When Home Theater Review’s editor called to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing MartinLogan’s new Motion 40 speakers, I jumped at the chance. Having heard multiple demos of the company’s speakers over the years, I’ve always been a fan, yet never had the opportunity to review a pair. MartinLogan’s speaker line is truly a “something for everyone” ensemble. You can spend $25,000 on a pair of the electrostatic CLX Art speakers, or you can drop a more level-headed $949 each for the Motion 40s discussed here. Sniffing around MartinLogan’s lower price points does have benefits beyond savings, mostly in the form of trickle-down technology, courtesy of the company’s high-end electrostatic speakers. It’s not just smoke and mirrors, as I’ve experienced with other manufacturers. The shining example of trickle-down tech in the Motion 40 is MartinLogan’s trademarked Folded Motion tweeter. According to the manufacturer, the tweeter has eight times the surface area of a common one-inch dome tweeter. This design is said to improve transient response, provide greater clarity and present a broader soundstage. From my experience with the speakers, this is an accurate characterization.
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The Motion 40s come in high-gloss piano black, high-gloss white and high-gloss black cherrywood, and, as with all MartinLogan speakers, are elegant and beautifully designed. It’s nice to see that this design element doesn’t suffer at the lower end of the speaker line. The Motion 40s feature the aforementioned Folded Motion tweeter, a five-and-a-half-inch aluminum cone midrange driver and dual six-and-a-half-inch aluminum cone woofers. To deliver a bit more low-end authority and heft, the woofers are paired with a rear-firing bass port. The Motion 40s measure 36.6 inches tall by just under seven inches wide and about a foot deep. They weigh a stout 37 pounds each and MartinLogan recommends anywhere from 20 to 200 watts of power to drive them.
The packaging of the Motion 40s was adequate and secure, about what you’d expect at this price point. I connected them to my reference system, which consists of the stunning Cary Cinema 12 processor, an Integra DTA-70.1 multi-channel amp, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a MacBook Pro and a Music Fidelity V-Link USB to S/PDIF converter. For playback software, I used Stephen Booth’s Decibel, which is an audible upgrade over iTunes. All of the cabling came courtesy of WireWorld. All critical listening was done using my laptop, save for the films, which I played on Blu-ray through the Oppo. While the Motion 40’s binding posts allow for bi-wiring or passive bi-amping, I used a standard connection for this review. Speaking of the binding posts, they’re sturdy and well designed, which is more than I can say for those of some other speaker manufacturers. Most high-end speaker cabling is heavy and thick, which can put quite a bit of strain on lesser binding posts, I was happy that it was a non-issue with the Motion 40s. On the subject of design, it’s worth noting that the MartinLogans feature elegant, tapered lines that set them apart from much of the competition. The grille is also worthy of discussion due to its heft (it’s made of metal as opposed to cloth) and its edgy, industrial design. Standing back and simply soaking in the Motion 40s’ gorgeous aesthetics, it’s a bit difficult to believe they retail for $2,000.
MartinLogan recommends 72 hours of break-in time on these speakers prior to critical listening. Who am I to argue? As a matter of fact, with more and more listening time, the sound continued to improve as the speakers broke in further. After the requisite break-in time, I jumped right into one of my favorite high-resolution tracks in the form of Paul Simon’s “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” from his stellar new release So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music). I’ve been riding this track hard in my reviews lately and for good reason; it’s brilliantly recorded and covers a broad range of the frequency spectrum. Paul’s voice, which has lost nothing over the years, was fantastic, with tons of detail and a transparent delivery of the rasp in his voice. The background vocals in this track, which are bluesy and fun, blended seamlessly and the soundstage was wide and full. The Motion 40s are also fast and agile, conveying all of the transients and vocals with authority.
Read more about the performance of the MartinLogan Motion 40s on Page 2.
For the next listening session, I went with another familiar track in the form of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” from the 2009 stereo remaster of Abbey Road. On this track, the Folded Motion tweeter was the star of the show, exhibiting stunning clarity and detail. Again, I was impressed with what was a wide and full soundstage. The more I listen to high-end speakers, either at home or at manufacturer demos, the pickier I become about the soundstage. If it’s narrow, it simply kills the fun of closing your eyes and being transported. On the down side, the bass was a bit thick and overbearing on this track. I mention this because some speakers are a bit more finicky about placement and these issues (as long as they’re not the sonic signature of the speaker) can often be solved with experimentation.
Moving on to music that was recorded a bit more recently, I cued Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup” from their self-titled 2011 release (Roadrunner Records). What I heard right out of the gate was stellar imaging, with the violin in the intro hanging just above the right speaker. The vocals floated effortlessly in the space between the speakers, not giving themselves away at all. It’s much easier to aurally detect the placement of lesser speakers within a room, but the Motion 40s didn’t broadcast their position. While the soundstage, possibly due to the way this track was recorded, did suffer somewhat on this track, everything else from resolution to coherence and transient response was exemplary. Lastly, these speakers are lively in character, so careful matching of source components is advised.
