MartinLogan Motion Speakers and BalancedForce Subwoofer Review

Motion Speakers
Build Quality
BalancedForce 210 Subwoofer
Build Quality
PRICE $9,194 (as tested)
Motion F20 $1,749 (each)
Motion C10 $999 (each)
MotionB10 $599 (each)
BalancedForce 210 $3,499

Incredible mids and highs
Elegant appearance
Exceptional build quality

Not inexpensive
Perfect Bass Kit not included with sub
MAP (Manufacturers Advertised Pricing) enforced

MartinLogan blends exquisite detail with razor-sharp imaging and rich bass, then combines those elements into stylish enclosures. The Motion speakers and BalancedForce subwoofer provide a very compelling option for the serious audiophile.

MartinLogan, you know the name. They've been around since 1983 so pretty much everyone has heard of them. Renowned for its statement electrostatic speakers, the company also offers a full line of traditional cabinet speakers, subwoofers, wireless systems, architectural speakers, soundbars, even discrete outdoor systems. For this review I’ll be focusing on the Motion speakers and BalancedForce subwoofer in the following configuration:

Befitting MartinLogan’s upscale reputation the packaging was well thought out and executed. The Motion speakers were protected by 2-inch foam, plastic bags covered the cabinets which in turn were covered by cloth bags. The BalancedForce subwoofer was double boxed with the same foam, as well as the cloth and plastic bags the speakers used. The sub comes with a printed owners manual; for the speakers you’ll need to download a PDF version from MartinLogan's website.

MartinLogan provides a three-year warranty on subwoofers and a five-year warranty on its speakers. No registration is required but the purchase must be through an authorized dealer.

As soon as you start unboxing this system you can’t help but be impressed, evidently MartinLogan has spent some time making sure everything is right. And why not, when you spend over $9,000 you should feel confident it is money well spent. Supply chain issues meant the F20 and C10 I received were finished in matte white, the B10 wore gloss black. The BalancedForce 210 was also gloss black. This actually had a benefit, it allowed me to see what 2 of the 3 finish options looked like (the other is walnut). The subwoofer comes in Gloss Black or Black Ash and the top can be custom ordered with the buyer’s choice of paint color.

Motion C10 center in a matte white

All of the Motion speakers present a slim face to the listener, the top panel of the cabinet gently angles downward as it slopes toward the back of the enclosure. None of the speakers are tall either, but they do have some depth to them. Nothing extreme mind you, but if you have tight tolerances be sure to measure first.

The front of the cabinets have a 45° chamfer to mitigate some of the boxy look speakers tend to have. The 5-way bi-amp/bi-wire binding posts are very stout pieces, with huge acrylic knobs that my XL paws had no problem using. Depending upon the enclosure finish chosen the color of the driver cones and grills will differ; gunmetal gray for white cabinets, black for walnut and black cabinets.

Even the BalancedForce subwoofer gets in on the act of showing a slender image as you look at it since it is shaped like an isosceles trapezoid. I like the fact it’s not just a rectangular box shape as is the case with so many other subwoofers.

Across the top panel there’s a recessed cutout that houses the controls, discreetly hidden behind a smoked glass cover. Push down on the front of it and the back pops up, at which point you pull it off to reveal the buttons, switches and dials. All of them are well-marked and legible, making adjustments simple. There’s an illuminated MartinLogan logo as well that can have the intensity adjusted from high to low or even off.

BalancedForce 210 subwoofer

The F20 comes with stylish blackened chrome outriggers and matching feet. However, do not consider them optional because the towers use a port that exits from the bottom panel of the cabinet, so if you choose not to use them, you will lose that output. All the pieces for the outriggers and feet come in a separate accessories box with individual cutouts for everything. Remember when I mentioned about presentation earlier?

F20 tower in matte white

MartinLogan sent me a pair of Stand 25 speaker stands for the B10s. The B10s come with screw-in feet with rubber tips so they don’t mar the finish of whatever they are sitting on. Guess what else those feet do? They double as anchoring points to secure the speakers to the Stand 25. Simply push the screws through the cutouts in the top plate of the stand and screw them directly into the bottom panel of the B10. It’s a pretty neat setup that worked perfectly.

Rear view of B10 in gloss black and the Motion Stand 25

Listening/In Use
I like the sound of MartinLogan speakers, I won’t deny it. I’ve been a fan of its Folded Motion Tweeter (FMT) for a long time—to my ears they have amazing detail and precision. They effortlessly produce highs, regardless of the volume level. They’re very smooth, crisp without being sharp or brittle, and aren’t the least bit fatiguing, combining the best of both hard and soft dome tweeters without any of their respective drawbacks. Like electrostatics, MartinLogan has an extended history with the FMT. Experience counts here.

