There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all audio system. But when high-performance is desired, it’s typically easier to go big than it is to squeeze performance out of compact gear. However, depending on your sense of style as well as how much space you have for a system, sometimes you want to have great sound without giving up a lot of space. The solution to this dilemma is a compact subwoofer-satellite rig such as the 5.1 MartinLogan Motion system featured in this review.
Features and Specifications
These MartinLogan Motion speakers are compact and affordable satellites that use AMT tweeters. They are low profile speakers featuring shallow depth enclosures that are easy to hang on a wall, but can also be used freestanding.
The distinguishing characteristic of these speakers is the use of a AMT (air motion transformer) tweeter. MartinLogan refers to this technology as Folded Motion. This tweeter type is known for its ultrafast response and providing a controlled dispersion pattern.
The Motion 4i ($249.95) is designed for tabletop, on-wall, and upside-down on-wall mounting (the latter being for high placement when used as elevation speakers). Inside the enclosure is a cleverly designed, “folded” bass port that helps the speaker hit low frequencies which typically elude satellites this size. MartinLogan refers to this as the “Cascading Bass Reflex Port.” The speaker offers 70 Hz to 23 kHz frequency response, 90 dB sensitivity at 2.83 V/1 m, and presents a 4 ohm resistive load. Highs come from a 1″ x 1.4″ Folded Motion Tweeter while mids and bass are reproduced by a 4-inch treated paper-cone woofer. The crossover point is set at 2900 Hz while recommended amplification is 20 W to 150 W.
The Motion 8i speaker ($399.95) is designed for use in a horizontal or vertical position. In this system, it was used horizontally as a center channel; it needs to be wall mounted to be used vertically. This speaker offers a rated frequency response of 70 Hz to 23 kHz, 89 dB sensitivity at 2.83 V/1 m, and 4 ohm impedance. It is a sealed speaker, unlike the Motion 4i satellite. This speaker features dual 4-inch treated paper cone woofers that take care of midrange and bass. Highs come from a 1″ x 1.4″ Folded Motion Tweeter; MartinLogan recommends amplification between 20 W and 180 W.
Both of these speaker models have push style speaker cable connectors that are compatible with banana jacks. Also, the speakers come with rigid metal grills that attach magnetically.
The Motion 4i and Motion 8i use push-style connectors that work with banana jacks.
To read up more on the specifications of the speakers, follow this link to MartinLogan’s website
As for the Dynamo 800X ($799.95) subwoofer used in this review, it is compact and tight and powerful. It has a 10 inch driver and a 300 W RMS (600 peak) amplifier on board. Specified frequency response is 24 Hz to 200 Hz (anechoic) when operating in LFE mode. The great thing about this subwoofer is it includes Anthem Room Correction. With this sub, proper integration is a matter of taking a few quick readings and choosing optimal settings with an app, which is great for 2-channel applications or AVRs that don’t handle subwoofer EQ well.
Be sure to read up more about this excellent subwoofer in the full review located here.
Setup and Performance
I set the system up in my basement TV room and I ran this rig using a Denon AVR-X6500H AV receiver; a Vizio P Series Quantum TV provided the visuals.
This room is 11 feet wide, 20 feet deep, with an 8 foot ceiling. There are acoustic tiles on the ceiling in the sidewalls as well as a carpet on the floor in front of the IKEA sofa. In all, the room has plenty of absorption and diffraction. The actual floor is made of tile covered concrete but none of that is actually exposed, it’s all carpet in the listening area.
The TV is set up on a TV stand. As with many modern TVs, the legs on this model are rather short, there is only a 2.5″ gap between the TV and the stand. So, I had to raise the TV up a few inches to make it work by placing it atop some weights. No big deal, many soundbars don’t fit in that space either.
The Motion 4i speakers went on 24″ stands, one pair flanking the TV and the other pair flanking the sofa and serving as surrounds.
