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MartinLogan SL3 Loudspeakers Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 March 1998
Article Index
MartinLogan SL3 Loudspeakers
Page 2
In the eye of the beholder
Image My first encounter with MartinLogan electrostatic loudspeakers came years back. Like most newcomers to this genre of speaker, I greeted them with amazement. I found the sheer glamour of this futuristic speaker to be simply awesome. The SL3s have a retail price of $3,400 for the standard black or natural oak trim. They stand 64 inches tall and are a sleek 13 inches wide. The basic construction of this hybrid loudspeaker consists of a side- supported perforated panel, which you can see right through. The electrostatic panel sits atop the integrated low-frequency speaker enclosure. Connection options include hand-tightened bi-wire posts with banana plug inputs.

The reason to be passionate about this unique speaker is its electrostatic technology. Simply explained, the lower mid- range through the top octaves are created by taking two pieces of perforated steel, then sandwiching a thin film of clear conductive plastic between them. The electrostatic field is created by receiving the musical signal to the speaker, then dividing it into two equal signals of opposite polarities, providing one to each side of the panel. When energized, the plastic film moves and produces sound.

This technology has been in some level of existence since the late 1940s. Several engineers had a hand in the original electrostatic concepts, a design that entered the production market in the late 1950s. All of the early production models, although possessing very good qualities, had limitations. These drawbacks included limited volume, arcing and damage to the driving components. It was not until 1978 that Gayle Sanders, then managing a high-end audio retail store, began to assemble a team of engineers to explore the possibilities of producing the first practical hybrid electrostatic speaker. By hybrid, I am referring to the integration of MartinLogan's electrostatic panels to its conventional low frequency drivers.

The MartinLogan SL3 loudspeaker is capable of delivering an extraordinary amount of detail. A phrase that comes to mind when trying to best describe the sound of the MartinLogan SL3 loudspeaker is "a moment of clarity." When I first heard the SL3s, I was moved by the differences I heard between this hybrid electrostatic, and conventional speakers. I heard amazing detail and sonic clarity, but the thing that caught my attention was the soundstage that this speaker was capable of creating. The SL3s have imaging ability that is second to none. A lot of speakers image, and many image very well, but it won't take long for you discern the difference in the level of imaging that the MartinLogans are capable of. They recreate the air in the recording flawlessly and with tremendous detail. The MartinLogan midrange is pure and void of the boxy colorations many conventional speakers can have. When listening to Harry Belefonte's "Return to Carnegie Hall" (RCA Victor), I was taken with the reality of the ambience in this wonderful recording.
There are some great speakers that seem to bring the band into your listening room, but very few can emotionally take you to a recorded performance. The SL3s are in this rare class. Soundstaging at this level can become extremely addictive. I started migrating toward those recordings that best recreated the live experience, abandoning many of my studio standards. I found myself yearning for the adventure of the live performance, something that the SL3s provide when fed a well-rounded diet of good recordings.

I had heard industry whispers that the MartinLogans didn't rock and roll very well. That is a definite misconception; they will rock. SL3s might lack some of the slam and dynamic fullness of selected conventional speakers, but are capable of supplying considerable punch when supplied with good rock recordings. I tested them with Yes' "Rhythm of Love" from Big Generator, and found the bass to be very tight and well-integrated with the electrostatic panel. A realistic concern about any hybrid speaker is the possible separation or a discontinuity between the bass and its upper octave source. MartinLogan SL3s are the best example of integrating mixed transducer technologies I have yet heard to date.


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