MartinLogan Summit Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

MartinLogan, a well-known name in the audio enthusiast community, is undergoing a radical change. The entire line is being revamped. The Summit retails for $10,000 per pair, which is slightly less than its award-winning predecessor, the Prodigy. In staying true to its history, the Summit is a hybrid design with an electrostatic panel mated with a dynamic woofer, but it features a host of new technology and sports a completely new industrial design.

Visually, I find the Summit to be the most attractive MartinLogan I have seen to date. It is more reminiscent of the Scenario than the Prodigy it replaces, in that its panels are not surrounded by visually imposing frames. The panels on the Summit are surrounded by frames featuring MartinLogan’s AirFrame technology and made from aerospace-grade aluminum. The panels feature a whole slew of technological and design innovations that have a bunch of catchy names, such as MicroPerf Stator, CLS, Generation 2 Diaphragm, ClearSpars and Vacuum Bonding. What all this means is that these are the most advanced MartinLogan panels to date. Like MartinLogan panels of yore, they are a curved linear source (CLS), which provides a larger sweet spot. Other technological advances ensure higher tolerances, consistent response across the panel, increased physical capabilities and more playable area in a given panel size.

The bottom half of the speaker is just as revolutionary as the top. The woofer cabinet is tiny when compared to past models. MartinLogan co-founder Gayle Sanders likes to say the cabinets are about the size of a case of wine. The overall dimensions are 59 inches high by 20-and-a-half inches deep and 12-and-a-half inches wide. The woofer cabinet itself is about a foot high in the front and angles up to a nearly vertical rear panel a few inches higher. The cabinet comes in a variety of wood finishes, with my review sample finished in a maple veneer. The top panel features an aluminum accent with a thin blue light down the middle, which is dimmable/defeatable via a small knob on the back of the woofer’s enclosure. In a darkened room, the blue light is easily to see through the panels, which I found to be visually pleasing, making the speaker even less imposing and more of an artistic statement. The rear panel features two other knobs, which let you tune the bass +/- 10dB at 25Hz & 50Hz, MartinLogan’s unique bi-wireable binding posts, and an IEC power cord receptacle underneath a small LED status light. Finally, the entire cabinet sits on new and unique feet. These feet are height-adjustable and can be configured with the spike inserts reversed for floors that would be damaged by spikes.

It is not only the design of the cabinet that makes the bottom half of the Summit unique, but also what the cabinet houses. The cabinet features 10-inch aluminum cone woofers, one firing downward and one forward, each powered by its own internal 200-watt amplifier. This is the first MartinLogan ESL that features powered woofers. The Summit can reach way down to 24 Hz and do it with authority despite its small cabinet. Of course, this system also has a nifty name, PoweredForce.

The Summit utilizes the Vojtko crossover, derived from the Statement E2, to blend the woofers and panel at 270 Hz. MartinLogan specifically chose this point and crossover assembly, as it minimizes aberrations in the crucial midrange area. One of the major benefits of any wide-range driver, such as the Summit’s electrostatic panel is the reduction in the number of crossover points that could potentially interfere with the transparent reproduction of the sound signal.

The Summits weigh 75 pounds each, with a nominal impedance of four ohms. Frequency response is 24Hz to 23,000 kHz, with the crossover between the panel and woofers set at 270 Hz. The Summit is capable of handling 100-300 watts per channel, for which I recommend leaning towards the higher end of the spectrum.

Setting up dipole speakers such as the Summits requires careful room placement to get the most from such significant instruments. Thankfully, the Summit’s tunable controls at 25Hz or 50Hz allows for some flexibility in its placement. This is as good a place as any to give kudos to the owner’s manual of the Summits. The manual provides extensive information about the technologies utilized in the speakers, so that the end user has a better understanding of how the speakers work. The manual also provides extensive yet easy to follow instructions and tips for setting up the speakers. I ended up with the speakers’ panels being approximately two feet from the front wall, with their inside edges seven feet apart with slight toe-in.

This is the first MartinLogan speaker (other than a subwoofer) for which I recommend the use of a quality power conditioner. I used the Monster Power HTS 5100 MKII and found it to be beneficial, especially with the powered subwoofer portion of the speaker, and all my listening notes are with the power conditioner in the system. The Summit, like all MartinLogans I have had the opportunity to review, is extremely revealing and benefits from a high powered amplifier. Accordingly, a high-quality source and stout amplification are recommended. During my listening, I used Classe’s CDP-202 (review forthcoming) as my source and either Krell’s FBI integrated amplifier (review also forthcoming) or McIntosh Laboratories’ C220 tube preamplifier (review pending) driving Halcro’s MC50 amps. I received the McIntosh C220 toward the end of my listening session, so most listening was done with the Krell, unless otherwise noted.

I was fortunate enough to receive some new high-quality cables from Cardas and Monster Cable’s Sigma line, which I used with this review. The interconnects were balanced cables from the Cardas Golden Presence line and the speaker cables used were the Cardas Golden Presence bi-wires. The Monster Cable Sigma speaker cables, as noted later in the review, each had their own signatures, which were easily revealed by the Summits.

Before I set the Summits up with the gear described above, I hooked them up to a simple but reliable old receiver I had lying around and let them play the radio and a few CDs for several weeks to allow for sufficient break-in. I admit I stole a few minutes of listening here and there. Most of those early listening sessions resulted from guests spotting the speakers and commenting on how cool they looked and insisting on listening to them. These early sessions were intriguing, old receiver and all. Needless to say, I was anxious to get these speakers into a reference system and see if they could fit the role of reference speakers.

