MartinLogan Feature powered speaker and Abyss subwoofer Page 2

MOVIE & MUSIC PERFORMANCE

I normally don't consider the music performance of on-wall speakers all that important, because they're used primarily for TV and movie watching. But I figure anyone who would consider the Feature must be somewhat of an audiophile, so I started with plain stereo.

Stupidly expecting to hear fairly standard on-wall sound through the Features, I did a double take worthy of any character from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? as soon as I began playing my favorite test tracks. This speaker throws a stereo soundstage like no other on-wall I can remember hearing. On my favorite soundstaging test track - Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu's "Once I Wished a Tree Upside Down" from the CD Living Magic - I clearly heard bells coming from far behind me. Even the very best freestanding speakers struggle to create such enveloping stereo sound. When I played my other audiophile recordings, the sound was astonishingly spacious and deep. That's the electrostatic panel talking, I'm sure.

The Feature exudes a lively tonality, bringing out the details of acoustic stringed instruments and percussion, the breath of flute players, and the nuances of vocal performances. This character suited most of the music I listen to, although it did become grating when I played heavy-metal tunes like System of a Down's "BYOB."

The Abyss subwoofer simply ate up that music, though, pumping out the kick drum and bass guitar notes with precise pitch definition, low distortion, and surprisingly high output. (Translation: It rocked.) Incidentally, the Feature sounds pretty satisfying without a sub; a stereo pair would make a nice music system.

Throughout my music listening, I did notice some subtle frequency-response anomalies, but all sounded mild, and narrow in scope. I'm impressed that Martin Logan's engineers were able to keep these irregularities largely at bay despite the speaker's disparate drivers.

The Feature's clarity - a quality that made it so compelling when I listened to music CDs - was also present with movie soundtracks. Dialogue sounded exceptionally clear, although bright-sounding recordings sometimes seemed a little too edgy. The Feature's ability to extract (and highlight) all the ambient details in surround sound music such as ZZ Top's Live from Texas Blu-ray Disc made the presentation exceptionally exciting and inspired me to turn the system up as loud as it could go. (Electrostatic panels are naturally dipolar, a characteristic that gives them a spacious sound well suited to surround channel use.)

The Abyss easily kept up with the quintet of Features. On my reference mothership flyover - the opening of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones - it reproduced the spaceship's deep rumbling with no audible trace of distortion. Even many much larger subs struggle with this passage. How does Martin Logan do it? Apparently by limiting the sub's extreme low-frequency output. While it sounded exceptionally clean with all the material I tried, it still never managed to shake the floor in the same manner as beefier subs.

BOTTOM LINE

Used on its own or with the company's Abyss subwoofer, Martin Logan's Feature speaker brings a new excitement to on-wall audio. It's not the kind of by-the-book performance you get from many conventional on-wall speakers, but in many ways it's more compelling. In fact, audiophiles will probably prefer this system to any other on-wall rig - both because of its sound quality and because it's an original and exotic take on what has become a predictable product category.

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