The idea behind MartinLogan’s Motion Series was to create a line of affordable, mainstream speakers that offered a slice of the performance that the company’s high-end, high-priced towers are known for. Unlike those models, Motion Series speakers don’t rely on electrostatic tech to deliver the effortless, lifelike sound that for decades has caused audiophiles to drool. Instead, they use a Folded Motion tweeter, the same type found in several other speakers, including GoldenEar Technology’s lineup.
For MartinLogan’s relatively new Motion XT bookshelf and tower speakers, that Folded Motion tweeter has been supersized in order to let the XTs play even louder without distortion than the company’s other Motion Series speakers. In the case of the 35XT bookshelf model ML sent me for review ($1,199 a pair), the tweeter is mated with a 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofer. (It’s 5.25 inches on the $799-a-pair 15XT.)
The Motion 35XT is a striking-looking speaker. Though it’s a bookshelf model, it would be a shame to hide it away in a bookshelf. The 35XT’s cabinet is available in piano black, white, and black cherrywood, with elegant rounded edges and high-gloss lacquer finish. The top tapers in gently toward the rear, and around back, there are sturdy five-way binding posts and a low-turbulence port. (Another reason why you’d not want to stow it in a bookshelf.) Perforated steel grilles that attach magnetically to the speaker’s front baffle are included.
According to MartinLogan’s specs, the 35XT’s low-end hits its –3 dB point at 50 dB, which is about what I observed when I ran a few sweep test tones. Some other specs: sensitivity is 92 dB, and impedance is 4 ohms. The 110-watts-per-channel Marantz SR6004 A/V receiver I used for my evaluation easily drove the 35XTs to louder-than-was-comfortable levels, so I’m confident you could get away with using a more modest-powered amp.
After breaking the 35XTs in for a spell on bookshelves, I pulled them out and placed them on stands, where I could properly admire their deep, reddish lustre. I towed the speakers/stands in slightly and pulled them out about 2 feet from the wall of my living/listening room. I normally use a subwoofer with my regular bookshelf speakers, but in this case, I chose to run the 35XTs sub-less, letting whatever low end they could muster speak for itself.
With my MacBook Pro connected to the Marantz receiver via a Meridian Explorer 192/24 USB DAC, I was ready for critical listening. The sinewy bass line in Miles Davis’ “So What,” from 1959’s Kind of Blue (HDtracks 96/24 FLAC), is a good test of a small speaker’s ability to convey musical bass. Listening to this track on the 35XTs, I found its bottom-end performance to be clean and well defined, if not particularly low-reaching. That said, the bass I did hear sounded taut and well balanced. Also, the tone of the trumpet and sax in this track was effortless and airy while retaining a distinctive brass crispness and bite.
Skipping forward in musical history, the next thing I cued up was an 192/24 AIFF track: “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” from the first, self-titled Led Zeppelin release (1969). For many years, I used MartinLogan electrostatic towers as my main speakers, and the tone of Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar as conveyed by the 35XTs gave me chilly sense of déjà vu: The crispness and immediacy of the sound was distinctly electrostatic-like. Likewise, when the band thrashed wildly at the end, with Robert Plant howling, “Woman… WOMAN!,” I was impressed at the towering scale of the sound coming from the relatively compact speakers.
Another great track, “Pipeline,” from Bill Frisell’s fabulously retro 2014 OKeh release, Guitar in the Space Age — a fine, high-quality stream from Tidal — really drove home the MartinLogan Motion 35XTs’ ability to cast an IMAX-scale sonic image. The wash of reverb-soaked ambience coming from the 35XT speakers seemed endlessly wide, while Frisell’s twangy, liquid guitar leads sounded perfectly clean. Also, the low rumble of drums in the background came across as taut and dynamic, with a crisp snap to the snare hits.
The Final Cut
No speaker eval is complete without some good electronic music tracks (for me, at least), so I wrapped things up with a few from John Tejada’s latest, Signs Under Test (2015) — another top-shelf hi-res Tidal stream. Listening to “Endorphins,” I found the song’s bouncy bass and beats sounding taut and cleanly rendered. As with the Miles Davis track, I felt the lack of low-end extension, but the bass that was there had a decent amount of punch.
With the 35XT, MartinLogan has managed to upscale its Motion Series bookshelf speaker offerings. The new speakers play impressively loud and sound clean, with excellent detail, clear mids, and good dynamics. Imaging is about as good as I’ve experienced from bookshelf speakers, and I’ve heard some good ones in my time.
Any minus points with the 35XT? The bass was somewhat lean — I didn’t hear much more extension than what I get with my everyday bookshelf speakers, which have a 5.5-inch driver as opposed to the 35XT’s 6.5-incher. The solution: Add a subwoofer. Once I brought my sub back into the mix, the speaker’s performance was more balanced and satisfying.
The MartinLogan Motion 35XT’s revealing treble also made some material sound slightly too-forward: This is definitely not a speaker with a soft, rolled-off top end. That said, its performance made me want to keep listening to music late into the night, which is what good hi-fi is all about — and it’s very much HRAC Approved.