BalancedForce 210 has typical controls for a subwoofer; level (gain), variable low pass (30-80Hz), variable phase (0-270°), on/off/auto for signal input. In a comical nod to the movie Spinal Tap, the level goes to 11. It does feature something unique, though: a variable 25Hz adjuster. It’s designed to pull down a peak or pull up a null if you have one in that range. It can also be used if you just want a little extra presence in the bottom end. It has a range of -10dB to +10dB. You read that right, +10dB.

That is a staggering amount of potential boost at 25Hz. The BalancedForce 210 definitely makes you aware it’s there, so much so that in my case I only added 1dB for the 25 Hz adjustment and it sounded good. Level was similarly restrained, 5 was all it took to give me full bass. Be careful how much you boost it though, the 210 starts running out of steam in the low 20Hz range. I imagine if you get too happy with the control and try cranking the volume, those 10-inch drivers might object to being pushed that hard near the bottom of their usable range.

The amp on the BalancedForce can accommodate any type of input you care to use; XLR (balanced), line level (unbalanced) and speaker level. Balanced and line level offer options for left, right and LFE. There’s also a 12v trigger, well 5-24v actually. From there things take an interesting turn, MartinLogan offers you the ability to use two different inputs for separate purposes. For example, you could use XLR for home theater and line level for two-channel. And finally, there’s a USB input. That for uploading a custom low pass filter or to update the amplifiers firmware.

MartinLogan offers an optional next-level adjustment system called the Perfect Bass Kit (PBK). Based on the highly regarded Anthem ARC Genesis software, the PBK allows you to fine tune your subwoofers performance with much greater accuracy than most room correction systems built into an AVR are able to. I have experience with the PBK, having used it in previous MartinLogan reviews, so I know it can make a noticeable difference in performance and sound quality.

For the Dynamo series I understand why it’s an option—that is MartinLogan’s modest priced subwoofer line—but the BalancedForce is their premium offering so I would have preferred it to be included. The 210 sounded really good after I measured and adjusted it manually, but I suspect the PBK may have been able to make it even better.

Because I have a 5.1 system to test I focused on flicks with busy soundtracks, not necessarily the entire movie but at least notable scenes. Of my choices, one is from prehistoric times, another is during the 1800’s and the third is purely fantasy. How’s that for a varied mix? One thing they all have in common is voices, lots of them. For me one of the most telling aspects of a speaker is whether or not it can accurately replicate the human voice. Fear not as all of the soundtracks have something to challenge the BalancedForce subwoofer too.

Fury features Brad Pitt as 'Wardaddy' Collier, the commander of a WWII Sherman tank crew. While operating behind enemy lines their tank throws a tread and comes to a halt. Before the team can affect repairs a battalion of Nazi SS comes marching up on them. They’re stuck with 2 choices, abandon the tank and beat feet or stand and fight. They choose the latter.

As the stormtroopers approach there’s a moment where the Americans are sitting in the tank, awaiting the inevitable. They’re sharing a bottle of whiskey and some gallows humor. Despite this being a challenging environment for voices—small, enclosed compartment made entirely of metal—the Motion speakers did a brilliant job, reproducing each with distinct characteristics. When the SS roll up on the tank the speakers had a much different job, and so did the subwoofer. Now it was time for chaos.

Once the Nazis are within striking distance the Americans unload on them with their canon, the stand mount machine gun, pistols and hand grenades. The BalancedForce 210 came to life, providing a solid kick from the individual weapons. Blending seamlessly into the low end were more delicate sounds like that of bullets ricocheting off the tank and people shouting out commands in the distance. Both the heavy and light elements were equally well represented.

Open Range is like an old-school western, slow-moving and character-based. With a cast that includes the likes of Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Robert Duvall and Michael Gambon, Open Range gives me plenty of opportunity to hear a variety of disparate voices. Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) are ‘free grazers’, basically people who herd their cattle to open lands to feed. Denton Baxter (Gambon) is a rancher with a large posse of henchmen determined to control the land and all the people who live in the area. Baxter isn’t the least bit fond of free grazers, which inevitably leads to a showdown between him and our two heroes.

The confrontation starts simply with Boss and Charlie plotting, trying to determine how best to face Baxter and his flunkeys. While they’re talking over strategy, Charlie is loading his revolvers. I could hear the slight click of the bullets as they slide into the cylinder, along with the mechanical sound as he spun it to expose the next open chamber. For me it’s little facets like those which make or break a scene, details that could easily get lost if your speakers are not able to render nuance correctly.

