UP TO NOW, Martin Logan has pretty much stuck to what it’s known for doing so well: its high end is full spectrum electrostatic monsters, while its more affordable models combine electrostatic panels with conventional bass driver reinforcement. Martin Logan pretty much made floor-standing speakers, and that was that.
Then last year, they began to rapidly diversify, producing a range of floor-standers that eschewed the electrostatic panels for a nifty combo of ribbon speakers and conventional drivers. Now, they’ve gone the whole hog and come up with what would a few years back been known as an iPod dock. Except the genre mutated into something else when iPods were replaced with smart phones, and those smart phones no longer needed physical docks to the speaker – instead, availing themselves of either Bluetooth or Wi-fi, or both.
HEY, GOOD LOOKIN’
Where designers of iPod docks had to build the design around a docking station, the new generation of wireless speaker systems (as they’re now called) are free to go wild with style, and the hands-down handsomest wireless speaker system on the market is Martin Logan’s totally sexy Crescendo. Up to now, B&W’s Zeppelin has been the design and audio standard against which all would-be usurpers of the crown compete. Sure, the standard of wireless systems has really come along since the days of all those crappy $100 iPod docks that people would have playing shitty low bitrate MP3 files at work barbecues, but heck… have you taken a look at this thing yet? You just want to get it drunk, kiss it and take it home – to Mum, of course.
But I digress. It’s worth pointing out that the Crescendo isn’t exactly what you would call diminutive. The way it spreads itself out on a table or desk, it’s asking for a bit of its own real estate, and you wouldn’t want it to feel cramped for space. It’s a design statement, and that’s what you buy into.
THE SOUND! THE STAGE!
The huge positive, however, is that if you want an awesome sounding bedroom or kitchen system, and it needs to be one-piece, you can be assured of a sound that will leave your mouth wide open and looking like a lobotomised chimp.
Now, I’m familiar with Martin Logan speakers and something of a fan. [Okay, you got me, I’m maniacally attached by my ML floor-standers]. Their electrostatic speakers make a sound that’s legendary for its forensic detail, its huge soundstage, and its almost supra-real imaging. But I wasn’t expecting anything like that from a small one-piece unit, with its comparatively tiny speakers. My problem with most speaker systems of this type is that they tend to do one of two things: 1) either they feature built-in frequency boosting mechanisms that make music enjoyable for awhile, but when you have to live with them you quickly grow tired of their sonic trickery, or 2) they sound pretty clear but somehow very small, and lacking any real dynamism or depth of sound picture. And of course, that’s not surprising. With speakers and amp squeezed into one small unit, compromises are inevitable.
There’s no way that you can get the kind of stereo separation out of a unit like this that many Witchdoctor readers will be accustomed to, but in every other way the sound was phenomenal. Its high quality amp works its magic on the deft combination of tweeters, ribbon speakers and drivers to deliver a sound that gives a sense of scale that is just unheard of from a small system like this. Firstly, the sound is incredibly, deliciously crisp, and that was very apparent on Tom Bailey’s International Observer, an electronic dub group that features all sorts of lovely insect sounds in the upper frequencies. Beyond the crispy but smooth top end, the mid-range pumped out a sound that had an incredible drift to it. Now, this is a feature of folded ribbon speakers – an ability to make the sound move around the room like so many intricate and moodily emotive storm clouds. So, while many one-piece systems make a sound that always seems to exist right there at the point of exit from the speaker cones, the Crescendo’s beauteous sonic waves splash themselves into every nook and crevice of the room. I guess you could call that non-directional.
Bass? Well, it’s simply impossible to get genuinely tub thumbing bass frequencies from a system like this, but you’d be surprised how much “oomph” it possesses. What I mean is that, while the bass obviously doesn’t go spectacularly deep, it is very tight and well defined and therefore, anything musical that you need to hear will likely still be there – as long as it’s a fairly normal piece of music, rather than the sub-woofer scrapings of the most heinous club-oriented dubstep. In other words, whether I was playing raucous rock or sumptuous jazz, it just did what it was supposed to, and more.
Speaking of subwoofer, however: if you do happen to be bass-mad, the Crescendo does in fact have a subwoofer input, so if you plug a powered subwoofer into the system, it can go as low as your woofer will allow.
WHAT’S IT GOT?
Despite its fairly small overall form factor, the Crescendo boasts a 5×7-inch midrange speaker that crosses over at 3600 Hz. There’s a 50-watt amp for the driver, a 2×25-watt amp for the tweeter, and a DSP-laden preamp. Yes, it does have a bass booster, but rather than placing extra strain on the amps, the better option for those who want a bit more boom-boom (apart from getting the aforementioned subwoofer) is to place the unit fairly near to a wall.
The Crescendo shows its adaptability in the multifarious connections. You can set it up via wireless (Bluetooth or Wi-fi), or connect your laptop into it via USB, or other sources via line level. Then there’s Toslink, and Ethernet if you prefer being wired.
My one gripe is the instruction booklet, which I found confusingly worded, and I ended up farting around like nobody’s business trying to set it up wirelessly. My recommendation? If you’re as technically challenged as me, get an expert in to get it up and running in no time at all. But then again, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re already the kind of guy (or gal) who all your mates call to help out with “computer” problems.
What’s not to like? Martin Logan’s Crescendo is a flawless product, both in design and performance, and at a very reasonable $1499, I can see it being the focal point of many dining areas, bedrooms, small apartments and holiday homes. Sure, it’ll never quite replace a “separates” system, but it sounds so good that undoubtedly some will end up using it as their main system, and here’s an important point: with this degree of clarity in the sound, you don’t always need to crank up the volume, because you’re actually hearing more. That’s something to think about. GARY STEEL