Before starting my review of the MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A hybrid speaker, I feel it is important to know about me, my biases and why I purchased an expensive speaker that no one in the public including most dealers had seen/heard.
I am a retired Market Researcher who enjoys listening to classical music. All of my current equipment including interconnects, power cords etc. were purchased by phone, sight unseen, based on the recommendations of a high end audio dealer. For my SACD player, I chose it based on a review. I prefer solid state equipment as it is easier to maintain and in my opinion, produces a cleaner sound that is closer to what is recorded. Yes, I can appreciate a good tube system but many are too soft and warm for my taste.
My pet peeve is reading reviews of solid state equipment, including CD players, by writers who have a clear preference for vinyl and tubes.
I was an early adopter of the MartinLogan Montis 5 years ago. In the past year I improved the Montis’ performance by adding ASC Tube Traps, then moving the Montis farther from the side and front walls, and placing the speakers’ panels more perpendicular to the floor. With the exception of the Tube Traps the changes I made also significantly increased the amount of bass boom heard on some of my CDs.
In conversations with a dealer he mentioned the significant improvement he heard with the new MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A, which has 15-inch wide electrostatic panels and two 12-inch woofers, and which costs $25K. The Renaissance comes with a built-in Anthem Room Correction digital room equalizer that can reduce bass boom. I told the dealer that if a less expensive version of the ARC-equipped 15A came out, I would buy it. A few days later I got a call from the dealer telling me that MartinLogan was now accepting preorders for two less expensive versions. Both new speakers would have built in room equalization — the Expression (13-inch wide panel and two 10-inch woofers) which is the replacement for the Summit X, and the Impression (11-inch wide panel and two 8-inch woofers) which replaces the Montis. The prices of the new speakers at $15K and $10K the pair, respectively were not increased from the prior models. Because production was just starting, no auditions were possible. I gambled and went with the somewhat more expensive Expression.
The MartinLogan Expression is a completely new 61-inch tall hybrid speaker which replaces the MartinLogan Summit X. From the front the Summit X and Expression look similar but from the side the Expressions woofer enclosure is longer and more rectangular. The top section of the Expression consists of a slightly curved electrostatic panel in an ultra-rigid frame, about 44 inches tall and 13 inches wide. The rigid frame also runs along the bottom of the woofer enclosure. The 13-inch panel is 2 inches wider with 20% more surface area than the one in the Summit X.
The Expression’s curved panel allows for better dispersion of the high frequencies. Inside the panel is a sheet of “Mylar like” material .0005 inch thick that is coated to be conductive. According to MartinLogan, the improved coating allows the panel to be charged with static electricity between closely spaced stators. The panel/diaphragm can trace delicate sonic details with precision as the “Mylar like” material has little inertia compared to cone speakers. Instead of having crossover points that results in discontinuities in the sound, the Expression’ panel operates over an exceptionally wide frequency range. The claimed frequency response of the Expression is 24Hz to 23,000 Hz +/-3dB with a single crossover at 300Hz. On paper the frequency response of the Expression is similar to that of the prior Summit X.
Connected to the panel are two 10-inch aluminum long throw woofers in a cabinet, powered by two 300-watt class D amplifiers. The back-facing woofer is covered by a metal grill. This allows the two horizontally opposed, phase timed drivers (Powered Force Forward) to work together to reduce the reflected energy from the front wall, resulting in “easy placement for clean, pure, powerful bass response.” On the back of the woofer enclosure, near the bottom are two controls — a 75 hertz bass level control (+/- 10 dB) for room acoustics optimization and a 150-250 hertz mid bass control (-2dB,0,+2bB). There are also switches for floor lighting and turning on/off room equalization (ARC). USB and Ethernet connectors are used to connect the Anthem Room Correction with software residing on your PC or laptop.
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