|MartinLogan Descent Subwoofer|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 January 2004|
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MartinLogan is a company known for making high-end electrostatic speakers, a field which they have dominated for many years. Audio Revolution has reviewed many of their products over the years due to their value and competitive entry price into the true high end of music and theater reproduction. Up until recently, owners of MartinLogan speakers have been forced to find a subwoofer to complement their speakers from the other manufacturers. This all changed with MartinLogan’s much-anticipated release of the Descent subwoofer, which retails for $2,795.
MartinLogan spent approximately eight years in development of this offering. I recall seeing a prototype at least three years ago and was quite excited when I learned a copy of the finished product would be heading my way. The release of a subwoofer by MartinLogan is a significant step into new territory, as the electrostatic speakers the company is known for are notoriously difficult to blend with a subwoofer. This is due to the speaker’s speed and detail, traits not normally found in a subwoofer, whose primary job is to move large volumes of air, more brute force than a finesse job.
The question at hand: can the Descent keep up with the speakers it has been designed to complement?
MartinLogan didn’t invent electrostatic speakers. However, the company was the first to make them user-friendly and to supply full-range speakers in a reasonable size that would fit in contemporary homes. MartinLogan achieved this with their hybrid designs, combining the electrostatic panels with conventional bass drivers. This gave the speakers the detail and quickness we all love in the electrostatic panels, and the efficiency and impact of conventional drivers. The problem with this is that electrostatic panels are lightning fast as they have minimal mass, and conventional drivers can be slower, which can cause a blending issue. In early MartinLogan speakers like the famous CLS, you could sometimes hear a discontinuity between the high- and midrange frequencies and that of the low frequency due to this issue. Over the years, MartinLogan has corrected this and now have beautifully integrated hybrid electrostatic speakers. Yet matching someone else’s sub is a whole other issue. Arguably, with the launch of the Descent, it is an issue you no longer need to worry about.
The Descent is the first subwoofer and the biggest of the three subwoofers currently in MartinLogan’s line. Despite weighing 95 pounds, the Descent is only 21 inches high, 20 inches wide and 18.25 inches deep. When viewed from the top, this fairly compact package is shaped like a hexagon. It has six panels, three smaller and three larger. The three larger panels are set 120 degrees apart from one another, supporting a 10-inch aluminum alloy driver in each, with one facing forward. Above the forward-facing driver, hidden by the grille cloth, is a simple control panel with a four-position phase switch, power switch, a level control, a two-position low pass filter control, a level control and, lastly, a switch to control the illuminated “M” logo at the top of the grille. The small back panel hosts the connections, an IEC power cord receptacle, single-ended stereo inputs, balanced and single-ended LFE inputs and a single-ended output to loop to an additional subwoofer. The top panel of the Descent is interchangeable and is available in a variety of beautiful wood finishes. The whole package is compact and attractive enough to be mistaken for an end table, as it was by several visitors to my home. Even before I heard a peep from the Descent in terms of music and movies, it was earning a positive review from my girlfriend as it replaced the huge black box that had previously served the sub frequencies.
There is no question that MartinLogan is one of the industry’s true innovators and the Descent upholds this tradition. In an effort to minimize unwanted sonic resonances that will color the sound of any speaker and, most notably, will cloud the sound of your sub information, MartinLogan has incorporated what they call “Balanced Force” technology into the equation. Three drivers are placed 120 degrees apart in equal phase. Because they are in exact opposition, the drivers essentially oppose each other’s forces, causing resonate cancellation. Additionally, this serves to make the cabinet stronger, as all forces work against one another.
This concept was born in MartinLogan’s $70,000 Statement E2 speakers. The Balanced Force configuration was found to reduce cabinet noise and bass smearing or fuzziness by giving the drivers a more stable and quiet platform for their operation. The wood utilized in the cabinet construction is an especially dense Canadian version of MDF known as Ranger Board. The end result is a very quiet and inert cabinet.
MartinLogan doesn’t stop there in making sure the drivers are accurately controlled. The amplifier is capable of 400 watts RMS with 800-watt peaks and is connected to the drivers through a servo circuit. The servo circuit constantly measures the actual movement of the drivers and compares their movement to the incoming signal, making the necessary adjustments to insure that the output of the drivers matches the signal. This is said to result in a three-to-tenfold reduction in distortion over a traditional dynamic driver circuit. The Descent has a rated frequency response of 20 – 150 Hz, +/- 3 dB.
The Descent was easy to set up in my home theater. I physically placed the unit close to the front wall, between my MartinLogan Theater center channel and Odyssey right channel. I connected the Descent to my theater system’s processor via its single-ended LFE input. I adjusted the level using the processor’s test tones and a sound pressure level meter.
For those who are mortally afraid of instruction manuals, MartinLogan has a quick set-up card that you will find hanging off the front panel. Less than a minute’s worth of reading will provide you with enough information to get the Descent up and running. While it is not necessary, I strongly recommend reading the well-written owner’s manual, as it gives good advice about placement and settings.