MartinLogan Motion Speakers & Dynamo 1600X Subwoofer Review

MartinLogan Motion Speakers and Dynamo Subwoofer

By Jim Wilson


Introduction

The subject of this review is a 5.1 system from MartinLogan. The setup consists of a Motion 30i center, Motion 20i towers and a pair of Motion 15i bookshelf speakers to handle surround duty. For the .1 part I have a Dynamo 1600x subwoofer. Everything in the test systems was finished in black; gloss for all the speakers, matte for the subwoofer.

The system is surprisingly compact, with dimensions quite reasonable even for smaller environments. The 30i center measures 6.9″ x 16.5″ x 10.5″ (HWD) and weighs 18 pounds. It has a pair of 5.5″ aluminum cone woofers and a 5.25″ × 1.75″ Folded Motion Transducer (ribbon) tweeter.

Stated frequency response is 65-25,000Hz ±3dB. The 20i towers are 36.6″ x 6.8″ x 11.7″ (HWD) and weigh 37 pounds. They feature the same driver complement as the 30i but the woofers are in an asymmetrical chamber format (isolated from each other in separate parts of the cabinet). Stated frequency response is 46-25,000Hz ±3dB. The 15i bookshelf is 11.4″ x 6.8″ x 9.5″ (HWD) and weighs 12 pounds. It uses the same drivers as the others, only in this case there is a single woofer. Stated frequency response is 60-25,000Hz ±3dB. All the speakers are rear ported.

The Dynamo 1600x subwoofer is 20.1″ x 17.9″ x 19.1″ (HWD) and weighs 57 pounds. It’s a sealed unit with a 15″ driver motivated by a 900 watt RMS amp that peaks at 1,800 watts. Stated frequency response is 20-200Hz ±3 dB (anechoic in LFE mode).

The Dynamo 1600X has a trick up its sleeve; it can be used as a front or down firing subwoofer, something not offered by an other company that I’m aware of. By simply repositioning the feet from one side of the cabinet to another you can change the configuration to match your preference and situation. Since almost every sub I review is front firing I used the Dynamo 1600X exclusively as a down firing unit just to change things up.


Ordering

As of when this review was posted, the MartinLogan Motion 30i center lists for $850, the Motion 20i towers come in at $900 each, the Motion 15i surrounds are $900 a pair and the Dynamo 1600X is $2000. The calculator tells me that what I have in front of me totals $5550. Or not. Until May 31st MartinLogan is offering 25% off the entire Motion and Dynamo product lines bringing this system down to $4162. You can purchase MartinLogan products either from their website or authorized dealers.

I did what I always do when the word “dealer” is part of the equation, I checked my area. For me this is a good test of product availability because I live in a suburban environment that’s borderline rural (there are 2 farms less than 3 miles from my house, not exactly what most would call “densely populated”). A search for my zip code revealed 5 dealers within a 30 mile radius, providing me several options to choose from.

Because so much of our lives today are on-line I also searched the interwebs to see how readily available MartinLogan products were for those who would rather purchase that way. I found availability to be plentiful but in the process I noticed something; everyone was advertising the same prices MartinLogan does on their website.

To me that demonstrates they enforce MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) so individual discounts might be hard to come by. If you’re interested in a MartinLogan system it might be worthwhile to contact your local dealer because they may have some flexibility if you work with them directly. I don’t know that for certain however.

Initial (key word) warranty on the Motion speakers and Dynamo subwoofer is 90 days. That gets extended to 5 years on the speakers and 3 for the subwoofer if you register within 30 days of purchase. To confirm they mean business I saw this in the manual…

MartinLogan may not honor warranty service claims unless we have a completed warranty registration on file!
{the exclamation point at the end of the sentence is theirs, not mine}

On back-to-back reviews I find myself saying the same thing; in my opinion, products in this price class should come with the full warranty as part of the purchase. To a degree I understand what MartinLogan is doing, and why they are doing it, but I also know very few people read the documentation as thoroughly as I do. That means a potentially large percentage of owners are unwittingly forgoing the vast majority of their warranty. MartinLogan is a very large and successful company, so they obviously know more about the market than I do, but I still can’t get on board with that.


