Hi-fi speakers: Neolithic but very modern
For those already versed in high-fidelity sound, MartinLogan generally needs no introduction. The Kansas, US, based company was born from a chance meeting in the late '70s by two audiophiles: Ron Logan Sutherland, an electrical engineer, and Gayle Martin Sanders, who had trained previously in architecture and advertising.
They soon discovered a shared passion – breaking away from traditional “dynamic” loudspeakers and opting instead for “electrostatic” designs.
Dynamic loudspeakers are most commonly used today. In simple terms, an alternating current from the power amplifier is applied to the driver's voice coil. This is suspended in the gap between the poles of a magnet, and a diaphragm attached to the voice coil is forced to move back and forth, producing sound. The design has worked very effectively for decades.
Electrostatic loudspeakers work in a different, much more complicated manner. Rather than a magnetic field and voice coil, they rely on a high-voltage electric field driving a very thin diaphragm which is impregnated with an electrically conductive material. Two “stators”, between which the diaphragm is stretched, are charged with voltages of equal strength but opposite polarity. These charges occur in instantaneously alternating pulses, according to the signal provided by a power amplifier.
Electrostatic loudspeakers are inherently difficult to design and execute to a very high standard. However, with the knowledge, dedication and desire to overcome the challenges they present, the result can be breathtaking.
To overcome the limited excursion of the diaphragm or membrane, electrostatic loudspeakers need to be physically large.
Enter the MartinLogan “Neolith”. Weighing in at 175kg, standing 190cm tall, and with virtually no opponent, Neolith ownership commands a pricetag of $129,000.
Geoff Haynes (left) and James Trachina (right) of Tivoli HiFi.
For many, electrostatic loudspeakers are the grail. Neolith is, of course, the flagship offering, and testament to the company's philosophy of “truth in sound”.
Technically, Neolith is a hybrid of sorts. By adding a traditional 15-inch rear-firing woofer, along with a forward-facing 12-inch mid-bass driver, it relieves the electrostatic membrane of some of the hard work. That's reserved for the all-important and crucial mid-range and high frequencies.
Coupled with Neolith's proprietary curvilinear membrane, the result is a detailed, full-frequency response that is smooth, balanced and entirely uninhibited by room limitations. That's assuming you've got space for them, of course.
The overall frequency response covers 23Hz through to 22kHz, with a sensitivity of 90dB. Neolith will handle amplifiers rated anywhere between 20 watts right up to a staggering 1300 watts per channel.
MartinLogan developed proprietary technology for its Vojtko Filter crossover. Ensuring the right frequencies arrive at the relevant speakers required new thinking to allow the handling of massive amounts of power with the utmost precision.
Using the world's best crossover components, as well as aluminium housings that provide heat dissipation, and clever design, its engineers were able to achieve this.
Gold-plated jumpers on the rear of the speakers allow for precise tuning to the listener's preference, or to compensate for varying-sized rooms.
Neolith is a towering achievement of bold, sculptural art. Chosen for its low resonance, strength and dimensional stability, phenolic resin polymer is carved to achieve the striking shape. At this price point, one needs choices. Fortunately, Neolith is built to order and available in seven hand-finished stunning finishes.
MartinLogan took 15 years to attempt Neolith, and three years to perfect it. It has pushed the boundaries, broken traditional rules, and delivered an astonishingly accurate loudspeaker that is as much a statement piece, as it is the grail in audio.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Neolith earlier this year, and to quote the company: “In a world of artifice, Neolith delivers truth in sound.”
The owners' club for Neolith might be small but it's very exclusive.
MartinLogan is distributed in Australia by Audio Active.
Originally published in The Age Green Guide (December 9th, 2015). Republished with permission.