the choir!
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post #5 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 07:56 AM
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I don't care how good they are, no speaker is worth $80K!

Pretty cool though.

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post #6 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:00 AM
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Especially when you can get better overall sound from the same company for about $35,000. Still too rich for my blood plus you really need a huge room for these sized speakers. Both of these demo rooms were HUGE.
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post #7 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:05 AM
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Originally Posted by flyng_fool View Post
I don't care how good they are, no speaker is worth $80K!

Pretty cool though.
Well at that price I hope they are made in USA or Canada! If made in China that would be one hellofa mark up! I agree cool looking but I have heard 5-10K speakers sound just as good as some speakers costing 80K. Pick your poison........ The good news is the trickle down technology is making it into their other lines.
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post #8 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Well at that price I hope they are made in USA or Canada! If made in China that would be one hellofa mark up! I agree cool looking but I have heard 5-10K speakers sound just as good as some speakers costing 80K. Pick your poison........ The good news is the trickle down technology is making it into their other lines.
They are built to order, made in America.
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post #9 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:19 AM
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" This is the largest electrostatic speaker system Martin Logan has ever built. Each electrostatic panel measures 22" x 48"


No, THESE were the biggest, and with the woofer cabinets, rated to 16Hz

The panel was 72" tall and close to 48" wide.

4 12"woofers per side.

http://www.martinlogan.com/products/statement



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" This is the largest electrostatic speaker system Martin Logan has ever built. Each electrostatic panel measures 22" x 48"


No, THESE were the biggest, and with the woofer cabinets, rated to 16Hz

The panel was 72" tall and close to 48" wide.

4 (or was it 8) woofers per side.

Oh snap. Thank you for the fact check, I made the edit to the OP.

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post #11 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:27 AM
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Here's a pair in use:

http://www.martinloganowners.com/for...-s-System-1995

Tom Green even paid a visit.

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Ahhh. The Fabio system.

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post #13 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 08:30 AM
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Those speakers don't exactly have the highest Spousal acceptance factor, to say the least.
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Those speakers don't exactly have the highest Spousal acceptance factor, to say the least.
Worse than a kitchen full of motorcycles?

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An old friend of mine had a pair of Martin Logans a long while ago and although I thought they were really neat and had great detail and resolution, the awfully narrow sweet spot is quite jarring and really weird when you walk around the apartment.

A deal breaker, really. It's too bad.
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post #16 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 01:50 PM
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Only 80k? I'll take 3 pairs, then I'll wake up. Truth be known, I bet they will sell some too. It's just sick over-over kill.
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post #17 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 02:34 PM
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Only 80k? I'll take 3 pairs, then I'll wake up. Truth be known, I bet they will sell some too. It's just sick over-over kill.
If you can afford to buy an 80K+ car... it's a drop in the bucket.

Of course they'll sell some.
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post #18 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 02:43 PM
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I have no reason to doubt that electrostatic speakers that big will sound great. I would only be surprised if they were "Dramatically" better than their other electrostatic models. I get that they are building a "best-in-class" model.

I like the "horn" sound of Avantgarde Acoustics speakers, but could I get very similar for a lot less money? Sure. On the other hand, I KNOW I enjoy the horn sound and I am currently upgrading in the same speaker brand to their "top-o-the-line".

This speaker seems explicitly geared to owners of prior electrostatics as opposed to newbies to this class of speaker. I like electrostatics on SOME music but always felt they fell short on other music. Also, I have always found electrostatics to have a VERY sweet spot, not sure if this remains true on these speakers. I do find that almost every stereo pair has really only one sweet spot anyway, so this is not only an effect of electrostatics, perhaps just more noticable to me.
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These speakers have a very, very narrow sweet spot
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post #20 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 03:23 PM
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Can they be wall mounted to keep them out of the way?
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These speakers have a very, very narrow sweet spot
How could ANY stereo pair not have a 'very, very, narrow sweet spot'? Or even a multi-speaker setup, for that matter.

That best spot or line is where you are equidistant from each speaker, hence, phase aligned, at least on the direct sound.

I've experimented, sub-millisecond delay on one speaker (equivalent to non-equal distance) slides the image radically toward the non-delayed side.

Try it on headphones too, same deal.

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post #22 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 03:48 PM
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I don't care how good they are, no speaker is worth $80K!

Pretty cool though.
The market for these are NOT your avg Joe AVS reader, rather people with disposable income, pure and simple, audiophiles who love both the visual imagery and the sound these produce.

Nice write up Mark, they truly look great and will make statements in appropriate upscale homes worldwide.
If I win Lotto, these would be on my short list.
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post #23 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 04:14 PM
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I picked up the habit of identifying the songs I hear during demos, and snapping a photo like this one.


Mark, that is absolutely brilliant. I will steal that technique. Thanks!
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post #24 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 04:24 PM
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Even IF I ever had the cheese to fork over for these, I wouldnt.

All Ive read is that for all their benefits, electrostats have a very narrow sweet spot. This bank should have no compromises sonically imo.
Give me 10k - 20k and I'll settle for some B & W 802s.
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post #25 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 04:33 PM
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I am fascinated by the fact 80,000 dollar speakers with some $50,000+ equipment behind it provided a weak bass and a very, very narrow sweet spot. I was surprised at the lack of bass considering the description of the speaker. Even with disposable income of that magnitude I would expect an experience equivalent to a sonic orgasm at that price. Thank you for an enlightening article.
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post #26 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 05:10 PM
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Gat dayum! Those are brining back sexy. Having an all Martin Logan setup I'm a fan. Wonder if it's too late to get off Santa's naughty list?

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post #27 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 05:44 PM
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Don't mean to be asking an off-topic question, but is 16Hz considered a floor for audio perceptible by ear?
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Originally Posted by zeldaman View Post
Don't mean to be asking an off-topic question, but is 16Hz considered a floor for audio perceptible by ear?
Generally speaking, 20 Hz is considered the lowest frequency that exhibits tone. At 16 Hz, it is more of a physical sensation than anything you'd call audible. Even so, your ears in particular react to the pressure change. Definitely topical IMO.

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post #29 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 06:04 PM
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I hate to be slightly off topic. But I find demos where the person who hasn't heard the speaker doesn't get to choose the material they listen to, worthless. I tend to also not listen to much classical or audiophile music.


I'm disappointed that they did go for the ultra deep bass. For 80k I would expect a pair of speakers to at least reach 20 Hz.

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post #30 of 125 Old 11-10-2014, 06:29 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by oneeyeblind View Post
I hate to be slightly off topic. But I find demos where the person who hasn't heard the speaker doesn't get to choose the material they listen to, worthless. I tend to also not listen to much classical or audiophile music.

I'm disappointed that they did go for the ultra deep bass. For 80k I would expect a pair of speakers to at least reach 20 Hz.
I totally agree. Going forward, I won't even cover systems where I can't play tracks that I choose and am familiar with. I'm glad Martin Logan let me (and Joe) get a track in each.
oneeyeblind and 807recordings like this.

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