When they do square off with Baxter and his crew it’s Charlie who fires the first shot, and it had some kick. Mayhem ensues as both sides start to unload on each other using pistols, rifles and a ‘scatter gun’ (what we call a shotgun today). The BalancedForce subwoofer gets into the act now as it has to shore up the bottom end. Each of the different weapons had its own unique sound signature with the appropriate amount of kick to differentiate it. At one point some of the villagers get in on the act; there are times when probably 2 dozen weapons are all going off at the same time. Shouts and screams from the town folk are mixed in among all the commotion, yet nothing was overshadowed, no matter how torrid the action got. Everything blended together effortlessly.

Set during prehistoric times, 10,000 BC is a story about an outcast tribesman name D’Leh who struggles to fit in. He reasons the best way to overcome his reject status is to lead the clan's mammoth hunt and be instrumental in slaying one. The beasts migrate through their land once a year so that would be his opportunity.

As they stop to graze the hunting party sneaks up using reed grass for cover. The closer they get the louder the mastodon snorting becomes, yet you could still distinctly make out the men’s voices as they whispered commands to each other. At one point the hunters all jump up to startle the creatures with the intent to create a stampede and funnel them toward a narrow canyon and into an established kill zone. The ploy works, they all take off running. The men chase after shouting orders amongst themselves. The beasts are rampaging, trumpeting loudly in fear, their feet pounding the ground.

This is a busy part of the soundtrack but it didn’t prove to be a challenge for this MartinLogan system, the dynamics were exceptional. Background music was woven into the action, adding just the right amount of intensity. One part of the scene I would have liked a bit more from was the stampede itself. There was plenty of impact from the mammoths footsteps, but not really enough depth to take this scene over the top. The BalancedForce 210 couldn’t quite reach that low.

How best to sum up the MartinLogan Motion speakers when it comes to music? If the lyrics to a song elude you try listening to them on this system, bet they reveal themselves. With remarkable mids and highs, they excel at bringing music to life. Whether the volume is moderate or elevated doesn’t seem to matter, the results are sublime either way.

“Big Log,” Robert Plant. Likely not a song most of you know, and for those that do know it probably not one you would expect to pop up in a review. There’s history behind it.

I’m in my mid 20’s and for whatever reason life is going great; I have a really good job, nice salary, in a strong personal relationship, have my health, tons of family and friends, everything you could want. The job comes with a company car, a BMW no less. Not many people in my age group could say what I was able to back then. There were a lot of beautiful sunny days that particular summer, which is where the connection to Big Log comes into the picture. For whatever reason this song always seemed to come on when I was out cruising, all the windows down and the sunroof open. To this day I still remember the sensation of wind blowing through the car with that song cranked up. There’s no wind in my house at this moment, but I can certainly crank the volume and relive my youth.

This song has a simple rhythm. In some respects metronomic, almost hypnotic. The bass and synthesized drums were rich and potent, anchoring the bottom end with authority. The guitar had a crisp ‘twang’ to it, jumping out of the speakers with a sharpness to the notes. Robert Plant's voice was silky smooth, his distinct sound and signature style evident. The clapping hands were layered between the vocals and guitar, occupying their own unique space. Played at a volume that BMW’s stereo could never achieve, I was transported back in time.

“Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” from ZZ Top. Seems I’m feeling nostalgic today, guess that means you’re going for a ride down memory lane with me. This song is from my early years - 7th or 8th grade perhaps - and was on the band's landmark album Tres Hombres. This is from the time when ZZ Top was a rock and blues band, before they got into fuzzy guitars and slick MTV videos. At least a lot of you should know this song.

Front and center were Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill (RIP) trading vocals, their voices leapt out of the speakers and took aim straight at me. Hill and his bass were at their best on “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” which is steady, driving, down and dirty. Frank Beard's snare had a nice snap to it, his kick drum keeping time just underneath Hill's bass. Gibbons' guitar was powerful, even more so when he overdubbed the lead in the middle. Balance was exceptional, everything was perfectly weighted. This is what a ZZ Top song should be.

Ready for one more trip on the way back machine? “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, a one-hit-wonder that is perhaps the weirdest rock song ever written. “Hocus Pocus” has an uncanny ability to get stuck in your head, whether you want it to or not. Released in the US about the same time as Tres Hombres, this rondo style of song is an ode to the bizarre that contains a fast-paced rock beat and blistering guitar solos mixed with flute, accordion, whistling and yodeling. Yes, yodeling. Told you it was weird.

The bass guitar and kick drum are recorded on the heavy side. The BalancedForce 210 seemed to revel in the fact it was being used so much, happily pounding away for the entire 7-ish minute song. As things progress from one contrasting section to another there is always a driving rhythm to bridge them. During those interludes Jan Akkerman’s guitar would just growl at you, like what you might hear in a heavy metal song. When Jan was ripping a solo it exploded out of the Motion speakers, piercing through and leaping ahead of everything else that was going on.

