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MartinLogan Ethos Loudspeaker Review

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The Set-Up

Because MartinLogan electrostatic speakers are now manufactured in a suburb of Toronto Canada, where I live, I was able to go to the factory and pick up the Ethos speakers myself. The review system was set up by Mark Aling, the marketing manager, and Erin Phillips from the marketing department. Both were extremely friendly, very accommodating and a lot of fun to be with. They both are really good people. As a matter of fact, everyone I met at the plant, from some of the designers, reception, and even the shipping department, were really good people and loved working there. As a businessman, I was impressed at the culture and the environment at MartinLogan. A first-class company. Just so that you know, they also can manufacture new electrostatic panels for some of the vintage MartinLogan speakers, such as the CLS and the SL3. Talk about product support and customer service.

The Ethos had been broken-in for me for 100 hours at the factory, which was a great help. As a result, I cannot tell you how the speakers will sound straight out of the box. The sound continued to improve as the hours of listening went by. The quality of sound continued to improve slightly for the next 500-600 hours. At about 1,000 hours or so the sound stabilized. This is typical in my experience with most speakers, which take months to substantially break in. If you are auditioning these speakers or other MartinLogans, I would advise that they have preferably 200-300 hours on them. Even more important, make sure the speakers have been plugged into the wall, even if it is just on standby, for at least 3-4 hours before you listen to them. When you first plug them into the wall, even if they are fully broken in, they will sound a little light, and a little thin and aggressive, by comparison only, until the panels charge up and stabilize. Also of note, when I first plugged in the Ethos with about 100 hours on it, the deeper bass range was initially a little boomy. I did try the stock power cord. It is okay, but to really hear what these speakers can do, which is a heck of a lot, you need to use a better power cord, which does not mean expensive, as you will see later.

Placing the Ethos in my room was fairly easy. They are not very demanding of placement although they are revealing of it, as they sounded very good at the first place I plopped them in. My experience is that the Ethos are one of the easiest speakers to place and position in my room, far easier than most box speakers, even. Good news if you have “heard” that electrostats are fussy and difficult to position. Not true, in my experience. One of the reasons for this is that, being panels and dipole, the side reflections from the speaker are substantially reduced or almost eliminated, thus making positioning far easier.

Martin Logan Ethos Bass Cabinet

The Sound of Electrostatics

In virtually any speaker, I can usually hear the sound of the “driver” due to its materials and construction, including the driving material itself, whatever it might be, polypropylene, bextreme, other plastics, fabric tweeter, paper, metal drivers and domes, ribbon drivers, and of course plastic membranes as used in electrostatics and planar magnetic speakers. This is understandable, as all materials vibrate and resonate differently. With almost all stats in the past, I could hear the sound of the plastic film diaphragm, to a greater or lesser degree. I heard this plastic quality less in past electrostats from Acoustat, the best of the past in this regard, in my experience. The Acoustats were better at hiding this sound quality of the “driver,” than other stats, in the past. The Ethos are better than even the Acoustats in further reducing this sound of the plastic diaphragm, to unprecedented lower levels. When it comes to clarity, transparency and openness, the Ethos just stomp the old Acoustats, which were a little veiled and cloudy, by comparison. The Ethos are a major improvement overall, over the Acoustats as well as all other electrostats that I have heard to date. A significant factor in this increase in sound quality, has been in the improved technology in science and materials over the last 40 years or so.

This is not meant as a criticism of electrostatic speakers in general, as I can hear the sound of materials used in any speaker, whether it is a panel or box speaker, a moving coil, a planar magnetic or electrostatic principle.

The Sound

Reviewing the Ethos speakers has been an absolute joy and pleasure. They do so many things so well, and have so few drawbacks. Because of that, they are so difficult to criticize. To use an analogy that most men can relate to, as most of us in this hobby, sometimes an addiction, are men, I use the following example. Trying to criticize the Ethos is like trying to criticize a really good looking woman, say a 9 or 9.5 on the scale. You might criticize, okay…her ankles aren’t as thin as I would like, her wrists are a little too thin, she doesn’t have the nicest belly button, etc. But you know……she’s still gorgeous. The same can be said of the Ethos. Okay, it doesn’t have quite the impact or weight of a good box speaker, it can’t “rock” enough for metal heads, it doesn’t go really loud enough to be really explosive, etc., but you know, it is still a gorgeous speaker. It’s a 9 or 9.5 on the “speaker” scale, for me and my tastes.

The Ethos is a phenomenally good speaker and does so many things so well. Like most electrostatics, the cohesiveness in the midrange all the way to the treble, is totally addictive and so impressive. This is what stats are known for, and are worthy of that praise. My old Acoustats exhibited this quality also. It is so pleasurable to hear the music in the midrange and the highs that is cut from the “same cloth,” so to speak. I find that most traditional moving coil speakers have trouble in this area and have a slightly different sound character, and sometimes a different stage and projection perspective as well. To add to this, many times the loudness of each of the drivers is different as well, further making the speaker not cohesive between frequency ranges. The Ethos absolutely has none of these effects. The entire midrange and high frequencies are cohesive, cut from the same cloth, seamless and the tonality/tonal balance is spot on, one of the best, if not the best, I’ve ever heard in my home.

