MartinLogan Aeon Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Augie Bettencourt   
Saturday, 01 February 2003

I can still remember my first experience with electrostatic speakers many years ago, along with the intrigue they created. Since that time, electrostatic speakers have evolved, solidifying their strengths and addressing their weaknesses. As a MartinLogan customer, I was specifically curious as to how the much smaller and lower-priced Aeons would compare to both my personal Prodigies and to other comparably-priced speakers in the same category.

Since my first listening experience with these speakers more than 10 years ago, MartinLogan has risen to become the most popular electrostatic speaker manufacturer, having earned a reputation for building some of the best-sounding speakers in the world. The MartinLogan Aeons are floor-standing hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers that can either be used as your main loudspeakers or as surround speakers in a complete MartinLogan theater setup.

The Aeons have a reported frequency response of 43 Hz – 22,000 kHz, a sensitivity rating of 89 dB and a four-ohm impedance rating. The Aeons stand 57 inches tall, 15.5 inches deep, 10.25 wide and weigh 56 pounds each. They’re not small speakers by most standards, but they’re a far cry from the MartinLogan Statement E2s, MartinLogan’s flagship speaker, which weighs in at a trim 1,800 pounds. The Aeons came to me with standard black rail trim, with the rest of the speaker finished in MartinLogan’s standard black matte. MartinLogan offers 15 different trim options, enabling you to integrate the loudspeakers into a wide variety of decors, some included as standard and some as upgrades for an additional cost. The MartinLogan Aeons retail for $2,995 per pair. Overall, I found the fit and finish of this loudspeaker to be of acceptable quality in this price range.

The final placement of any MartinLogan speaker is critical. Ideally, as with most dipole speakers, the Aeons should be pulled away from the front wall as much as two or three feet and at least one or two feet from the side walls for a starting point for optimal performance. Your sitting position should also be farther than the distance between the speakers if possible. A small amount of toe-in towards the listening area will also change the tonal balance slightly and will affect the speaker’s imaging. Detailed fine-tuning of placement will be required for the best sonic results. You’ll notice that as the speakers are toed out, they will become slightly brighter and not image as tightly as when they’re toed in. Generally, the ideal listening position is with the speakers slightly toed in, so that you’re listening to the inner third of the panel. Both spikes and flat metal feet are included and, although spikes are recommended, applications on fine flooring could require the optional flat feet. Like all MartinLogan speakers, the Aeons use an internal power supply to energize their electrostatic cells with high-voltage DC, and therefore must be connected to an AC power source.

If you’ve never actually seen MartinLogan speakers, you owe it to yourself to check a pair out. As a hybrid design, the speaker is part electrostatic panel and part dynamic speaker. Unless you’re familiar with electrostatic speakers, they’re probably like nothing you’ve seen before and they probably work differently than anything you’ve heard before. A run-of-the-mill dynamic speaker uses cone drivers with a voice coil that really only moves at the apex of the cone, while the rest of the driver loafs along for the ride. With the Aeon, the top two-thirds of the speaker consists of a thin, transparent, polyethylene membrane that is pulled tight between two, curved and perforated metal panels called “stators.” The electrostatic panels generate sound by moving back and forth between the stators, producing as much sound behind them as they do in front of them as the entire panel moves. The Curvlinear Line Source (CLS) allows the Aeons to achieve a smooth dispersion pattern, which is a problem for all loudspeakers, but particularly for large panel transducers. By curving the electrostatic panels, MartinLogan has achieved a smooth dispersion pattern without degrading sound quality. The top electrostatic section of the speaker is attached to a woofer enclosure that houses an eight-inch-high excursion woofer, which handles the speaker’s lower frequency information. The binding posts on the Aeons are paddle-type knobs, designed to be hand-tightened, providing a very secure and solid connection. The Aeons can be either bi-wired or bi-amped, a configuration that can provide very favorable results. Overall, I found the owner’s manual to be very comprehensive, as it includes numerous tips including hook-up, speaker setup, bi-wiring or bi-amping, “extra tweaks,” and even an electrostatic history section.

Music and Movies
I warmed up my listening session with the late, great John Lee Hooker’s Chill Out and the Song “Annie Mae” (Pointblank Records). I was immediately struck by the Aeons’ ability to produce a huge soundstage, with depth, clarity and detail that’s seldom heard from a speaker in this price range. I’ve always been amazed by an electrostat’s ability to reproduce acoustic string instruments or vocal music with such lifelike quality, and the Aeons did not disappoint. When Hooker cried out for his Annie Mae, I literally felt the emotion in his voice, buying into the idea that he was right there in the room. I was compelled to run out and help John find her. Every time Charles Brown tickled the ivory, I heard tonal accuracy and had a sense of the size of the piano as an instrument; this was largely due to the Aeons’ ability to produce a soundstage large enough to do a piano justice. Next I listened to “Serves Me Right” from the same CD. Van Morrison accompanies Hooker on this track, which really gave me the impression those two enjoyed jamming together as they banter back and forth while singing and playing the guitar together. Again, the Aeons produced a deep, detailed soundstage that created an excellent ambient experience with midrange and timber clarity that’s to die for, with tight, accurate bass response that’s just shy of the ultimate in bass extension.