Unboxing

This is likely to be the longest Unboxing section I have ever written. You’ve been warned…

When you order a MartinLogan system the boxes that show up on your doorstep are not plain or bland, you could almost call them decorative. Adorned with images, colors and all manner of text these things stand out. There are some unusual touches as well, like hinged tops instead of the ubiquitous slice-it-down-the-middle cardboard box one usually gets. Why wax poetic about packaging? Because of Marilyn, my 90 year old neighbor.

Still energetic and very spunky, in spite of being on this earth for almost a century, this dynamo (no pun intended) is my watchdog. The back of her house faces the side of my property so whenever I’m anticipating a delivery I ask her to keep an eye on the products dropped off by my door, lest some ne’er-do-well decides to get curious about the very expensive stuff under my carport while I’m still at work. Marilyn has done this for me countless times and never once has she commented about the boxes, and why should she? They’re almost always tan, square and nondescript so there’s nothing to say really. Unless MartinLogan sends me something that is.

I get home one evening a while back and go over to Marilyn’s to thank her for watching my packages when she says “those boxes are really pretty this time”. Funny, I never thought of it that way. Have you ever heard anyone say “really pretty” about cardboard boxes before? Yea, me neither. As I leave her house and head back to mine I take the time to stop and look, just to see what she was talking about, and I’ll be darned if this women isn’t right. While I can’t bring myself to say “pretty boxes”, I will admit that they do stand out for the right reasons. If that’s all they were – good looking – I wouldn’t have written the last few paragraphs, but in this case beauty is not merely skin deep.

Most companies protect their speakers with 1″ or even 1.5″ foam but MartinLogan goes the extra mile with 2″ instead. For towers that makes sense – even diminutive ones like the 20i – but for a small center and bookshelf speakers? That’s rare. Everything was neatly tucked inside cloth drawstring bags which were themselves placed in mylar bags. Grills were separate and stored in their own cardboard box that was held in place by cutouts in the foam padding. To prevent the grill box from marring the speaker finish MartinLogan glued a foam strip to it. Anal? Perhaps. Personally, I think it’s attention to detail.

Dispel any notion you may have that the speakers were the only thing MartinLogan went overboard on with their packaging as the Dynamo 1600x was not far behind. Although single boxed, it was double walled and made from a thick material. The paper tape on the outside was applied so smoothly that I didn’t even notice there were metal staples under it. Unfortunately my knife found them and that little gaff took me about 10 minutes and several diamond stones to rectify. Placed right on top of the subwoofer was an unpacking sheet with both text and images. Custom molded soft foam covered the entire top and bottom. It was not the predictable solid blocks I’ve grown accustom to, it was a lattice work of sorts with pockets of dead space specifically designed to aid in cushioning the Dynamo from shocks during transit. Nice touch. Like the speakers, the subwoofer was inside a cloth bag. Unlike the speakers the cloth bag was inside a…. wait for it… another cloth bag.

Did I mention this was going to be a long unboxing section?


Impressions

For a good portion of the 1980’s I lived in Union, NJ. In neighboring Westfield there was a high-end stereo shop that I frequented on a regular basis, the place I purchased all my equipment from. I spent so much time and money there that I was afforded ‘premier’ status, something quite unusual for a person in their 20’s. Despite the 35 years that have passed since then I still vividly recall one very special evening and two distinct words; MartinLogan.

Because of my elevated standing with this particular establishment I was afforded the opportunity to sample the best of the best, invited to activities only a few were allowed to attend. Often I would show up at an event where I was half the age of the typical attendee – some of whom glowered at me with a contemptuous stare – but I didn’t give a hoot because I wasn’t there for them, I showed up to hear something special. One such evening was when a representative from a company I had barely heard of wanted to show off their latest creation. It was MartinLogan, and what they would be demoing that evening was something called an electrostatic speaker.

This was a wine and cheese affair attended by a beer and potato guy so I didn’t fit in all that well. I listened attentively to the presentation, somewhat oblivious to the engineering behind those bizarre looking speakers I saw in front of me. I felt out of place for the most part – my youth and lack of refinement working against me – but I was captivated nonetheless by what I considered to be absolutely gorgeous speakers. Then the talking stopped and the music began, and nothing has been the same for me since.

