Would I like to come visit the room at the 2019 RMAF to see the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi? Sure, I thought when I read the email from Devin Zell, MartinLogan, Paradigm and Anthem Marketing Manager. There was a phase of my audiophile life where I had nearly constant seat time with many of their ESLs. I even reviewed one of their active hybrid speakers, one called the Purity. Seems like ages ago, I thought, which is why I said yes so quickly.
Then I thought of something completely crazy—Devin Zell was like my sixth friend ever on Facebook. That’s how far we go back. He sent me a friend request, and I was encouraged to accept because Devin was known as “Mr. MartinLogan,” and he was the guy to ask if I needed anything. So here we are, over a decade later, and I’m having an email chat with Devin and we’re ignoring the elephant in the room, which is the fact that he’s Friend #6 and we’ve never met or talked on the phone. FRIEND NUMBER SIX! Even my mom was like the seventh.
When I arrived at the MartinLogan room at RMAF, I was treated to two surprises. First, no Devin. Looked everywhere for him. Left and came back a couple of times. “He was here a minute ago.” “He had a lunch meeting.” “He’s out walking the show, seeing what else is out there.” He later sent me an email apologizing that he missed me.
The second surprise was the new ESL panels from MartinLogan—or the lack of them. The system was very simple—Benchmark electronics, all smallish yet vividly lit boxes, paired with a small pair of 2-way bookshelf monitors and a sub. A strange little voice in my head, kind of high-pitched and squeaky, said “Oh yeah, MartinLogan has been making dynamic speakers for years and you’ve never heard one. You should sit down and listen.”
I did listen. I liked the sound of these 2-ways, the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi monitors, and I expected them to cost in the $2500-$3000/pair range. Devin Zell emailed me weeks later, saying he had read my positive show report on the room. He asked if I’d like to review anything in the Motion line, I said sure. He pointed me in the direction of the larger floorstanding models in the line, but I kept thinking about that pair of monitors I heard in the room. Devin seemed a little surprised but he said sure (still no mention of the early pioneer days of social media, when we couldn’t even use our covered wagons for hot spots), and when they arrived at my house I did a little research on them and found out that the Motion 35XTi retails for just $1400 pair.
Would You Like a Sub with That?
I forgot to tell you about the subwoofer, the Dynamo 800X. Devin threw that in at the end. “How about a sub? Which one you want?” My first response was no, because I’m not really a sub guy—even though I like messing around with them on the odd occasion that I have one on hand. Many of my favorite audio show systems over the last couple of years have featured subwoofers, so maybe it was time to say okay, let’s give subs a try in my listening room.
Also, MartinLogan does make great subs. I’ve listened to a pair of CLXs with two of their top-of-the-line subs at the time, and the immense soundstage and incredible dynamics of the system gave me the impression of standing at the edge of an abyss where almost anything could suddenly materialize and scare the hell out of me.
MartinLogan Motion 35XTi
The 35XTi is a distinctive-looking 2-way bookshelf monitor, considering it is just a box—the top plane of the enclosure tilts back, the red walnut veneer is attractive (it’s also available in gloss black and matte white) and the tweeter looks both distinctive and strangely familiar. This proprietary tweeter, called the Folded Motion tweeter, features an ultra-low mass diaphragm that’s folded in an accordion shape in order to “squeeze out the sound”—if you’re thinking of the Heil Air Motion Transformer, yeah, that’s what I thought when I first looked at it up close.
The Folded Motion tweeter, however, has much more in common with MartinLogan ESLs—incredibly low distortion and controlled dispersion thanks to the increased surface area. It’s a tweeter that sounds incredibly fast and light on its feet, which makes perfect sense considering that this is, after all, a MartinLogan product.
The woofer/midrange driver is a 6.5” aluminum unit, also designed in-house, and it’s capable of reaching down to 50 Hz. It has a port on the rear, so I made sure to give the Motions plenty of space from the rear wall—probably almost three feet. The MartinLogan Motion 35XTi is fairly sensitive—92 dB—but with a 4-ohm impedance. MartinLogan states that the Motions are compatible with 4, 6 or 8 ohm amps. I was able to use the Motions with a variety of amps from 25 wpc (Pureaudio Duo2 running in pure Class A mode) to 135 wpc (Bryston B135³) and I never felt like the Motions needed more power.
MartinLogan Dynamo 800X
Devin offered any of the four subwoofers from the Dynamo line—the 600X ($650), the 800X ($850), the 1100X ($1300) and the 1600X ($2000). I’m not sure why I chose the 800X, other than the fact that price was more in line with the MSRP of the Motion XT35i.