Most of the oddness in “Hocus Pocus” is attributed to Thijs van Leer who plays about half a dozen different instruments, including the aforementioned accordion and flute. He's also credited with the whistling and yodeling, along with the maniacal laughter at the end (which sounded strangely good coming out of the Motion speakers). You have to be in a certain mood for this song, but if you happen to be, a MartinLogan system might be the perfect companion.

The MartinLogan Motion Series in matte black

While I never need a reason to listen to music, MartinLogan gave me an excuse to. Paired together the Motion speakers and BalancedForce subwoofer form a complete package, able to do just about anything you could want.

This setup produces smooth yet dynamic sound, with solid bass output. No matter how many hours you sit in front of this system you will never feel the least bit of fatigue.


Motion F20
Dimensions: 44 3/4"x11 3/4"x14 1/4" (HxWxD, with feet)
Frequency Response: 35 Hz - 25 kHz ±3dB
Recommended Amplifier Power: 20 - 300 watts
Sensitivity: 92dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
High Frequency Driver: 1"x1.4" Gen2 Obsidian Folded Motion Tweeter
Mid Frequency Driver: 5.5" Woven Fiberglass cone with cast polymer basket, non-resonant sealed chamber format, unibody cone construction
Low Frequency Driver: 2x 6.5" Aluminum cone with cast polymer basket, non-resonant asymmetrical chamber format, unibody cone construction
Cabinet: Bottom ported
Binding Post Inputs: Bi-amp/bi-wire capable 5-way binding posts
Weight: 60 lbs

Motion C10
Dimensions: 7 1/4"x19"x11 1/2" (HxWxD)
Frequency Response: 63 Hz - 25 kHz ±3dB
Recommended Amplifier Power: 20 - 200 watts
Sensitivity: 93dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
High Frequency Driver: 1"x1.4" Gen2 Obsidian Folded Motion Tweeter
Mid Frequency Driver: 2x 5.5" Woven Fiberglass cone with cast polymer basket, non-resonant sealed chamber format, unibody cone construction
Cabinet: Rear Ported
Binding Post Inputs: Bi-amp/bi-wire capable 5-way binding posts
Weight: 23.5 lbs

Motion B10
Dimensions: 12 1/2"x7"x9 3/4" (HxWxD)
Frequency Response: 56 Hz - 25 kHz ±3dB
Recommended Amplifier Power: 20 - 200 watts
Sensitivity: 92dB
Impedance: 5 ohms
High Frequency Driver: 1"x1.4" Gen2 Obsidian Folded Motion Tweeter
Mid Frequency Driver: 5.5" Woven Fiberglass cone with cast polymer basket, non-resonant sealed chamber format, unibody cone construction
Cabinet: Rear Ported
Binding Post Inputs: Bi-amp/bi-wire capable 5-way binding posts
Weight: 14.5 lbs

BalancedForce 210
Dimensions: 19"x19.1"x 19.4"
Frequency Response: 20-120Hz ±3dB (anechoic through LFE effects input)
Low Frequency Transducer: 2x 10" cast-basket, high excursion, aluminum cone with extended throw driver assembly, sealed non-resonant asymmetrical chamber format
Amplifier: 850 watts RMS, 1,700 watts peak
Room Correction: Perfect Bass Kit (PBK), sold separately
Audio Controls: On, Off, Auto
Low Pass Filter Frequency: 30 - 80Hz
Inputs: RCA (Left, Right, LFE), XLR (Left, Right, LFE), Speaker Level (Left, Right), 3.5mm 12V Trigger, Mini USB (for PBK), USB (crossover & firmware updates)
Weight: 96 lbs

trynberg's picture

While I've certainly appreciated Jim Wilson's reviews in the past, this one seriously makes me question the current health of his hearing. We haven't yet seen measurements of this updated series (alas, Sound and Vision no longer does this), but the previous Motion XTi speakers all had significantly elevated response above 1kHz with poor directivity, resulting in bright, fatiguing sound.

Also, I may have missed it in the review, but not calling out the Force 210 as a poor value at $3,500 is giving M-L a bit too much of a pass. Very poor performance-to-price.

Mark Henninger's picture
Assuredly someone who owns their own Klippel NFS will measure these (and any other speakers their followers send). There's really no point anymore in trying to compete with those sites with measurements. It is not at all clear though that measurements get to the crux of whether a particular person will like a particular speaker in a particular room used in the particular manner they choose. As for the 210 sub, it's been out for a decade and is expensive for what you get. This is not really intended as a review of the sub, the focus is the speakers and it only awards a Top Pick to the speakers, not to the sub.