If you have never experienced electrostatic speakers in full song you are missing the most dynamic, encompassing sound you will likely ever hear. What ML showed that evening was effectively prototypes compared to what they make today, technology that is literally decades old, yet I still vividly recall the transformative effect it had on me. To this very day I have not found anything that beats the clarity and openness I heard from those speakers.

After 30-40 minutes of demo material everyone left the room to do the wine and cheese thing, pinkies raised as you might expect they would be. I stayed glued to my seat, transfixed by what I had just heard. It was almost as though I was paralyzed, unable to move even if I wanted to. As everyone filed out of the room to indulge in their banal pursuits I suddenly realized I was the only person who remained, left in complete control of the system. Bad idea as I quickly proceeded to take advantage of the situation. I had maybe 15 minutes of full reign before anyone realized that some young punk was in control, but in that minuscule amount of time I became addicted. My pursuit of perfection and musical bliss has not waned since that evening. Sadly I have never been in the position to own electrostatic speakers – financially or environmentally – but if I ever do hit the lottery I know what my first purchase will be.

So what does any of that have to do with this review? Perhaps very little as the Motion series do not come close to replicating electrostatic speakers. If all I’ve done is give you some background with regards to what motivates me from a sound perspective so be it. For those who have never heard ES speakers I’ve probably just wasted 5 minutes of your time, but to those you have heard them? You know exactly what I mean. OK enough of my own personal history, time to get back on track…

Some of you may have noticed the 20i, 30i and 15i represent the smallest tower, center and bookshelf speaker (respectively) in the MartinLogan Motion series. That’s not by accident. When negotiating with a manufacturer on which products to evaluate I pretty much have carte blanche, I can choose almost anything I want and it will show up on my doorstep. So why do I consistently go for the smallest option? It’s quite simple really, because my contemporaries go for the largest. If everyone else is going to make a right turn them I’m heading left, it’s just who I am. That’s only part of the reason, there’s more to it then that. I also want to highlight products I feel a lot of people might end up buying. How many of you reading this can afford the biggest, baddest and most expensive products a company makes? My guess is it’s a lower percentage than those who have to pick something a bit more modest. That’s where I come in.

When I said these speakers are small I meant it; the 20i, 30i and 15i are about as unobtrusive as you can get, taking up virtually no space. Sitting in my reclining chair the tweeter on the 20i is just barely at ear level, not something most can say about their tower speakers. The 30i center is about the size of a shoe box, while the 15i is not much bigger then half of the 30i. This entire setup doesn’t look the least bit conspicuous, even in my relatively small 1800 ft^3 room. If you want something that sounds big but doesn’t look that way the Motion series are something you should consider.

The review units came wearing a gorgeous high-gloss black paint that was smooth and even, with nary a flaw to be found. It gives the speakers a luxurious feel. Reflective surfaces are not my thing, but if you like speakers that have an elegance about them these could certainly fit the bill. If black is not for you MartinLogan also offers them in white and walnut. The top panel on the cabinet of all the speakers slopes gently downward, adding not only a visual distinction but also contributing to the hiding-in-plain-sight aspect their small size already offers. The grills are magnetically attached with tiny standoffs used as locating pins. They have a delicate feel to them. The 20i towers have two grills separated by a horizontal 1″ anthracite gray band embossed with the MartinLogan name. It has a brushed appearance with muted black letters.

The Motion speakers exude class and refinement, they project sophistication, but the subwoofer not so much. The Dynamo 1600X is a fairly nondescript box with hard-edges and square corners, appearing somewhat bland by comparison. It follows the Ford Model T ethos; you can have any color you want so long as it’s matte black. I’m sitting here looking at all of these components as I type this and to me it almost seems as though they’re from different company’s. I reviewed the 1600X’s predecessor 7 years ago – the 1500X – and it featured high-gloss paint and slightly rounded corners like the Motion speakers I have in front of me now. I have to wonder why MartinLogan did not put the same effort into the appearance of the 1600X as they did with the 1500X, it would certain have more synergy with the Motion speakers if they had.

