Capital Audiofest 2017: Martin Logan, Benchmark show us five ways is better

The Story

Dennis Chern of Martin Logan is no stranger to the audio show circuit. I’ve been following his demonstration activity at dealer events since I was a wee lad in this hobby. Never a stranger to fun and good times, Dennis turned his exhibit room into a 5-channel bounce house of sound. Utilizing a trio of Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A’s in the front, and a svelte pair of EM-ESL X electrostatic towers functioning as rear surrounds, it’s the first entirely full range five channel surround sound system I’ve experienced. Considering the rears in this set-up only go down to 41hz in the bass region, and the front trio solidify the bass down to 29hz, Dennis thought it would be best (if not funny) to instill the brute power of two dual-driver BalancedForce 210 sub-woofers to gather up the remaining 9hz that stand between the ESL 11A’s and the lowest registers of human hearing (aka 20hz). At last count that puts the panels at five, the woofers at ten, and the sub-woofers at four.
Buckle up sonny, we’re going for a ride.

Not to glaze over the details as I’m known to do, the amplitude for all five panels was supplied in bulk measure and finesse by Benchmark‘s highly awarded AHB2 power amplifiers. Normally producing 100 watts per channel for the common 8 ohm load requirement of most speakers on the market, however in this particular install more power as the Martin Logan’s each require four or six ohm stability. It was uncertain to me whether the amplifiers were bridged in mono.

Decoding for all was a trio of Benchmark’s newest reference class DAC3’s, a 2-channel digital-to-analog converter that includes hybrid gain control. Meaning it combines active analog gain, passive low-impedance attenuators, a 32-bit digital gain control, and a servo driven volume control. In essence for the end user, the knob on the front goes louder to the right, and quieter to the left.

The Sound

Well, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard at the show. Enveloping, and sometimes embarrassing to what normal two-channel systems can display for the listener. Running through various five channel mixed SACD’s we were given example after example of what it’s like to consign an individual full range speaker to the duty of just one instrument in the mix. It’s bananas.

I know many early on dismissed 5.1 as gimmick or hokey, I’d say for certain that what I am hearing is neither. It’s a shame this format didn’t take off more with those audiophiles who have the dedicated space, resources, and ego. Maybe it was due in part to lacking content. Admit it, our hobby is driven by the content.

The System

Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A Electrostatic Loudspeakers ($9,995 pr USD)

Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL X Electrostatic Loudspeakers ($3,999 pr USD)

Martin Logan BalancedForce 210 Dual-Driver Sub-woofer ($2995 ea USD)

Benchmark DAC3 2-Channel Digital-To-Analog Converter (starting at $1,895 USD)

Benchmark AHB2 2-Channel Power Amplifier ($2,995 ea USD)

SOURCE: SACD Player (model and age unknown)

About Eric Franklin Shook 442 Articles
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  1. “Admit it, our hobby is driven by the content.” Truer words were never spoken (written). So why all the hype around reel-to-reel?!? I concede that they (can) sound fabulous; I’ve heard them doing just that in a number of mbl rooms at different shows. But where is the CONTENT?

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