Set up properly, this system offers detailed and refined sound while taking up very little space, and does it with minimal visual impact. The key thing to remember is Motion 4i and 8i speakers offer (specified) bass extension down to 70 Hz (+/-3 dB), which is not to deep enough to use without a subwoofer. You will miss the bottom octave music, and two octaves worth of bass when watching movies, versus using the speakers with a subwoofer. These truly are satellites and perform their best when used accordingly.
What the design of the Motion 4i and 8i speakers achieves is bass response that’s ideal for utilizing an 80 Hz crossover with your surround system. Indeed, the AVR automatically selected 60 Hz for the Motion 4i, indicating there’s even a bit of leeway below 80 Hz! Anyhow, 80 Hz is perfect for avoiding localization and achieving transparent subwoofer integration and it appears these speakers are engineered with that in mind.
I ran the Audyssey XT32 setup routine on the Denon AVR-X6500H using the Audyssey Editor app on my iPhone. This confirmed that the speakers perform as promised in my room, with enough bass extension to allow for the 80 Hz crossovers. The software also corrected the in-room response of the system, although it did not have to do much. The result? A nice and smooth response curve covering 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Which is to say, a true full-range system.
I did note a rise in the upper treble that, frankly, seems to be one of the most common attributes of just about any speakers I measure. Post-EQ, the response curve is as thing of beauty and may be tweaked accordingly. Anyhow, these speakers did not require much correction to work well in my space.
There’s a bump in the treble up high that gets smoothed out by room correction EQ, otherwise in-room response is very flat.
For a source, I used an Xbox One X, as well as a Chromecast Audio that I dedicated to working with Roon. Wiring, for those who are interested in such things, is from Blue Jeans Cable.
So here’s the scoop on listening… This system sounds great when it’s dialed in. It has that capacity to “disappear” and leave you with an enveloping soundfield that puts you right into the movie, music, or game. Indeed, because these speakers output audio that is well defined and detailed, as long as you use them at “normal” output levels, the impact of the system is going to be similar to a larger system.
For music, the Dynamo 800X was more than enough to do justice to just about every track in my catalog, aside from electronic music that explicitly plumbs the depths of infrasonic sound. I queued up some Jon Kennedy (a British drummer who makes some chill tracks) and with Dolby Surround upmixing engaged on the AVR-X6500H, I fell into a fully enveloping and transparent soundfield. High precision instrument localization made for an engaging listening experience and everything blended seamlessly. I know that sentence reads like a copy-paste, but it’s the reality… if you set this system up right, the speakers become invisible.
Remember Enya? Orinoco Flow? Back in the early 1990s, I heard that track played on high-end systems all the time and I appreciate the richness of the recording. Simply put, I have more experience with that track, and dating back further, than most anything else—a function of the playlists at the high-end stores I chose to hang out at when I was skipping class in high school.
Enya’s music has classical overtones, but it certainly has plenty of pop influence in it as well. No matter, the purpose of playing her music is the all important female vocal test, and perhaps thanks to the robust capability of the Motion 8i, the outcome a faithful rendition of the chanteuse. Enya sounds as beautiful as ever through these surprisingly small speakers.
My usual diet of rap and electronica sounded great, with plenty of “feelable” textures when blasting dubstep, or reggae dub, or the latest album from Alchemist, Fetti.
Since this is a 5.1 system, I ran a number of movie scenes through it. First up, Francis Ford Coppola’s audio and visual masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. The movie is from the 1970s, but has production values that hold up to this day. In particular, the sound mix is enveloping and can range from an all-out aural assault during combat scenes (with the famous Ride of the Valkyries helicopter attack coming to mind) to some extraordinary examples of subtlety in the mix, during quiet moments in the jungle. Plus, the soundtrack is really something special… The Doors, Rolling Stones, and a bunch of atmospheric percussion from the Rhythm Devils, featuring several members of the Grateful Dead! This movie is one of the first to feature a true surround-sound mix for its soundtrack and it came through great on this system.