Lackluster appearance notwithstanding, the Dynamo 1600X continues a MartinLogan tradition still unmatched in the industry; the ability to be configured as either a front or down-firing subwoofer. In theory the driver orientation shouldn’t affect the sound quality or performance but it does have some impact on usage depending upon your circumstances. Do you have small children or pets? Perhaps down-firing is better for you, that way the driver is protected from little fingers and claws. Maybe you don’t have rug rats or anything with paws running around? Front-firing could be more to your liking then. No matter your situation or needs they make it very simple to switch between alignments; you only have to move the 4 feet from one side of the cabinet to the other and viola, you go from down-firing to front-firing (or vice-a-versa) in about a minute.

Like the speakers, this subwoofer is small. I’ve evaluated 12″ subs that were larger than this 15″ unit.


Listening

I really like ribbon/folded tweeters, always have. They often possess not only excellent detail and transparency, but they tend to remain composed during spirited listening sessions. When done correctly a ribbon tweeter will just get louder with volume, it won’t break up and distort. Words like “shrill” and “ear piercing” simply don’t exist. That’s frequently attributed to the amount of surface area this type of tweeter has; if you unfold the typical ribbon you might be surprised by how much material it’s comprised of. Spread the load across a much larger surface area and distortion is naturally lower. I like that, and so do my ears.

Martin Login lists the sensitivity for the Motion 30i as 91dB, the Motion 20i at 90dB and the Motion 15i as being 92dB. On paper that suggests it won’t take much power or volume for them to come alive but in daily use I didn’t necessarily find that to be the case, I found myself approaching the high side of my typical volume range. I wasn’t pushing it by any means, just using a slightly elevated level. The speakers were never fazed though no matter how hard they were pushed. Quite the contrary, they tended to open up more as I twisted the volume knob (alright, so maybe there are few actual knobs these days but you know what I mean).

In everyday listening the Motion speakers are sublime, they almost seem to be hiding their true intentions. They blend in, becoming part of the tapestry. Listen closely however and you hear something different. Subtle becomes evident, they’re understated yet colorful. The midrange was superb and the treble had just the right amount of sizzle. They proved to be very accurate to the source material, which for me is a good thing. I don’t want my speakers to embellish at all, I want to hear everything in its true form. Sometimes that form is not great, but that’s the trade-off for accuracy I suppose. I’ll take it 10 times out of 10.

The Dynamo 1600X subwoofer didn’t seem to like me as much as the speakers did; I fell in love with the silky sound of the Motion’s from the get-go, but with the Dynamo we needed to feel each other out first. I’m a set-it-and-forget-it type of person, I don’t want to tweak/adjust/configure ad nauseam. For me bliss is to run room EQ, measure the response, fine tune for preference and be done with it. My time should be spent enjoying, I don’t want to micromanage my HT system. It took a little time before me and the 1600X were friends, but once dialed in we became chums.

As for my final configuration, here is what I ultimately settled on:

  • Volume: -6dB
  • Low Pass: 3rd order, 80Hz
  • Phase: 0 degrees
  • Listening: Music Mode
  • 20-30Hz: 2dB

Of course most of that means next to nothing unless you’re familiar with the ML app so let me run down the different adjustments that you can make.

  • Volume: -40dB to +12dB. Look at that for a second, -40dB?! I never got into positive numbers, the output was too much for me the closer I got to 0dB so there is almost certainly a setting that will work for everyone, even bassheads.
  • Low Pass: On top of the expected setting for what frequency you want the subwoofer to begin rolling off at there’s also slope, either 3rd order (-18dB per octave) or 4th order (-24dB per octave). I’ve evaluated a few subwoofers now with a phone app and this is the first one that allowed you to choose the degree of slope.
  • Phase: 0-180° in increments of 1°. This is more than a simple polarity inversion, it allows full control over the phase.
  • Listening: Preset configurations to tailor the sound profile. Movie Mode is an “aggressive setting that maximizes device output for an especially explosive experience” (MartinLogan’s words). Music Mode is more balanced and provides greater accuracy, while Night Mode reduces bass output for those times when discretion is required. I cycled through them several times while watching the same material and there is a noticeable difference between them.
  • 20-30Hz: Adjust subwoofer output in the 20-30Hz range from -10dB to +10dB. Have a large room without much gain or maybe you want a little extra kick? This is your control.

