|MartinLogan Ascent and Theater Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Sunday, 01 July 2001|
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As discussed above, I was able to utilize a wide variety of power and preamplifiers with the Ascents. It became clearly evident that the Ascents were revealing enough to easily discern between different components and reveal their sonic colorations. The Ascents, while much easier to drive than past MartinLogan loudspeakers, benefited from a powerful amplifier. The 240-watt-per-channel Conrad Johnson amplifier brought the Ascents to life in a manner that the lower-powered amplifiers and integrated amplifiers could not manage to achieve. To the Ascents’ and the integrated amplifier’s credit, the Rotel RA-1060, Bow Technologies Wazoo and Magnum Audio IA170 were all able to drive the Ascents fairly well at reasonable volumes despite their fairly low power ratings. However, to get the most out of the Ascents, top quality electronics, including a powerful, high-current amplifier, are deserved and will provide great rewards. Accordingly, my review relies heavily on my notes from my critical listening session utilizing the Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS and MF 2500.
I allowed the Ascents to break in for a few days in an unused bedroom before listening. Upon placing the Ascents into my system, I noticed a sense of dynamics that was previously missing in my ownership experience with other MartinLogan products. I also noticed that the Ascents were much more room-friendly, allowing for a wider variety of placement. The Ascents even include a switch to attenuate the bass. I left this switch in its flat setting.
I generally found the Ascents to provide a large and deep soundstage with a neutral tonal balance. The electrostatic transducer blended well with the woofer, despite the high cross-over point of 280 Hz. I did not notice the bass phasing problems Bryan Southard noted with the Prodigy speakers in his recent review, but the Ascent does not utilize the same woofer system technology as the Prodigy nor are our rooms similar at all. The Ascent woofer played cleanly and with enough extended lows to alleviate the need for a subwoofer, unless percussion and pipe organs recordings with low bass information are played often.
The Ascents were wonderful in creating a large, solid soundstage. While listening to Bill Berry’s For Duke (Realtime Records), Harry Belafonte’s At Carnegie Hall (Classic Compact Discs), Robbie Roberton’s Robbie Robertson (Mobile Fidelity) and St. Germain’s Tourist (Blue Note) I had a sense of being in front of a large live stage. Many speakers can portray a strong, realistic soundstage with a small ensemble or solo performer, but struggle with larger presentations. The Ascents had no problem with either.
While listening to smaller, more intimate performances, such as Elvis Presley’s Elvis is Back (DCC Compact Discs) and Holly Cole’s It Happened One Night (Metro Blue), the Ascents continued to impress with their detail and solid imaging. I noted that the imaging and placement of sound sources was not quite as precise as the recently reviewed Final 0.3s, when the Final’s were toed in and the MartinLogans were properly set up. However, with the Finals in that position, there was some tonal imbalance. Tradeoffs. The Ascents easily and accurately portrayed the intimate soundstage and vocals of these performers. I was especially impressed with the detail and clarity of the acoustic bass in the Train Song cut. This particular track has quite deep and detailed bass, which came across with a detailed sense of solidity.
I continued to explore the Ascents lower end with Crystal Method’s album Vegas (City of Angels), Paula Cole’s This Fire (Warner Brothers) and Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope (Virgin), and more specifically, the tracks "Busy Child," "Tiger," and "Go Deep." The Ascents had no problems at the lower end, missing only the lowest of frequencies. The roll off at the low end was smooth and I had no problems with bottoming out or other woofer-related anomalies at any reasonable (or even unreasonable) volumes. The bass remained quick and detailed with a remarkably fast leading edge, blending well with the fast electrostatic transducer.
I also utilized the Ascents in my theater system, along with the Theater center channel speaker. The remainder of the system includes the following components: B&K Reference 30 processor, M&K MX-350 subwoofer, MartinLogan Scenarios, Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player, Pioneer Elite DV-38A DVD-Audio player, Pioneer CLD-704 Laserdisc player, Outlaw Audio amplifier, three McIntosh Laboratories MC602 stereo amplifiers, Monster Cable power conditioning and line level cables and AudioQuest speaker cables.
