MartinLogan Prodigy Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Bryan Southard   
Friday, 01 June 2001

For years MartinLogan has produced electrostatic loudspeakers that have been considered by many to be at the top of their respective classes. The Prodigy is MartinLogan’s top-of-the-line speaker under their very-respected Statement E2 loudspeaker system. The Prodigy has been in production for close to 18 months. Although it utilizes technology from the Statement Loudspeakers, it does so at a much-reduced price.

The Prodigy measures 67 inches tall, 16 inches wide, 28 inches deep and weighs a hefty 133 pounds per speaker. The MartinLogan Prodigies retail for $10,995 per pair in standard wood trim finishes.

It’s hard to deny that MartinLogan loudspeakers have a unique look. The upper two-thirds of the loudspeaker consists of a thin transparent perforated panel, with the bottom portion of the loudspeaker containing the low-frequency enclosure. The Prodigy shares a similar size and position in MartinLogan’s speaker lineup with the ReQuests of the past, but that is where all similarities end. The Prodigy loudspeaker comes with a much-updated electrostatic panel and low-frequency technology.

The walnut side-panel veneers are a very elegant accent. Another intriguing addition is an illuminated Martin Logan logo that sits just above the bass enclosure, obscured nicely by the perforated panel. This looks to me like a distant neon sign that is subtle enough to disappear when it is not sought, yet providing a very cool detail for those who notice it. The Prodigy has bi-wire binding posts with paddle-style thumbnuts. This makes for an outstanding and convenient connection.

Electrostatic technology is not new. It has been around since the 1920's, yet only in recent years have many of the problems associated with this technology been ironed out. MartinLogan is clearly the leader in finding solutions. The electrostatic panel employs a very thin transparent sheet of conductive-coated material similar to Mylar, which has been stretched between two perforated metal panels. These then charge the panels with very low levels of high voltage. By supplying each of the perforated panels with signals of opposite polarity, the MartinLogan both pushes and pulls the thin membrane panel, creating music. In early years, there were too many problems to make this technology practical. Panels were insensitive and very hard to drive and couldn’t take large amounts of power. Creating electrostatic speakers that could generate low frequencies was a challenge and called for the speakers to be enormously large. Because of this particular issue, MartinLogan has developed a hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker that utilizes a traditional electromagnetic driver, which is crossed over at lower frequencies, in the case of the Prodigy at 250 Hz. Although this has solved both the physical size issue and power requirements of a full range electrostatic loudspeaker, it has created the very difficult task of matching the two technologies so that they have no sonic differences or disassociation.

MartinLogan’s newest low-frequency design incorporates what is called ForceForward technology. To understand the basic theory behind this technology, you must first understand the effects of room resonance and the theory behind frequency cancellation. In simple terms, resonances surround us at all times. In the case of your entertainment room, there are points of greater pressure, most notably behind and beside your speakers. These resonances can be responsible for increasing individual frequencies or in many cases canceling them, creating less than adequate bass performance. The theory behind the ForceForward design is to complement the front-firing 10-inch electromagnetic driver with a similar rear-firing 10-inch driver, which sends its signal out of phase, timed so that the two signals arrive simultaneously in phase at the listener’s ears. This causes an absence of energy to the rear of the speaker, which in theory creates a virtual null, eliminating both cancellations and lumpy bass response and at the same time strengthens forward traveling bass waves.

Music and Movies
I initially positioned the Prodigy in the same position that I have found to provide the best performance in my room, which is 16 feet wide by 18 feet deep. Although this certainly isn’t an overly large space, it is a dedicated audio/video room. I therefore have considerable latitude in my placement of speakers and listening position. I utilized bass-controlling 16-inch ASC tubetraps in the corners of the room, and positioned my ASC 11-inch tubetraps at the first reflection points on the front and side walls. As with all high-performance speakers, I strongly recommend room treatment for optimal performance. I am aware that not everyone wants to turn their living room into a music studio, but you can create considerable improvement with the use of room treatments. The Prodigies benefited from the room treatments as well.

I provided the Prodigies with ample break-in time before sitting down to begin my critical listening. Having owned and loved the MartinLogan SL3’s in past years as my reference loudspeakers, I was very anxious to see how the Prodigies compared. As a first test, I reached for Cornell Dupree’s Uncle Funky (Kokopelli Records), an absolute favorite of mine. This disc is a great tool in evaluating gear because of its superb dynamic range and variety of instruments. In the cut "Duck Soup," I found the saxophone to be incredibly real and present. The horn had a quality to it that sounded very real and proportionally correct, something that many (if not most) speakers fail to reproduce correctly. There was incredible transient detail and real-time instrumental timbre. The kick-drum was very solid and extended, with a quality that pressurized the room in the way that live drums can do. The theory behind MartinLogan’s ForceForward bass technology appears very sound to me on paper. However, I did hear what I considered to be a phasing issue in the bass. Much of the kick-drum was well-focused and solid, yet there were other less focused artifacts that kept the image from being reproduced perfectly or to the level of performance that I get from my Revel Salons. Still, it must be noted that the Salons are nearly twice the price of the Prodigies. Compared to the performance of the similarly-priced Revel Studios, I found comparable differences, although the added energy of the Prodigies give them a more exiting and energizing low end than that of the Studios. It is common knowledge that the lowest bass frequencies, or frequencies below 80 Hz, will not really image or provide focus. Even so, with the supporting higher-frequency information from the same instrument, the images are formed. It should also be understood that bass performance is often strongly dependent on the room and speaker placement. A phase issue such as the one I encountered could be a product of the Prodigies’ relative position in my room, although the position I settled upon for auditioning the speakers provided the highest level of bass performance I was able to achieve.