There are versions of the app for both Android and iOS in their respective app stores so no matter which evil empire you choice to support – Google or Apple – you’re covered. The interface is intuitive and responds to commands without delay.

Movie Mode was too much in-your-face for me, no matter what I set anything else for, so I used Music Mode for the duration. I goosed the 20-30Hz setting a touch for a fuller sound and that worked out well. I set a low pass filter at 80Hz with a 3rd order slope which equaled the 80Hz high pass I used in my AVR. That effectively doubled the shelf and is sometimes referred to as “cascading crossovers”. I find that tends to clean up voices and helps ensure only James Earl Jones sounds like James Earl Jones. The Volume setting at -6dB is equivalent to about 12 o’clock for an analog dial adjustment. Speaking of dials, here is where I become the contrarian…

The Dynamo 1600X has but a single physical control on the amplifier, that being a volume knob. Every other adjustment has to be done using the app. Sorry, but that’s just not OK. There isn’t a single thing in the app that couldn’t have also been included on the amp using a dial or toggle switch. I understand the allure of having an app – there are those who consider a phone indispensable and an extension of their arm – but that doesn’t mean it’s alright to forgo physical controls entirely. An app should be in addition to, not in lieu of, traditional methods of configuration. That omission becomes even more glaring in this price range as the expectation is for choice.

While the app affords a tremendous amount of flexibility to make adjustments, MartinLogan offers you the ability to go even further and fine tune their subs to a degree no other manufacturer can approach. By pairing the highly regarded ARC (Anthem Room Correction) Genesis software with the optional PBK (Perfect Bass Kit) you have unprecedented flexibility in configuring your subwoofer. Because a subwoofers response and performance is inextricably linked to the room this additional level of correction can be extremely beneficial. I didn’t have a PBK for this evaluation – so I was unable to test the current incarnation – but I have used it in the past and had excellent results. If you’re the type of person who likes to make adjustments to the Nth degree you should strongly consider getting the PBK and installing the ARC Genesis app.

Another option available for the Dynamo subwoofer is the SWT-X wireless adapter. Neatly positioned above the power cord connection on the amplifier is a slot for the wireless transceiver. I didn’t have this option either, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness, but MartinLogan describes it thusly…

Although correct placement plays a key role in optimizing subwoofer performance, sometimes it imposes the inconvenience of running long lengths of cable through walls, along baseboards or under floors and carpets. To solve the problem, Dynamo 600X, 800X, 1100X, and 1600X include a connection port for an optional wireless system. MartinLogan’s new SWT-X Wireless Subwoofer System (sold separately) incorporates the latest in wireless audio transmission technology, including 2.4GHz dynamic frequency selection, forward error correction, and a range up to 50 feet. Easy to install in the subwoofer, the SWT-X receiver requires no external power source or audio connections.

Pay particular attention to the 2.4GHz spectrum it operates in as some wireless compute devices are also in that same band. While I’m not intimating you will have problems with crosstalk it is something to note (although 5GHz is quite prevalent for compute these days so it probably won’t be a concern for most).


Movies

I won’t bore you with lengthy insight about how much focus I place on movies that feature voices when testing speakers because I assume you already know and figured I was going to include flicks containing a lot of them. I also won’t waste your time writing multiple paragraphs elaborating on the significance of it as by now that’s likely to be deemed trite by those who have read my past reviews. Instead we’re just going to jump right in with the understanding voices will be prominently featured.

When making my choices I didn’t completely neglect the Dynamo 1600X however as two of the three selections do have parts where a subwoofer is called into duty, but admittedly its workouts were few and far between. Perhaps I can rectify that in the music section. Before I get rolling though I will say one thing… when you look at the size of the components in this system – all 5 speakers and the subwoofer – you can’t help but think they would be incapable of providing much in the way of output, yet they do. Visually this system is inconspicuous but from a sound perspective it’s anything but; the Motion speakers and Dynamo subwoofer have an innate ability to physically disappear without audibly doing the same thing.


