MartinLogan Neolith May 2015 T.H.E. Show Report

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,676
1,068
113
Beverly Hills, CA
#1
On May 29, 2015, the first morning of T.H.E. Show in Irvine, California, I headed straight for the LMC demo room where I was greeted warmly by Mike Ware, the owner of LMC, and Peter Soderberg, Western Regional Sales Manager of MartinLogan. I corresponded with Peter several times in advance of the show, and I was happy to meet him in person. Both Mike and Peter were informative, friendly and extremely gracious hosts. Mike’s store in Arizona features not only the Neoliths but also MBL 101 X-tremes and Wilson Alexandria XLFs!

I purchased MartinLogan Monolith II speakers in 1989. I upgraded to the Monolith IIIs in 1991. In 2001 I purchased Prodigys, which I still use today. So I was very curious to see and hear MartinLogan’s latest iteration of a large, hybrid ESL.

Visually the Neolith is large and impressive in person. At 375 pounds it is much heavier than any prior ML hybrid/cone integrated speaker.

I have been concerned about the affect on quality control wrought by the purchase of ML by a private equity and the relocation of its traditional Lawrence, Kansas manufacturing facility to a Paradigm facility in Canada. My career background is in hedge funds, and I am well aware that sometimes private equity firms understand, buy into, and support the passion and quality control of the entrepreneurial founders whose companies they buy, and sometimes private equity firms simply try to maximize EBITDA. ML’s entry into Best Buy made me concerned that the latter philosophy might be at work here.

I was happy to see, and I am relieved to report, that there is no evidence of any decline in finishing quality or quality control, at least with the Neoliths. The finish on the Neoliths is absolutely gorgeous. Up close the speakers look like they came out of the cabinet factory at Wilson Audio, and I intend that to be extremely high praise. All seams I examined were straight and tight. Among my various character flaws I am a visual perfectionist and I saw nothing cosmetically imperfect.

The Neoliths were bi-amped with pairs of McIntosh MC1.2kw 1200 watt transistor amplifiers. The source was a Linn CD player connected to some streaming system controlled by an Ipad. Unfortunately for me personally there was no tube amplification and no analog source. I say unfortunately because I generally like only tube amplification and I truly like only analog sources.

Mike Ware kindly played several tracks from Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat (with which I am very familiar), and which is appropriate since it was recorded digitally to begin with.

I hoped the Neoliths would sound like everything I like about the Prodigys, but, if anything, with higher resolution, greater transparency and greater dynamics. In my opinion the Neoliths are at least slightly higher in resolution than the Prodigys and are at least at transparent as the Prodigys. Exactly how much higher in resolution and more transparent (if they are) are the Neoliths than the Prodigys I do not know how to explain or quantify. It would take much more listening in a quiet room for me to describe and quantify the magnitude of these improvements.

The excitement and the surprise came from an increase in dynamics. The Neoliths possess, to my ears, the most dynamic 48” X 24” electrostatic panel ML has ever produced.

For my listening biases the Neolith is a pretty perfect answer. The 12” cone, crossed over to the panel at between 250 and 400 Hz, provides the impact and oomph which I like in the 200 to 400 Hz range.

Since I've been listening to MartinLogan hybrid speakers for 26 years, the sound of the Neoliths was extremely familiar to me. It sounded like everything I've always liked about ML’s speakers (transparency, soundstaging, and resolution) but with greater dynamics. The increase in dynamics made the speakers more impressive and more fun than the Prodigys. The 15” ported subwoofer certainly did its part and helped sustain this increase in dynamics.

Finally, while I have never been particularly sensitive to discontinuity between the electrostatic panel and the integrated cone, I think the sound of the electrostatic panel, down to the 12” cone, and then down to the 15” inch cone, was extremely coherent and well-integrated. I heard no discontinuity.

Could this speaker be any better for the kind of sound I like? If we ask this question in the context of a one tower per channel system my answer is no, I do not see how it could be any better. I cannot imagine ML producing a better one column speaker.

Everything I reported here about the sound characteristics of the Neolith is tentative and preliminary and subject to revision after a true audition. I will not know for sure what the Neolith sounds like until I have an opportunity to audition it leisurely in a quiet, controlled listening environment, with the speakers driven by tubes and playing my standard vinyl audition music.

If I had the opportunity to design my own MartinLogan speaker I would build my ideal ESL hybrid speaker by taking the Neolith speaker as it is, and removing the 15” subwoofer. This would leave us with the 48" x 24" electrostatic panel over the 12” woofer in one column. I would add a second 12" woofer in a BalancedForce configuration using the portion of the cabinet where the 15" subwoofer currently resides. I would then build for each channel a separate subwoofer tower, consisting of three pairs of dual-opposed, 15” drivers and powered with class AB amplification. This four-column system, a Statement E3, would be my ideal speaker system from MartinLogan.
 

LL21

Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2010
10,935
143
63
#2
Great stuff Ron! We should hopefully be able to create a 'Journal' of your Reviews over time!
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,676
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Beverly Hills, CA
#3
Thank you, Lloyd! That might be a nice idea!
 
Jul 25, 2012
2,541
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38
NY
#6
Does anybody actually listen to that kind of music (crap) ?

What was Martin Logan thinking?

They have to play real music at shows that people listen to.

I have walked out of many rooms because they were playing stuff I would never listen to.
 

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
5,638
240
63
Boston, MA
#7
Exactly my thoughts Gary! I can only imagine how some manufacturers actually build product. Ron, thanks for the review!
 