I was a bit concerned with the MX-350’s ability to keep up and blend well with the MartinLogans. I set the subwoofer and processor to the THX reference settings and experienced no problems. When listening closely, I could discern which sounds were coming from the subwoofer and which were from MartinLogans, but the blend was smooth enough to where this was never a problem. There are also rumors of the impending introduction of a MartinLogan subwoofer utilizing three drivers and much of the technology found in their top-of-the-line Statement E2 speakers.
I set the ASC studio trap behind the Ascents. As in the stereo system, the tube traps were placed in the corners to even out the bass response. The Theater was placed on top of a speaker stand to bring the top of the speaker to just under three feet off the ground. I angled the rear Scenario speakers outward at a nearly 45 degree angle, which provided an enveloping rear channel effect due to the dispersion pattern of the electrostatic design.
I originally started off with the Outlaw Audio amplifier and all was good. I received the McIntosh MC602’s and placed them into the system. The MartinLogans were rewarded by their massive power (600 watts per channel), as well as enhanced sonic characteristics. I also experienced a significant improvement in the sound quality when I switched to the AudioQuest speaker cables. Specifically, I utilized Gibraltar cables in the front and CV-4’s in the rear. The front left and right were bi-wired. The AudioQuest cables, after a long break-in, were smooth, extremely neutral and further enhanced the Ascent’s dynamics. With speakers as revealing as these, the astute listener will both hear any imperfection in the signal path and reap the rewards of any upgrades therein. I found the cable upgrade to provide significant and worthwhile sonic benefits.
While watching Gladiator (DVD, 6.1 DTS ES, Dreamworks), I was impressed by the seamless integration among the speakers. I especially noticed this with the cranking of the catapults in the opening battle scene. This seamless integration is also evident and important every time a speaking character crosses the screen. Without this integration, the character would sound like a different person, depending on their onscreen location.
The MartinLogan’s detail and transparency pay off with movie soundtracks, as well as with music. With the MartinLogan 5.1 system, I was able to hear details without congestion, despite a busy and complex background. While watching Saving Private Ryan (DTS, DVD, Dreamworks), the complex and busy battles scenes can easily get congested.
During the dialogue-dominated scenes, the tonal accuracy and balance of the speakers throughout the listening area became apparent. I listened to these scenes while sitting in several positions and achieved similar results in all of them until I was significantly outside the boundaries formed by the left and right speakers. Despite seating position and positions of onscreen dialogue, the voices remained consistent in tone and timbre. I believe this also assisted with the system’s ability to portray solid imaging that corresponded with the video.
The MartinLogan system remained detailed and well- integrated throughout many movies and listening sessions. The dynamic range was sufficient but not excellent, with the Outlaw Audio amplifier (165 watts per channel), but the range seemed unlimited with the McIntosh MC602’s. I recommend a high-quality, high-powered amplifier for theater duty to accurately portray the wide dynamic range in today’s movies.
The MartinLogan Theater is the most detailed center channel I have had in my system. I never found myself turning up the center channel volume in order to hear dialogue. I was initially concerned with the dispersion angles of the MartinLogans but found no problems in listening. The sound remained consistent, regardless of the listening position.
I also listened to quite a variety of 5.1 audio through my MartinLogans. I started with several DTS discs, The Eagles’ When Hell Freezes Over (DTS/Geffen), Lyle Lovett’s "Joshua Judges Ruth" (DTS) and Toy Matinee’s self-titled DVD (DTS). The MartinLogan 5.1 was stunning with its incredible amount of detail and accuracy. This is one of the few systems that can do both stereo and surround sound. The DTS discs were all rendered with great detail and realism. I found all the attributes I noted while listening to the Ascents in my stereo system to exist here as well.
Lastly, I received a DVD-Audio disc just before deadline. I played the Blue Man Group’s self-titled DVD-Audio disc (Virgin Records) and was shocked at the increased detail available through this format. The extreme musical detail of DVD-Audio on an all-5.1 MartinLogan system is like injecting 110 octane fuel into a race bike. The performance boost is so strong that it can knock you out of your seat. DVD-Audio discs like The Blue Man Group best demonstrate this MartinLogan system’s strengths of detail, accuracy and integration.