Heartbreak Ridge

Along with The Outlaw Josey Wales, this is one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies. Of course when Clint sarcastically utters something like “I guess I should read you your rights” while pointing a 44 magnum directly into the face of a bad guy you can’t stifle that grin, but there’s something to be said for the more sedate fare he’s been involved with over the years. Heartbreak Ridge is just such a movie.

Clint produced and starred in this one. He plays Gunnery Sargent Tom Highway, an old school hard-nosed war-dog of a Marine coming to the end of his career. He gets himself transferred back to Recon where he started his military life many years earlier. Bitter, disillusioned and harboring anger he ends up commanding a platoon of rogues that are not fit to be called soldiers. He plans on changing that; Sargent Highway is hell bent on turning them into real Marines no matter who he clashes with, and he does clash with numerous people along the way. After quite a few confrontations between himself and the platoon he begins to whip them into shape, which is a good thing because as soon as they start to gel the squad gets deployed to Grenada to rescue American students who are being held hostage. Because there’s a not a lot of complexity in this soundtrack I went with volume instead, partially to judge how everything held together but also to see if the minor elements were able to keep up with the chaos.

After a brief skirmish with some rebels on the road to the university the team secure the students. Once the main objective has been accomplished they’re commanded to take a hill swarming with guerrilla fighters. There’s a gun battle between the Recon unit and the insurgents, people firing in all directions. Automatic weapons popping off rounds in bursts, soldiers calling out to each other, the sound of boots sliding over gravel, bullets hitting various surfaces and the different sounds they make were all very distinct and easily identifiable. The roar from diesel tank engines and the percussive kick from their turret mounted canon keep the subwoofer busy. Everything was composed and had great character.


Blood Diamond

Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a rough-and-tumble mercenary who smuggles diamonds out of Sierra Leone for a living. Trying to cross the border during one of his many excursions he gets nailed by the local authorities and ends up in the joint. While waiting to make bail in a crowded holding cell he overhears an argument between a fisherman named Solomon Vandy and someone by the name of Captain Poison (no, seriously). The good captain is a senior member of the RUF, which stands for Revolutionary United Forces, a band of blood thirsty rebels who are attempting to take over the country during its prolonged civil war. It so happens the RUF had kidnapped Solomon from his village several weeks earlier and since then he’s been slave labor toiling away in one of their diamond mines. On a dig the morning of their incarceration Solomon happens upon the find of a lifetime, a massive pink diamond worth millions. Of course he’s supposed to give that to the rebels but he tries to save it for himself by burying it in a nearby hillside. Poison sees him unfortunately and goes to take it back, but he’s a moment too late as the mining operation is suddenly raided by government troops and everyone is hauled off to the slammer. That bit of kismet is how all 3 of them – Danny, Solomon and Captain Poison – end up in the same cell. Unbeknownst to any of them at that time, their fates have now been sealed.

Upon his release from jail Danny begins stalking Solomon, intent on getting the priceless stone. He confronts the fisherman in Freetown, the capital city, but almost as soon as the two men meet all heck breaks loose as the RUF attacks the town. Government forces respond immediately and it’s here I started taking notes because this scene provides material for speakers and subwoofer alike.

Both men – initially at each others throat because of the diamond – are now forced to work together in order to escape the onslaught. Danny, like any soldier of fortune, has a weapon and uses it to blast their way out and ensure they break free of the conflict. As is the case with most movies of this ilk, the lead characters gun has more intensity than those around him. As Danny squeezes off rounds his pistol had a solid presence. RPG’s exploded with authority, there was a sharp kick from the vehicle-mounted machine guns. While the subwoofer was getting some exercise I also listened to what else was going on, specifically background sounds as in action scenes they tend to get washed out by lesser speakers. Not so here as the Motion series clearly – and I mean that literally – held their own. Bullet ricochets had a nice ‘tink’ sound to them. Voices, be they directly in front of you or off in the distance, were beautifully layered. Screams from people caught in the crossfire had a palpable sense of desperation. Every element of the soundtrack blended seamlessly. The chaos on screen did not seem to disrupt the speakers as they remained poised.