Jul 25, 2012
2,541
5
38
NY
#9
Have you heard it in person? It is reference quality vocals and used very frequently for demos. The pitch seems wrong to me in the video though.
It isn't so much the quality of the recording that I am questioning. It is that kind of program material.

I don't know anybody who willingly listens to that stuff.

Manufacturers have to play the kind of music people actually listen to or else there is no frame of reference for the listener.
 

rbbert

Active Member
Dec 12, 2010
3,416
4
38
Reno, NV
#10
...
Manufacturers have to play the kind of music people actually listen to or else there is no frame of reference for the listener.
I believe Ron stated it was a recording he was very familiar with, so your complaint makes no sense.
 
Apr 3, 2010
15,814
2
0
Seattle, WA
#11
I don't know anybody who willingly listens to that stuff.
Well a few of us like and listen to it :). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fairfield_Four

"The Fairfield Four is an American gospel group that has existed for over 90 years. They started as a trio in Nashville, Tennessee's Fairfield Baptist Church in 1921.[2] They were designated as National Heritage Fellows in 1989 by the National Endowment for the Arts. The group won the 1998 Grammy for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. As a quintet, they featured briefly in the motion picture O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

The group gained more popular recognition after appearing on John Fogerty's 1997 album Blue Moon Swamp, singing on the track "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade". They also undertook live appearances with Fogerty. They also appeared on the song "There Will Be Peace in the Valley for Me" by Dolly Parton on her 2003 studio album For God and Country. They were later featured on the song "Rock of Ages" by Amy Grant & Vince Gill on Grant's 2005 studio album Rock of Ages... Hymns and Faith."


It is one of the marquee songs in O Brother movie and that alone makes me want to listen to it.
 
Apr 21, 2010
279
5
18
Dallas,Texas
#12
Myself personally I would listen to it for a demo, but what about potential buyers who aren't familiar with the recording? I understand both sides, it just seems to turn more people off than onto the product. Many many years ago we were listening to the Beveridge system at Jonas Miller audio, and the customer had brought in a Rock album. The sad part was after he had demoed the speaker, he was criticized by the employee performing the demo for not choosing a "better demonstration record! It shows that some things never change. The simple fact that some people do indeed listen to regular non audiophile quality recordings., myself included.
 
Feb 8, 2011
21,953
606
113
Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada
#13
Does anybody actually listen to that kind of music (crap) ? Nope, not generally, fut few do, myself included on occasion.
What was Martin Logan thinking? Dreamin' of angels singing? I'm sure that was on their mind.
They have to play real music at shows that people listen to. D'accord, but vocals are also real music, like chorals.
I have walked out of many rooms because they were playing stuff I would never listen to. Classical chamber music would help, or The Rolling Stones. ...Maybe. :b
Lol :D ...But some soul male vocals are nice, much better than RAP music. And the youtube video sound doesn't convey the true recording.
They were certainly using this as a good 'vocal' (male) sound reproduction. I got some of that @ home (not many though), and not from that band, but more Motown, and Blues & Soul.
... The Blind Boys from Alabama for example. International music section, because it's from the Real World music record label. ...And that International music record label (Peter Gabriel's UK recording studios) they have more Vocal music recordings of male and female voices, primarily. ...From everywhere; Africa, and all. ...And not just vocals, but musical instruments too...various drums, flutes, etc. from musicians all over.

♦ An International music section of music from Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Iceland, Hawaii, Cuba, Bermudas, Morocco, Turkey, Alabama, Canada, Ireland, Nepal, Bangladesh, ... would be a good thread if we don't have one already. ...Even music from Jamaica; Reggae. :b
 

RayDunzl

New Member
Jun 26, 2014
289
1
0
Tampa
#14
Concerning the demo material...

How do we know it wasn't a listener request being played?
 
Last edited:
Nov 3, 2014
394
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#16
Ron - you are probably already aware, but Bob Harley's review of the Neolith is just out in TAS. As you might guess, he liked it a whole lot. He was very cool and somewhat negative on Prodigys back then over a decade ago, not that it means anything. Personally, I do not take his opinions as gospel, or Valin's greatest ever speaker, amplifier, etc. the world has ever seen (as of this month) sweepstakes.

I was not aware that the Neolith contained no amp for the woofer section. I still would not do passive bi-amping. I would think it needs two really good amps, probably solid state for the bass plus a good active external xover. If ML is not going to provide a product like that, actually Dave Wilson makes a very good one that works in the analog domain. I have heard it. His is offered for his subs, but I suspect it might work with the Neolith, as well.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#17
Gary

Its the Fairfield Four (five of them actually), a group with amazing harmony. I use some of their songs for assessing soundstage and imaging

A great group Gary. One of my reference for years. Standing in the Safety Zone is a gem. Play "Children Go Where I Send Thee and the voices and harmony are amazing. It allows for the assessment of the male voice. Far from crap and I am not a gospel music fan
 
Jul 25, 2012
2,541
5
38
NY
#18
I listened to that Youtube video again.

I still don't like that music.

It isn't something I would ever listen to.
 

Folsom

VIP/Donor
Oct 26, 2015
3,815
340
83
Eastern WA
#19
Maybe it was someones test track?

I listened to one of ML's smaller models the other day. I was suspicious given where I was, and how much I've seen them around less than audiophile type places (or rather indiscriminate for sound, just selling). But they're pretty good! However they were too 2D, but that might have been the McIntosh gear with them, and dumpy ass CD player.
 

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