I first listened to one of senior editor Bryan Southard’s favorite test tracks, “Anchored in You,” from Shawn Mullins’ Soul’s Core (Sony). As expected, there was great detail in the vocals. However, I also noted a warmth and fullness that helped provide a solid, three-dimensional image. The warmth didn’t get in the way of the Summits being able to clearly reproduce the raspiness in Mullins’ voice. The imaging was rock-solid with a good sense of space, which I attribute in part to the clean and extended highs. The image was convincing enough that, if I didn’t know better, I would think that I was listening to a live performance. The timbre, speed and decay were all right on the money.

Fooling my ears is one thing. I soon learned that my dog, who nearly always ignores whatever I am listening, to was tricked by the Summits, or at least they got his attention. I played the non-audiophile “Waiting for My Ruca” from Sublime’s 40 oz. to Freedom (MCA Records). This track starts with a variety of sounds, including a barking dog which sent my dog on the search for the mystery hound in his house. This is the first time I can remember him reacting like this to any of my audio systems. This track continues with a heavy bass line that showed off the Summits’ ability to reach down to the 24Hz range. While the Summits did not pressurize the room with the same ease and solidity as the RBH T-2Ps (also $10,000), they did an impressive job with a much smaller enclosure. The bass depth, pressure and detail was all very good, easily bettering any prior MartinLogans I’ve heard (Statements excepted).

Continuing with dynamic music, something that the new panel technology is said to be suited for, I played Queen’s “We Will Rock You” from News of the World (Hollywood Records). The Summits portrayed a solid wall of sound with the repetitive bass line and easily switched to the gritty guitar riff at the end, which was well-localized on the soundstage. The track “Get Down, Make Love” features Freddie Mercury’s powerful, dynamic vocals, which were powerfully portrayed without strain by the Summits even at high listening volumes; concert-level volume, I think, may be the PC term.

Female vocals were also treated right by the Summits. Playing the well-recorded “Dat Dere” from Rickie Lee Jones’ album Pop Pop (Geffen), I noticed her delicate voice was reproduced as though coming from an area in front of the speaker plane, with the various string and wind instruments arranged behind her, seemingly up to several feet behind my front wall. None of the individual elements on this track are particularly powerful, but each requires finesse and precision and this must be across the spectrum to achieve the proper balance, which the Summits were able to accomplish easily.

Moving from detail to power, I played the three-song series “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 1,” “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall (Capitol), which begins fairly mellow and moves up the raucous meter. The opening vocals float on a virtual plane between the speakers, with the guitars and chorus set further back. The soundstage was solid across the front; I could not detect any sonic holes, even with the speakers seven feet apart. The imaging remained solid and distinct at the same time with tremendous depth, especially notable with the helicopter effect at the end of “Part 1.” The impact of the drums was crisp and solid and the bass line from “Part 2” was powerful and well-balanced. I noticed that the weight and impact of the drums here was a bit greater with the Sigma cables than with the Golden Presence cables. While the Golden Presence cables were slightly more forward and open throughout the midrange, the difference was subtle. The differences in midrange between the two cables were more easily discernable with clean vocal tracks, such as that of Shawn Mullins.

It is important to note that these speakers do best with a powerful amplifier. The Krell FBI, with 300 watts per channel of Class A power, did a great job as did the Halcro MC 50. I found the FBI to have a bit more high-end extension, with the McIntosh/Halcro combination being a bit fuller in the midrange.

The Downside
Being a MartinLogan fan, with the Summit being the best MartinLogan (outside the ridiculously expensive and large Statement), it was hard to find much that I didn’t like about it. Alas, no speaker is perfect. The Summit requires serious amplification to get the best performance. My experience indicates that lesser power amplifiers will not be able to cleanly control this speaker. You’ll want to make sure the amplifier is stable as the Summit can dip down to .7 ohms. The fact that I used a receiver to break it in is no assurance that you can use even the most beefy receivers on a set of Summits. You need a high-current amp.

Like all dipoles, the Summits are a little picky about positioning. The bass controls help some, but positioning is critical to achieve the transparent and solid soundstage that these speakers are capable of providing. Lastly, while these are the best-looking MartinLogans to date, the cabinet work is good, but not world-class. A close look at the corners reveals seams that could have been a little cleaner. I don’t think that this effects sound quality one bit, nor are most people going to crawl around your floor to take a close look, but it was something I noticed.

The Summit is one of the finest speakers available in the high-end market. The Summit does a phenomenal job in the midrange, which is an electrostatic trait, and the panel blends extremely well with the new dynamic woofer, which has not always been the case with previous models. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Summit is the most seamless electrostatic speaker I have heard to date.

The Summits, with a base price of $10,000 per pair (custom finishes can be more), are not cheap by any means, yet they are excellent full-range speakers that do everything they are asked to do extremely well. The Summit is a very attractive-looking speaker, much more so than its predecessors. In fact, this is one of the few speakers that have received welcoming responses from both the women and the men that have seen it. Usually, most women who see larger speakers roll their eyes and start making comments about “those cute Bose speakers” - not so when they see the Summits. The fact that the MartinLogan Summits are visually transparent yet sleek in design gets you significantly better wife acceptance for those who need this before bringing home a new pair of high-end speakers. I have had my earlier MartinLogans for many years and hadn’t thought about replacing them until the Summits came along. The Summits represent a major technological and visual step forward for MartinLogan, besting all of their previous designs in every way. And, to be completely honest, I am not even asking my wife – I am buying these speakers. MartinLogan can’t have them back.
Manufacturer MartinLogan
Model Summit Loudspeakers
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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