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Martin Logan CLX
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SOUND QUALITY

I'll talk about bass quality first because that is where the CLX really does deliver and where it justifies its price. In the past I have had glimpses of awesome bass quality from electrostatics, mainly from a friend's pair of Quad ESL-57s positioned at right angles to side walls in a long, narrow room. Improbably, he played reggae through them and I'd never quite heard bass like it, because there was no box boom nor the waffle that comes from overhang; it was clean, tuneful and tight mechanically, and beautifully expressive artistically. Well, now I have - and better, for not only do the big CLXs deliver clean, tuneful bass, they also have unlimited bass power it seems, more than my ears could tolerate anyway. I mentioned earlier the air load on a big panel damps it well, preventing overhang - and it is this last property that struck me most about the CLXs. Take a big drum roll like that at the start of Steve Earle's 'Copperhead Road', a favourite tester of mine, and the drum has wonderful resonant power but there's slightly less characterful richness because of the complete absence of box whoomph - then the sound stops suddenly and cleanly. This gives an unusually clear sense of rhythmic pace with perfectly explicit timing. The CLX gets it all very right at low frequencies in a way that few others can approach. The absence of room boom I mentioned earlier eliminates subsonic waffle, so the emphasised walking bass lines that are a feature of Angelique Kidjo albums strode along cleanly, with a lovely sense of pristine power and nothing following in their wake, the background phantom of decaying room resonances. I can't say how this compares with Quad 2905s, which have bass panels, because it is some time since I have heard them, but the Prince IIs were less even in their bass. Also, where the Prince IIs had a slightly dry balance due to their low midrange suckout the CLXs sound tonally even and perfectly natural.

 

Whilst the way bass notes stop is something that had me spellbound, because electrostatic bass is a chimera of perfection that the CLX makes a tangible reality, at the same time there are other sides to this. Firstly, not every recording has a bass line captured in perfect fidelity and the CLXs do make this rudely obvious at times. So spinning 'Cherry Oh Baby' had the bass line sounding obviously soft and undistinguished, but that's what you might expect from old 1970s recording made in a Jamaican reggae studio. Spin the UK UB40 version from 1984 and the differences are obvious. Bass apart though, early reggae stood up very well through the CLXs, the simple studio mixes making for an uncluttered and natural sound stage on which individual musicians and backing singers were clear in both outline and contribution. But then, early Elvis recordings made on quality Westrex equipment shame the muddle of much of today's over-mixed studio output. The CLXs surprised me at times by taking what you might expect to be grungy early seventies recordings from a decrepit Kingston studio and showing that in truth their simplicity is a strength that allows the atmosphere and musicianship to shine through.

 

Whilst on the subject, I did notice that the rumblingly low content of Robbie Shakespeare's bass line on 'Make 'em Move' was lighter than I am used to from big ported loudspeakers; the very lowest frequencies are there but have a little less power than from a box. However, there's a trade off here: cabinets with ports will shake a large room subsonically, but that same energy blurs bass lines too. The CLXs are surgically clean and correct in what they do, but partly because they don't emphasise ultra lows.

 

The stunning clarity of the CLX had most impact with solo artists singing centre stage, because they construct a large but sharply outlined image, with celestial positioning above the listening axis. So Toni Braxton sang down at me, plucked guitar strings in the opening of Spanish Guitar coming at me with lacerative speed. With the resonant decay of each string tailing away into a believable acoustic ambiance, and Braxton's every draw of breath, movement of lips and smallest intonation painted larger than life before me I couldn't help but sit there stunned. Listening later, Editor David Price said, "well, there's no criticism to be made of that", and that understatement sums up the CLX in basic outline: an electrostatic so well crafted it is an 'other world' experience. But still, let's get a bit more into it...

 

Those guitar strings had just a smidgen of enhancement, a sheen that I found I could adjust down slightly by toeing the CLXs a few degrees in or out. The cause is visible in our frequency response plot: there is a small amount of high frequency lift above 8kHz, just enough to shed a little extra light on higher frequencies. This brings added bite to plectrum against guitar strings on Jackie Leven's 'Desolation Blues', much as it did to Toni Braxton's 'Spanish Guitar' - and also helps etch stereo images more strongly. Especially where there's a wide stage spread of individual percussion instruments, as at the start of Sade's 'Diamond Life', where the CLXs bringing more substance to each than most loudspeakers. Their balance was also less dry than the Prince IIs, giving Leven's deep Celtic drawl a firm sense of body.

 

The contribution of backing singers and instruments is picked out with forensic precision, helping me spot a little embellishment from one singer whispering a small Spanish phrase behind Toni Braxton, one that it is probably best I don't understand! I was constantly aware of a wealth of fine background detail through the CLXs, and this made obvious the amount of activity in many performances, behind the foreground vocals and main instruments, the funny twiddling of drum sticks that seems to be going on behind the Zuton's 'Valerie' for example.

 

The smooth, punchy bass of the CLX brought both acoustic power and visceral impact to the many bodhrans used by the Chieftains at the start of 'The Fokie', their assault pressing me back in the settee. This is where the CLX matches conventional loudspeakers in sheer power, but surpasses them in control and clarity. Sinead O'Connor's sparse, plaintive delivery, projected forcefully from centre stage made me hold my breath, the tremolo in her voice clearly underlining the message of personal loss in the lyrics.  Performances like this are simply breathtaking from the CLX, arguably unmatched by any other loudspeaker currently available.

 

The CLX's abilities transfer over to classical music without limitation. They make obvious that orchestral violin sections comprise many individual violins working together, rather than presenting a simulacrum of a group of instruments that is so common. Their physical presence wasn't distorted by the crossover phase anomalies that afflict conventional loudspeakers either. This fact alone brought a sense of natural embodiment to Nigel Kennedy's violin and made strings sound smooth and vibrant, as well as finely differentiated. Tubas huffed and puffed fruitily in Korsakov's 'Scheherazade', brass sounding lovely and brassy, without the steely patina common from today's metal cones. The full sweep and scale of an orchestra was better conveyed by the vast canvas of sound these loudspeakers project than the narrower letterbox sound stage of cones. With kettle drums having plenty of resonant power and choirs massive scale, I can't think of any way in which the CLXs could be found wanting with classical music.



 

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