[I]’ve always wanted to review a pair of MartinLogan loudspeakers, as I find them fascinating. I really love the way that MartinLogan has created the electrostatic panels to be perforated with small holes on the stators. It is not only very effective in terms of the increased performance of the sonics of the loudspeaker, but also, quite cleverly, eliminates the usual cloth grill in front of the loudspeaker, which noticeably and significantly degrades the sound. Every grill cloth I have ever listened to can be heard, so this is a significant advantage.
The other advantage of most MartinLogan speakers is that, with the exception of the full-range CLS, the previous model, and CLX, they are hybrid designs, which means that the electrostatic panels handle the midrange and high frequencies, while a conventional woofer(s) handles the low frequencies. This is the best compromise, in my experience, for an electrostatic loudspeaker. Electrostatics simply cannot really produce bass very well. Yes, the bass can be more articulate, but if you want the bass reproduced with depth and impact, you have to move a lot of air. That is all there is to it. You can improve the bass frequency range of an electrostat by increasing the size of the panel, yes, but it still won’t produce really good, low, tight bass with a lot of impact. This is simply not a strength of electrostatic speakers. Based on my experience, I believe that MartinLogan has made the best decision in pursuing the hybrid concept, electrostatic and woofer together, each doing what they do best. This design choice has the most benefits, with the fewest drawbacks, from what I’ve experienced.
MartinLogans of the past, not the current models, have been criticized for not properly integrating the sound of the woofer with the electrostatic panel. There is some basis to this criticism of past MartinLogans, to be sure, but this is definitely not a factor in the Ethos, as we will see later on.
Even though I do not have substantial experience with past MartinLogan speakers, I have had experience with electrostatics. I have owned two pairs of electrostatic speakers, the Acoustat Model X, with the built-in tube amplifier driving the panels directly, and the Acoustat 2+2 full range electrostatic speakers, with the more conventional transformer-type interface. Both were and still are great speakers, but the MartinLogan Ethos outclasses them both.
Design and Appearance
The greatest compliment that the speakers have received about their appearance came from a female friend of mine, who said within fifteen seconds of seeing them, “Wow, they’re sexy!” I don’t think the WAF gets any better than this. I also love the fact that the speaker is a good size, has a small footprint, is thin and very attractive, a joy to look at and, most importantly, to listen to. I just find too many speakers downright ugly. When you compare, for example, the looks of a speaker like a Sonus Faber with most box speakers… well, you get my point. The appearance of the Ethos is further enhanced because the panel area is semi-transparent and this aids greatly in mentally reducing the apparent size of the speaker. The see-through-ness of the panel, along with the thin rails of the frame makes the Ethos quite the good-looking speaker, through my eyes.
The Ethos has, at the back of the cabinet, an IEC power connector, a rotary BASS LEVEL CONTROL which increases and decreases the amount of the bass to taste, and wonder of wonders, a single set of binding posts, which accept spades, banana plugs or bare wire. I greatly commend MartinLogan for providing only one set of speaker connectors. I agree with companies like MartinLogan, Thiel, Hanson, Wireworld, Coincident and Dynaudio that prefer and promote single wiring versus bi-wiring. In my experience, there is little to no advantage to bi-wiring a speaker. Unless you use the identical speaker cable for the high/mid frequencies and the lows, or use a “shotgun” type cable, internally bi-wiring a cable, is actually a detriment. This is explained in more detail in the Wireworld Cable website. One set of binding posts…thank you, thank you, MartinLogan.
MartinLogan recommends in their Owners Manual to use spades for connecting your speaker cables to the Ethos, and I whole-heartedly agree, spades are the only way to go, as far as I am concerned. I’ve never heard a banana plug sound any good, and almost all of them are made from inferior sounding brass. You also cannot tighten a banana as tightly as a spade connector, therefore the sound is not as good. If you have speakers or cables which use only banana plugs, change them immediately to a top quality post or spades. The base metal must be made of copper, not brass, which sounds horrible. The best connectors I’ve used come from Cardas, Sound Connections, Xhadow and Mundorf. I have changed the posts of half a dozen speakers now, as well as in power amplifiers, and the sonic improvement, in every case, is drastic and immediately obvious. It is simply no contest, spades sound much better than bananas.
Another nice feature of the Ethos is the music sensing circuit, which turns the speaker on or off from stand-by mode, depending on whether music is going into the speaker or not. This feature makes electrostatics operate much like a conventional speaker, after you initially plug the speaker in the AC receptacle, of course. The speaker is always in standby mode, ready to go. A major convenience.
The Ethos comes with an inexpensive AC power cord that you can use, but I strongly suggest you use a better power cord; you will clearly hear the improvement. One criticism of the stock cord is that it has 2 prongs, not three, at the wall receptacle end of the cord. Because it has no ground pin and the 2 prongs are the same width size (ie: not polarized), you can insert this cord both ways into a wall receptacle. Why is this significant? Because the Ethos will sound better if it is plugged into the wall with the correct polarity, the right way round, and you won’t know which way that is without an ohm meter. As you will see later, the Ethos will reveal changes like this. I strongly recommend that MartinLogan use a 3 prong plug for proper polarity (or polarize the plug), even though the ground pin is not used at the IEC connector on the speaker.
The Ethos also comes with both rubber feet for use on hardwood floors and an excellent set of spikes. These legs and spikes are large, hefty and sound excellent. I am sick and tired of seeing so many thin, chintzy, cheap spikes used on even expensive speakers. This is simply unacceptable. These cheap spikes sound like garbage. I commend MartinLogan for realizing the sonic importance of great feet and spikes, and the decision to supply them, even though it cost them a little more. Finally, and often ignored by most manufacturers is the excellent Owners Manual, which describes the speaker and how to place it for maximum performance.
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