In terms of current films, First Man provided numerous scenes that allow this speaker system to flex its muscles. Here, the main observation I’d make is that despite being “only” a 5.1 system, this kit embarrasses soundbars. 5.1 channels are more than enough to created a completely enveloping, holographic soundfield—the key is to simply ensure proper setup. Jets and rockets always provide good fodder for surround systems and here, the MartinLogan rig rises above any soundbar system I’ve reviewed in terms of delivering sound that matches the visuals.
This 5.1 rig was also excellent to use for gaming. The high precision of the imaging allowed the soundfield to accurately communicate the position of each object; whether it’s a vehicle or another player or some sort of enemy you know exactly which way to turn to find them. Voices couldn’t be clearer.
With the five speakers in the system possessing nearly identical capability and tonal characteristics, sounds pan smoothly and don’t “stick” to the speakers. So, when you turn your character’s head inside of a game, the entire soundfield shifts smoothly and naturally. While the cost of this system is way beyond that of your typical desktop 5.1 surround setup, the resulting gaming experiences are at a higher level.
And just like music and movies, the subwoofer filled out the listening experience by adding tactile effects that and a sense of realism to explosions and crashes as well as making the soundtracks come alive. The Dynamo 800X is a tremendous performer for its size and is a key component in getting this 5.1 system to perform at a high level.
On the AVR side, the Denon AVR-X6500H turns out to be a good match for the MartinLogan Motion and Dynamo 5.1 system in terms of power. I had no issues with the 4 ohm speaker impedance, and it’s abundantly clear that in a 5.1 configuration this AVR can these speakers to their functional limits.
It is, of course, unrealistic to expect such compact speakers as these to achieve the output levels of large speakers that offer higher sensitivity and power handling. However, since with satellites it is assumed the speakers are relieved of the burden of reproducing deep bass, you can go pretty loud with the MartinLogan Motion 5.1 system and not run into any issues related to dynamic compression or distortion.
According to my (rough) math, you can get past 100 dB output at 1 meter (per speaker) in the configuration I used. Factor in room gain and multiple speakers and the system overall should deliver volume levels that easily beat soundbars and do it effortlessly. For home theater junkies seeking reference level output at their seat in a large room, these speakers are not going to quite get there. For everyone else, not only is the system more than loud enough, the clarity along with the taut bass provide spine-tingling realism.
Ultimately, that’s the main catch with small speakers: They actually require more power to reach the same output level as more sensitive, larger speakers. It’s no coincidence the speakers you find in commercial cinemas are huge. So, you will want to make sure to have plenty of power on tap when you use smaller speakers. In other words, don’t skimp on the AVR just because these MartinLogans are compact. Indeed, if you can dedicate a 5-channel amp to the task of running a rig like this, it’s likely you’ll get three or more decibels (overall) of extra output, versus just using a midrange AVR.
In a world where home theater sound system channel counts are now in the double digits thanks to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D immersive sound, this serves as a refreshing reminder that 5.1 can be compelling as long as the system is high quality and set up properly. Moreover, when dealing with limited budgets it can be advantageous to take a minimalist approach where the funds are used to purchase quality instead of quantity. If a compact system is what the doctor ordered, then this kit fits the bill.
With this Motion 4i plus 8i and Dynamo 800X 5.1 system, MartinLogan offers up speakers delivering dynamic sound that’s easy to install, looks good and performs at a high level. The Motion 4i and Motion 8i speakers are a great match in terms of timbre, output and aesthetics, and offer a path to expansion from 5.1 up to just about any number of channels you seek. Similarly, MartinLogan offers larger and more capable versions of the Dynamo, should you pursue this path.
So, sounds great, looks great, easy to install… what’s the catch? There is no catch. By any reasonable account, these speakers are appropriately priced for what they provide. What’s impressive is that taken together, the system offers a cohesive presentation which could easily be mistaken for a much larger system, if judged on sound quality alone. When space is at a premium, but you refuse to cut corners when it comes to audio fidelity, a system comprised of MartinLogan’s Motion 4i, 8i and Dynamo 800X is a solution that I enthusiastically recommend.