In the interest of keeping the musical selection diverse, I cued Kruder and Dorfmeister’s “Black Baby,” from DJ Kicks: The Exclusives (K7). This is a trippy track, featuring plenty of funky, hard and low-hitting effects from an Austrian duo known for their dub re-mixes. If you like chill electronica, their album the K&D Sessions is worth a listen. Anyway, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the bass response of the Motion 40s on this track. The dual oversized woofers and rear-firing bass port came to life and, despite a hard volume push, showed no signs of strain. This is a busy track, to say the least, and these speakers exhibited solid coherence and exemplary transient speed throughout. As I cranked the volume, I kept waiting for them to break down, but it never happened. Bravo.
So far, so good, but in order to test a speaker’s versatility, it’s wise to see how it performs with female vocals. I therefore played Diana Krall’s “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” from her brilliant Live in Paris album (Universal Music). The soul, range and authority in her voice was palpable, another testament to the engineering of the Folded Motion tweeter. Instrumentals, specifically the piano, were reproduced with no added sonic artifacts, rather just blissful transparency which provided a compelling case for listening to a live performance. The soundstage, which as I mentioned earlier was somewhat lacking on Young the Giant, was back with a vengeance. This, coupled with the revealing nature of the Motion 40s, led me to believe that it had more to do with the recording than with any deficiency in the speaker. Let’s face it, finding well-recorded music is becoming more and more difficult, as record labels pander to youth by making recordings that sacrifice resolution in the interest of loudness. Okay, I’ll step off the soap box now.
While I focused the majority of my critical listening on music, I did watch a few movies with the Motion 40s and came away impressed with their ability to mesh with the rest of my speakers, despite not being timbre-matched. Specifically, the new 3D version of Titanic (Paramount), which provides an aural assault, was quite an eye-opening experience. While it’s a good idea to try to keep speakers of the same product line in a 5.1 or 7.1 home theater configuration, it doesn’t always work out if the sonic character of one set differs vastly from another. In this case, be it a matter of simple luck or, more likely, the versatility of the Motion 40s, it was a seamless blend and made for compelling film viewing. While watching Quantum of Solace on Blu-ray (MGM), the Motion 40s provided a more visceral experience than that of my Episode in-wall front left/right speakers. In all fairness, though, that’s to be expected when transitioning from an in-wall speaker to a tower. One of the questions I’m asked when someone comes by for a demo is whether a given set of speakers is more adept with music or movies. In many cases, it’s a landslide, which can be a drag for someone trying to fill both needs. In the case of the Motion 40s, while I’d characterize them as a music-first set of speakers, I can tell you that they’re equally compelling in both categories. For less than $1,500, you can add the Motion 15 bookshelf and Motion 30 center channel speakers to build a full surround sound system.
This section is going to be brief, as the Motion 40s are long on talent and short on deficiencies. That said, they are somewhat picky about placement, especially if you want them to image well and “disappear” in a room. The upshot is that they’re of fairly manageable size, so that helps. Also, once the placement piece has been handled appropriately, you’ll be rewarded in spades. Lastly, while bass response was adequate across the board, bass junkies might consider a subwoofer in large rooms and/or when watching movies.
Competition and Comparison
I’m a big fan of Magnepan, an American company with a strong audiophile following. In the $2,000 range, I would point to the Magneplanar 1.7; if you Google this speaker, you’ll find that the reviews are simply off the charts. If you’re interested, Magnepan offers free in-home trials of some of the company’s speakers. Another comparable speaker manufacturer that comes to mind is PSB. With pretty much anything in its product line, from the ultra-affordable Alpha B1 bookshelf speakers (I own a pair and love ’em) to the high-end Synchrony line, you cannot go wrong. Specifically, PSB’s Imagine T speakers, which have a price point commensurate with that of the Motion 40s, are worth a look. If you’re interested in electrostatic speakers, you might check out MartinLogan’s ElectroMotion ESL speaker, which is actually a hybrid, as it incorporates an electrostatic panel along with a conventional speaker driver and retails for $2,195 per pair. For more on floor-standing speakers, please visit Home Theater Review’s Floorstanding speaker page.
While you do get what you pay for, especially when it comes to high-end speakers, the Motion 40s really do perform above their price point. If you enjoy clean, highly articulate highs and mids, these are going to make you smile. Bass junkies might want to look elsewhere or simply add a subwoofer to the mix. In reality, if you don’t have the space and money for a dedicated two-channel listening rig, you’re going to want to add a subwoofer to your system anyway, as there aren’t many tower speakers, especially in this price range, that are going to provide the requisite low-end thump a good home theater needs. Something else to consider with these Martin Logans is the fact that they’re revealing, so if your entire music collection is composed of MP3s (and if so, I feel sorry for you), you might not want a speaker of this caliber anyway. To explain this further, I’ll say that if you want the most bang for your buck with the Motions, you’re going to want to have some high-res music on hand, or at the very least, some well recorded, non-compressed music.
The bottom line with the Motion 40s and the thing you can take home is that each and every time I fired them up, they put a smile on my face. It’s hard to put a price on that, but $2,000 seems pretty reasonable to me.
Read more floorstanding speaker reviews from Home Theater Review’s writers.
Explore pairing options in our Subwoofer Review section.
See more options in our Bookshelf Speaker Review section.