MartinLogan Montage Home Theater Speaker System

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As I was awaiting the arrival of MartinLogan's new Montage speakers, I found myself thinking about Jim Hanks, who looks and sounds a bit like his Oscar-winning brother, Tom, but whose career hasn't hit the same stratospheric heights. Even though he's enjoyed some success (he's made several movies and filled in for Tom as the voice of Woody in a few Toy Story-based projects), I thought it must be tough trying to live up to the inevitable comparisons.

The point, of course, is that any new MartinLogan speaker is bound to come with lofty expectations given the reverence accorded the company's electrostatic speakers. Electrostatics work differently from most speakers: instead of a conventional midrange and tweeter, they use a large, ultra-thin diaphragm (usually Mylar) that projects sound from both the front and back. This dipolar radiating pattern gives listeners a mix of direct and reflected sound.

Electrostatics can deliver remarkably accurate sound in the midrange and upper frequencies along with a highly detailed, transparent soundstage - in other words, the kind of sonic magic that can get even seasoned audiophiles gushing like schoolgirls. However, they're inherently costly to manufacture, and their need to be plugged into a wall outlet can make them awkward to place. With the compact floor-standing Montage ($1,500 a pair), MartinLogan is attempting to deliver some of the best qualities of its high-end speakers at a fraction of the price.

Instead of a large electrostatic panel, the Montage uses an Advanced Thin-Film (ATF) transducer that's only 3 3/8 square inches to reproduce the highs. The ATF tweeter sandwiches an ultra-thin diaphragm between two arrays of powerful neodymium magnets, so no AC power is required. This dipole tweeter is mated with a pair of aluminum-cone drivers that serve as midrange and woofer.

To create a complete 5.1-channel surround sound system, we combined Montages for the front left/right channels with three of MartinLogan's Vignette speakers for the center and surround channels, plus the company's new Dynamo subwoofer. The Vignette uses the same dipolar ATF tweeter as the Montage, plus a smaller pair of shielded aluminum cones. Its solidly built, ported cabinet has a flat bottom and an arched top to facilitate horizontal placement, but it can also be mounted vertically using optional stands (see photo) or a wall mount. Supplied brackets allow it to be mounted flat against a wall or ceiling while still allowing it to be pivoted up to 90° to achieve the best mix of direct and reflected sound - critical for proper imaging.

The Dynamo is a compact, 200-watt subwoofer with a 10-inch, high-excursion aluminum driver. Its removable base lets it be used in either a down- or front-firing configuration, and it's equipped with both level and crossover controls (30 to 80 Hz) and a 0/90/180° polarity switch.

SETUP I installed the system with the Montages about 2 1/2 feet from the front wall and about 2 feet from the side walls, toed in slightly toward the primary listening area. As with any dipole speaker, you will need to play around a bit - or maybe a lot - to determine the best location. One Vignette sat atop my TV, while the two surround speakers were mounted vertically on MartinLogan stands. I put the Dynamo in the front right corner of the room.