Survivor Man

Are you kidding me? No, actually I’m not. The production quality of his TV show was marginal and the material is of little interest to most people. But remember, I’m not most people. I have been a practitioner of primitive outdoor survival skills/activities for almost a decade so what this man does is near and dear to me. I’ve watched Les Stroud push his luck many times in the past and know his show very well. Besides, what better way is there to test speakers than with a questionable soundtrack recorded on substandard equipment by a person with limited editing ability. Ever hear the term GIGO (garbage in, garbage out)? I already know these MartinLogan speakers faithfully reproduce source material – warts and all – so I’m about to find out if I can tolerate familiar content given that.

Whether you love or hate this type of show there is no question that Survivor Man spawned an industry, it’s the granddaddy of the genre. People are fascinated by primitive survival shows, even reality crap like Survivor and Naked and Afraid have become hits. All of them, including Dual Survival and Alone, owe their very existent to Les Stroud. He was the pioneer, an innovator, but as with all who break new ground improvements can be made. Les humped his own equipment around, quite a difficult task in the days of bulky camcorders and streaming tape devices. Relative to what is available today Les had to make due with outdated gear which means compromises in audio quality. That poses a big challenge for speakers. Let’s see if I can find a weakness MartinLogan didn’t account for.

Some of you may be asking why bother include such easy material in a product evaluation. I mean there are no bombs, gun fire or explosions here after all. It’s simple really, because I don’t always watch shows and movies with challenging soundtracks. There are times I simply want to see something I like, despite the fact it’s not an ‘acid test’ for my audio system. I know every single detail of all these Survivor Man episodes so it’s not like you’re going to slip anything past me. Because I’m deliberately trying to use something with a crude recording I went with season 1, episode 1; Canadian Boreal Forest. It doesn’t get any better (or worse in this case) than the very first episode.

Les narrates between scenes and his voice didn’t come across particularly clear in those sections – even having a bit of an echo to it – but that’s precisely what it’s always sounded like. From that I knew the Motion speakers were not going to enhance, which is what I hoped for. As Les goes about his survival tasks I was paying close attention to how he sounded, and no matter the activity it came across just like I remember. All the while I was listening for undertones; rustling from his jacket as he moved through the woods, crackling of the fire, twigs and sticks breaking under his feet as he walked, the squeaking from the spindle of his bow drill, all were impressively rendered. The musical passages randomly interjected had excellent bass quality, to the point where it was evident what part of the soundtrack was recorded in the field and what came from a studio. But again, that’s what I’m looking for; truth in advertising. I was not disappointed.


Music

I’m hoping here. From the very first time I heard a ribbon tweeter I’ve been a fan – and MartinLogan is the leader in that space, the company who probably has the most experience with them – so I’m anticipating they won’t let me down when it matters most, with music. Being on lockdown due to COVID-19 means I’ve been a prisoner in my own house, not unlike the rest of you I’m sure. During solitary confinement I have been listening to a lot more music, as if that’s even possible. Looks like it was the wrong time for MartinLogan to send me a system to evaluate, eh? Or was it fortuitous? Guess I need to find out. I certainly have the time to do so.


Absolute Zero, Stone Sour

If heavy metal is your type of music you instantly know the voice of Corey Taylor. He also fronted a band called Slipknot, a stalwart in the death/speed metal genre. Those guys play music a little more aggressive than what I prefer – so I don’t count myself as a fan – but Stone Sour is definitely in my wheelhouse. Call their tunes forceful, energetic, vigorous or some other adjective, this is the type of stuff I favor. In 2012, when Absolute Zero was released, the band consisted of Taylor, Jim Root and Josh Rand on guitar, Shawn Economaki on bass and drummer Roy Mayorga.

Jim Root starts things off with a quick little guitar intro, but it certainly doesn’t take long before things get spirited. Once Stone Sour kicks it into gear they don’t let off the gas for the remainder of the song. It’s a stereotypical head-banger tune, the type where you almost can’t sit still. That’s precisely what I was looking for as it was time to crank the volume. Thankfully MartinLogan indulged me.

Corey’s voice came through brilliantly, thanks to the satiny midrange response of the Motion 20i’s. Despite the volume I was pushing everything held together; guitars, bass, drums, it was all evident and easily identifiable. Over the years I have listened to this song numerous times, so I know it intimately, and this was one of the better renditions I’ve heard. Nothing seemed strained or contrived, regardless of volume. For me this is a song that frequently gets played on loop, and for sure that’s what happened this time.


