MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL X Loudspeaker Page 2

Then, of course, each speaker needs an AC wall socket for the supplied DC PSU that gives the electrostatic panel its get and up go. This socket, and corresponding status light, is mounted on the EM-ESL X's rear, below dual sets of speaker binding posts that are contoured for an easy grip. Forget to plug it in, and all you'll hear are the woofers…

sqnote Grand Entrance
Having spent considerable time setting up these speakers, I was relieved to sit down and enjoy the show. Thankfully, it proved to be one worth the entry fee. As expected, the sound was noticeably different to much of the cabinet-meets-driver competition, most obviously in terms of imaging and soundstaging nuance. I'd struggle to think of a more 'invisible' model at this price or one that bettered the clarity and openness of its mids and highs. The EM-ESL X's sizable transducer elicited a detailed, transparent listen, and this was joined by a well-defined and up-to-speed bass performance.

But first there's the scale of the performance to applaud. The size of the EM-ESL X's sound outshines the speaker itself, its grand soundscape a feature of other large dipole panels [see HFN Apr '18]. Jon Hopkins' instrumental 'Contact Note', from the eponymous 2004 album [Just Music TAO 010; 44.1kHz/24-bit], provided a perfect demonstration of its room-filling ability. Ominous synths and choral vocals emerged from a deep, wide wall of sound that felt totally independent of the diaphragms. Details were placed so far beyond them left and right I couldn't help but cock my head in bafflement.

This presentation is the EM-ESL X's calling card, but it wouldn't count for much if traded for a shortfall in tonal or timbral accuracy. Iron Butterfly's proto prog-rock epic 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' [eponymous; Rhino Records SALVOCD071], found the EM-ESL X bringing superb texture and body to plump bass, overdriven guitar and vibrato organ. Ron Bushy's legendary drum solo also became a barometer of the speaker's handling of stereo movement. As tom-toms danced forward and back, stage right, and then drifted leisurely across to the left channel, this late '60s production trick was easy to appreciate.

Iron Butterfly singer Doug Ingle sounded distant here, almost lurking at the back of the soundstage, but with recordings that put a focus on vocals, this speaker can be ridiculously entertaining. In My Baby's funk-fusion 'Supernatural Aid' [Mounaike – By The Bright Of Night; Prehistoric Rhythm J81 H270020], the distorted and reverbed verses felt close enough to reach out and touch, and when Mark Knopfler started saluting 'these mist-covered mountains' in 'Brothers In Arms' [eponymous; Vertigo 824 499-2], there was a lucidity to his vocal that encouraged me to close my eyes.


Bi-wiring and bi-amping are accommodated via ML's split 400Hz crossover and two sets of 4mm cable binding posts. The 7-24V DC input is below, stepped up internally to provide the XStat MicroPerf's polarising voltage

Swagger Sticks
Even with two bass drivers in play, the EM-ESL X is voiced to ensure the low-end rarely sounds dominant. In fact, it seems more concerned with transitional speed and detail than sheer output. Considering the uncoloured, transparent nature of the loudspeaker's midband, this makes sense, but does mean the sound here is drier rather than warm, and won't suit those who cherish bass weight above all else.

Subsequently, enjoyment levels fluctuate from track to track. The EM-ESL X finds a groove with lean-sounding rock music – The Cult's 'Love Removal Machine' from their hit record Electric [Beggars Banquet BBL 80 CD] enjoyed real punch, bite and swagger. Yet with The Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' [Pet Sounds; Capitol Records; 96kHz/24-bit] or Jean-Michel Jarre's 'The Time Machine' [Electronica 1…; Sony Music 88875123472] there was less meat to chew on, less bounce to lower mids and upper bass. And while overall bass extension is sufficient for most music, on occasion the 200mm drivers and down-firing port were being asked to dig deeper than they could.

Clear Winner
This is more observation than criticism, as I'm wary of expecting too much from a loudspeaker at this price that performs so admirably in other areas. For instance, the EM-ESL X steers clear of HF nasties. Hi-hats and cymbals were always distinct and well separated, avoiding splash or brightness. Metallica's 'Dyer's Eve', which closes an album famed for a treble-heavy 'scooped' guitar tone […And Justice For All; Vertigo 836062-2] was perhaps more listenable than I've ever heard it, helped by the EM-ESL X's speedy transducer keeping its frantic rhythms and riffs astonishing clear.

Lastly, for a simple five-minute demonstration of what this loudspeaker can do, give Elton John's 'Honky Cat' [Honky Chateau; Mercury 528 162-2] a whirl. Huge piano accompaniment, dynamic trombone and saxophone hits, a drum track that sounds almost three-dimensional and Reginald Dwight throwing out rhyming couplets right into your listening room. It sounded… electrifying.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Anyone priced out of MartinLogan's Masterpiece series should investigate this near entry-level electrostatic hybrid as the next best thing. This big loudspeaker's sound is transparent but still one of character – sublime clarity, a tight, fast bass, and remarkable imaging. Setup is but a temporary headache (beware your boundary walls!) but the resulting listening experience is the perfect panacea.

Lawrence, KS, US
Supplied by: The Professional Monitor Company Ltd, UK
01767 686300