I need to warn you right here, once you acclimatize to this quality of cohesiveness and linear frequency response, it can be very, very difficult to go back to traditional driver loudspeakers…You have been warned. I myself find it very hard to go back to cone and dome drivers in a box. To compound this difficulty of going back to traditional speakers, is the Ethos’ openness and wall-to-wall soundstage. A major advantage because it does not have a box, nor the “box” colourations that usually come with it. I enjoyed the Ethos for a longer time than usual for a speaker review; thanks so much to the wonderful people at MartinLogan, especially Mark Aling. I can tell you, for me, it was and it is very difficult to go back to traditional box speakers; I can now “hear” the box much more than before, as a result of spending the wonderful time with Ethos. One of my reviewer friends said (and I paraphrase), “For most of you, this can mean the death of the monkey coffins.” He wasn’t kidding.

8 Responses to MartinLogan Ethos Loudspeaker Review

  1. Ted says:

    I’m glad that you liked the MartinLogan speakers, but I am so sick of reviewers saying they’re not speakers for rockers and metal heads. It is just ridiculous! I’ve had MartinLogans since 1992 and rock is all the music I ever listen to and I mean at ear bleeding levels. The MartinLogans will rock with the best of them! Stop telling people this isn’t so! With the right equipment MartinLogan speakers will sing forever with loud rock music.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree 100%. I have been rocking with ML’s since the early 90’s. There is no music that they cannot reproduce to satisfaction…..and most of it at ear splitting levels.

  2. Michael says:

    Nice review (if just a bit effusive), but I would have liked to have read what front end components the reviewer was using and read more articulation on how this speaker responded to different genres of music (and what albums tracks he was listening to).

    That would have been very helpful, because I’ve been considering buying the Ethos as a present for my brother.

    I’ve been using MartinLogan speakers since 1990, when I bought a pair of Sequel II’s. I now own a pair of Prodigy’s.

    With both speakers, I listen to everything: classical, rock, jazz, blues.. They play back all types of music as good, in my opinion, as it can be played. It’s mind blowing what these speakers can do, in terms of transporting you into the music or creating a holographic image around you.

    And I too, sometimes play the music at very high levels, although the Sequels would roll off at certain highs and definitely had a threshold (but that is now a 24 year old speaker technology), the Prodigy’s like to be played loud (my Mark Levinson 334 amp will clip, before the speakers will distort) which is great for listening to a live recording from a stadium concert.
    As with any speaker, the right front end components are important; esp. the amp with a speaker as power hungry and transparent as the MartinLogan line. Hence I would have like to have read what the reviewer was using as a reference for this review.

    I’ve also found that MartinLogan’s are very responsive to the type of speaker cables and interconnects used. That information would be helpful in a review too (if just listed as “associated equipment”)

  3. Stephen Fleschler says:

    The Ethos has a rather high panel to woofer turnover frequency. Unfortunately, I have found in the past that this leads to inferior bass and low mids. I’ve owned Acoustat Xs, 2&2s, ML Request and Monolith IIIs. The latter played rock loud but not as dynamically or clearly (my wife made me get rid of them 15 years ago). No I prefer a wider seating area, deeper and punchier bass and greater (clean) dynamics so I replaced them with the Legacy Focus (the originals). You may think that’s wrong for someone who listens to classical and jazz (39,000 LPs/78s/CDs) but most of my friends have also joined the ranks of Legacy and Von Schwiekert multi-way dynamic speakers. P.S. Magnepan 3.7s sound great but need a lot of juice. A speaker which Dagogo reviewed which has a much lower turnover point is the Roger Sanders 10c electrostat/powered bass driver which achieves reduced interface problems since the c over b model decreased the crossover from 330 hz to 172 hz. The panel goes down to the bass, preserving continuity (and speed) in the entire mid-range.

  4. Mauriceq says:

    Hi George,
    That was a VERY information dense review, clearly written, well organized, and easily understood. I’m going to travel to Denver to preview the Ethos and Montis. I was wondering if you’ve heard the Gallo 3.5 and how it compares to the Ethos. Maurice

  5. rwb says:

    I am interested in your speakers.although I Love the soundfieldn depth of my Kef 107 speakers and ref 3s.

    Willin to purchase them to try em out at $3500 B0b in los Altos 650=903=0086

  6. Kyle Mansfield says:

    Good article, as well as good comments! We recently got a pair of the “Montis”and couldn’t be happier, and for now in a a pretty small room even. After owning five of the models ranging from the CLS, Sequel,Aerius and the Vantage, (and Acoustat X’s) and now finally the “Montis” we feel wecan live with till the end of time.
    Truly a magnificent speaker on all levels!
    Both the Ethos and the Montis, I think are at the moment, the best of the Martin Logan line, due to the digital crossover, which makes the integration seemless. Also the newer panels are fricking amazing! Especially when driven by my VTL MB-450 amps, a match made in sonic heaven✨
    One of my friends describes it as “a wonderful brain massage” (and he is a brain opp tech!)
    You have to love when you have expanded both the amount and range of different genres of music you listen to, because the sound is so real! And we used to go to over ten live shows a year at least (with earplugs for the louder shows) so my senses really know live sound, and the Montis just deliver everytime.
    Also appreciate that my wife loves both the sound and site of these beauties, and the footprint is quite small. First pair of speakers You will ever own that you feel like hugging every once in awhile do to how happy they keep you! After over thirty years of searching and spending much time and money, with the Martin Logan “Montis”, we finally have arrived….Nuff Said.”

  7. Andrew says:

    Great review. Electrostats have clearly proven their place in the audiophile world, with only perhaps the advent of the berillium drivers to possibly eclipse them. The only drawback I see, besides a somewhat limited dynamics, is the integration of the drivers, being so different will always be their Achilles heel. However, as I said, except for the berrilium drivers, there is little if anything to get in their way getting to the audiophile summit.

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