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Martin Logan Ethos
Sound quality
Conclusion
Measured performance
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SOUND QUALITY

The Ethos were run in thoroughly as always, using pink noise and then Monitor Audio’s De-tox disc, for a total of forty eight hours. Because an electrostatic fires sound backwards as well as forwards they need plenty of room to lose the rear energy and should not be placed too close to a wall. The rule of thumb with Quads was one-third the way up the room, so in an 18ft long room they would be placed 6ft from the rear wall. I always arrange rear absorption of some sort and behind the Ethos I placed large acoustic panels against the wall to damp the rear wave. In a living room this could be a wall hung decorative carpet, curtains or drapes. Electrostatics are not ideal for small rooms.

 

When using loudspeakers with wide dispersion I prefer to aim them straight down the room, and not at the listening position but the Ethos sounded best set wide apart – around 8ft – and angled inward slightly. This gave an intense but clean sound stage. Curiously they did not sound right closer together, the stage seeming a little muddled. I listened carefully at all heights and found little difference over a wide range. The Ethos is far more consistent with height than any box loudspeaker, bar the coaxials from KEF and Tannoy.

 martin-logan-ethos_rear
The sound stage hung linearly between the loudspeakers, forming no celestial arc between them. However, a high stage height placed singers from Renee Fleming to Lady Gaga above me, giving a large canvas. Electrostatics image very well and Martin Logan’s XStat panel is as good as it gets here. I sat in front of a pair at this year’s Whittlebury Show and they sounded utterly superb. There’s a concise yet relaxed quality to the outlines of singers and instruments, so they are precisely ‘there’, without shouting about it. There are two reasons; a single panel eliminates phase anomalies, whilst smooth, clear treble free from the ringing qualities of a metal dome tweeter makes for a easy, natural presentation.

 
This leads on to another quality of the Ethos; it is creamy smooth and unforced in an unremarkable way. More so than the less expensive ESL models. But what you have to bear in mind here is that the panel adds just about nothing to the sound and brings no character to the table. You end up with stripped bare clarity, with no intrinsic character. It’s almost a shock, as if there’s nothing to hear! Where did all the 'loudspeakeriness' go? And singers sit back on the sound stage because the tonal balance is mild and there’s no midrange lift to artificially push vocals forward, a popular new trick in the lexicon of today’s designers.

 
To listen to Skin from Skunk Anansie sing ‘Hedonism’ sounding clear as a bell, from a large strongly embodied image just a little above me was a lovely experience. The simple musical arrangement worked well, with graunchy guitar chords chiming out at left, kick drum sounding tight and powerful and bass guitar believably weighty.

 
A small loss of warmth and body affected Jackie Leven’s gruff delivery of ‘Extremely Violent Man’; the timbre of his voice was lightened. The backing bass line was solid and nicely powerful, though. Hand drums hung centre stage with chiselled form that spoke of the electrostatic’s utterly superb imaging and the smack of hand upon skin was palpable.

 
As his CD ‘Fairy Tales of Hard Men’ drifted by I was captivated by hearing Jackie singing centre stage with a startling clarity and solidity of form that only an electrostatic can manage, and the XStat panel is about the best I have ever encountered for hearing the finest of details, totally pure and unembellished by colouration of any sort.

 
With the lament ‘Poortoun’ some diminution of lower midrange body was again discernible but it was hard to fixate on this with so much else going on. Strummed guitar strings cut out with ringing clarity and I could close my eyes and say “yes that does sound like an acoustic guitar, not a simulacrum”. The simple yet utter purity of Martin Logan’s XStat panel was breathtaking and to date I haven’t heard better. As electrostatics go, this panel puts the Ethos in a world of its own.

 
I wasn’t always happy about sound quality but this was usually because either the source or amplifier wasn’t quite right. Connecting up a pair of Icon Audio MB150 power amplifiers immediately hardened the sound and at times there was some edginess, for example with Santana’s ‘Put Your Lights On’ but then I realised that I wasn’t using the MB150s optimally for loudspeakers like this; I had to select triode mode and switch feedback off to get an easier, more relaxed presentation with less treble hardness. And I was spinning the ‘Supernatural’ CD, which is a mess compared to the 24/96 DVD-A. The Ethos were simply making all this brutally obvious. It was only with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze moving coil cartridge in my SME312S arm feeding an Icon Audio PS3 valve phono stage that the sweet clarity of the loudspeakers was apparent. I also connected up our Cambridge Audio 650BD Blu-ray to spin the Supernatural DVD-A and this confirmed I was hearing problems in the mix down to CD. So poor recordings sounded poor and with recording engineers adding graunch by using digital distortion (e.g. 'Rockferry') even recent releases can sound not-so-nice.

 
For the most part I was happy with bass output, the bass bin giving kick drum a well defined leading edge and plenty of follow up punch. Things only went awry with the emphasised walking bass lines used behind Angelique Kidjo and with ‘Agolo’ for example, from the CD ‘Aye’, bass sounded decidedly one note. The bass bin tries hard and it is satisfactory most of the time but bass freaks might want to look elsewhere. And that may mean the Theos where more user control over bass quality will be available.

 
I wasn’t surprised that the violin of Nigel Kennedy and accompanying English Chamber Orchestra were handled beautifully. The lack of differing drive unit characters, phase problems and all else makes an electrostatic panel the best way to listen to violin, giving an even and consistent tonality and a broad, stable sound. Strings in general sounded detailed and clearly separated and tonal colours well differentiated, so horns were brassy and strings - well - stringy. There was some small loss of warmth with cellos and violas and here again the Ethos were a little short on lower midrange body, but not so much as to be overly obvious.

 
Electrostatics don’t give a generalised sound though, they don’t fill in gaps and they don’t gloss over anything so results were recording dependent, and older digital recordings in particular were not so nice at times. Whilst horns would blast out with a fruity tone, strings could sound edgy and I found myself confined to using our tweaked up David Shaw Signature MB845 MkII amplifier with the Ethos. They demand an ultra smooth amplifier and thermionic Single-Endeds come to mind. They also need a very good source and a good recording too; upper treble output from the XStat is quite strong and this emphasises any harshness in the signal chain. So the Ethos doesn’t honey coat music and can be quite forthright at times.

 



 

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