Hail to the King, Avenged Sevenfold

Let’s keep the heavy metal theme going, shall we? I saw Avenged Sevenfold open for Metallica at Metlife (née Giants) stadium so you can imagine what type of show that was. It started out rough; while tailgating in the parking lot the heavens opened up courtesy of a violent storm replete with driving rain, high winds and even hail. Thankfully it was short lived and the damage minimal. Soaking wet, buzzed and a little worse for wear is one heckuva way to start the evening, yet somehow it seemed fitting. It’s pretty rare for any band to do a stadium tour nowadays but in my youth they were all the rage. A bit of trivia… I attended the very first rock concert ever held at Giants stadium as a teenager oh so many years ago. I miss those days, there’s nothing quite like seeing a band play outside; a sea of people being assaulted by stacks PA cabinets pounding out music at an ungodly volume never gets old for me.

As is the case with Corey Taylor, Matthew Charles Sanders – aka M. Shadows – has a distinctive voice so you know it’s him as soon as he starts growling. For me this song is more about the guitars because I love the riffs and interplay between them. Hail to the King is the title track from their 2013 album and for me it’s the best song on the release. There’s something about this one that resonates for me.

When doing these evaluations I generally start out with a moderate volume and increase it as the rhythm hits me, but not this time. Before I pressed play I knew this one had to be cranked so I did that from the git-go. Hail to the King opens with Brian Elwin Haner – aka Synyster Gates – doing his thing and instantly I knew this was going to be good. The sound from the motion 20i towers was so clear I could almost see his fingers rolling up and down the fret board. Arin Ilejay starts tapping away at the cymbals and then shortly thereafter the Dynamo 1600x decided to join the party as the thud, thud, thud from the kick drum began to dominate. But not so fast as Zacky Vengeance – aka, oh enough of the pseudonyms already! – came to life at the same time, jamming out a quintessential metal riff. Now things are getting good.

Both guitars held their own throughout, complimenting each other while remaining identifiable. Cymbals sizzled without sounding overdone, Johnny Christ’s bass was not vanquished by the drums. Of particular note was the guitar solo in the middle of the song; it leapt out of the speakers while the rest of the instruments soldiered on with their dignity intact, which is to say they weren’t subjugated to a lesser role. This was one of the better songs I heard during my time with the MartinLogan system, especially when the volume was cranked. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Bring me to Life, Evanescence

How about one more heavy metal tune? How about not. I know this MartinLogan system can handle that type of material, so what about something with an emphasis on vocals? In that regard Amy Lee fits the bill. Now before you go and ask, no Evanescence is not my cup of tea. However, there is no denying this women has a very powerful voice and since that’s what I was looking for Bring me to Life will certainly do the trick. It’s not only Amy’s vocals that make this one a compelling choice, this song has other elements I hope to use to do one final test.

Bring me to Life is from the bands 2003 debut album Fallen, and what a way to start a career; Evanescence won the Best Hard Rock Performance at that years Grammy awards. Even though this is not my style of music I can actually listen to this one because it feels like it has true meaning to someone, it doesn’t seem to be just a song spit out to create a commercial success. It starts with what can only be described as a haunting piano piece which is quickly overlaid by a bit of synthesizer. Amy’s voice sudden pierces through and it’s clear she’s in pain. The way everything was arranged at this point seemed prefect to me. The rest of the band joins in but it’s still a few seconds before the song explodes to life. As the intensity increased the speakers and subwoofer ratcheted up their performance to match. When the song hits its stride I found myself very impressed with what I was hearing, everything seemed unified and balanced. That’s exactly what you want from a system, at least I do. Nothing exaggerated, nothing enhanced. It just worked.


Conclusion

MartinLogan is in an enviable position, having both longevity in the industry and highly regarded products. That’s a one-two punch difficult for its rivals to match. I spent over 3 months living with this Motion and Dynamo system and came away very impressed. Nothing featured in this review could be called the least expensive option in their respective class, but for sure they do the brand proud. Polished and poised, they are a treat for the ears.


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