I was very anxious to hear what the Prodigy could do for movies. Wasting no time, I started with the critically-acclaimed Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment). I feel compelled to compliment the folks at DreamWorks and DTS for this outstanding soundtrack. The Prodigies immediately came out of the gate and made a statement. This soundtrack was strikingly bigger than life, with very dynamic and powerful segments that had me on the edge of my seat. In the scene in which Russell Crowe’s character Maximus requests a "soldier’s death" and narrowly escapes execution, there was tremendous definition and spatial separation in details from the flying sword to the sound of crunching grass, specific sonic images that I had missed in previous screenings with other speakers. Perhaps the detail that I found most engaging with the Prodigy was the surrounding air and the speakers’ ability to properly separate details from the room. In the scene immediately following, in which Maximus futilely races towards his home to save his family, the sound of horse hooves striking the ground was incredibly solid.

I did encounter an integration issue when auditioning the Prodigy in my theater, as my current reference, the Revel C30 center channel speaker, was not providing a proper match for the Prodigies. I’m convinced that you’d be better off running Prodigies with the MartinLogan Theater center channel speaker, period. The Prodigies deserve the benefit that matching provides. If you are considering buying the Prodigy for multi-channel entertainment, don’t sell yourself short, spring for a MartinLogan Theater center channel speaker at $2,595. At a minimum, I would suggest the MartinLogan Cinema center channel speaker, which retails for $1,395. For rear speakers, I would also recommend the MartinLogan Scripts at $1,795, as they provide the much-needed match for 5.1 information, as well as a pretty nifty space-saving solution.

I next auditioned The Matrix (Warner Home Video). Although this movie would struggle to crack my top 20 favorites, it does have an engaging and well-developed soundtrack. The Matrix has notable detail that the Prodigies brought out nicely. The speakers provided a sense of envelopment that made me feel a part of the scene. In this movie, I tested the Prodigies without the aid of subwoofers for low-end reinforcement. In this test, the Prodigies excelled remarkably, better than any other speakers that I have tested in such a manner. They provided a lot of deep extended bass, something that movie soundtracks supply in abundance.

However, I did find that images were drawn into the front speakers when watched from positions other than the focused-center position, in my case when watching from a centered love seat beside another viewer. This condition is also true with music, but bothers me more with movies since I typically listen to music alone and from a centered position. In my past experiences, I have found that MartinLogan loudspeakers are more susceptible to this phenomenon than many traditional electromagnetic loudspeakers.

I played with the toe of the speakers but found no antidote to this issue. Unless you have a larger room and can position yourself at least 10 feet from the Prodigies, with equal distance between the speakers, I don’t see a way around this.

The Downside
Although overall I truly love the transparent look of the Prodigy loudspeakers, on close examination, I found the overall fit and finish of my review pair to be sub-par. They come finished in the same wrinkle paint as the lowest-priced speakers in the MartinLogan line, which I feel is very appropriate in the $3,000 price range but underdressed in the $10,000-plus class, certainly compared to some recent products that I have reviewed, like the Revel Studios and the Wilson Cub II’s. Additionally, the front- and rear-woofer grille covers are constructed of flimsy vacuum-formed plastic with cloth stretched over and taped to the backside. Upon unpacking and examining the Prodigies, I noticed that the grille cloth had peeled back from the rear cover, exposing the structure. I also noticed that the upper electrostatic membrane on the right speaker was installed wrinkled. I am not sure if this had any sonic impact, but visually it was not appealing and raised questions about the overall build quality.

The MartinLogan Prodigy is a very large speaker. Although it can disappear quite well musically, visually it is unmistakably present. The Prodigy isn’t just tall; it is very deep as well, which means that you need to consider speaker placement carefully and be sure that you have adequate room before purchasing a pair.

Because the Prodigy is an electrostatic loudspeaker, it needs to be plugged in. This means that you need to consider placing the speaker where you can route a power cord. Additionally, the Prodigy consumes power, something that we are very aware of here in California. Although a pair of Prodigies only consume a mere five watts of AC power, this is continuous, regardless of whether they are passing signal or not.

The MartinLogan Prodigy is a speaker that will resolve details in your music that you have never before heard. It supplies air around your instruments that makes them sound real or perhaps even better than real. It’s this air that provides the fabric that embodies the instruments, that turns them into three-dimensional objects. Musical images are also presented in realistic size and proportion – a tremendous strength. The Prodigy’s bass is quite good and the integration between the panel and the traditional driver is nothing short of a technological breakthrough, which successfully addresses two of the classic problems with electrostatic speakers. With little positional tweaking, the Prodigy will image as well as a speaker costing twice as much. The Prodigy has a much-improved level of energy emanating from the electrostatic panel, something that the older models lacked. This also makes the Prodigy considerably more appealing for fans of dynamic music.

High-frequency information tended to sound a tad rolled off at times, becoming most apparent on transient details like cymbal crashes. The Prodigies did, however, supply an enormous amount of information in the upper midrange.

I recommend that you have a medium to large room for the Prodigies, because of their propensity to pull you into the speakers during off-axis music listening or in movies. As stated earlier, I suggest a minimum of a 10-foot distance from speaker to listener and equal distance between the speakers.

I mandate that music and film enthusiasts interested for speakers anywhere near the $10,000 price range must audition the MartinLogan Prodigy before purchasing any other speaker – it is that good. Although there are issues to consider before purchasing this loudspeaker, the sonic performance is nothing short of magnificent.
Manufacturer MartinLogan
Model Prodigy Loudspeakers
Reviewer Bryan Southard
Genre Electrostatic

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