MartinLogan Motion Vision Soundbar Page 2

Ergonomically, the product errs on the side of simplicity, suggesting that it is more for the luxury market than for the high-end market. Four top-panel buttons control power, volume, and source. The membrane-panel credit-card-sized remote is a bit of a letdown for a $1,500 soundbar. Its 10 buttons operate the control menu by making the volume up/down keys double as menu navigation keys.

One priority MartinLogan asserts through the remote is adjustment of the soundbar’s considerable bass output. Three buttons are dedicated to selecting bass modes. There’s a Night mode that cuts bass by 5 or 6 dB and implements a 3:1 overall volume compression. In Normal mode, you can really hear the bass (in my room, at least), but if you want more of it, there’s also a Bass+ mode. For finer adjustment, delve into the menu, where Bass Level can be increased or decreased in five rather coarse 2-dB increments up to ±10 dB.

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The menu’s Surround control turns the simulated surround channels on or off (I kept it on for both movie and music demos). The Stereo control has a Voice+ mode that simulates a center channel for stereo sources. The Install menu adjusts the system’s response for on-shelf or on-wall placement (I was sure to choose on-shelf for my TV table). You can also adjust the large bright-blue LED display: bright, dim, auto bright, or auto dim, with the latter two fading out after confirming actions. Otherwise the LED remains lit, displaying “ML” when not confirming commands. You can also rename input sources, and the soundbar has the ability to detect and learn the volume up/down IR codes from a cable-box remote.

213mlsoundbar.rem.jpgDispersion Champ
The Motion Vision is not your father’s soundbar. Its dispersion is world class: There is no such thing as a bad seat anywhere in the room. Even when I was sitting way off to the side—another member of the household had the sofa while we watched the news—I could catch every word, and off-axis tonal shift was minimal. While the soundfield didn’t extend far beyond the sides of the soundbar—perhaps hampered by my usual setup, which minimized side-wall interaction via placement and clutter—it mustered a couple feet worth of depth perception, which was especially gratifying with wellrecorded music. And it was effortlessly listenable, never toppy or strident. The warm and gentle midrange was a surprise, yet the Motion Vision gave up nothing in resolution, making speaking voices clear and giving singing voices the timbral richness they deserved. And the bass? There was a lot of it. In fact, it needed to be tamed, and ultimately was, with a –2-dB adjustment in the Bass Level menu.

Act of Vengeance arrived on Blu-ray Disc with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. With the Oppo player set to bitstream, the Motion Vision received a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack through its coaxial input, and the soundbar’s blue LED indicator read Dolby Digital. (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio travel in lossless form only via HDMI, of course, and this speaker doesn’t have it.) This nuanced but actionpacked terrorism tale had some aggressive bass effects, and as shipped, the Motion Vision overdid them. Bass+ was the default setting—only a few minutes passed before I hit the remote’s Normal button. A scene with a military assembly in a large hall showed off the soundbar’s modest but discernible depth capability. The simulated soundfield didn’t come anywhere near the back of the room, but it was bigger with the simulated-surround circuit on than with it off.

The Three Musketeers was another Blu-ray Disc, this time with DTS-HD Master Audio. Again, with the Oppo set to bitstream, the Motion Vision extracted a lossy soundtrack, this time DTS Core 5.1, and the soundbar’s indicator read DTS. This noisy demo material tested the speaker’s dynamic performance. By soundbar standards, it did pretty well: The top end didn’t harsh my mellow. However, the louder I played it, the more I sensed that its DSP superego was holding it back, presumably to protect the drivers, like a tactful cocktail-party guest who accepts a third martini but pours it into a potted plant as soon as the host turns his back.

The Time Machine came on DVD with DTS 5.1. Its whirring, thundering time machine and jungle pursuit sequences were extremely palatable through the Folded Motion tweeters—I’ve known this cataclysmic content to tear my ears off through other systems. The action built up relentlessly, and the soundbar kept it under control, but as the demo continued into the evening hours, I finally had to spare my neighbors with the Night mode. It ruthlessly knocked down effects as well as bass—and this inevitably brought a psychological distancing effect—but its extreme dynamic compression was accommodating to voices, so I didn’t miss any dialogue even with a much lower overall volume.

Sidestepping Snares
The Motion Vision’s approach to tonal balance did a great job with Bach’s A Musical Offering as performed by the Kuijken Ensemble on DVD with Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. The period instruments, including the prominent harpsichord, are recorded with a close-up perspective that can easily sound thin and unsatisfying. But this soundbar conjured a full, rich timbre that vividly evoked both the instruments and the hall. The spatial perspective was more deep than wide, and rather evasive overall, an impression confirmed when I switched the player from Dolby Digital 5.0 to PCM 2.0. With stereo source material, imaging got much more specific but was also cut and dried, and rigidly limited to the edges of the soundbar. I came to prefer the 5.0 version with its bigger soundstage.

Jan Akkerman Live commemorates a 2001 tour recorded by German television. The Motion Vision combined with the DVD’s DTS 5.1 soundtrack to sculpt several potentially problematic elements to perfection. It painted a vivid picture of the electronic guitar processing that the bandleader uses with such virtuosity. Wilbrand Meischke’s bass guitar was well served with a full and rounded sound, with acceptable (though not outstanding) control of pitch and articulation. Ton Dijkman’s light snare sound was properly pitched—the pleated tweeters actually made a fine contribution there, combining with the woofers—and the impact of his kick drum sounded bigger than you’d expect from a soundbar. I love these musicians and was glad to hear them sounding so good.

The Blu-ray release of Diana Krall’s Live in Rio includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which I duly selected as an alternative to DTS-HD Master Audio and PCM stereo. Krall got more sultry as the evening progressed. By the time she got to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”—she sang “his face,” referencing her husband Elvis Costello—she was in tour-de-force territory. The pleats and cones fully supported the emotional trajectory of her vocal, with its vulnerable breathiness and delicate enunciation. While the big-hall sound was more suggested than replicated by the soundbar, I still had a feeling of being there, assisted by psychologically conducive camera perspectives that neatly shifted from close-ups to medium shots to long shots.

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Eventually, the dream was over and I went back to my reference system, methodically moving speakers into place and plugging in cables, getting ready for the next A/V receiver review. Referring back to the question I posed at the outset, what did I miss? Mostly the kind of precisely drawn soundfield that can best be delineated with five correctly placed speakers, especially with regard to side-to-side imaging, and to a lesser extent front-to-back panning. My reference speakers and sub can play lower and with less bass coloration, especially when the sub is EQ’d. But the Motion Vision was competitive in dialogue clarity and musical timbres from the midrange up. And though my reference speakers perform well off axis, the soundbar’s pleated tweeters performed better, covering a wider range of seating with outstandingly clear and communicative sound.

Then there’s the question of value. At $1,500, this is one high-priced soundbar. In fact, it is the most expensive one I’ve ever reviewed, so pretty much any other bar can beat it on price. Also, those not fussy about configuration can buy quite a good starter system for the same expenditure. Spend, say, $600 for a receiver, and you’ve got $900 left for one of the compact entry-level speaker systems in our Top Picks (HomeTheater.com/compact-speaker-top-picks). They’re all well under $900, so there would be enough left over for a few rolls of zip cord and maybe a cheap Blu-ray player.

But, of course, the component comparison is beside the point. The audience for this product doesn’t want either the configuration or the hassles of a formal component system. They’re looking for a way to get many of the benefits of a real system without its complexities. In short, they’re looking for a workaround. And this is one magnificent workaround. There are few affordable systems that do what this system—and its pleated tweeters—do best.

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