The Dynamo 800X is powered, with 300 Class-D watts coupled to the 10” inverted poly surround driver. The Dynamo features a wide array of 21st century features—a digital control system that can be accessed through a smart phone app, Bluetooth capabilities, Anthem Room Correction and an optional wireless receiver and transmitter. The Dynamo can also be configured with the driver facing downward or forward (which explains the included grille). I chose the latter for much of the review.
I started off with just the Motions hooked up to the Bryston integrated and my Unison Research CDE CD player with the Raven Audio Soniquil cabling I just reviewed. (Later this was switched to Cardas Audio Clear Light all around.) I also used the AudioQuest Niagara 1200 power conditioner. The break-in period seemed a bit lengthy—for the first 100 hours or so I detected a congestion in the midrange that was bothersome. When I hooked up the Dynamo 800X, that congestion magically disappeared completely. When I removed the Dynamo toward the end of review period, that congestion didn’t return. Hmmm…have a discovered a new way to break in monitor speakers?
By themselves, the Motion 35XTi still sounded incredibly impressive for a $1400/pair monitor. At this price point you can nab some very tasty bookshelf speakers, but there’s usually a choice that needs to be made between dynamics and refinement. The best monitors in this range offer some sort of compromise, a balanced overall sound, but that superb tweeter in the Motions really elevated the performance. High frequencies, especially with high-rez digital sources, was clean and yet relaxed.
Once the Dynamo was added, which was surprisingly straightforward considering all those features and that very busy control panel, the MartinLogan system became a very different animal. As I mentioned, the break-in woes with the Motions disappeared, and this three-piece system opened up in a very dramatic way. More than once I thought, “Wow, are these the same speakers?”
With the Dynamo tweaked and adjusted, the bass was simply incredible. The 800X can hit 24 Hz, plus or minus 3dB, and I could definitely feel it. My home has suspended wood floors over a big basement—typical for the Northeastern United States—and it’s not hard for a full-range speaker to couple to that space and create sloppy, smeared low frequencies. The 800X could be set for earthquake mode if I so desired, but I easily achieved that happy medium where I could feel the deepest frequencies underneath the floorboards while maintaining tight, tuneful bass.
The Final Test
The Dynamo 800X was definitely a hit, but I had to go back to the Motion 35XTi and once again evaluate it on its own. I dropped them in the big system, where they replaced the mighty Von Schweikert ESE loudspeakers, and I hooked them up to the 65 wpc Mactone 120 power amplifier and XX-7000 preamplifier. Yes, we’re talking about almost $40K worth of bespoke Japanese tube amplification hooked up to a $1400 pair of small monitors, but why not? I’m the guy who used to install Koetsu cartridges on my Regas—you never know until you try, right? Besides, the Mactone amps have an uncanny ability to make every speaker sound better than I thought possible.
I was not disappointed. While the Motion 35XTis remained a little bass-shy—50 Hz is 50 Hz, after all—those high-frequencies continued to make me swoon. This is simply a gorgeous tweeter, and it seems almost out of place in a pair of speakers at this price. The midrange was also solid and realistic, without the congestion I heard during break-in.
I can only think of a handful of loudspeakers at the same price point as the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi that are truly competitive. While some can definitely surpass the Martin Logan’s low end, they can’t quite match the performance of that stunning Folded Motion tweeter. If you need more bass, you can always check out the floorstanding models in the Motion line—the $1800 20i, the $2400 40i and the $3500 60XTi. You get that same fab tweeter in those as well.
The Dynamo 800X is what tips the scales even more in MartinLogan’s favor. At $2250 for the three-piece system, this is crazy good. I can’t think of too many speakers for this amount of money that I’d rather own. They certainly don’t reach 24 Hz. They don’t have room correction or Bluetooth or wireless capabilities, nor can they be operated with my iPhone. I can only wonder what would have happened if I had told Devin to send me the big 1600X subwoofer cuz I gotta have MORE BASS. With the 35XTi, it’s still just a $3400 investment.
I’m not sure if the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi monitors and Dynamo 800X subwoofer have turned me into a 2.1 kind of audiophile. I still prefer the simplicity of two-channel audio. But if someone asks me for a recommendation for an affordable yet killer pair of satellites and sub, I’m simply going to send them the link to this review. Superb!
Read more at MartLogan Motion 35XTi on their website: https://www.martinlogan.com/en/product/motion-35xti.