The next CD I listened to was Dave Matthews Band’s Busted Stuff (RCA Records), choosing the song “Digging a Ditch.” The sound of Matthews’ voice had a very natural, open quality, and the speakers imaged so well that I had to double-check to make sure my center speaker wasn’t playing. Dave’s vocals came alive and the speakers created a specifically wide, seamless soundstage. Next, I listened to “Bartender” from the same Dave Matthews CD and was again impressed by the natural timber of Matthews’ guitar strumming and the Aeons’ ability to reveal the complexity of this musical number. I could hear guitars, drums, flute, sax and violin, all with very distinct clarity that lent itself to a very convincing presentation. The snare drum in this number also had all the snap and crack I remember from my distant days as a drummer.

The last CD I listened to was Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol Records) and the song “The Scientist.” This song starts with a beautiful, slow piano solo that the Aeons reproduced with all the harmonic texture and realism that electrostatic speakers are so great at, with coherent musical reproduction across the entire frequency spectrum. Just as the sound of Chris Martin’s voice slowly begins to accompany the piano, you hear an image deep and three-dimensional enough to make me feel as if I could put my arm in it. I heard every nuance of Martin’s voice and even his breath – clearly a strength of electrostatic loudspeakers. The next song I listened to was “Warning Sign.” I was again reminded of the Aeons’ ability to convey a sense of realism, emotion and the presence of an almost scarily convincing soundstage. When compared to a comparably-priced pair of speakers like the Paradigm Studio 100s, the Aeons proved the winners when it came to resolving detail, midrange presence, and soundstage height, width and depth. The Studio 100s did out-perform the Aeons in both bass extension and off-axis listening, but I feel the strengths of the Aeons outweighed their weaknesses in this comparison and I enjoyed the Aeons more overall.

Next up, I decided to try out the Aeons on some movies. I started with “Minority Report” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment), which is an aggressively mixed soundtrack and probably Steven Spielberg’s best work since Saving Private Ryan. All channels were active for most of the movie, which created a 360-degree soundfield that completely drew me in. John Williams’ score was beautifully rendered with a huge, open soundstage. Yes, from every discrete effect to every subtle ambient sound, the Aeons performed admirably.

I then watched “Gladiator” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment). The epic starring Russell Crowe sounded incredible through the Aeons. From the gentle pluck of guitar strings to the dramatic Battle of Carthage in Chapter 15, the Aeons had the ability to reproduce unrivaled detail and believable dynamics. I had the sense of being right there in the middle of the battlefield, with the sound of bows twanging and arrows whizzing by overhead. Again, I compared the Aeons to the Paradigm Studio 100s and felt the Aeons’ midrange detail and larger than life soundstage more than justified some of the bass and off-axis listening deficiencies mentioned earlier. The MartinLogan Aeons supplied me with a more engaging overall experience than the Paradigms did.

The Downside
So far, all I’ve done is rave about these speakers. You may be asking yourself if they have any weaknesses. The answer is, yes, of course they do, as do all loudspeakers. The first downside is both a strength and weakness. One of the great things about these speakers is their ability to reproduce every nuance and detail of a recording. This ability can also be a weakness. These speakers are ruthlessly revealing, so when you listen to something that was very well recorded, there’s nothing like them. When you listen to a poorly recorded CD, your music can sound shrill, twangy or even downright obnoxious. You’ll also have to be very careful when choosing associated electronics. I recommend that you fork out a few hundred (or thousand) dollars and choose an excellent power amp and AV preamp combination that will complement the potentially forward sound of the Aeons, as well as tolerate their four-ohm impedance load.

The Aeons require AC power, which means they’ll have to either be placed relatively near an AC outlet or use extension cords. Since the back of the Aeon’s panel produces as much sound as the front of the panel, care should be taken when considering speaker placement to determine optimum performance. These speakers should not be shoved in a corner or up against a wall, or the quality of sound will be adversely affected.

The narrow off-axis response of the Aeons can create a very tight sweet spot, which can be a problem when considering speaker placement. I found the Aeons to be very coherent speakers for top to bottom frequencies, with tight, accurate bass response, but I also thought they lacked the authoritative bass response of some comparably-priced speakers.

As you’ve obviously concluded by now, electrostatic speakers have grown on me over the years. I’ve gone from being merely intrigued to downright passionate. MartinLogan has a reputation for building the world’s most popular electrostatic speakers and I can see why. The Aeon is an excellent product and I found its unique appearance, quality fit and finish very appealing. Whether I listened to John Lee Hooker, the Dave Matthews Band or watched the latest epic, the huge, open soundstage and detailed, lifelike sound of the Aeons was intoxicating. The Aeons may lack some ultimate bass slam and always require careful setup, but, in my opinion, their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses. Once you’ve had the chance to audition them, they could be very difficult to live without. The Aeons aren’t perfect and are not suitable for every application, but for me, there’s no other speaker in their price range that I would rather own. I believe I could listen to the Aeons for eons.
Manufacturer MartinLogan
Model Aeon Loudspeakers
Reviewer Auggie Bettencourt

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